The biggest fixture in the Serbian calendar takes place twice a season. And when Red Star go head to head with Partizan, Belgrade descends into chaos. The latest edition took place on Saturday. Partizan, second in the table after 10 rounds of matches, hosted a table-topping Red Star side that had yet to drop a point.
The derby got off to the worst start imaginable for Red Star boss Dejan Stankovic, whose side experienced their first setback of the season when Partizan took the lead in the fifth minute. Coronavirus restrictions meant that the match was played behind closed doors, but the atmosphere was spicy nonetheless. A total of 11 bookings and one red card were dished out in a game that saw Red Star Belgrade fight back to draw 1-1.
Despite dropping league points for the first time this season, Red Star remain eight points clear of their city rivals and are firmly on course for their fourth successive title. But while all might appear rosy in the Red Star camp, two players from their squad – Guelor Kanga and Mirko Ivanic – tested positive for the coronavirus in the week before the Belgrade derby. Ivanic, the top scorer in the current campaign, and Kanga, the most valuable player in the squad according to the Internet portal transfermarkt.de, will be unavailable for the clash with TSG Hoffenheim on Thursday (21:00 CET/Live Ticker at tsg-hoffenheim.de). Not the ideal way to start off a successful European campaign.
Red Star went into the UEFA Champions League qualifiers as Serbian champions, but were surprisingly knocked out on penalties by Omonia Nicosia. It was a disappointing outcome for "FK Crvena Zvezda" (as the club is known in its native Serbian), who have comfortably won the last three titles by a margin of at least 10 points.
Moment of glory in 1991
Instead, they will be hoping to build on their recent successes in the UEFA Europa League. Red Star reached the last 32 of the competition in 2017/18, beating 1. FC Cologne twice along the way. It was the first time they had reached the knockout stages in Europe since their moment of triumph in 1991. That year, Red Star became the winners of the European Champions Cup – to date the biggest success in the club's history – courtesy of victories over Grasshopper Zürich, Rangers, Dynamo Dresden, FC Bayern Munich and Olympique Marseille.
While that team was brimming with iconic players such as Robert Prosinečki, Siniša Mihajlović and Dejan Savićević, coach Dejan Stankovic is the biggest star nowadays. The former Inter Milan midfielder won the treble of league title, domestic cup and Champions League with the Italian outfit in 2010, and made 42 international appearances. The Serb took over the position of head coach at Red Star in December last year and has since lost only two of his 27 competitive matches. The hopes that Red Star can successfully navigate the challenges of the UEFA Europa League this season rest firmly on his shoulders.