2021/22 team preview: Bohemians Praha 1905

The penultimate grouping of teams that was supposed to be the tightest of them all, because of moving across one Prague quarter of Vršovice, didn’t turn out to be a grouping at all because I’d failed to publish this early enough. With apologies, we go straight to Ďolíček…

I don’t know what feels longer ago: whether it’s Bohemians getting past Slovácko and moving only three games away from Europa League, or Bohemians pulling off the Great Escape under the guidance of Martin Hašek.

Incredibly, neither of it is particularly old, falling within the past two years.

That’s how long the entire Covid era feels, but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that following multiple “waves” of it. It’s also the same era, by the way, of which Bohemians became something of a legend thanks to “tribuna štafle” — the Stepladder Stand depicted above — a concept as iconic as it was short-lived.

Let’s hope it doesn’t ever need to come back alive…

Looking back on 2020/21

What went (particularly) right

It was fairly easy for a neutral spectator to cheer for Bohemians in 2020/21, I imagine, because it felt like heart-warming storylines naturally gravited towards them. There was the away win at Sparta after nearly a quarter of the century. There was David Bartek’s record of 10 top flight season with a goal in the Bohemians jersey. Then there was the improvised one-game switch to #40 for Josef Jindřišek, the birthday boy. Then there was another goal-scoring comeback from injury for Bartek. And finally the lowkey historic runs without conceding and losing. Patrik Le Giang needed just 91 more minutes to equal the club record from 1974/75, while at another point, the whole team needed just two more non-loss results to equal the club record unbeaten streak of 1984/85 (14). Only four clubs had pinned together more than 10 unbeaten games in the past five years (Slavia, Sparta, Plzeň, Olomouc)… now it’s five.

What went (especially) wrong

No one I know can quite put the finger on what exactly, but there’s something rotten internally, because otherwise you wouldn’t be losing key players at such a rate like Bohemians for (next to) nothing. After the Mosquera fiasco, two more players announced their departure well in advance (Till Schumacher, Jan Vodháněl) and one more left a bit too abruptly for such a gifted homegrown player who’d been groomed to be a key player (Antonín Vaníček). On the pitch, Bohemians especially underwhelmed in the autumn, somehow sitting 14th a mere four points above Zbrojovka Brno at Christmas. At one point, they even rattled off six straight losses on the road. Poor.

Most valuable player

I’m sure on most teams, you would’ve guessed him — or at least come close with your pick. Here, I’m not so sure, honestly. On a team where 450 mins of action are enough for Hugo Jan Bačkovský to crack the Top 3, anything can happen.

Either way, Bohemians’ arbitrary Most Valuable Player would be Martin Dostál on the strength of three assists, six TotW shortlist appearances (getting voted in three times), overseeing 11 clean sheets from start to finish, and getting rewarded by Deník Sport for his exploits with two MotM honours.

Funnily enough, Dostál was never voted his team’s best player on Fortuna:Liga website. Not once. And he didn’t actually top his team’s charts in any of the above-quoted respects bar clean sheets (where only Vladislav Levin can say the same for himself). Vaníček and Petr Hronek had more assists and TotW nominations, while the latter (and Bačkovský) beats him in DS MotM’s.

Underlying numbers-wise, here’s how Dostál compares to his rivals:

Chip on the shoulder

His angered celebration of a penalty goal against his boyhood club went viral. Cool. But now that Příbram are relegated, what’s going to power Roman Květ instead? Pff, I don’t know, may I suggest the good old-fashioned… ambition?

You see, Květ took a significant step forward last term with barely anyone noticing, and so now it’s time to take it a notch further and really announce yourself on the stage. Bohemians have flexed on the transfer market over the summer, but focused nearly exclusively on wide areas (Nový, Fulnek, Kovařík). Attacking midfield — Květ’s territory — is meanwhile weaker without Vaníček. At the same time, Jindřišek and Vacek are a year older, so Květ’s usual influence will need to be even more complex than throughout 2020/21.

Inside the club’s off-season

with much thanks to @ogy_16, @MartMartinec and @Nedy47 for guiding me through the motions of Bohemians’ pre-season; all input has been edited for clarity and style

Squad turnover

It’s worth reminding everyone that Jan Vodháněl is technically still a Bohemians player as of today, it’s just that he’s firmly out in the cold and definitely not taking the field for them ever again. That said, his 174 mins wouldn’t have any significant impact on Bohemians’ squad churn either way.

Generally speaking, Luděk Klusáček and his coaching staff have, in fact, seen a peculiar influx of new players without really losing anyone of note besides Vaníček — who was also put in a bit of a doghouse for the last 6 rounds so the team could kind of prepare for his departure. Then you’ve got Schumacher leaving (again, announced prematurely) and Matěj Pulkrab returning from his loan (which everyone saw coming too, obviously), and that’s pretty much it — Filip Hašek, Daniel Kosek or Jakub Nečas are hardly worth mentioning.

As of now, therefore, Bohemians are retaining 85% of their 2020/21 playing time, though you’d think they are still going to shed at least one or two strikers. With Matěj Koubek back from loan and impressing in pre-season, the choice may again be Michael Ugwu or possibly Ibrahim Keita, too. Neither of them (much like Pavel Osmančík) is helped by ongoing health issues.

Biggest addition

I don’t know. For Bohemians’ standards, this summer is full of refreshing strengthening, but to automatically call it difference-making or game-changing would be a reach. Just glance at the depth chart below; while certainly not set in stone, only Jan Kovařík features as a likely starter. Otherwise it’s just strengthening the depth by unwanted/relegated players.

I know Bohemians’ fans are vaguely satisfied, and the murmurs inside the club apparently start including a potential challenge for Europe (once the stadium is ready, hopefully by 2023), but it’s a resounding “meh” from me.

Jan Chramosta rivalling Tomáš Necid for a starter’s spot up top would make for a thrilling prospect in 2008/09 when they both together averaged 0,77 goals per game (a combined 17 strikes in just 21,96 full starts), but now?

Meanwhile, Jakub Fulnek simply just runs a lot and will play wherever you point, which is nice and all but hardly wins you games (and one would think Bohemians had learnt their lessons with Rudolf Reiter), while Martin Nový was one of the better Příbram players which… barely tells you anything.

So, all in all, you’re basically left with the hope of Kovařík’s magic left foot coming to life at Ďolíček the way Jakub Podaný’s left foot did not long ago.

Greatest subtraction

As mentioned above, Antonín Vaníček had effectively been phased out in the spring — first getting subbed off/on at around half-time while suffering from minor knocks, then vanishing from match squad altogether towards the end.

He’s still the biggest loss, though, if only because he doesn’t leave behind any natural replacement of his. Klusáček’s preferred 3-5-2 formation arguably isn’t best suited for him unless you’re willing to play him as a withdrawn second striker (which Klusáček decidedly wasn’t) — so, good for Vaníček that he’s now getting an opportunity elsewhere — but Bohemians will inevitably struggle to replicate his hard-nosed dribbling and varied impact upfront.

Ironically, as part of my Jablonec preview, I highlighted Vaníček’s influence in the final third as somewhat underwhelming in the league’s context — yet in the Bohemians context, his 24 deep completed passes and 24 deep completed crosses both ranked 2nd on the team, with no one coming at all close to sitting this high in both categories. Clearly then, Vaníček was doing something no one else could, entering the penalty area from open play 45 times to Květ’s 35.

New kid on the block

Matěj Koubek’s pre-season explosion (a total of 4 goals against decent competition — Teplice and Akhmat Grozny) definitely feels new especially after he’d mostly struggled to find the net as part of his two recent 2nd tier loans at Jihlava and Ústí nad Labem. That said, @MartMartinec had heard good references coming from Ústí, so maybe he was a promise all along.

Koubek is 21, hence arguably (over)due for a breakout, whereas other pre-season stand-outs are still in their teens yet kind of close to permanent first-team status due to a generally lacking depth. Adam Kadlec (b. 2003) already got a sniff last season and will get more chances with Lukáš Hůlka out, while slightly older Radek Lehovec (b. 2001) shall provide competition at RB/RWB after surviving a scare vs St. Pölten without any major head/neck issue.

Other younger players like Michal Vrána (b. 1999) and Lukáš Musil (b. 2001) sadly couldn’t fight for their place at the main training camp due to their own injuries, while Vojtěch Novák (b. 2002) may be younger but is more of a household prospect especially following his confident late penalty vs Baník.

Looking ahead to 2021/22

Below is the team’s current depth chart with a maximum of 4 alternatives for one position. All depth charts are up to date as of July 18 and obviously subject to change since the transfer window is far from closed at the moment. Players highlighted in red are longterm absentees (due to return in months rather than weeks), while players in italics are not confirmed but very likely arrivals. Those likely to depart will be highlighted in the text below, as will some other depth options. To add a little flavour to the depth chart, I’ve intuitively ranked various positions/areas of the pitch — goal, right flank, left flank, central defence, central midfield, forward positions (incl. attacking midfielders) — league-wide from 1 to 15, which is what the different shading (from blue to red) demonstrates.

  • That’s a lot of red, isn’t it, for the above-mentioned optimism about the ongoing transfer window. The lack of balance is staggering for a club that doesn’t seem to suffer financially, as you’ve got a relatively few centre halves at your disposal — a precarious situation in and of itself, made only worse by Lukáš Hůlka set back a few more months with another terrible injury — but also relatively many right (wing) backs for some odd reason;
  • I’m not necessarily saying Puškáč and Necid are a match made in heaven, but the way their turqoise and red parts don’t ever overlap is pretty neat…
  • Speaking of complementing each other, the three starting centre backs actually do make some sense together — Köstl risks too much with his passing but ultimately adds value upfront, Krch sweeps stuff up defensively and Bederka… is also there — but the grand issue is the “ball/duel loss leading to a shot” metric where all of them are, at best, below average. Many of those possession losses are actually squandered passes which is generally a downfall of this backline, and has been for some time, as per this (edited) exerpt from my February Newsletter:

Particularly concerning is the percentage of all shots faced that was preceded by a misplaced pass. There, Bohemians are the worst team of all, and it’s not even close.

The percentage reads a whopping 18,97%, which in translation means that just about every fifth shot attempt Bohemians face this season is allowed by less than precise passing/clearing. The second worst are Slovácko where the percentage stands at a mere 14,01%, however.

The comforting factor for Slovácko is that their defenders and midfielders at the same time make for some of the best progressive passers in the league. Slovácko look to get closer to the goal through passing more often than 16 teams in the league, and yet they enjoy the sixth best success rate. In the case of Bohemians, just 21,19% of all their passes are by definition progressive (14th league-wide) while a mere 66,37% of such passes find their target (16th league-wide).

That Bohemians refuse to add a ball-playing CB who could help alleviate this self-imposed pressure (like, you know, a healthy Lukáš Pokorný) is beyond me…

  • Can we just stop for a second and briefly appreciate the fact Sparta had the cheek to loan out Bačkovský for 3 whole years while giving themselves a right to pull him back at any time, and Bohemians just went “yeah, sure, sounds fair”…? That’s like you lending a car to your neighbour for a 2-week holiday with a minor caveat that you might need it back in three days. Or like allowing your son to throw a party at the family house only with a slight possibility of you returning home in an hour. Why the bother? Why not just make it a simple permanent deal with a buy-back clause?
  • On a related and more serious note, Patrik Le Giang is there for the taking:

Statistical/tactical trend to follow

First of all, per @ogy_16, Klusáček did a weird thing in pre-season and abandoned his favourite two-striker formation, going 4-2-3-1 in the double-header with Teplice to try out Chramosta in the second striker role. It fetched a goal for the newcomer, so maybe it’s a fall-back option in the future. Otherwise, and more typically, count on Bohemians switching between 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 — with the latter option now drawing closer via the Hůlka injury.

Second of all, the trio of forwards Necid-Puškáč-Pulkrab combined for more penalties won (6) than penalties converted (3) despite taking 6 of them, too.

*drops mic*

Roster battle to follow

I had @Nedy47 mention to me he would’ve liked to see the club add a holding midfielder as he doesn’t feel Vladislav Levin meets the Bohemians standard. I concur, especially since 40-year-old Jindřišek followed up on his concussion with a knee injury that held him off the main training camp. Not a good departure point at such a key position, with no obvious 3rd choice pushing up.

I have Bohemians’ central midfield ranked highest of all their areas, but that still means 9th — and the passable attacking trio of Hronek, Květ and Novák does a lot of heavy-lifting there. The rest — including a painfully slow Kamil Vacek —more or less drags them back, even if this looks better than expected:

Bold prediction

The prediction: Tomáš Necid won’t register a single shot against Karviná

The rationale: Oddly specific, I know, but actually quite brave of me.

Tomáš Necid had never bumped into MFK Karviná before 2020. His six prior, largely incomplete seasons in the Czech top flight simply didn’t correspond with Karviná being around, or he wasn’t enough of a regular to face them.

Then he did get to face them, and boy did he go crazy. Necid woud fire off 3 shots on Vladimír Neuman in the November encounter, and then 5 more on Petr Bolek in the return game — accumulating 1,25 xG that amounted to nothing. Per Fortuna:Liga database, he actually registered one more attempt (putting five of them on target actually; a decent portion), making Karviná the joint-leader historically when it comes to facing Necid shots.

I repeat: Necid has played them twice. Olomouc goalkeepers have also faced nine shots from the former Slavia striker, but that’s across five matchups.

This hysterical 2020/21 run can only mean one thing: a dry 2021/22 season.

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