2021/22 team preview: FC Baník Ostrava

For our third batch, we’ll go to the Silesian trio.” I had it all beautifully planned in my head only to realize Opava are not around anymore. We’ll make a special stop in Olomouc on our trip to the northeast of the country, then, but now, let’s dive into the heart of Silesia itself — Ostrava.

It’s been more than a decade now since Ostrava welcomed European football. The likes of Radim Řezník, René Bolf, Josef Hušbauer and Adam Varadi were still donning the blue jersey back when Dnepr Mogilev infamously erected a stop sign for them in the 3rd playoff round of Europa League in 2010.

It’s not like Baník haven’t come at least close to returning onto the international scene ever since, but it’s simply been way too long for a club with the 4th most appearances in Europe’s second cup competition (11 seasons in total in Cup Winners’ Cup/UEFA Cup/Europa League).

Slovácko will soon become the 8th different Czech representative in UEFA competitions since 2011 — without Baník being one of the eight, of course.

To help instill some sort of a winning mentality in the dressing room, the club has brought Tomáš Galásek on board to create a coaching tandem with the former youth/interim coach Ondřej Smetana. No one is quite sure how big a role Galásek assumes off the bat — especially as he’s joined up with the team late in the summer due to his 2020 Euro obligations — but having previously held assistant coach gigs at 1. FC Schweinfurt 05 and 1. FC Nürnberg U-17s, the celebrated dynamo of everyone favourite Karel Brückner’s 2004 Euro team must be well versed in serving as a modest number 2 by now.

Galásek cites Ronald Koeman, his former coach at Ajax, as his big coaching influence/mentor, which is the exact kind of experience Smetana cannot call upon. Will they prove to be a match made in heaven, or could they possibly end up being more of a distraction to a dressing room that’s lost its big voice?

Looking back on 2020/21

What went (particularly) right

Beating the obviously weaker sides to the ground. That was no problem and the one area where they did find some semblance of consistency at last. A combined 9:0 scoreline against Příbram? Lovely; not even Slavia or Sparta could hold them to zero goals scored. A combined 5:1 hammering of neighbouring Opava? Wasn’t that a nice, problem-free(ish) change from the 2-1-1 record in 2018-20! A total of 5 goals apiece put past Zlín and M. Boleslav defence? You’d take that every year, wouldn’t you. When it clicked, it simply really clicked — also meaning Ostrava remained the only team to hold their opponent to zero shot attempts across 90 minutes per Wyscout. And not a bad one either. (Don’t look at F:Liga or Livesport website; they spoil all fun.)

What went (especially) wrong

Most tough battles, on the other hand, were kind of lost in advance —almost by design. Granted, Ostrava were arguably the better side in their first 2020/21 stands with both Prague “S”, pushing Slavia and Sparta to the very edge (0:1 and 0:0 scorelines), but then they barely put up a fight in both encounters with Plzeň (a total of 0,61 xGF across the two games, lost 0:6 on aggregate), allowing a combined 40 (!) shot attempts in their reverse games with Prague “S”. Sure, the early Fillo red card carried a significant influence, but coupled with a needless 89-minute Kaloč penalty foul in the MOL Cup Round of 16 loss to Sparta, it too suggested a peculiar inferiority complex.

Most valuable player

What a phenomenon this guy is. Apparently, the club wants Jan Laštůvka to carry out the starter’s duty all the way to 2023, and why the heck wouldn’t they want it? He’s like a fine wine if you’re into clichés, carrying Baník on his bare shoulders in the true sense of the popular idiom. Even a 15-point De Azevedo stood no chance compared to a guy who prevented 4,21 goals by xGC metric, was voted his team’s best player on 15 separate occasions, and got shortlisted as one of the Top 3 goalkeepers after an unrivalled 11 rounds.

My MVP model doesn’t exactly favour goalkeepers, yet only Hložek and Stanciu accumulated more MVP points as part of it — such was Laštůvka’s importance. And that’s not to mention the intangibles like leadership.

The 39-year-old needed a lil bounce back from 2019/20, and boy did he deliver:

Chip on the shoulder

After a rough start on loan at Zlín, Roman Potočný enjoyed a mini-renaissance after all, but he’s hardly a sure-fire contributor on this side regardless. With David Buchta stepping into his shoes rather impressively (but sadly not raking up enough minutes to give us a chance to make his pizza chart) and Gigli Ndefe sometimes used on the wing instead of deeper, Potočný may actually open as a 3rd-choice left/right winger — or elsewhere altogether.

This is where a frequent worry that Smetana is just a “fancy Páník” could turn out to be a winning scenario. For one individual anyway. Potočný is definitely more suited to a direct style than a pondering one Kozel had tried to force upon him, and so there’s a non-zero chance he’ll finally be of use at Ostrava.

But to say there’s a ton of ground to make up would be an understatement:

Inside the club’s off-season

with much thanks to @MBuki7, @KrenekHonza93, @JanWoska and @smusil93 for guiding me through the motions of Baník’s pre-season; all input has been edited for clarity and style

You’ll notice throughout the series that I care a precious little about what pre-season results each individual team registered. Sometimes, however, it’s relevant to care about who they chose to play, and that’s where the Baník case study becomes rather fascinating. That the team chose to stay in Kroměříž for both training camps (one focused purely on conditioning, the other more on game plans) was no new or surprising thing given the club owner’s address, but that they chose to play 2nd or even 3rd-tier clubs all the way throughout pre-season with one sole exception being the dress rehearsal? That’s baffling.

Even with this set of opponents, though, the inexperienced Ondřej Smetana somehow found a way to discredit himself even further in the eyes of many.

In one instance, @MBuki7 recalls, Smetana opted to swap Buchta and Potočný — two prototypical inside forwards who like to drift inside — to use them as direct wingers with their stronger feet on the outside of the pitch.

That obviously backfired quickly vs Prostějov. Then against Skalica — @MBuki7 continues ranting — Smetana for once chose to go the 4-4-2 route, inexplicably fielding the painfully immobile double pivot of Lukáš Budínský and Adam Jánoš. “It was like going back in time to the Páník era and his central midfield duo of Hrubý-Jánoš,” lamented my consultant, adding for good measure: “The second issue was upfront where Jiří Klíma partnered Tomáš Zajíc. Klíma was supposedly instructed to drop deeper and move the ball upfield, but with a typical poacher in Zajíc, this could never work. He doesn’t offer the strength on the ball/in duels necessary for effective functioning in a tandem.

In other words of @MBuki7: pre-season experimenting is fine and normal, but it’s got to at least make some elementary sense on paper. None of this did.

Squad turnover

As I joked on Twitter, it felt like someone at Fastav Zlín forgot to cancel all the lined-up transfer on Bob Páník’s Football Manager save following his sacking, and so suddenly all these old Páník boys started turning up at Letná. Martin Fillo left with his big heart, and so did Robert Hrubý with Rudolf Reiter.

Only parting with Fillo was a mild surprise in the context of the whole summer, whereas the disappointment over the departures of Daniel Holzer, Ondřej Šašinka, Patrizio Stronati and Reiter was of three different colours. With Holzer and Šašinka, it was more about their homegrown status (even if they’ve simply underperformed for too long to be excused). With Stronati, it was more about the underwhelming destination since England (Middlesbrough) was once on the table. And with Reiter, it was only about the nature of the deal — Baník would loooove to shed his bloated salary for good.

All in all, Ostrava have lost 1/4 of all 2020/21 minutes which shall put them somewhere in the middle of the pack eventually, but somewhat refreshingly, only 8,9% of all goals have disappeared in the process. That’s but a drop in the ocean compared to the 11 goals (31,1% of the total) Baník needed to replace in the wake of losing Milan Baroš, Dame Diop and Tomáš Smola last summer.

Biggest addition

Owner Václav Brabec has splashed about 900 000 euros on strikers only this summer, handing out contracts till 2023 and 2024 respectively, and thus making a significant — if not unprecedented — commitment in the name of the club. The need was clearly there and kudos to Brabec for getting aggressive.

Most importantly, though, both Ladislav Almási and Jiří Klíma arrive with considerable pedigree and promise. Almási was described as “Smola 3.0” to me by @KrenekHonza93: “A better finisher and a much faster player with higher ceiling. I’m definitely happier with him than with the reportedly targeted Puškáč or Necid.” Klíma, meanwhile, brings some tremendous versatility — capable of filling 4 different roles on the pitch — and expansive movement.

In my mind, there’s no doubt Klíma will prove to be a difference-maker if he stays healthy (which is always a big question mark with him), as demonstrated by his sterling underlying numbers across the board, albeit in a smaller sample size. Klíma isn’t a traditional “speedy merchant”, but he fills the pitch so cleverly to overwhelm you and make it feel like he splits in two.

From this table above, Klíma’s distinction is clear for all to see, but there’s a different layer @homor1922 nails down in his blog here. Zajíc was getting way less shooting opportunities (1,05 compared to Klíma’s 2,8 per 90), but as a result delivered a greater goal conversion (38% compared to Klíma’s 18%).

That’s the poacher for you.

Then again, I advise you to consider the “quality added to finish”, an innovative metric I explain in-depth here. What it basically means is that Klíma — ranked a wonderful 4th in the pool of 36 regularly starting centre forwards — doesn’t shoot wayward often, and when he does hit the target, the finish usually carries adequate/above average placement and power.

Greatest subtraction

There’s no second-guessing allowed — or indeed possible — in this section.

Patrizio Stronati leaves some particularly big shoes to fill behind him, especially with his sensational discipline mixed with the old-fashioned toughness (it still boggles my mind he only fouled once in his own defensive third!), heading/blocking acumen but also newfound ball-carrying ability.

Once the best centre back per my model (2018/19), Stronati hasn’t dropped too deep since then, once again landing in the upper 20% of the league pool:

The question on everyone lips, of course, is: which David Lischka turns up in his place? The 2019/20 version grades out surprisingly well, as depicted above. But the scarcely used 2020/21 version was shaky to its bare bones.

The mental aspect is indeed important as there’s a widespread belief that Lischka simply couldn’t cope with the elevated pressure at Sparta. This also creates a lateral issue: Stronati was a vocal leader, whereas “Lischka is much more tranquil and doesn’t have such great organizing skills as Stronati” per @JanWoska’s observation. Will that be a problem, or could Svozil provide some sort of a compensation in place of Pokorný whose superior distribution (bought out by his inferior defending skills) suddenly won’t be all that needed?

Anyway, Lischka is knowingly going to rebuild his reputation to his boyhood club where he made his first footballing steps — agreeing to take a significant paycut (by 2/3s according to a source) — but he’s still among the best paid Baník players who won’t be granted any time away from the spotlight.

New kid on the block

If we were to get literal with the name of this section, the actual “new kid on the block” would be Jaroslav Harušťák (b. 2002) who’s secured his place of a 4th-choice centre back virtually out of nowhere, even stepping out of the backline and deputizing in holding midfield against Líšeň (something we may see more often in-season, too, given the lack of a natural Jánoš backup).

Jarda (Harušťák) is a very hard-working, level-headed boy with good leadership skills. I knew all that from under-16 level already. But I still didn’t expect to see him perform this confidently throughout his first training camp with the A-team.

He’s got great potential especially in terms of distribution which was close in quality to that of Lischka. He was solid defensively, but needs to work on cutting out all those needless fouls, even if he wasn’t making them in danger areas. His pace is fine, his anticipation too. I’m very intrigued. @KrenekHonza93

In the meantime, another highly-touted centre back Ondřej Kukučka (b. 2004) continued in his long recovery post-serious knee injury, while lingering hamstring troubles have frustratingly kept Ondřej Chvěja (b. 1998) out of all pre-season friendlies following a positive, productive loan at Pohronie.

In the end, I’m choosing to highlight Yira Sor for this section, even though we already got a taste of his game-changing acceleration against Slavia and other spring opponents. The Nigerian usually gets mentioned as the most pleasant pre-season surprise not named Harušťák, even though his frequent switching off defensively (or in training) drives a healthy portion of the fanbase crazy.

Especially since getting a run at no. 10 — showing flashes of creativity and improved finishing — Sor might be this mercurial foreigner to take over from De Azevedo whose time at Baník seems to be running out by the month.

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.

  • I only rank Ostrava’s central midfield 10th in the league, and I have following reasons for it: 1) Jánoš doesn’t have a proper replacement despite being a replacement level himself in some respects; 2) if it comes to it — and the general lack of depth is kind of inviting it — I predict Budínský being a walking disaster in the double pivot. But at least the pre-season shift towards Tetour as a no. 8 rather than a no. 10 is welcome;
  • It looks like Nemanja Kuzmanović is staying — even if only because of Chvěja’s continued fitness struggles — and that may not be a bad thing despite his obvious decline in attacking influence and general movement. He leads by example, is a great character/team player, and it’s always advisable to keep these types around when you’re re-tooling like Baník;
  • I ran out of space for him, but De Azevedo is, of course, an option for no. 10, too;
  • Sanneh and Ndefe are a strong pair of defensively solid RB options, while Fleišman on the left continues to be a phenomenal stud who knows no decline. There’s a reason why only Slavia leaked less xG down their left-hand side than Ostrava, and the reason looks like… this pizza chart:

Statistical/tactical trend to follow

Baník only recovered 2,06 balls in the final third via aerial duels per 90; the 3rd lowest average in the league. Do you think they’ve consciously addressed this shortcoming via investing in Almási and Klíma? It was, most likely, a lateral thought at a stretch, but it’ll still be interesting to follow whether something at all changes on Ostrava’s ability to win strategic headers upfront.

Baník only attempted 2,03 penalty area entries via runs (ball carries) per 90; the lowest rate of all, even relative to entries attempted via pass/cross. Do you think they’ve consciously addressed this via investing in Klíma, who’s one of the most effective strikers in the league when it comes to gaining the zone as such? Perhaps not, but it’ll still be interesting to follow whether something changes on Ostrava’s ability to enter the box in control of the ball after they’d enjoyed the 2nd worst success rate in cracking the penalty area in 2020/21.

Roster battle to follow

I noted above that Tetour has recently been deployed deeper down, but he still remains a viable candidate for the no. 10 slot, and therefore a noted rival of the incoming Lukáš Budínský. His lack of pace, acceleration and anything related to it is well-documented — I didn’t coy the nickname “Czech Riquelme” for no reason — but it was obvious at first sight in pre-season, apparently, how he can complement what Smetana/Galásek already had at their disposal.

Budínský has a decent mid-range shot and a open play cross, which is kind of what Jánoš attempts to do on a regular basis too, but… well, he’s a holding midfielder, so it’s not ideal all these tendencies belonged to him and him only.

Bold prediction

The prediction: Galásek fully takes over from Smetana at some point

The rationale: I don’t really have one.

It just absolutely feels like the stage is (being) set for it, doesn’t it?

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