2021/22 mid-season review: 1. FC Slovácko
Welcome to a brand-new Fortuna:Liga series, reviewing each and every team’s 2021 autumn one by one, one day at a time, until the league finally gets back underway on February 5. This is not a particularly new thing or a format, mind — it’s mostly just this old Twitter thread moved into the Medium space, containing a couple of new categories without the strict word limit and some more polished graphics from Adam.
Preface for those eagerly awaiting another installment of Power Rankings and MVP race series: this will act as one installment as the clubs are sorted in the exact order they would be if this was Power Rankings, and we’ll delve into my MVP model as well. Only the All-stars will have to wait — those will come after Round 20 (ie. two thirds of the regular season), I reckon. So soon after restart.
Last Christmas, I went as far as ranking 1. FC Slovácko second while this year I drop them down two places, even though they look more consistent, more complex as an attacking outfit, and overall better. It’s peculiar, but it makes sense: Sparta are improved, too, and Plzeň have #results back on their side.
What’s most important, however, is the shift in perception: where I had to convince you — and myself — that Slovácko are a true Top 4 team last season, I now don’t have to do that anymore as it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even accounting for the late fall stumble, Slovácko appear to be here to stay.
0,37: Slovácko are one of only three teams with both their outside channels earning 60+% of all xG generated from positional attacks (Sparta, Slavia). Plzeň and Mladá Boleslav have a common downfall (left-hand side), Ostrava struggle a little bit on the right, and no one else even earns 50+% on both sides of the pitch. As I stated previously, separation at the top is real. Curiously enough, per overall % share, Slovácko’s right-hand side is the better one (or more balanced, to be precise), yet it’s clear as a whistle that the left-hand side is their actual weapon. Offensively anyway. Indeed, through Jan Kalabiška, Daniel Holzer, Jan Navrátil and occasionally contributing Lukáš Sadílek, Slovácko generate chances of a combined value of 0,37 xGF per game — the highest rate out there and marked year-over-year improvement (0,22). That said, Kalabiška et co. subtract a lot of that value by allowing 0,24 xGA on a weekly basis the other way — only the 8th best rate. Still, if they can recover their attacking mojo from the first 14 rounds (when Kalabiška et co. destroyed Teplice and Bohemians, earning 0,5+ xGF on four other occasions) after getting completely nullified by all of Sparta, Budějovice and Hradec, Martin Svědík may easily swallow the deficiencies at the back.
15: I’m no set piece expert, but it definitely seems as though Slovácko have a fantastic structure on defensive corner kicks. They’ve conceded 15 shots following corners all autumn long, boasting the lowest average per game (0,8) and the lowest percentage of corner kicks finished off (22,1%) in the league. At one point, they had a 4-game stretch without allowing anything from corner kicks — a streak only Sparta managed to equal to close out 2021. What’s peculiar is that all of their defenders have (below) average success in aerial duels undergone within their own penalty area (only Michal Kadlec has won at least half of them, and only barely so — 15 out of 27), so it must be a structural thing; superior positioning leading to less duels and less threat.
8,4: Speaking of structure, Slovácko are once again a top class team when it comes to forcing high turnovers by design, meaning they recover plenty of balls in the final third just by standing/moving in(to) right areas or positions, without having to undergo a duel of any sorts. Slovácko’s average currently stands at 8,4 — just behind Jablonec in the 2nd place — up by almost one such recovery per game compared to 2020/21 (then it was 7,6; still good for 3rd). The positioning/duel distinction is an important detail. For example, Hradec’s challenge intensity upfront is through the roof, but they only record 5,4 high positional recoveries per 90, ranking 11th. Slavia are in the same waters, and Jablonec are so furiously focused on winning balls up high, they leave themselves exposed at the back-end as we discussed as part of their write-up. As for Slovácko, it’s all about balance once again: their PPDA is actually below par on the whole (on average, they let the opponent exchange 9,25 passes before bothering to intervene — 13th most passes per defensive action), but as you head deeper down the pitch, their PPDA shrinks (their spacing tightens), which is a good thing — having it the other way round is much less desirable.
The key to good league standing is avoiding glaring errors. Who knew, eh? All of Slavia, Plzeň and Slovácko have only seen one big mistake leading to a goal (Stanislav Hofmann on the Bassey winner in the one-for-ages Č. Budějovice clash), which is a great departure point and it makes you think where would Sparta be without their four extra errors leading to a conceded goal. Higher?
Accordingly, Slovácko have seen their defensive-minded players go up for team of the week 26 times (only Slavia’s 29 nominations beat the total) without really sacrificing any other position (31 shortlist appearances went to attacking minded ones — 4th most — and a joint-leading 5 to Filip Nguyen). The league clearly has favourites, too: apart from Nguyen, it’s above all Kadlec — nominated 7x in sharp contrast to Hofmann’s 0 calls — but also Kalabiška. Beginning with Round 8, there have been only two rounds deemed to have featured three better left backs than him, which sounds like a stretch.
Most valuable player: Václav Jurečka
From 10 points (five of them important) and just a single TotW nomination in 2020/21 all the way to 11 points (seven of them important) and a whopping eight TotW nominations in 2021/22? Sounds like a fair compensation, I guess.
Certainly not overcompensation, mind — Jurečka has been a stud for Slovácko, doing so much work off-the-ball too (throwing ten chance-creating actions and two goal-creating actions into the mix) and chipping in with at least a trio of real man-of-the-match performances — but I’m honestly not so sure he’s been as much better than in 2020/21 as the discrepancy in general appreciation suggests. It’s absolutely OK to rate him way higher now (after a greater sample), but it’s hardly OK to pretend he only just came out of nowhere. I would even go as far as saying Jurečka was more of a break-out star last year than this year, bagging one third of his 2021 goals in the spring.
Wild card: Lukáš Sadílek
On just about every other broadcast, you hear how Sadílek hasn’t been as prolific as he was last term — a case in point for how toxic this whole fascination with points is. Yes, Sadílek finds himself 10 points off his 2020/21 total, but he didn’t enjoy any visible dip in form even as he was waiting for his first point till mid-October, with his 2021/22 pointless stretch halting just shy of a thousand minutes (on 972 mins to be precise). Over that stretch, he naturally wasn’t up for TotW even once, in spite of his 11 contributions to chances created, only to go on a heater TotW-wise and earning 8 straight calls.
Football, man. Such a weird sport.
In all seriousness: Sadílek has for long been a high-profile national team snub without really being one because, well, he plays for Slovácko and they are not in European cups, Bohemia or whatever the hell you come up with to excuse the inexcusable. With as many recoveries in defensive third as chance-creating actions further up (26) and a wonderfully balanced crossing/passing ability, I’m honestly over anyone suggesting Sadílek hasn’t been worth a try. At least on the bubble—still yet to show up on the damned reserve list — he so fucking has.
Other notable players
a brief rundown of players who caught my eye for right or wrong reasons
The one I was too high on: Vlastimil Daníček
I can’t say I was particularly high on my namesake going into the season (it was clear he struggled in the spring following the covid outbreak), but I still didn’t expect him to look like a defensive liability seemingly more often than not. He was trusted as a starter against Slavia (1:2) only for Slovácko to leak down the middle; he was once again trusted as the plug to see off a victory against Č. Budějovice (overseeing all three conceded goals in the last 25 mins); and in his first and last full start since mid-September — in 2:2 draw vs Hradec Králové—Slovácko’s central channel allowed 0,3+ xGA from positional attacks for the first time since… oh yeah, mid-September.
Could be just a coincidence, but likely isn’t. He does look off the pace.
The one I was too low on: right-hand side
I was generally positive Slovácko could keep the spirits up after a phenomenal break-out in 2020/21, but if I saw one glaring area of weakness that could easily torpedo their back-to-back European bid, it was the right flank. In my season preview, I wrote: “Tomič could be this year’s breakout star, but with Navrátil taking a step back last term, Reinberk taking a couple of them offensively, and Petržela one year older and carrying a knock throughout pre-season, why wouldn’t you inject some fresh blood? Could Libor Pernica be it? You’d think we would’ve seen at least something from a 21-year-old prospect if he’s up for it. Something’s got to give; as for xG generated from positional attacks, 2020/21 Slovácko had the 2nd weakest right flank behind only Příbram!”
Now, I didn’t get it all wrong. Tomič has been fine in patches and Navrátil has been a non-factor just because he only spent 102 minutes on the right. But yeah, Milan Petržela is somehow still going strong — leading the team in chance-creating actions (28) — and Petr Reinberk has recovered his attacking mojo after being the main reason Slovácko’s right-hand side barely generated any threat in 2020/21. Nowadays, it’s the 3rd most dangerous right flank instead of 17th, with Reinberk himself involved in nine goal situations.
The one that got away (from most radars): Marek Havlík
For a long while, he was perenially underappreciated; then some people got kind of sick of him still being mentioned as a big club target without actually making the leap, perhaps leading to him being somewhat overrated in the eyes of some; and now he’s firmly back to being underrated as a mere 3-time TotW nominee whose top notch vision and passing ability from deep has been at the root of seven Slovácko goal moves. Per my model, Havlík is actually 35th most valuable player in the league on the strength of being a low recovery machine (58) without being any cautious defence-first player. His sweet left foot is an asset on set pieces and routinely produces smart passes (of which he’s completed the most on team — 7) or good ol’ through balls (his current 7 accurate ones are one shy of his 2020/21 total).
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