“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, and that stop’s time comes at this very moment. Strap in!
Third team profiled today, third team with a different coach than at the start of 2020/21. Much like the MFK Karviná board, they went down the nostalgia route at Sigma Olomouc, returning to Václav Jílek after just two years apart.
Weber and Jílek were at these exact spots in summer 2017—the latter fresh of promotion; the former having taken Karviná back to the top flight a year earlier.
It was a fairly logical choice for Olomouc to go back to a measured, slightly romanticized manager — responsible for the club’s winningest season in over a decade (2017/18 with 50% of all games conquered) — following the toxic Radoslav Látal tenure.
Látal was one big baby towards the end, getting defensive at every presser and insisting he drew “maximum from the team”, and fair play to him: if he meant “maximum draws”, then absolutely — remember he managed to tie 25 top flight matches with Sigma in only two years! — but other than that…?
Sigma were easily a below average outfit post-Round 8, and a legitimately awful outfit for much of the spring, so there’s quite some fixing ahead of Jílek.
Looking back on 2020/21
What went (particularly) right
Avoiding the inevitable xG karma for most of the autumn, I suppose. There were already signs of running out of luck in November-December, which most notably manifested in the record-shattering series of 1:1 draws, but all in all, the first part of the season was still a huge success results-wise. Despite losing 9 of 14 xG battles across the board, Sigma were sitting 5th only behind Liberec due to an inferior goal difference. Their unbeaten streak had ended just before the break, and just before equalling this century’s club record of 12. They were reaching for stars and — quite feasibly — European cups again!
What went (especially) wrong
Angering the xG Gods ahead of the spring, I suppose. Two autumn losses swiftly turned into nine spring ones, with Olomouc outshooting a mere four opponents (Opava twice) beyond Christmas. None of those opponents finished higher than 11th, by the way. And despite Olomouc themselves landing inside the Top 10, they were still further away from Europa League (24 points) than the relegation zone (19). Plus there’s this tragicomedy.
Most valuable player
First, let’s briefly stop with the actual MVP who’s no longer around.
I understand it’s hard for some to look past his two horrendous blunders towards the end of the league campaign, but it’s also important to consider the context: by then, Olomouc were playing for nothing whatsoever, and in an increasingly uneasy atmosphere surrounding Látal’s future and antics. As long as the stakes were still high, though, Aleš Mandous was mostly phenomenal.
In the end, the new Slavia signing got voted his own team’s MotM a team-leading 11 times while getting called upon as the real MotM (by Deník Sport) three times. There was an 8-game and another 7-game period in which he never conceded more than once, ultimately preventing a touch over 7 goals by xGC metric (2nd most) — something of particular value for a team drawing 12x and playing out 7 more (!) low-scoring games resulting in a 1:0 scoreline.
Either way, through the process of elimination, Pablo González is the MVP for our purposes, and despite lagging almost two hundred MVP points behind Mandous, he’s the only other deserving candidate in my books. A 7-time Team of the Week nominee, he himself claimed 6 MotM honours on the official Fortuna:Liga website, covering an exact half of the calendar with Mandous.
Still not a strong point producer, González has actually come into his own last term, growing into a splendid recovery machine and appearing less soft, more determined in the many duels he undergoes in every single games.
An exerpt from my Scouting Hub #2 piece, published on Patreon on April 18:
In 2019/20, he often seemed too easy to be sort of pushed in the harmless direction by a mere side stepping and ended up contributing deeper down the pitch, whereas now it’s rarely the case. González looks more confident in breaking the lines and is becoming more effective in operating between them, as well.
Pablo González now undergoes way more offensive duels high up the pitch and does enjoy considerable success, too. Olomouc were in possession following sixty of his ground duels in the attacking third; only Plavšić has so far cleared the 60-duel bar elsewhere in the league. Last year, González ate up less minutes (by 558), but still only just hit the 20-duel mark, being much less of a factor uptop. This year, he’s more involved and generally tidier in possession. Only a pair of his ball losses, for example, has resulted in a shot for the opposition (within 20 seconds); in 2019/20, it took him just six starts and 505 minutes.
Chip on the shoulder
The entire right-hand side has emerged as an obvious weakness of this Sigma crop, and so there’s plenty of “chips” to be found there as a result. Can Pavel Zifčák finally get his fitness in line? Can Radek Látal prove to us he’s not just a “daddy’s boy” but can hold his own? Can Juraj Chvátal make everyone forget his 2018/19 when he seemingly did nothing right? Can Martin Hála finally nail down a starting spot somewhere in the line-up in what appears to be a prove-it contract year for him after a cautious February extension?
And then there’s Tomáš Zahradníček — the last of the four Class ’93 Musketeers (Falta, Houska, Plšek) still standing — who appears to be an early doors favourite to start at right wing following Pablo’s definite move to the middle. Zahradníček struggled to stay fit in 2020/21 and his pre-season returns were awful per fan consensus, so the chip is rather massive in his case.
Inside the club’s off-season
The biggest story of the summer by far was the one of Václav Jemelka staying. There wasn’t a lot of riding on him re. actual squad churn (540 mins to be precise), but his decision — forced, in a way, by his health issues — still kind of stabilizes this team, or at least so it feels. We’d grown so accustomed to him!
In the end, Sigma lost only two regulars in Mandous and David Houska — two departures where the writing had sort of been on the wall for the whole year — and other than that, nothing special. Nešpor looked set to become a free agent only for his automatic extension clause to get triggered last-minute by one more appearance, and the impact of Falta’s winter move was offset rather comprehensively by the emergence of Kryštof Daněk on the left(ish) side.
By figures, Sigma have retained over 3/4s of playing time (almost exactly as much as last year), goals and points — a rare kind of consistency across the board.
There’s now a definite overload of strikers at Olomouc, but the move for David Vaněček was still fixing an obvious need. Jakub Yunis won’t be available until at least winter, Mojmír Chytil has mostly looked more effective deeper down and the incoming Antonín Růsek is also more of a second striker in nature. Hence, you were left with just Martin Nešpor to truly finish off your attacks which… well… he can’t do. Even Látal or Lukáš Greššák scored as many non-penalty goals in 2020/21 as he did (1), and apart from serving as a general nuisance that draws fouls in the final third, he was quite useless.
So yeah, Vaněček was a key addition, delivering a goal in roughly every second game in 2018/19 on an even worse Teplice side than this Sigma one.
Now, for the sheer lack of competition, I’m going to highlight someone I don’t think Sigma will actually miss all that much. That doesn’t make the pick ideal, of course, but it does add a bit spice to it, so I’m all-round happy with it.
David Houska has a great youth pedigree and a decent senior reputation, but there’s a reason why no one jumped at the chance to sign him for free, leaving the midfielder to potentially settle for SK Dynamo České Budějovice after years of planning/threatening to go abroad and/or take on a bigger challenge.
By the eye test, Houska had a weak 2020/21, and by the numbers, he outright bombed in any area that concerns the offensive output. Houska is an active defender, fine; he can aid the build-up with a smart/progressive pass, cool; but he just doesn’t do anything of note in the final third which is a big put-off.
And then there’s the bigger picture: you just cannot see your heat map shrink this significantly under the guidance of one coach and expect good offers.
New kid on the block
It’s a popular belief among fans that Olomouc will only go as far in 2021/22 as their cherished youngsters take them. Kryštof Daněk is already performing like a star and behaving like a leader, organizing his teammates on the pitch. Mojmír Chytil had the highest xG per 90 mins among regularly starting attacking midfielders/second strikers last season (0,27), so don’t act surprised when he at least doubles his 2020/21 goalscoring total (4). And then there’s Ondřej Zmrzlý at left back — tipped by yours truly for an eventual Slavia transfer — who looked fitter and more dominant than ever in pre-season, entering this season as the designated corner kick taker, it appears.
That’s all very promising, but these U-23 players are already household names, so they don’t really fit the spirit of this section. Instead, I’ll focus on Jakub Matoušek who may well end up being the better Matoušek in F:Liga. Having perfected his skills at the Sigma academy since he was 10, Matoušek spent the past two seasons on loan at Vítkovice and Prostějov (2nd tier), but given the underwhelming depth at right wing, it’s likely he sticks around this time. His daring bursts of speed down the line were a highlight of pre-season.
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.
- Olomouc are potentially stronger than they’ve ever been down the middle. Daněk, González and Breite form a very good starting trio, powering the whole C(D)M crop to the 4th place league-wide in my books. As for the CB crop, Jemelka alone takes it all the way to the 3rd, though a steep decline is always possible with Hubník, Beneš and Greššák — ie. all RCB choices;
- Speaking of Jemelka, he’s finally in full practice as of today. He won’t make it back in time for the opener, of course, but he might only be a couple of weeks away;
- Very strong down the middle, bloody awful on both sides of the pitch. That’s the current story of Sigma, in all likelihood, and there’s precious little to draw optimism for. A monster season from Zmrzlý, a way premature breakout from Jáchym Šíp (b. 2003) or Zifčák’s come-of-age year could do it, but even all that combined may not prove to be enough to push either flank to a comforting mediocrity. As of now — with Hála pencilled in at his 3rd most ideal position as a starter and Zahradníček opening on the other side — I have both sides ranked in the bottom 5 and the right-hand side sitting dead freaking last. I wonder how long it takes before Jílek realizes moving Pablo back to the right wing could be smart;
- You may as well start thinking of Poulolo primarily as a CDM and swap them with Greššák who may primarily act as a CB for a change. That’s also why Sedlák arrived from Brno. He won’t provide Jílek with Kalvach-esque influence of a primary distributor in that holding MF role (though he’s still a better passer on long distance than Breite/Greššák), but what he can do is actively break up plays and carry the ball up the field. He’s worth a try:
- Antonín Růsek is a curious buy, not least because Sigma’s former co-owner Josef Lébr reportedly owns a part of his transfer rights. That can also be used to explain Růsek coming over at all, because as opposed to Vaněček or Sedlák (who’s also significantly younger than Breite/Greššák), he isn’t fixing any particular need for Olomouc. Daněk, Chytil and González are perfectly adept at operating between the lines where Růsek naturally slots in, as well. He was below average in just about every metric for Brno and brings up the same poking question the Slaměna transfer did in February: is he any better than what Sigma already have in U-17/19s, or is he a reach?
Statistical/tactical trend to follow
If I had to describe Látal’s Olomouc with just one word, I’d go for “lacklustre” or “passive”. It’s not like Sigma players wouldn’t give a shit, it just looked like they were always given half-time orders of not pushing too much for the game-clinching goal. And then they inevitably conceded the equalizer.
In 2019/20, Olomouc turned 17 leads into just eight victories and six draws, on average taking the least points per lead in the league (1,76). Last season, they only barely improved to 1,82 points; turning 22 leads into 11 victories.
That’s obviously got to change should Sigma finish higher this time around.
And under Václav Jílek — who looks noticeably more energetic and engaged on the bench, per @gregor_vaclav’s observation, than at Sparta or earlier in Olomouc — this should indeed change. All indicators point towards attractive football based around the concept of counter-pressing which should further build on the fact 2020/21 Sigma already allowed the 3rd least passes per defensive action (suggesting a superior defensive intensity/cohesion).
Roster battle to follow
How many games will Roman Hubník start, either by choice or necessity? He was still very good in 2020/21 — offering great value on and off the ball — but his past injury record (and the fact he was lucky enough to eat over 2 000 mins last term) coupled with advanced age (37) brings up some worries.
Thus far, it’s been a remarkably steady decline for Hubník despite missing nearly all of 2019/20. In the past three full seasons, his curved line only dropped by 10,3 percentile points, but that could mean nothing with regards to 2021/22; the history is littered with fine players all of a sudden falling off the cliff in late 30s. So, Sigma had better be ready for that eventuality, too.
The thing is… they aren’t really. Vít Beneš is eerily similar in profile but not much younger (turning 33 in less than a month), and if Jemelka doesn’t depart this year, he will for sure in the next one. That leaves you with Poulolo whose profile — for a dramatic change — couldn’t differ more from those two.
Especially in two respects — clearances from the centre of the box (ranked 46th of 56 regularly playing centre halves) and success rate in aerial duels inside his own penalty area (ranked 53rd) — the elegant Frenchmen lagged way behind the veteran tandem. Add in subpar rate in blocked shots and defensive duels, and you barely have a defender at all on your hands. This is not your heir apparent, I’m afraid, and 31-year-old Greššák isn’t either…
The prediction: Jílek will be voted the manager of the month September
The rationale: It’s already been confirmed Sigma are opening the season without Jemelka and González, two of their most important players on paper. That — coupled with a very tough early schedule (Sparta away, Pardubice home, Slavia away) — will result in a laboured start of barely any point gain.
This will leave an ambitious Sigma Olomouc scrambling for the rest of August, but then in September, guess what…! They finally hit the stride against two of the least convincing teams in the league defensively (Boleslav, Teplice) and one of the least convincing teams in the league offensively (Ostrava).
Give me 9 points and a swift return to glory for the coach who just about everyone felt at least a tad sorry for in February 2020. Besides, there’s some room for overcorrection: across that brilliant 2017/18 campaign, Jílek only claimed one such accolade — also early doors (August) — so go on then!