2021/22 mid-season review: FC Hradec Králové
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 the 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.
So it just happens that a year on from Pardubice sitting comfortable 7th in my winter Power Rankings, their regional rivals and another newcomers from Hradec Králové are now sitting no less comfortable 7th in my winter Power Rankings. What a coincidence, and what an achievement for the Koubek-Hejkal coaching duo — reunited 14 years after coming together at Kladno.
24,40: As I pointed out at various points of the season, ‘Votroci’ are a fiercely pragmatic, direct side that looks to hit you when you expect it the least — not necessarily on a counter, but definitely by utilizing as few passes as possible. Hradec average the least attempted passes per shot (24,4) of all Fortuna:Liga sides, and while that’s by no means an automatic sign of a good team (Slavia attempt many of them!), it’s worth noting that the three teams with the most attempted passes per shot are also 3/4 of the teams yet to reach the 20-goal mark. The correlation appears to be there, and it helps that Hradec are also the most effective/straightforward in gaining the zone — averaging the least pass attempts per touch in the opposing penalty box (16,69). It’s all a strategy.
52,6%: What you’re looking at here is the percentage of games in which Hradec allowed less than one expected goal (10), ie. number of times their opponent was significantly starved of quality opportunities. In those matchups, ‘Votroci’ conceded as many goals as they won points (11), which is both unlucky and a great foundation to further build on. Slavia and Sparta have both put in 13 such defensively solid performances, but no one else — including Plzeň, Slovácko (also 10) and Ostrava (7) — can beat Hradec’s total. In the end, Hradec finished the autumn with the best rolling xGA over the past 5 games (despite facing two Top 5 sides in Slovácko and Sparta) and the second best 10-game rolling xGA (now the sample covers Ostrava, Jablonec and Boleslav, too — three of the most adept attacking outfits). Over the entire fall, only Slavia have proved more resistant against positional attacks!
18,6: The last game of 2021 was a belated eye-opener for many neutral spectators: Hradec Králové help themselves with plenty of fouls, yeah. The Fortuna:Liga twitterosphere seemed to be uninamously taken aback by their 29 infractions, but that was a novelty just because of the rare spotlight that comes with Sparta; in reality, it was a fourth time in six games that they went over 20. On the whole, Hradec’s current season average (18,6) goes an astonishing five fouls over the league average (13,6), and so you could easily argue — I suppose — they are further damaging Fortuna:Liga’s bad reputation. Yet for Hradec itself, it’s not an overly big deal: only 15,3% of their fouls has warranted a caution (4th lowest share) and even less of them (13,8%) were committed inside their own defensive third (2nd lowest share after Sparta). That said, ‘Votroci’ face one finished off indirect free kick a game (no other team in the league reaches one); surely a result of such high-volume fouling.
It has nothing to do with MVP race, really, but I find it fascinating that — excluding set piece goals and tap-ins — Hradec Králové have registered only three right-footed strikes over the entire autumn compared to 7 left-footed ones, making them the sole team in the league heavier on lefties than righties. Per Transfermarkt, there have been a total of 172 such right-footed goals, with Sparta alone responsible for 20 and the second lowest amount being 6.
Anyway, more to the point: ‘Votroci’ generally don’t offer many scorers (seven of them, to be precise), and their attacking-minded players are responsible for less than a half of all team MVP points (49,5%). That’s the lowest percentage of all Fortuna:Liga outfits, though Hradec’s defensive-minded players are responsible for a league-leading 45,3% of all team MVP points (a whopping 4,5% more than the second most defence-heavy team), so it balances out.
Most valuable player: Adam Vlkanova
Not even close. Together with starting right back Jan Mejdr, Vlkanova is the only Hradec player with a legitimate claim for “the best player on his position”, and that alone is worth appreciating on a promoted team. A 7-time spectators’ MotM, 6-time official TotW nominee and 3-time Deník Sport’s MotM, Vlkanova has managed to keep a tight lead over Ewerton in chance-creating actions (39 vs 37) and by himself constitutes 23,3% of all Hradec MVP points, which makes him the most valuable player in the league relative to the rest of the squad (Bassey finished on 22%, Ewerton a little over 18%).
Wild card: Jakub Rada
He’s the very definiton of a wild card; a midfield operator who usually sits pretty deep, pretty far from the opponent’s goal, yet all the same the one Hradec player whose goals have fetched his team the most expected points per CSfotbal’s model. Sure, two of them were penalties, but two game-winners (in 1:0 games) were not, just like his equalizer at Mladá Boleslav. A cunning free kick taker, Rada leads the league in goals from outside the box (3), and it’s a familiar territory for him, as he finished at the top of the pack in 2015/16, too (4). In fact, since the start of that season, he’s notched 9 goals from mid/long-range; overall he’s got 12 non-penalty goals to talk about.
Other notable players
a brief rundown of players who caught my eye for right or wrong reasons
The one I was too high on: Erik Prekop
I can’t claim an extensive knowledge of the Slovak winger, but I dared to assume that an 11-point star of the promotion campaign would continue to power Hradec Králové in the top flight as well. Instead, Prekop whiffed on three good chances early doors, wasn’t involved much in the build-up either, and soon disappeared from the starting line-up altogether. I try not to dwell too much on production (as its lack is often down to external factors such as teammates), yet when you’re pointless after 800+ mins, it’s hard to ignore it. A combined 2,73 xG+xA generated suggests Prekop is overdue, but still…
The one I was too low on: Petr Kodeš
Roughly two years ago, I tweeted this:
Soon afterwards, Teplice marked Kodeš a damaged goods, turned him into a makeshift centre back for the rest of the 2020/21 and then loaned him out to Hradec Králové where he ultimately signed a permanent contract. Now 25, Kodeš is still a ludicrous foul machine, picking up yellow cards for fun (8 already!), but he’s also doing much better on the ball and efficiently breaks up play, with two of his interceptions directly leading to goalscoring chances.
The one that got away (from most radars): Pavel Dvořák
It’s not just Prekop who’s lagging wildly behind his 2020/21 output. Dvořák himself contibuted to Hradec’s return to the top flight with 15 points (most on team), and while his five goals actually put him on par with Vlkanova, he’s not getting his fair share of assists — the area he should, in theory, be even more useful. Dvořák is more of a second striker below Daniel Vašulín, offering some top notch hold-up play featuring plenty of neat little lay-offs and… no assists. That’s despite he’s played a part in 3 goals moves, 14 chances created and overall accumulated 1,55 expected assists per Wyscout. For reference, Yira Sor has managed to turn 1,4 xA into five actual assists. As I said: random.
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