2021/22 Fortuna:Liga Power Rankings (3/3): Heading down the wire
I had initially promised you five installments. Now I make it official there will only be three. *gulp* Yet, all the same, I’m not actually robbing you of anything. The expanded mid-season review served as one edition of Power Rankings, as I advertized earlier, and pre-season previews will once again contain a section looking back at 2021/22. It wouldn’t make much sense to publish Power Rankings after the season’s end, atfer all, would it — you’d just look at the point gain and yell at me even more.
The last edition was far away in the past, published following Round 10, so this should be fun. If you need a 2022 refresher of the concept, here you go.
16. MFK Karviná (-)
They don’t appear to be dead in the water anymore, which is good news. But they are still a whole 7 points back off Pardubice who’ve been historically bad in 2022. Karviná simply need to find a way to bank those ugly, unfashionable points. They tricked the xG gods by surviving the Slavia and Ostrava clashes largely unscathed and victorious despite allowing a combined 5,77 xGA, but what is it for when that clinical Baník performance immediately followed up on a 59th most dominant xG performance of all teams MFK have nothing to show for. Indeed, Sigma got thoroughly outplayed by them and still won.
In general, Bob Páník deserves credit for making Karviná much tougher to slice through. After posting just one PPDA value lower than 10 in his first nine games, MFK have gone over 10 only once in the following seven matches. That’s quite a turnaround fuelled by winter arrivals Modou N’Diaye (mainly) and Adam Jánoš (partly) who are both actual holding midfielders by trade, but also Filip Zorvan who does well off the ball, too. The pounce Durosinmi and Svoboda had against Ostrava was a refreshing sight and with challenge intensity now generally reaching reasonable levels, Karviná are a way more annoying opponent than in the fall. That said, both defence and offence are still looking comfortably bottom two, even despite Pardubice’s nosedive.
15. FK Pardubice (▼5)
Well, this has backfired badly. You may recall I actually moved Pardubice one place up in the second edition of the Power Rankings, doubling down on them somewhat counter-intuitively and praising the club for “trusting the process”.
Now, 16 matches later, I’m not even sure what their process is anymore.
I’m sorry, but while I resisted the thought for about as long as I feasibly could, I believe Pardubice have well and truly lost their way under the Krejčí-Novotný combo, and the two should be considered very fireable at the moment. It’s a marvel, in a way, they are still in the job despite overseeing their team concede 3+ goals in five straight games — and kinda deservedly so.
Then again, clubs like Pardubice can’t afford to have bullet-proof plans B or C like Slavia, and the key ingredient of the spring plan A was gone within 126 minutes. Coaches surprised us pleasantly by dropping both Toml and Čihák for the Hradec Králové opener, having clearly worked on a young Pojezný-Hranáč centre back tandem over the winter camp, and their bold choice was vindicated big time. With those two buttressing the defence for the derby, Pardubice posted their lowest single-match xGA of the season (0,31), keeping only their third clean sheet of this term in spite of a 60-minute man disvantage. Then against Slovácko — with Toml replacing Pojezný after 36 and arguably looking better than him on the day — they posted their second-lowest xGA and another clean sheet, with the toothless attack suddenly appearing as the bigger problem. They would know how to fix that, surely.
Now we know they don’t. The unique 2021/22 Martin Toml Experience© has fully taken over at the backend (for those who still care, by the way, the breakout star of the previous season has now more or less caused 18 conceded goals, working on a league-low minus-28,4 MVP points — unimaginably bad return), while the coaches’ insistence on Kamil Vacek being a capable brains of this team definitely hasn’t paid off further up the field. The return of Tomáš Solil has been refreshing and Jakub Rezek has looked a bright spark on either wing, but that’s about it for the positives. Devoid of confidence and ideas, Pardubice are sporting the league worst xGF and xGA over the past 10 rounds, and that’s a big enough sample for me to slowly but surely give up on them.
14. FK Teplice (▲1)
Remember when the early spring version of Teplice looked like a second coming of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona? Yeah… that was great while it lasted.
And last it did not.
I’m not necessarily saying Teplice are awful these days, but they definitely look fragile again. Especially on attack where the swagger and sassiness literally came and went with Bohemians and the Silesian duo. In those three opening games, Teplice players completed six smart passes per Wyscout; in the four games that followed, they barely even attempted as many (7), completing just a pair of them. The over-reliance on Fortelný and Trubač in those recent games was staggering — the two were primary creators on seven chances out of ten I noted over the stretch, which alone is too low a number.
As a result, Teplice currently boast the worst rolling xGF — a sign of weak chance-creation — over the past 5 games, since the remarkable Ostrava peformance from six rounds ago left the board and no longer skews the average (it constitutes 34% of their spring xGF total!). That said, the Mohamed Tijani effect is still being felt at the other end: Teplice went into the break with a second-worst defence per 10-game rolling xGA, now they own a fourth-best one according to the same metric. And it looks like it on the pitch, too. Big thumbs up to Jiří Jarošík for recognizing this is a 3-4-1-2 team; since flipping the script for Round 18, Teplice have never gone over 2 xGA (despite travelling to Ostrava, Plzeň and facing Slovácko and Boleslav at home), having done it on eight occasions prior mostly in an ill-conceived 4-2-3-1.
Then again, while their xGA in some sort of a 3-at-the-back formation is right in the neighbourhood of Sparta (who sit 3rd since the game-changing Round 18), their xGA² — the so-called post-shot xG taking into account just shots on target — already ranks 13th which sits well with Tomáš Grigar clearly having to buy this team out on many an occasion in recent games. All is not rosy, no.
13. FC Slovan Liberec (▲1)
Same old same old.
Liberec (at least partially) employ possibly the biggest number of top flight-level strikers but when it comes to who’s going to fetch them the ball, that’s a different matter altogether. It’s a lot of crossing still, and nothing much beyond it. If you do insist and go beyond it, it’s a lot of Christian Frýdek, and hardly anyone else (bar Christ Tiéhi who’s gone full monster mode lately).
Same old same old.
Liberec are still a pedestrian, bang average side that will bank points and comfortably avoid relegation because they can navigate tight games thanks to solid defence, while tight games pretty much constitute 100% of games they take part in. It’s pretty crazy that the biggest success stories of Luboš Kozel — coach with reputation for favouring possession-based, attacking brand of football — are Marios Pourzitidis, Dominik Plechatý and Tiéhi, three primarily defensive-minded players. It’s almost as though Hoftych was still in charge.
Basically, a sole area in which Slovan have made legitimate strides since the last Power Rankings edition is finishing, something far out of coach’s control.
12. Bohemians Praha 1905 (▼5)
In the last edition of Power Rankings, I introduced them as the Czech Brighton AKA this year’s Fortuna:Liga analytics darlings, and boy how long ago it feels now. Per my makeshift model — really just a set of 24 metrics I consider relevant — that I use to sort all teams before making a final, more subjective decision on where to place them, Bohemians would be tied for 9th (as opposed to 5th after Round 10). That’s not horrible. But I had to knock them down a further few places for the quotes and body language of Luděk Klusáček who just sort of… ran out of ideas, really. I don’t think he’s a bad coach, but openly admitting he was “happy” to see fans call for a post-match sitting with the under-achieving team to give them a talking to…? That’s your job, man. No wonder he was a goner less than 48 hours after uttering that.
I wonder, though, how much Klusáček’s visible lack of willpower stemmed from his players losing concentration in key moments way more often than they used to.
At least 4 of the last 6 conceded goals fall in the category of “extremely avoidable” if not “outright dumb” — first vs Ostrava, both vs Boleslav, first vs Slovácko — and they all came in the worst possible moments. Bohemians were by far the better side in the opening 30 mins in Klusáček’s last game in charge, but then Köstl did a very Köstl thing, Bačkovský didn’t help him with a hesitant rush, and down it went. It was a neat follow-up on another bad goalkeeper-centre back combo with different guys in starring roles (Krch and Valeš), while the returning Vaníček caused two more goals with baffling plays. All these errors broke Bohemians; three needlessly thrown away leads, one game lost very late just as the Prague side was finally finding the footing against Baník with three fine chances between 61st and 66th minutes.
Now the question is: did these fuck-ups happen because players suddenly didn’t feel like their coach cared/had it in him/had confidence in them? Or did Klusáček reach that level of cluelessness because of these fuck-ups occurring?
I think it’s more the former, but it’s definitely a bit of a chicken-egg situation.
11. SK Dynamo České Budějovice (▲2)
Hey, I’m not too deep in love with David Horejš, alright! I made a case for him to become the next national team manager despite lacking the high-end experience we usually crave when appointing one, but that doesn’t automatically make him and his Dynamo perfect, of course. I do hold he’s consistently made them punch above their weight by adjusting, for which a great deal of credit belongs to him, but this is still a naturally limited side that can only move up so far (though teams ranked 8th-12th are neck-and-neck).
With the departure of Fortune Bassey, some serious tinkering awaited David Horejš, who immediately reacted by giving greater space to big summer signing Michal Škoda as either a second striker or a false left wing. Dynamo mostly haven’t missed a beat, with their combination play in the final third greatly enhanced by Škoda’s influence. The tactical blueprint is now clear: some sort of a 4-2-3-1 variation at home and 3-4-3 (alternatively 5-4-1) away. It’s been a mixed bag results-wise, but where most teams would fold after losing Bassey and Talovierov midway through the season, Dynamo have resisted any real downturn and with a fairly light schedule ahead (Zlín, Boleslav, Bohemians, Teplice), they could comfortably aim for the Top 6.
10. FC Fastav Zlín (▲2)
Sometimes, scheduling is a fairly important factor in how you’re viewed as a coach, and Jan Jelínek could tell you all about it. While Zlín are, bizarrely, not the only Fortuna:Liga team tasked with sorting through Slovácko, Sparta and Plzeň — three Top 4 teams this season and Top 5 teams over the past two terms — without a pause to catch a breath at two separate points of the season (Hradec Králové have had the same pleasure), it’s a bit more pertinent a topic in the case of Zlín because the first such stretch (R8-10) had plenty of fans calling for Jelínek’s head, whereas the second didn’t — signalling growth.
Sure, Fastav were at home twice on their second attempt as opposed to once, but the gulf in quality of performance was so pronounced it can’t be explained solely through this lens. Ten conceded goals versus four, and not a single decision well and truly settled before the closing stages this time around (Sparta added the 2nd in the 87th minute with Zlín very much in it up until then). Seventeen produced shots versus forty-one. Seven chances created (not counting goals) versus seventeen. A total of -4,12 xG performance on balance over the three games first time out versus a much more balanced -0,26. A combined 8 open play passes, excluding crosses, completed in danger areas versus nineteen (and at least 6 in each). All that, mind, with the team adjusting to life without its top scorer Tomáš Poznar on the fly. His replacement Antonín Fantiš, meanwhile, dropped out following the Slovácko derby, an important provider of secondary scoring David Tkáč soon followed and Lamin Jawo or Vakho Chanturashvili, who both would’ve played big parts otherwise, effectively weren’t present or fully fit for either of the matches.
It may not seem like it at first sight — after all, I suppose, it still only fetched three points, leaving Fastav languishing in the relegation group — but this was a huge come-of-age stretch for the second youngest head coach in the league. No wonder they immediately produced a confident effort to thrash Pardubice.
9. FK Jablonec (-)
I’m not too happy about this, but I’m not ready to move Zlín this high yet. Then again, while Jablonec haven’t improved, their form hasn’t significantly derailed either, so having them stand pat seems like a fair assessment. What they’ve gained in defensive acumen, moving from 12th to 7th in rolling xGA over the past 10 games (Tomáš Hübschman now permanently stationed at the base of midfield has definitely helped the cause), has been neatly compensated by the equivalent loss in the attacking department, moving from 8th to 12th in rolling xGF over the stretch (unstable situation on the wings, especially the serious injury of Václav Pilař, definitely doesn’t help the cause).
Apart from the usual Petr Rada things (like not enough rotation to account for current form and chaotic pressing or general play, really), scoring continues to be a common downfall for the team, yet finishing is slowly but surely getting better. Jan Silný hasn’t brought #numbers with him from the 2nd tier, but his interplay is solid enough to offset it, and he’s put a fantastic 11 shots on target already (good for 64,7% shooting accuracy). It’s not just his fault the end result is a sole goal scored — the last 3 goalkeepers who got to face his shots (Vorel, Holec, Fendrich) all pulled off one legitimate wondersave apiece to deny him and collectively saved 1,64 goals above expected when accounting for Silný’s attempts only. That’s fixing itself with time, trust me.
8. SK Sigma Olomouc (▲3)
Funny. For much of this season I didn’t know what to do with Sigma who created tons but also allowed too many chances at the other end. Now the situation feels like the polar opposite (Matúš Macík’s return to goal has been strong, the new CB partnership of Beneš and Jemelka largely rock solid), but Wyscout’s xG model somewhat disagrees, having both Sigma’s offence and defence over the last 10 games rank around the 10th place, ie. below average. Once again, therefore, I’ve got to lean on my eye test more than with other teams and say Olomouc have performed OK; good for a perfectly average 8th.
A major issue continues to be consistency. Sigma are capable of looking as absolute world beaters, with three of their 2021/22 xG performances — Jablonec, Zlín and Boleslav at home — currently ranking inside the Top 10 league-wide. (For reference, that’s more than Plzeň or Sparta have to boast, and as many as Slavia do, with the home performance vs Budějovice falling just outside of it, at 13th.) Yet, on other days, Sigma look utterly ‘meh’, approaching games like dead rubbers with next to no urgency and intensity.
It’s a peculiar case study. Could too many players on expiring contracts, seemingly winding down their careers at Sigma, be the reason for it? Shouldn’t they actually elevate their game (much like Hála has), akin to NHL players routinely setting their career highs in the so-called “contract years”?
7. FK Mladá Boleslav (▼2)
I didn’t look forward to these crossroads. On one hand, you know where I stand on the whole “should Karel Jarolím have been fired?” debate (or is it, absurdly, even a debate to begin with?), on the other hand, I don’t want to overreact in any way to early returns of Pavel Hoftych era — era dreaded by yours truly. Four games are an impossibly small sample to draw any reasonable conclusions upon, and it’s been a mixed bag anyway. Mladá Boleslav crushed Karviná in any way other than the actual scoreline (as you’d expect), but in the three other winless games, concern outweighs satisfaction. Across those games, Ewerton created a mere 3 chances (well below his season average), didn’t convert a penalty and actively contributed to more goals conceded (1) than scored; again, no reason to overreact as of yet, but should this downward trend continue, Mladá Boleslav are obviously in big trouble.
6. FC Hradec Králové (▲2)
Results-wise, the newcomers had endured a rough restart, but once a victory finally arrived on 6th spring attempt, it got paired up with another one at Teplice — and back-to-back wins are hard to come by, weirdly, for any team fighting for that free (but undesirable regarding ambition/finances) 6th spot.
Regardless of results, Hradec are an even tougher nut to crack now than they were in the fall — arguably the main focus of Miroslav Koubek. They are still annoying off the ball further up, but their much-maligned average of fouls per game has dropped considerably, any defensive xG-based variables are showing slight progress if anything, and most importantly, they don’t look nearly as flabbergasted whenever they face a counter-attack these days. Had they received at least mediocre goalkeeping from Vilém Fendrich at times, they would’ve been even better off at the moment. Not that they need it.
Meanwhile, Jan Mejdr and Adam Vlkanova are still more or less going strong, but the lateral winter tweaks have been key (effect Baník would give everything for) — Filip Kubala has been a great find in that “right winger/second striker” role Dvořák had previously filled and Petr Rybička looks like a real deal coming up from the 2nd tier without a hint of nerves.
5. FC Baník Ostrava (▲1)
I’ve been a big advocate of Ondřej Smetana being allowed to grow with the team, and I remain one despite the current 3-game winless streak and the latest Karviná debacle. It’s important to keep some perspective: this is only a second 3-game winless streak Smetana has overseen since taking charge of the team in February 2022 as the youngest top flight coach, the previous (4-game) one consisting of games tough matchups with Slovácko, Sparta, Hradec and Plzeň. I appreciate Baník fans are a demanding lot, but this is totally fine for your first 40 games among the big boys. Martin Svědík — more experienced and universally more respected, too — carries the exact same record of two longer winless streaks this season. Václav Jílek has endured four of those, and I’m not entirely convinced he’s working with a worse squad.
Baník Ostrava have a great tradition of giving younger coaches a first shot at the Czech top flight: Josef Kolečko, Jaroslav Gürtler, Evžen Hadamczik, Pavel Vrba, Verner Lička, Martin Svědík or Pavel Hapal (though it wasn’t a first for him) have all been given the keys before turning 40, and they all together cover every one of the past five decades going back to the 1970s. That’s something to be proud of, not to consider it a weakness. Smetana is a continuation of the (dying) trend for a sixth straight decade, and you know what, Evžen Hadamczik — the consensus greatest coach in club’s history — too posted two 3-game winless streaks in his first 40 games in charge (having also stepped into the role mid-season). His record then was nearly identical (20–11–9) to that of Smetana (19–12–9).
Now, does it make any sense to draw comparisons across more than four decades? Nope. Is it reasonable to expect Smetana to soon clinch back-to-back titles like Evžen Hadamczik, just on the back of this comparison? Of course not. But my point is larger: sticking with a young coach (and Smetana is a bright coach) can pay off big time, especially in the current situation where your club can pretty much only gain (Europe), not lose (eg. top flight status).
Of course, what makes the Smetana tenure feel more underwhelming than it arguably should be portrayed as is the home record. Hadamczik famously kept a home unbeaten streak running for a record 74 games, whereas Smetana’s Baník have dropped a total of 17 points in front of their own crowd since mid-October. That’s not going to cut it on the whole — less so in the popularity contest — and the underlying numbers don’t do Smetana any favours either (average xGA of 1,33 per home game ranks 13th league-wide and they’ve only barely taken a majority of shots in Vítkovice — 12th highest portion for a change), but it’s hardly a fireable offence nonetheless, surely.
4. 1. FC Slovácko (-)
For once, the mainstream media analysis of Slovácko — that they kicked off the spring really poorly — was spot on. They seemed to be overthinking everything on the ball, performing without the usual ease of the past, and ultimately combined for a mere 1,06 xGF across the first 3 games. Then they got it back on track, which suggests a bit of a pattern developing; you may recall Slovácko didn’t look great offensively early on in the autumn either, when they put in two uncharacteristically toothless efforts vs Liberec and Plzeň inside the first 3 rounds as well. Then too, they swiftly recovered.
At this point, it’s Slovácko’s Europe to lose, honestly — and they should embrace this sort of pressure. If all goes according to plan, they could open the championship group with at least a 6-point cushion on Baník and a potential buy-out ticket in the form of the MOL Cup final played at home. Last season, they hit a rough patch in April, but that was with seven games on schedule. Now they have four, three at home, and someone like Jan Kalabiška suddenly has a capable backup and gets routinely rested as opposed to 2021.
3. AC Sparta Praha (▼1)
Despite the wide media coverage they generally get, I’m actually not sure enough of a deal was made of Sparta’s early season offensive struggles: with the form of Pešek, Hložek and Haraslín not deteriorating but plummeting in comparison to their previous exploits, only three teams (!) posted a lower average xGF across the opening 5 spring rounds. Whatever you persoanlly think of the xG method, doing only marginally better than Teplice and worse than Zlín in any sort of a statistic is one unspeakably bad look all day long.
That said, I’m very sure not enough of a deal has been made of Vrba’s adjustment that led to considerably better returns in the following two rounds. The jury is still out, of course, but the fairly radical tweaks in player positions (without changing personnel) for the Pardubice match gave Sparta exactly the sort of punch they had been missing prior, and player-for-player swaps that ensued (Dočkal for Karabec, Haraslín for Pešek) stayed the course.
2. FC Viktoria Plzeň (▲1)
Speaking of the first five spring rounds, guess who had the only average xGF going above two expected goals per game? Yep, these guys. They start off cautiously, then they hit you out of nowhere, then they put you to sleep, and then they potentially hit you once or twice more. Plzeň’s chances come in waves, which is a definite strategy at this point; it’s like the jogging blueprint of walk-run-rest — you make yourself last longer and build-up fitness more effectively that way, which is just what Viktoria do re. title chase and points.
They’ve lasted longer in the title chase than anyone expected, and they’ve done so while picking up points efficiently. There’s value in the pedestrian.
Against Teplice, Plzeň attacked hard for a total of twelve minutes (32-44'), culminating in a decisive penalty goal. Good enough. Against Zlín, both their goals and notable chances fell between 39th and 50th minute. Again, a converted penalty kick was the last bit that didn’t require any meaningful follow-up. Against Hradec Králové, they peppered the opponent’s goal with 5 dangerous shots in the space of 15 minutes (13-28'), earning a lead and then just sitting on it while producing a single notable chance the rest of the way.
And that’s just 2022 examples.
I personally hate it, I wouldn’t want to cheer for it, but you’ve got to respect it.
1. SK Slavia Praha (-)
It will be a genuinely fascinating battle, because on the face of it, it doesn’t appear as though Slavia are slowing down. They still have to make one more dreaded trip to the north of the country (while praying Liberec don’t squeeze into the Top 6), but expecting any more goalless performances would be foolish. Slavia generated chances worth of 5,56 xGF in those Karviná and Liberec upsets; that’s enough of finishing inability/bad luck for a whole year.
It arguably doesn’t make sense repeating what Slavia are the best at (it’s still pretty much everything — 15 out of 24 metrics I consider relevant, “scientifically” speaking), but it’s intriguing to note that Slavia have made a significant jump from 15th to 5th place when it comes to deep completed crosses. Which sounds like a welcome development, but really isn’t: crosses completed in the unfortunate Karviná and Liberec matchups account for a staggering 21,2% of their season total. Yep. Just those two games alone. Meanwhile, against Hradec Králové, Slavia didn’t even attempt to enter the opponent’s penalty area via an open play cross once, and they bagged five goals. This is admittedly more a fun fact than some serious analysis, but yeah.
Speaking of crossing, despite not having Stanciu, Ševčík and Provod around for most of 2022 — their three most accomplished set piece takers in recent seasons — Slavia already sit on 22 shot attempts produced off of corner kicks or indirect free kicks. That only trails Jablonec and Hradec Králové, but it doesn’t signal nearly as great an over-reliance on set pieces when it comes to generating danger. In fact, on only two spring occasions did their set piece share of a single-game xG sum exceed 20% — against Karviná and Bohemians.
All data used and interpreted here are taken from Wyscout database.