2021/22 Fortuna:Liga MVP Race (3/4): Two outsiders chasing Hložek

source: ruik.cz

As opposed to Power Rankings, this series are not coming to a close with this edition. We’ll, of course, save our last one to announce the inaugural Czech Footy’s Fortuna:Liga MVP — event that hopefully becomes an annual thing as I look to add some more layers to my model. As of now, there would be no suspense since the leader remains the same, but it’s getting tighter by the day, with two guys especially breathing down his neck.

For a quick refresher of what my MVP model takes into account and what some of the new acronyms used below mean (CCA, GCA, GAA, GAE), please kindly head to the first edition of this series where I explain everything.

Now, after refreshing your memory, let’s do the same with All-Stars XI and each individual leaderboard. As you’d expect after 16 rounds, there’s been plenty of movement up and down, and literally just one constant in Hložek…

Third instalment, third formation. It’s getting real hard to fit everyone in, and just taking Stanciu out doesn’t solve any of my problems — I mean, I was pretty much forced into leaving out Jean-David Beauguel who’s quite simply the 3rd best centre forward after Hložek and Jurečka, the latter I already had to squeeze into an unfamiliar RW role (though he moves into that channel fairly frequently, he’s only really played there once vs Olomouc in the cup).

This is what I had to play with in its entirety:

Yes, it’s becoming painfully clear I absolutely have to find a way to provide defensive-minded players with more opportunities to earn points and climb up the ladder. Centre backs, fullbacks and defensive midfielders are somewhat handicapped by TotW only having three slots reserved for them each week (as opposed to central midfielders and centre forwards who get six) and they don’t bag as many points from CCA/GCA for obvious reasons, even though I don’t knock any value off secondary contributions (fairly often made by deeper sitting players) as opposed to primary ones. I’m thinking of tracking something like chance-preventing / goal-saving actions (notable clearances off the line, last-man interceptions etc.), but I might need another set of eyes for that starting from next season. Any volunteers? Or any ideas for more objective metrics to incorporate?

The mainstays

I imagine Adam Hložek is a bit of a controversial choice for the MVP now (definitely more than after Round 10), but he hasn’t slowed down as much as it may seem at first sight. He was at 3+4 after ten rounds, leaving 10 points for the next sixteen rounds, which is a slower pace, but not in terms of important points. Hložek assisted on the winner vs Pardubice, bagged sole goals in the excruciating 1:0 wins vs Boleslav and Hradec and provided the incredibly vital late equalizer against Plzeň. Those are his big moments you can’t possibly take for granted just because they didn’t come vs Slavia.

That said, Ewerton has just one less important point, and even if early Hoftych era returns haven’t been overly positive as I warned in the last edition of Power Rankings (mostly because he’s not as big a magnet for the ball as he used to — his teammates not getting it to him nearly as often as before), he’s likely going to hang around till the very end. The same goes for Dávid Hancko who doesn’t have much competition at CB. He’s benefitting from his LB stint in terms of chance-creating actions but even in the middle, he’s just so much more noticeable than most centre halves with his surging runs forward.

The newcomers

Adam Vlkanova is technically a newcomer, but he’s actually been in the picture for almost the whole period between Round 10 and Round 26. Together with Ewerton, he would square it off for the “real” MVP award given to someone whose subtraction would genuinely rob a team of most value relative to the rest of the team. Vlkanova twists and turns, and even when the bounces don’t go his way (something that happens more often these days), he’s valuable in his own way by winning plenty of fouls in danger areas — including a ridiculous 3 penalties already (which equals goal-creating action).

Good to see Slovácko players finally filtering through. Václav Jurečka has added the most expected points (EPA) per CSfotbal’s unique model, and while Slovácko would still be 5th even without those 11 points, that alone makes him a worthy inclusion. Should he remain healthy, he’s likely to be a more valuable scorer than Ivan Schranz (2020/21 leader with 11,03 EPA) and Lukáš Budínský (2019/20 leader with 11,24 EPA) with some games to spare. Jan Kalabiška has lost his nailed-on starting spot in the spring and did all of his heavy-lifting in the fall (much like Aleš Mandous), but with coach Svědík finding a bit of a niche for him regardless (a strong impact sub further up the pitch), he may more or less get back on track down the road. Still, this spring, he’s been involved in more goals conceded (2) than chances created (1).

Jakub Rada is firmly flowing under the radar, with Marek Matějovský being decidedly the only veteran we seem to have the capacity to rave about regularly. Yet Rada is, in essence, a similar case to Matějovský in that he’s a fine chance creator without any assist to showcase (Matějovský only recently picked up his first). On fifteen occasions, he set up a goalscoring chance, and it’s fetched him nothing. Three second assists are just a small compensation.

Finally, two defenders who made this edition of All-Stars a traditional 4-at-the-back I feel confident about again. Alexander Bah is a marvel, assuming an even more pronounced creative role following the departure of Stanciu. He’s now effectively Slavia’s own version of Trent Alexander-Arnold, no kidding. Lukáš Hejda has received some well-deserved NT buzz ahead of the March break, becoming the first defender to direct more than 10 clean sheets.

On the way

Lukáš Sadílek still doesn’t have the #numbers most experts want to see, but I value a different set of numbers — which is still showing an elite contributor. It’s partially a problem of his own doing (because Sadílek has refused to bury a fair few golden chances this season, more than over the course of the last one), but it’s all the same not his fault that his involvement in 40 decent goalscoring opportunities has only been accompanied by 3 assists. With three more goal involvements on board, however, he would already be replacing Stanciu if I opted for excluding him (unfair) and he may still do it eventually.

The recent surge of Ondřej Lingr has also been felt on the leaderboard, and if I did this on a per-90-min basis, you’d imagine he would already be in. Twelve goals, five other non-assist goal involvements and only fourteen chance-creating actions are a truly peculiar combo that speaks to the player Lingr is: opportunistic, doing good things deeper down but being largely a passenger when it comes to providing cutting edge. He won’t get you to the penalty area, but he will be there to do anything for you; combine, shoot, and mostly score.

This will be a close call, possibly decided on the last matchday. Much depends on how Kolář and Mandous split the goal the rest of the way, but if Trpišovský et co. follow the recent pattern — Mandous internationally, Kolář domestically — it’s a race Staněk, Grigar, Macík, Vorel and Rakovan must feel they can win.

However, I’d like to bring your attention to the negative section: it’s just my subjective assessment you’re welcome to disagree with, but Mandous is the only goalkeeper not suffering from any goal-allowing action, let alone error, showing his excellent (if unspectacular) consistency. Even Staněk had one hiccup — coincidentally against Slavia when he allowed too juicy a rebound for Lingr to bury the opening and ultimately deciding goal in 65th minute.

The lack of separation between the goalkeepers is highlighted by the fact all Top 10 members sit at 4-5 team of the week nominations. One man who’s rapidly catching up with them: Pavol Bajza. He’s already been shortlisted three times since landing in Karviná and has managed to prevent 3,36 goals per Wyscout’s model in just 7 starts. Bajza has, on average, added nearly 26 MVP point to his total per round, and with 205,8 points overall, he definitely has a shot at Top 10 the way some of his rivals are trending. Generally, the spring has been owned by the Slovak goalkeeper, with Macík and Rakovan also putting on a show once or twice. It’s going to be a brilliant nail-biter.

We’re calling this category “defenders”, even though they are not all defenders per se — more accurate (but also longer) would be “defensive-minded players”.

You’re either a newcomer, or you trend down. It’s not too dramatic in most cases — especially Jan Mejdr has hardly missed a beat and remains a highly dependable, two-way force on that right-hand side, but… Bah — though you do feel Radim Řezník (29th overall) is eventually making way for someone. Benjamin Čolić (40th), Oscar Dorley / David Jurásek (44th / 72nd), David Douděra (46th), Ondřej Zmrzlý (48th), Lukáš Kalvach (52nd) or Tomáš Holeš (58th) are all in with a considerable shout. While there is a shortage of defensive-minded players at the very top, there is no such thing in 40–60s.

Speaking of Plzeň, Milan Havel doesn’t deserve to be in the same conversation as Aleš Matějů. First of all, yes, he missed a glorious chance at a crucial time, but A) it was a difficult volley, B) it would be ruled out for offside anyway, causing you an even greater heartbreak, so please, cut him some slack. Besides, he was a miscast at right wingback (he’s been way more effective on the left), and has flashed some decent quality on the domestic level. At a time when a player is automatically preferred for doing whatever but abroad rather than producing some actual stuff domestically, we really cannot afford to shame a Fortuna:Liga player for their first fuck-up(ish) at a stage largely unknown to them, or we just continue to dig a hole for ourselves.

No one new that jumps out at you here, for obvious reasons elaborated on above (and leaving off both Stanciu and Bassey for this table helps nothing), so let me delve deeper into the more interesting waters. I’m not saying Tomáš Chorý or David Puškáč would necessarily do a better job upfront than Tomáš Pekhart, but they rank in the 50s for a good reason — they are target men in their peak years who bag important goals, nab second balls and battle hard, something Pekhart isn’t and has never really been for the national team.

Actually, hold on, I am saying exactly that. I still haven’t gotten over that Kuchta-Pekhart swap and I’m mad at journos for not asking WHY THE HELL, too.

Also, on the matter of youngsters not getting enough chances in the top flight: largely true, but I’ve seen only a precious little counter-arguments led by a certain David Tkáč who ranks 54th in my model that’s unable to account for all the intangibles he provides — especially clever runs off the ball on a counter. Tkáč is a very prompt, mostly counter-attacking threat, a dynamic as well as quietly physical force, that would, of course, come in handy for a coach like Šilhavý on numerous occasions. But he plays for Zlín so screw him, right?

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One independent Czech writer’s views on Czech football. Simple as that really. Also to be found on Twitter @czechfooty.

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Tomas Danicek

Tomas Danicek

One independent Czech writer’s views on Czech football. Simple as that really. Also to be found on Twitter @czechfooty.

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