2021/22 Fortuna:Liga MVP Race (4/4): Crowning Hložek and listing my own analytics darlings, Pt. 2
Indeed, as all clubs open the first stage of 2022/23 preparations, I’m still refusing to let go of the past season. Heck, it even feels weird to me to type 2022 and 23 next to each other. I’m not there yet. It’s not even a full month ago that Bohemians and Teplice successfully defended their top flight status in a lukewarmly contested play-offs. So let’s take one final look back and carefully consider the best players on each position we had the distinct pleasure of watching in 2021/22. And if you don’t feel like doing it now, this late, then remember it’s all your fault anyway.
This is the second part of my rundown of the most memorable individual seasons of 2021/22 at each of the seven most basic player positions (goalkeeper, centre back, fullback, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder, winger, centre forward). In the first part, we did the goal and the entire defense. Now, without much further ado, we pick up where we left off.
Here’s a reminder of who I’m listing for each player role and what I mean:
- The public sphere pick: who my MVP model offers up as the best choice
- Does it hold up analytics-wise? how well does he do in the second model
- The public sphere snub: who comes second or third in my MVP model
- The analytics darling: a surprise selection based on underlying numbers
- The bounce-back/breakout: either a player with greatest positive change in overall percentile from 2020/21 on one position, or a star newcomer
- The drop-out: either a player with greatest negative change in overall percentile from 2020/21 on one position, or a noted star’s fall from grace
The public sphere pick: Lukáš Kalvach (FC Viktoria Plzeň)
After missing the entire pre-season, Kalvach started off a little slowly, but his influence grew as the season itself grew older, and that’s how you can always spot a top player. The so-called WOWY stat (comparing how a team/line does with you and without you) has much more merit in ice hockey where there’s less people involved at any given time than on the football pitch, but consider this for a potential MVP status: Kalvach played exactly 22 full games this term, and in those games Viktoria kept fourteen clean sheets. In the remaining 13 games, they kept just four. That’s a staggering difference — and no coincidence. While Kalvach’s defensive underlying numbers took a dip from 2020/21, he’s still above average in intercepting actions and not allowing progressive passes go past him, and in a class of his own in terms of creativity. Also, all seven of his assists came in close game states, changing the course.
Does it hold up analytics-wise? Not really. Kalvach isn’t enough of a defensive do-it-all for my model to love him, but he’s not in the red either.
The public sphere snub: Tomáš Holeš (SK Slavia Praha)
In my MVP model, Holeš lags more than 200 pts behind Kalvach but in the public eye I’m sure there’d be no great discrepancy — and plenty of non-Slavia fans would even prefer Holeš, if only for his greater national team standing. It would be fair enough as Holeš is one of a few F:Liga stars to keep his average Deník Sport mark above 6 while going over 2000 mins. Yet, only 6 Team of the Week nominations hold him back, much like his limited offensive output with his only important point coming late against Baník in the wild 3:3 draw.
The analytics darling: Matěj Valenta (SK Dynamo České Budějovice)
I honestly have no idea what Slavia are waiting for. Maybe his contract expiry (2023), so they don’t need to pay up even the affordable buy-back clause? Valenta is listed as an attacking midfielder on Transfermarkt and he treads into that territory in reality, too, but I still consider him to be a defensive midfielder first, which is echoed by his unrivalled shot blocking. Valenta is a fighter — a very combative, engaged all-round midfielder — but not your usual type that barely knows how to play the ball. Quite the opposite, he could easily line-up next to Holeš and deliver that attacking punch Hromada or Talovierov had sorely lacked in those spring double pivots. Indeed, Valenta has acted as both an elite passer and an essential chance creator for Dynamo.
The breakout: Dominik Janošek (FC Viktoria Plzeň / FC Baník Ostrava)
This is funny (and sad) because Janošek is now an unwanted player at Plzeň after Baník refused to trigger what I’m told was a fairly low option to buy. How is that even possible when the present evidence points at an improved young player who still offers phenomenal passing range, set piece acumen and open-play cutting edge without being as one-dimensional as he was in 2020/21? Janošek will never be a quick sweeping presence at the base of midfield, yet he likes (and knows very well how) to build plays from deep, which is why most Czech coaches are likely shying away from working with him. You ought to be creative and open-minded with your XI-building, which isn’t how most of our managers seem to work — they like traditional roles (pigeon holes if you like) and Janošek simply doesn’t squarely fit into any. Honestly, after he declined Norway in winter, he might be better off now firmly fixating his eyes on the outside world where he could be understood.
The drop-out: Lukáš Greššák (SK Sigma Olomouc)
It’s not like he wasn’t a strictly defensive-minded holding midfielder before, and it’s not surprising to see him bottom out in smart or through passes whatsoever, but the drop in overall percentile is still pronounced (-51,9) which could only happen if some defensive metrics started to betray him, as well. Admittedly, Greššák wasn’t helped by my decision to switch from aerials won inside own half per 90 mins to success rate (%), but his ball/duel losses were suddenly way more costly than they were a year ago and his dynamism further deteriorated, a result of him slowly entering the stage of steep decline.
The public sphere pick: Adam Vlkanova (FC Hradec Králové)
Since he spent almost the entire spring in a free CAM role rather than his original (free) LW role in a 3-4-3, I’m including the impressive newcomer here in a calculated move to make way for Ewerton later on. Anyway, Vlkanova has got to be somewhere as the 2nd most valuable player in the league, of course. Twelve “important points”, the same number of man of the match votes in the Fortuna:Liga official app, league-leading 60 contributions to wasted chances, and an (in)direct hand in a total of 22 goals scored — a spectacular 50% of all.
Does it hold up analytics-wise? Not elite but 80,9 percentile holds up fine.
The public sphere snub: Lukáš Sadílek (1. FC Slovácko)
The soon-to-be Sparta player has managed to climb all the way up to 9th place on the leaderboard despite only chipping in with six points, and thus not having the #numbers many in the mainstream believe he should post. What’s important to note is that 5/6 points were vital on Slovácko’s quest to rack up a record points total (his three strikes give him a great sum of 3,45 expected points added per CSfotbal!), and that it’s not his fault that the 33 broadly goalscoring opportunities he was the primary creator of went begging.
The analytics darling: Marek Matějovský (FK Mladá Boleslav)
Like a fine wine etc. etc. My model likes a smart passer, of course, and Matějovský has always been one, but he didn’t make for any sort of a darling last term. In 2020/21, the veteran rose to a respectable but unremarkable fame of the 65,2 percentile, whereas now he’s the certified cream of the crop after I’ve done more than a few tweaks to the model; mostly favourable ones to him. Now I’m looking at three ball progressing metrics — meters gained by runs, passes, and per loss — with Matějovský never dropping below 89 pct. His much-improved discipline (foul differential) is also a factor in the ascension.
The breakout: Michal Beran (FK Pardubice / Bohemians Praha 1905)
Beran didn’t even meet the minutes played cut-off last season (854), so he qualifies as a first-year breakout — as the 3rd best AM per my model and actually the very best when it comes to tools and ability to gain the danger zone. Yes, Beran never keeps making things happen for too long and mostly applies pressure in short bursts (plus 14,51 starts is too small a sample to base much substantial on) and his points total isn’t there (and we know all too well it has to be there for people to take note), but he does make things happen like barely anyone else in the league — all the while being 21 years old. Beran is elusive in offensive duels high up the pitch, feeds the inside/outside channel runs and doesn’t forget to place balls into the penalty box at a very high rate, too. I’m extremely happy Beran, for once, stays put over the summer and can therefore focus on finally breaking out in the eyes of the wider public as well.
The drop-out: Kamil Vacek (Bohemians Praha 1905 / FK Pardubice)
These guys were basically traded for each other mid-season, and it sure as hell looks like Pardubice took a big L on this one. It’s not that simple, of course, as Vacek likely provides valuable intangibles, makes for a slightly more efficient ball progressor with his passing and is a less wasteful shooter, but… oh boy, as soon as he gets closer to the opposing penalty box he swiftly turns into a virtual black hole. I consider four different metrics for “prime offensive output” and Vacek tops out at 12,8 percentile (high-danger shots produced).
The public sphere pick: Ondřej Lingr (SK Slavia Praha)
It’s hard to quite pick out a right winger from the top of the leaderboard. Václav Jurečka would be a reach (mostly started out from the left if anything), Cadu as well (again, if he started as a midfielder, it was usually the left one), and so we get to 16th spot where Ondřej Lingr ling(e)rs. (I regret nothing.) The fabulous clutch performer is, of course, a worthy pick in his own right, chipping in with 6 crucial goals and fetching the most expected points on team (7,51). While he hasn’t notched a single assist to go with 14 strikes, Lingr is very much a team player who has — through some smart movement and interplay — indirectly contributed to 5 more goals scored in 2021/22.
Does it hold up analytics-wise? Solid 71,7 pct. (Don’t ask for his AM pct.)
The public sphere snub: Jakub Pešek (AC Sparta Praha)
The most heart-breaking snub of all, in fact, with Pešek only needing to make up 1,3 MVP points on Lingr — a single chance-creating extra, basically. But, as has been widely documented in the mainstream media, Pešek kind of stopped created much of anything in the spring. I say “kind of” because it was vastly overblown (like just about everything in the mainstream media), with Pešek getting notably unlucky vs Olomouc (R30) and Hradec Králové (R32) late on, but the dip in confidence and output was still too pronounced to be fully ignored. Nonetheless, Pešek finished with 45 wasted chances created and a decent total of 19 goal contributions on the season. The trouble is that only four of his 13 direct goal contributions were of vital importance to Sparta.
The analytics darling: Tomáš Ladra (FK Mladá Boleslav)
Ladra would wind the season down as a makeshift centre forward which has, inevitably, inflated some of his numbers to some extent (high-danger shots most notably), but there’s something to be said about him leading the pack of right wingers ahead of the all-aging-curves-stubbornly-defying Milan Petržela. Ladra has a beautifully balanced board — with only the percentage of crosses blocked early (30,2 pct) dropping below average out of 17 stats considered. Two others are around average. And the rest goes above 64 pct. Considering how well-rounded a weapon Ladra has become, it’s amazing that only Baník Ostrava have reportedly come calling in the last two years.
The breakout: Youba Dramé (FC Fastav Zlín)
When we did a podcast with David and Jurij halfway through 2020/21, Dramé was the name on our lips as the one player to watch out for. He didn’t quite live up to the hype down the line, ultimately landing in the 33,3 percentile, but this year he already clearly belongs to the upper echalon of wingers — reaching all the way up to 75,5 pct courtesy of some elite self-sufficiency when it comes to chance-creation and ability to both beat his man 1v1 and shift possession from side to side. Things very much run through him.
The drop-out: Dominik Pleštil (FK Jablonec)
I’m not going to get too distracted — let alone concerned — by the drop, since this season has been a case of everything that could get fucked up getting fucked up for Jablonec as a team and Pleštil as an individual. After bursting onto the scene via five chance-creating actions in the first two rounds, Pleštil would only add two more the rest of the way, contracting a mysterious illness at one point, then struggling for playing time or to stay fit. Nevertheless, 11,3 pct suggests an ineffective winger and Pleštil was one this year after looking like a legitimate star over a similarly small sample in 2020/21 (92,9 pct).
The public sphere pick: Ewerton (FK Mladá Boleslav)
What’s left there to say about the new Slavia signing? Ewerton skins his man for fun, has possibly the best (most reliable) mid-range shot in the league, his 23 direct or indirect goal contributions only lag behind Jean-David Beauguel’s (24) and Adam Hložek’s (28) totals, and his 4 MotM awards by Deník Sport are right up the with the league’s elite, too. At times, you sensed that he could take over the game whenever he felt like it, and that’s a very rare feeling.
Does it hold up analytics-wise? Yes, but Plavšić beats him, funnily enough.
The public sphere snub: Jhon Mosquera (FC Viktoria Plzeň)
One of only 10 player to clear the 1000-point threshold, Mosquera would be a worthy candidate, too, as a 15-time TotW nominee with a balanced stat sheet. Seven goals, six assists, five other (secondary or terciary) goal contributions. Add in 29 chance-creating actions and 57 balls recovered in his own defensive third, and you get possibly the very best two-way winger in the entire league.
The analytics darling: Václav Pilař (FK Jablonec)
Seeing that Pilař is likely going to rival Mosquera for playing time next season, this is a pretty funny juxtaposition. Per my second model, there was no better winger — left or right — than the Jablonec veteran who’s lost nothing on his transcending ability to enter the penalty area in possession of the ball and generally push the play via smart dribbling. If he doesn’t pass or shoot in the end, he’s almost always fouled for a dangerous set piece. There just doesn’t appear to be another probable outcome to most of his outbursts down the left.
The breakout: Lukáš Haraslín (AC Sparta Praha)
Pilař would actually pass for a decent bounce-back candidate (+40,5 pct change), but for a breakout, you can’t go wrong with a Slovak newcomer. It’s either Ľubomír Tupta or Lukáš Haraslín who don’t have too dissimilar profiles in their supreme chance-creating self-sufficiency and ball carrying ability. Haraslín has to be given the egde, however, as the heir apparent of Plavšić’s insane foul-drawing ability (the best foul differential out there by a fair margin — almost two more fouls won than conceded per game) and generally a slightly more versatile threat when it comes to behaviour in the final third.
The drop-out: Pavel Moulis (FK Teplice)
Not many LW drop-outs as there have been plenty of new entries popping up on this particular position. Moulis makes for a pretty fitting one, though, as he was tagged an “unwanted player” halfway through the season (only to not go anywhere and return to action in patches towards the end). That still came as a surprise since Moulis was a useful piece for a team struggling for offence, but he was a part of the problem, too. Moulis stands out as an ineffective dribbler and final third contributor, and one especially trigger-shy winger.
The public sphere pick: Jean-David Beauguel (FC Viktoria Plzeň)
Since Hložek has already been introduced as the MVP in Pt. 1 and was kind of all over the place position-wise, let me rather profile the champions’ MVP in this space. After he was the most prominent wasteful shooter in 2020/21, Beauguel bounced back big time through 15 important goals (though many of them were penalties), the same amount of TotW shortlist appearances and a decent 25 chances at least partially created. That speaks to a fantastic hold-up striker who’s going to be missed dearly — as if you needed to be told that.
Does it hold up analytics-wise? Yes, 4th best option and 2nd best pure CF.
The public sphere snub: Václav Jurečka (1. FC Slovácko)
It’s incredible I couldn’t fit him in my All-Stars as the 5th most valuable player league-wide, but such was the competition at the very top of the line-up. Jurečka was snubbed despite contributing 12 vital goals and breathing Beauguel down the neck (or outright tying him) in TotW nominations, chance-creating actions and expected points added (both over 14 pts!).
The analytics darling: Jan Kuchta (SK Slavia Praha)
Too much focus, arguably, was placed on Stanciu’s departure in winter when Kuchta’s was at the very least in the same power-shifting territory. The Lokomotiv Moscow striker was my model’s top favourite for two straight seasons for a good reason — a true fox in the box that doesn’t suffer from tunnel vision and can just as well set up a better positioned teammate. This season, on top of being a formidable weapon, Kuchta was actually unlucky and should’ve scored roughly three extra goals per my estimation. Part of it is on goalkeepers, part of it is on one woodwork hit. Either way, a phenomenon.
The breakout: Antonín Růsek (SK Sigma Olomouc)
That’s what better teammates do to/for you. Even if Sigma’s offence left a lot to be desired in the first season under Jílek, Růsek was surrounded by more talent than at Zbrojovka which had helped his percentile to shoot up by 40+ points. Despite remaining unable to hit the target with too many efforts from solid positions, Růsek improved considerably in proactivity and hold-up play, going from below average to above average in xA, deep completed passes etc.
The drop-out: Michael Rabušic (FC Slovan Liberec)
He just inked a new contract but my model suggests it might’ve been a good time to part ways. That’s not to say Rabušic wasn’t useful — in fact, only David Puškáč was involved in a higher percentage of goals while on the pitch (69,2%), and there was no one better in directing high-danger chances on target and drawing dangerous set pieces — but the big picture was somewhat underwhelming regardless. With his profile and build, you’d expect him to do better particularly on lay-off accuracy and aerials success rate around box.
And this is how the Dream XI could look like if you assemble all analytics darlings, with some neck-and-neck calls (Valenta for Beran, most notably; or deciding whether to include Kuchta here as a winter departure):
Which one do you prefer? This one, or the “public sphere one” from Pt. 1?
All raw data interpreted above sourced from, or supported by, Wyscout database.