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 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, Jablonec were sitting just above 3rd Sparta and scoring 1,86 goals per game; this winter, they are sitting just above the relegation play-off place in 14th, scoring 0,74 goals per game. They must’ve done something terrible to someone (insert the obligatory joke about Pelta) or else I don’t know.
In a way, it’s impossible to not have soured on Jablonec, yet here I am, insisting on them remaining a Top 8 side regarding performance. I don’t believe it’s too controversial, though, as I don’t believe it’s saying more about Jablonec (who did put in some awful performances along the way) rather than the rest of the pack simply not doing enough to be ranked higher.
26,7%: It’s a fairly straightforward stat, but one worth hammering home: Jablonec have earned a mere 26,7% of all non-penalty goals scored in their games, meaning that roughly every fourth strike belongs to them. Huh. This shouldn’t even be possible for such an objectively gifted team that’s all the while responsible for 43,7% non-penalty xG in their games; a staggering 17% difference. So, how did we arrive here? Firstly, Jablonec’s expected goals rate (an indicator of quality of chances created) far exceeds that of expected goals scored rate (taking in account just shots on target, their placement, precision etc.), suggesting some vastly underwhelming finishing. Secondly, Jablonec’s expected goals scored rate even further exceeds that of actual goals scored, suggesting some unsustainably quality goalkeeping faced at the same time. Based on Wyscout’s prevented goals metric, Jablonec have seen a league-leading 7,19 goals saved above expected, with the opposing custodians overperforming by at least 0,3 xCG (one “normal” goal in real terms) on a ludicrous 12 occasions this season. Second Mladá Boleslav have faced such adequate goalkeeping on 9 occasions, the rest on no more than 7. Tough.
63%: The greatest travesty on all this is Jablonec’s point gain at home. Two wins out of 9 home stands despite earning 63% of all shots in those matchups? Again, this shouldn’t even be possible. Case in point: four most dominant Jablonec performances per xG predictably occured at Střelnice but only fetched 5 points in total, with Petr Rada’s outfit somehow failing to beat Pardubice (1:1), Liberec (0:1) and Slovácko (1:1). Their other Top 5 xG performance? An excruciating loss to Teplice (0:1) early on in the season. What’s also peculiar: Jablonec’s defence gets about one whole xGA worse on the road, a difference-making swing that shows on the actual scoreline, too. At home, Jablonec concede 1,11 goals per game; away from home, it’s 2,4.
8,9: Jablonec are very hard to build from the back against, as they aim to completely overwhelm you in your defensive third, but once you get past that immensely annoying front line, you’re mostly fine — enjoying too much freedom. You can partially see it on this scheme from Jakub Dobiáš, but also with your naked eyes: Jakub Považanec — the holding midfielder — often pushes very high (to win the second most balls up high on the team) and thus leaves the centre backs exposed to an alarmingly large extent. In the end, Jablonec record the most positional and aerial ball recoveries in final third (8,9/1,2 per game) and the 3rd most ball recoveries via ground duel (3,9); kind of beating Slavia at their own game, but also not really, because the champions are much smarter and don’t abandon anyone in the process. That’s why Jablonec allow 0,18 xGA from counter-attacks per game (ranked 15th), whereas Slavia a mere 0,04 xGA (ranked 1st). You’ve got to have a structure.
OK, so who’s going to score the severely missing goals in the spring? Jablonec have identified only six different scorers of valuable goals (joint-least in the league), and two of them are now gone (Tomáš Čvančara, Martin Doležal) while another is a 40-year-old Tomáš Hübschman. Dominik Pleštil — also on his way out after missing the entire training camp in Spain — has assisted 3 important goals in total, making him an extra valuable team leader in assists.
On the other hand, you could also argue these exact same guys missed most of the golden chances (they did), hence they were a part of the problem more than the potential solution (maybe), and now it’s going to improve with Martin Nešpor (!) and an incoming 2nd-tier striker (erm, I wouldn’t bet on it).
Most valuable player: Václav Pilař
There was a point this season, Pilař was conceivably the hottest winger in the league. That point is long gone, mind, but he truly was great in the early goings, earning two of this three TotW nominations inside the first 3 rounds (plus doing some great stuff in Europe, too) and some national team love. For a little while afterwards, Pilař went largely missing, only to roar back as the most consistent Jablonec chance creator between rounds 11 and 17 again. Pilař is still waiting for his first assist, but 13 contibutions to goalscoring chances and 2 more contributions to goal moves strongly suggest it’s coming.
In fact, even without a large supply of points, Pilař has often been the sole bright light for Jablonec fans who’ve voted him their MotM a league-high 7 times.
Wild card: Miloš Kratochvíl
One of the few true all-action midfielders, Kratochvíl will always be underappreciated by those who only look at numbers. He’s once again on pace for an underwhelming return of four points across 30 games of the regular season, but he’s nonetheless kept this midfield ticking. By far the biggest workhorse from among attacking-minded players who doesn’t mind to drop deep to recover balls and a tremendous tight space operator, Kratochvíl has played a role in 15 chances created, only lagging behind Jan Krob (19).
Other notable players
a brief rundown of players who caught my eye for right or wrong reasons
The one I was too high on: Jaroslav Zelený
In my Jablonec bold prediction, I infamously tipped Zelený to crack the national team bubble, and he hasn’t come at all close to actually doing it.
Zelený hasn’t quite bombed spectacularly, but given the heights he hit in 2020/21, he’s been a notable let down this season. The former Slavia loanee has already doubled the amount of possession lossess via pass leading to a shot (6 instead of 3) and he’s generally looked less reliable even though there was no personnel turnover on his position. Still lining up next to Vojtěch Kubista or Jakub Martinec, Zelený has been implicated in 7 conceded goals — one of them a result of poor communication with Kubista, and one with Martinec.
The one I was too low on: David Houska
In my Olomouc season preview, I talked about his fading final third influence, but Houska has enjoyed a solid bounce-back season at Jablonec in this regard. He’s already more than doubled his total of expected assists from 2020/21 (going from 0,6 to 1,28 xA with 2021/22 still having a third of the schedule to clear), and while five of his 9 primary chance-creating actions arrived via set pieces, he had a chance to be the primary dead ball guy for Sigma, too. Point production is still an issue for Houska (1+0), but he’s refreshingly trending in the right direction after years of stagnating/trending in the wrong direction.
The one that got away (from most radars): Jakub Považanec
The Slovak midfielder is a bit of a miscast at Jablonec as he really doesn’t have what it takes to underpin a whole central midfield like he’s often asked to, but I still fear he’s wildly underappreciated as far as his creative mind goes. There’s very few midfielders capable of threading as cute a through pass and delivering as crucial a pre-final pass as him, with Považanec completing the second most deep passes on the team (15) and giving a hand to two goal moves. In spite of all that, he’s only gotten shortlisted for TotW once.