2021/22 mid-season review: FK Pardubice
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.
After Round 6, I refused to panic — still seeing a talented team getting let down by individual mistakes, ranking Pardubice 11th. After Round 10, I doubled down — actually pushing Pardubice up one place. At this crossroads, I can’t say I’ve run out of patience (I’ve loved the club’s winter transfer window thus far!), but I can’t keep cutting the team slack forever either; 13th place is where it belongs for now. I remain positive they’ll stay up easily, but… yeah.
32,4%: The whole asylum thing has finally caught up with Pardubice. One of only 7 teams to pass the 30-point mark at home last season, the sophomore team is currently on pace to end up with a measly 11 points this season. Following the late autumn push, they are now the only side in the league with more success on the road (3 victories vs 1, though one of those three was at Ďolíček, their “home”), despite having to wait for their first away triumph till November 27. The main reason is easy enough to spot: Pardubice have earned a mere 32,4% goals scored in their home games, the worst mark in the league, and generally struggle to make the visiting goalkeeper work for his clean sheet. Jindřich Staněk barely needed to, but the most glaring example is the latest one — Viktor Budinský facing shots worth of a lowly 0,35 expected goals scored, even though Pardubice actually generated chances amounting to 2,42 xG, their 2nd best attacking performance this term (after Teplice away).
0,2: Pardubice have never been keen on attacking straight after winning the ball, ranking at the very bottom of the table in terms of counter-attacks led or expected goals generated off of them. That hasn’t changed; what has, however, is the proneness to allow counter-attacks. Pardubice have swiftly gone from a league-average 0,11 counter-attacking xGA conceded per game to a league-worst 0,2 xGA. Even more damningly: while just 23,2% counter-attacks got finished off against them in 2020/21 (ranked 2nd), that percentage now reads 43,9% — not quite the league worst (12th), but definitely very concerning year-over-year development. Pardubice got utterly picked apart on counter-attack by Ostrava (1:3 loss), Sparta (2:4 loss) or Boleslav (3:2 win), not conceding a single shot off of a counter in just seven of their 19 autumn games. Only Jablonec have posted less of these games, and they have one thing in common: a fairly high or risky defensive line held by some of the slowest centre backs around recovery pace-wise (Toml/Kubista). As for actual goals, I don’t really track them, so I’ll revert to the official Fortuna:Liga website: in 2020/21, Pardubice allowed just 5 goals off of counter-attacks (joint-4th least and as many as Slavia), whereas this season, they are already sitting on 8 of them (joint-2nd worst). Sounds about right.
-6,42: Sometimes, all you need is for your goalkeeper to make that one extra save to give you strength and motivation upfront. Pardubice were getting this kind of boost aplenty last season, with both Jiří Letáček and Marek Boháč somehow fitting inside the league’s Top 7 (!) in prevented goals; combining for a difference-making 8,63 goals saved above expected. This season, it’s more like the very same goalkeepers conspired against the same outfield players, with Letáček, Boháč and Jakub Markovič collectively allowing 6,42 more goals than expected. That’s a brutal 15,05-goal swing, and so one cannot be surprised Pardubice players have looked legitimately shell-shocked. You certainly can’t blame keepers for everything and it has gotten better with time — without a great Letáček, the team never beats both Bohemians and Mladá Boleslav — but only Bohemians can complain more on balance.
I’d argue that when Dominik Kostka is your 5th most valuable player and Mojmír Chytil — a loanee — just about the most valuable fullstop, you have a problem. And you certainly have a problem when thirteen of your conceded goals (32% of all) are preceded by a glaring individual error or two. No other team has even gotten into the double-digits yet (Jablonec and Boleslav are closest with 9 thoroughly avoidable goals). That’s some astonishing incompetence, but the good news is: the source of 4 such errors has already been cut from the team (Šejvl 3, Prosek 1) and Toml — responsible for 4 more — at least shouldn’t be a nailed-on starter anymore with Pojezný coming in.
Most valuable player: Cadu
The Brazilian — who’s featured at right back, left back and left wing — isn’t without his fair share of blame for the issues described above, but his role in two conceded goals (categorized by myself as minor, unlike those noted above) pales in comparison to 10 points and 16 more chance-creating actions. Pardubice have relatively struggled to bag goals in tied/close situations, and Cadu is single-handedly responsible for a whole one third of them (4/12).
Wild card: Tomáš Čelůstka
Quietly one of the best attacking left backs in the league, the younger Čelůstka leads the team in chance-creating actions (19; Cadu is the runner-up) and can offer up five goal contributions on top, including 3 assists. Even more quietly, Čelůstka has been one of the deadliest set piece men in the business, already recording a pair of games with 3 chances set up this way. Both of them came at the tail end of autumn (heavy defeats at the hands of Olomouc and Ostrava in Rounds 16 and 18), so maybe he was just heating up.
Other notable players
a brief rundown of players who caught my eye for right or wrong reasons
The one I was too high on: Martin Toml
The writing was on the wall. After barely putting a foot wrong in 2020, Toml has endured a rough 2021 — starting with a poor spring and an absolutely terrible fall. It feels like Pardubice haven’t really been found out as a whole, but Toml individually has… and just targetting him has benefitted too many opponents far too often. Perennially off the pace and behind play, Toml has been implicated in a staggering 13 goals conceded — naturally a league high.
What’s the most concerning: the centre back’s misplaced passes led to a total of seven shots against in 2020/21, whereas now he’s already on six. That too is a result of the above-mentioned targetting: Toml is — and always has been — Pardubice’s go-to guy for building from the back, and once put under pressure, he’s mostly unable to get by. Toml is still hitting those sweet half spaces and helping the build-up considerably relative to his peers, but there’s a palpable sense of uneasiness on just about everything he does in 2021/22.
The one I was too low on: Lukáš Matějka
For whatever reason, Matějka has only been afforded 387 minutes of playing time, but he did manage to leave a mark. Not only did he score two goals amounting to 1,41 expected points added, but his interplay also looked decent at times. That said, the Liberec draw (2:2) early on in the season was his big show (off the bench!), and that’s where he showed all of the above, but since then, he’s only hit the target with two of his 16 shots, struggling to return to those previous — fleeting? — heights. Were they really fleeting, or is it just the case of inconsistent distribution of playing time leading to inconsistent performances? After not being convinced by what I saw in patches in 2020/21, I’m starting to think it could be the latter. Give him space.
The one that got away (from most radars): Lukáš Červ
Look, this has been far from a flawless maiden top flight campaign for the future Slavia skipper (bet on it!), but there’s a precious little to choose from here. Tischler is less involved in everything, so it makes sense there’s much less buzz around him than last year, Solil has been out since mid-October, Huf has completely disappeared on us, Beran and Chytil saw their loans end so they are not accesible for me, and Kostka is fine but wildly unpolished. I’m therefore kind of left with Červ who’s both smart and a fighter, both an attacking-minded midfielder and a defensive cover — the proverbial tweener. He has a lot of growing to do, especially re. imposing himself on the game (he’s sometimes just sort of there, running around, tackling people), and I haven’t liked his decision-making on the ball at times (making himself too vulnerable to a costly ball loss), but once he adjusts to tempo, he should cope.
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