2021/22 team preview: FC Fastav Zlín

We are heading down the wire. The last bundle is random and doesn’t really have a theme. Clubs hailing from České Budějovice and Teplice are almost automatically the sole representatives of their regions, so it makes sense they are here, while Zlín do have a local derby with Slovácko, but don’t have the “UEFA competition participant” tag…

Having stitched together three consecutive seasons wrapped up inside the Top 10, Zlín are now — for a change — riding negative momentum of not finishing higher than 13th for two straight seasons instead. Quite a turnaround.

The aim now has to be another Top 10 finish to start working on some “good period-bad period-good period” sinusoid. And not just the aim; an actual ambition. A new sponsor coming in with an immediate injection of at least 5 million (roughly €195k) isn’t interested in some bottom 5 bullshit, naturally. (Besides — a bad joke alert — the name of the sponsor is Climax, so you can kind of sense what Zdeněk Grygera et co. are going for there!)

Can Fillo’s experience, Hrubý’s playmaking talent and Reiter’s “whatever-the-hell” bring about the desired turnaround? It is well worth a try, I suppose!

Looking back on 2020/21

What went (particularly) right

If there was a sizeable F:Liga analytics community to speak of, trying to (over)correct the popular beliefs of general public like in English football or American sports, there’s a fine chance Zlín would be its so-called darlings. You know, like Brighton. For at least the first part of the season, that is, when Zlín owned a legitimate Top 4 offence in terms of generating chances (and even better left flank alone), but just weren’t lucky enough to outscore their xG like Olomouc and Liberec were (and it caught up with them eventually, too). Even per actual results, they were the only team outside the Top 10 to have put together three wins in a row, and one of only 8 teams to come away victorious from back-to-back trips. They seemed poised for a breakout, you see…

What went (especially) wrong

… and then the Páník spring something something happened. One of my more controversial Newsletter editions was dedicated to bashing the “myth”, and while I stand by some parts of it (unreasonably inflated expectations following unsustainable autumn performances had, in the past, cost Páník), I was then admittedly guilty of overcorrecting myself. To be fair (to me), I did preface everything with this sentence, though: “To be clear, Fastav are legitimately awful at the moment. If they fall short at Teplice on the week-end, they’ll set a new club record for most top flight losses in a row (7).” They did not lose it (0:0), but they didn’t win for the whole rest of the way either, thus going into this brand new season riding a 11-game winless streak. The club record stands at 15 matches and it was set by guess who back in 2015/16.

Most valuable player

For the second straight year, Tomáš Poznar has topped the goalscoring charts for Fastav Zlín, and for the second straight year, it wasn’t exactly a good thing. His non-penalty totals read 7 and 6 — hardly anything to write home about — with the team’s (over)reliance on his finishing ability growing ever so toxic.

Since 2019, Tomáš Poznar has notched 13 “important goals” (ie. go-ahead or equalizing ones). Behind him, you’d find a four-way tie with… 3 such goals.

In 2019/20, the next best scorers were 3-goal Džafić and Fantiš, while last term, only 3 other players (including departed centre back Petr Buchta) have delivered multiple goals. Oof, that’s some serious lack of secondary scoring.

So yeah, Poznar was valuable to his team, no doubt, but arguably too valuable for his actual output that honestly wasn’t all that amazing: he got stuck on 10 points again and didn’t even lead Zlín with his 6 TotW shortlist appearances (Cheick Condé had made it to 7 before his sudden disappearance) or his pair of MotM awards dished out by Deník Sport (Buchta topped out at three).

Per underlying numbers, it was a particular down year for him if anything:

Chip on the shoulder

Zlín fans didn’t get it when he got a new contract this June. He’s contributed two assists across 4 000+ minutes for them, after all, without ever scoring. That’s historically as bad a record as any Fastav/Tescoma/Svit fan could recall. On top of that, he’s thought of as ineffective in defensive phase of the game.

Yet, I would argue Vakho Chanturishvili is a fine player, and will stick it up to people eventually. Once his teammates stop relentlessly letting him down, that is.

Is it the Georgian’s fault that he hasn’t turned 4,21 expected goals into any actual one? Absolutely, totally, definitely — and the player himself admitted in his post-extension interview that he needs to score more. That’s undisputable.

But can he be reasonably blamed for having just two real assists to show for 5,07 expected ones? Absolutely, totally, definitely not. That’s on his teammates. And it’s not Vakho’s fault either that people don’t seem to remember/count that he’s had a hand in the build-up to four extra goal moves in 2020/21 without getting credited for them (2+2 second/third assists).

Look, think whatever you want about advanced metrics, xG data and all that fancy stuff, but there’s a line to be drawn at some point when you criticize a player for something out of his control, and Vakho has been a frequent target.

Leave him alone! He’s a set-up beast, and needs to be appreciated for it!

(Please do note Vakho spent roughly 25% of this sample at left wing.)

Inside the club’s off-season

with much thanks to @LZavit for guiding me through the motions of Zlín’s pre-season; all input has been edited for clarity and style

Squad turnover

They’ve said goodbye to just one of their 11 most used players of 2020/21, but that one player (Petr Buchta) is a special type, because Zlín are also one of only four clubs to have parted with someone who ranked Top 50 in usage league-wide. Others are: Ostrava (Stronati), Karviná (Herc) and Olomouc (Houska). So, basically the more eastward you go, the more likely this gets.

Other than that, Zlín’s off-season outward movement was either expected for the nature of the deals (Dominik Janošek, Roman Potočný), mutually agreed upon and arguably beneficial too (Petr Jiráček), or insignificant short-term or impact-wise (Martins Mpondo Toutou, Šimon Chwaszcz, Patrik Slaměna).

Grygera has said the squad is complete, but not necessarily sealed out — that very much figures, because the roster does indeed seem reasonably deep on most positions at least, but always more so in quantity than quality.

Biggest addition

It will be interesting to see whether the heart condition and recent injury-proneness allows Robert Hrubý to return back to the playing time heights of 2017-20, because his 7 points over 733 minutes last term were… promising.

The biggest addition by definition must, however, be Martin Fillo. He was a firm fan favourite at Baník — a veteran who’d genuinely helped to transform the club’s culture following a sudden relegation — and arguably good enough to stay and contribute further, so he’s potentially a bargain for Zlín, as well.

The question is where to ideally start him, though. Ondřej Smetana pushed him back into the right wing role after he replaced Kozel, and it decidedly didn’t work out. At the same time, if you are Zlín, do you really want to block the development of by far your biggest teenage prospect who’s all the while A-team ready (and a potential cash cow)? I, for one, would be livid if it happens.

Greatest subtraction

There’s no doubt why the voice of Martin Fillo — already apparent in pre-season friendlies — was painfully needed on the pitch and in the dressing room. That’s because an equally loud and infuential voice has gone out with Petr Buchta whose planned move to Poland didn’t work out due to a failed medical and concerns about his knee ligaments. That was weird to hear, considering he’d missed only 6 games for Zlín due to injuries over the 3 full seasons (and one more due to suspension). Tough to explain and take.

Either way, Fastav fans won’t ever forget Buchta’s immense contributions at the heart of defence, ever so often putting his body on the line and saving his partners’ ass. At the same time, there’s a big chance Zlín won’t ever truly replace him this term, with Lukáš Vraštil internally promoted into the key role of a starting centre back next to Václav Procházka/Dominik Simerský who both very much need to be carried defensively based on 2020/21 evidence.

I mean… holy shit. Good luck with that.

New kid on the block

Centre back Jakub Kolář (b. 2000) is due for a bigger role purely by organic promotion thanks to the Buchta departure. But the real kid on the block is Libor Bobčík (b. 2002) who’s a bit of a vendetta for Patrik Hellebrand on Zlín’s part, having lured him away from Slovácko in 2017 just months after Hellebrand — who’s roughly three years Bobčík’s senior — went the other way.

Per Bobčík’s agent, as communicated by @LZavit, Bobčík is a “unique somatotype, strong on the ball, and doesn’t let pressure get to him”. Having undergone a week-long trial in Italy earlier this year, he looked hungry and confident in pre-season, even bagging some goals in the process.

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.

  • Looking at Zlín’s depth chart, you can fairly easily pinpoint the spots that are likely going to be their downfall should their season derail quickly. Only Teplice have as bad a CB depth as Fastav, and only Teplice have a worse starting left back in my books. Beyond Droehnle, it’s not even close. The centre forward depth is also a concern, as Jakub Janetzký usually finds himself too far from Poznar and Antonín Fantiš — @LZavit’s preferred option — could be needed elsewhere. So desperate was Jelínek in pre-season, he even gave a chance upfront to a straight-line runner like Reiter;
  • Cheick Condé is back after 5 months of (reportedly) trying to get back into the country without success, and he could be a welcome reinforcement. I still don’t rate him as the more defensive one in a two-man CM, though, as he tends to get too hasty on the ball and fouls a lot deeper down the pitch;
  • Lamin Jawo, to my knowledge, hasn’t taken part in pre-season friendlies at all — not even as a sub — and seems to be on his way out. We don’t quite know where to, but he sure as hell doesn’t appear to be in Jelínek’s plans. Which is a shame, because there’s still vast untapped potential, however inherently naive and flawed a finisher he continues to be (a mere pair of goals from 53 shots in the Czech top flight thus far really isn’t defensible);
  • Don’t sleep on Stanislav Dostál and his incredible two-year performance, considering his wildly sub-par performance in the two years prior. A very complex goalkeeper who’s an absolute gem for a club of Zlín’s stature;

Statistical/tactical trend to follow

The king is dead, long live the king!

Bob Páník is gone, but in his place now sits Jan Jelínek who by all means looks ready to follow up on his widely unpopular brand of football. Referred to as “zlínská holomajzna” by the Fastav faithful, some furiously direct 4-4-2 football is once again on the menu for all of us, as it’s a common knowledge that virtually any manager who came to Zlín with planning for a possession-based style got ultimately chased out. Fastav again played the 5th most long passes and had the 4th lowest possession share in 2020/21 — a Zlín classic! The only difference is Jelínek actually calling it “efficient football”.

We’ll see about that, mister. Because, well, this collective may as well be cursed for all we know. (See the bold prediction for more on that.)

Roster battle to follow

Apart from the mini-battles at RCB/RCF, I’m interested to see how the CM duo pans out. Assuming Hlinka-Hrubý start together, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to me if some combination of Condé-Pedro Martínez/Janetzký takes over at some point. Pedrito is a very gifted, creative midfielder but — much like Pablo Podio before him under Páník who was immediately recognized by incoming Bílek as the best CM at Zlín — he’s likely condemned to be forever underrated because he’s not some Energizer Bunny or whatever.

To that end, I’m just going to leave you with this: Pedrito chipped in with joint-3rd most passes completed in(to) the penalty area and joint-most smart passes that break the opponent’s lines despite only ranking 20th in usage.

Bold prediction

The prediction: Zlín will have a player land in the Top 10 of scoring charts

The rationale: To be clear what we are going for: by scoring charts we mean goals+assists. And to be clear how bold we are: Zlín have yet to have a Top 10 scorer on their books for the entire season, with the half-a-season exceptions being Jean-David Beauguel (2018/19) and Tomáš Klinka (2004/05).

I choose not to count these, however, because Beauguel was decidedly not on pace for the Top 10 as long as he was suiting up for Fastav and Klinka also rattled off a majority of his points (7/11) for Drnovice instead of Zlín.

At the same time, though, there’s this ever-present underachieving component on the part of some Zlín players: Tomáš Poznar was ranked 2nd in expected goals+assists (with 17) behind only Jan Kuchta (17,34) in 2020/21. Youba Dramé had 16 key passes per Wyscout’s definition, placing him 12th in the league. Vukadin Vukadinović was 11th in expected points in 2016/17; only landing 18th in actual points, though. Ubong Ekpai of 2017/18 wasn’t bad value either, with 9,16 expected points (19th) and 11 actual ones (15th).

It just never quite clicks, never quite works out. And with so many players perenially promising so much only to deliver so relatively little (include Vakho or Janetzký in that bunch, too), this ought to change at some point, surely.

If you made it here and enjoyed the article, please do consider supporting me and Adam by donating a small amount of money at BuyMeACoffee page. Thanks!

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Tomas Danicek

Tomas Danicek

One independent Czech writer’s views on Czech football. Simple as that really. Also to be found on Twitter @czechfooty.