2021/22 mid-season review: SK Sigma Olomouc
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 season, Sigma Olomouc angered all the xG gods by sitting 4th and on 22 points at Christmas, instead of 12th and on 17 points as “expected”, hence naturally, they are suddenly mama’s good boys and one perfect xG team. They are two points better off than they should be per expected points, but it only helps them to climb one rung up. Their xG share also ranks 10th. It’s alright.
30,7%: Did you notice how there was next to no “Ondřej Zmrzlý to Slavia” hype amid the Oscar transfer rumours. Yeah, the Czech champions surely have access to advanced stats that almost universally don’t flatter him. He continues to be a gifted build-up facilitator and a final pass option, but defensively, it’s been an ugly half a season for the 22-year-old. As a result, Sigma’s attacking efforts only stand for 30,7% of all xG generated via Zmrzlý’s channel — the lowest share in the league for the left side. That pales in comparison to Mladá Boleslav’s left-hand clique (47,7%; 6th league-wide) mostly buttressed by the actual Slavia target and a first-year F:Liga player David Jurásek. That being said, Ewerton has done a fair share of heavy-lifting for Jurásek, whereas Zmrzlý has seen a ridiculously unstable cast of wingers (Kryštof Daněk, Martin Hála, Pablo González and Tomáš Zahradníček all saw considerable amount of playing time in front of Zmrzlý). So please, do not make any hasty conclusions: Zmrzlý is still a fine prospect worth following, but until he appears to control the developments down his side, he likely won’t be moving too far up. And for his height especially, winning 8 of 18 aerial duels inside his own penalty box is also nothing to write home about.
5: Above, I call Sigma Olomouc a “perfect xG team”, which is obviously a hyperbole. They are still teasing the xG gods every now and then, in fact being the most annoying of the lot in one particular respect — seemingly having much less trouble to score than miss a genuine goalscoring chance. Per my notes, there have already been 5 games where Olomouc had more goals than missed chances, and it’s not like I’m a prude when tagging a “chance”. It all started with Round 1 vs Sparta and two goals complemented by one chance (exactly the same script was then copied on Matchday 15 vs Hradec). Then the now-legendary Zlín game followed where Sigma cruelly shot the opponent down through 4 goals without creating any other opportunity. The wild Boleslav game (3:3) was a similar case; 3 goals to go with just one chance. And finally, of course Pardubice can’t miss out on such a party: so they conceded five times despite only really allowing one more chance on top. Advanced data naturally back up this weird trend: Olomouc have, on balance, benefitted from the second weakest goalkeeping, seeing 6 goals conceded above expected in total, and taking advantage of four truly horrible performances (only Slavia and Ostrava have enjoyed more of them — five).
17,68%: When it became clear Václav Jílek would return to Olomouc, “how will he cope without Lukáš Kalvach” was often the first question/bit of analysis attached to the news. There was no heir apparent as the main ball distributor, and it shows on stats, too. Sigma have seen a 5% drop in average ball possession per game since 2017/18 — Kalvach’s debut top flight season — and while long passes, on average, constituted 15,08% of all passes that year, it’s now up to 17,68% — the 15th largest portion in the league. That alone is a big reason why Olomouc have struggled so much with chance creation; Daněk or González need to be on the ball, receiving it to their feet, not chasing after it. No freaking wonder Pablo has only contributed to seven chances created all autumn long, even lagging behind the likes of Radim Breite and Hála (8).
Here’s something that neatly demonstrates the (offensively) awkward season Sigma have enjoyed: fans have voted a goalkeeper their MotM five times (just Bohemians and Zlín fans have shown greater affinity for their custodians), a defensive-minded outfield player six times (only Hradec defensive players have received more love), and an attacking-minded outfield player… 8 times. That may seem like a high number, but it’s actually joint-lowest portion in the league along with Karviná — bloody Karviná — with the average being 11,3 times. Růsek and Zifčák were rewarded once, Daněk or Zahradníček never!
Most valuable player: Antonín Růsek
Nonetheless, despite his own club’s fans not helping out a great deal, the summer signing has appeared to deliver most value according to my model. A complete forward on his day (shortlisted for team of the week as both a centre forward and central midfielder twice each), Růsek has proven many people wrong — including myself — by showing both significant upside and potential to grow after a rather uninspired start to his Sigma stint. Four of his five goals were bagged with the scoreline gap very narrow or non-existent, while his 12 contributions to chances created from open play lead the team along with…
Wild card: Kryštof Daněk
Speaking of slow starts: Daněk notched both his goals early (currently on a 13-game drought, in fact) and earned 3/4 of his TotW nominations within six rounds, but I’ve liked his all-round game much more as the season grew older, culminating in a dominant performance against Zlín to close out the autumn.
The 19-year-old — who low-key wrapped up the fall with the most penalty area entries on the team (21) despite lasting for 90 mins on just three occasions — should be hungry to return to action and remains one of the most gifted teenagers to come through a Czech club’s ranks in recent memory. Especially his ability to gain the attacking zone via a technically flawless ball carry is a legitimate cheat code at times, already leading to 5 chances created.
Other notable players
a brief rundown of players who caught my eye for right or wrong reasons
The ones I was too high on: the centre back crop
They’ve not quite been the problem, but they are certainly a part of it, and I most definitely wouldn’t rank them 3rd in the league like I did in my season preview. I noted then already that this was a significant vote of confidence prone to steep, age-induced decline of veterans Roman Hubník or Vít Beneš, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it “steep”, the decline has indeed arrived.
For Hubník, it’s shown mostly on his aerial dominance — or a sudden lack thereof. While he was already noticeably slower in 2020/21, he also went a fabulous 18-for-24 aerial duels inside Sigma’s penalty box. Now he’s down to a rather shocking 3-for-12; a staggering 50% drop in success rate. That’s also why Olomouc allow their opponents to complete the 2nd most deep crosses.
With Jemelka and Poulolo, the issue lies more in how incompatible they seemed as the initial go-to CB tandem. In back-to-back matches vs České Budějovice and Zlín, their miscommunication resulted in a goal, and even though they’ve improved as a pair later on, it wasn’t by much. In the end, Sigma centre halves have combined for 10 goal-allowing actions (minor mistakes), and one extra penalty foul from mistake-free Hubník, which isn’t the league worst but it’s on par with Teplice and more than Karviná or Zlín.
The one I was too low on: Jiří Spáčil
One of the quiet breakout stars of the season, Spáčil didn’t even feature on my pre-season depth chart; that’s how irrelevant I saw him within his own team. And then he burst onto the scene as this all-action midfielder who usually starts as a defensive midfielder, but progresses to be very influential further up. That he’s only racked up 390 minutes, and yet managed to leave a great mark against both Slavia and Plzeň, may speak volumes about his potential. Sustaining his current rate of over 1 chance-creating action and ball recovery in final third per game most likely proves too hard, but I suppose fans will forgive Spáčil if he doesn’t turn out to be an earth-shattering record-breaker.
The one that got away (from most radars): Jakub Matoušek
I’m intrigued how Matoušek fares in the spring after yet another strong training camp. There was a considerable buzz surrounding him going into the season, and I felt like he mostly lived up to the billing early on as a starter, especially via the active performance against České Budějovice (Matchday 3). But Jílek clearly wasn’t of the same opinion, so he let him hidden away for much of the rest of the way. Now the talented winger with potential to make a difference as both a dribbler progressing play and a final pass/cross provider is begging for an increased role. He’s so hard to stop when running at you.
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