2021/22 team preview: SK Slavia Praha

Tomas Danicek
14 min readJul 22, 2021


source: sport.cz

The penultimate grouping of teams is the tighest of them all, because we’ll be moving across a couple of hundred meters tops. That’s because we go to Vršovice, the Prague quarter a trio of top flight sides call their home. Sort of. And we politely continue with the champions from Eden…

To my knowledge, every Fortuna:Liga club had their season-opening press conference where they introduced new players, new kits, new sponsors, new whatever-felt-relevant-at-the-time. Slavia did all of that on a stage so charming/ostentatious it resembled some sort of an award ceremony

… which was fitting given the Slavia sweepstakes we witnessed at the last actual Fortuna:Liga award ceremony. A third different Player of the Year for the champions (Lukáš Provod), a first Slavia triumph in the fan version of POTY award after a two-year break thanks to Nicolae Stanciu — back-to-back Best Foreigner, by the way, just for good measure — of course a third consecutive Manager of the Year honour for Jindřich Trpišovský, and finally a maiden Breakthrough of the Year award (since its 2013/14 inception) going to Slavia, as well, courtesy of Abdallah Sima. Only Forward of the Year and Personality of the Year don’t belong to Slavia of all individual accolades.

I guess we must admit it now then: Slavia Praha are quite good at football.

*remembers he’d lost ~2/3s of his Slavia followers due to the Kúdela thingy*

Hang on… that was a joke, alright? Slavia are bloody excellent.

We all think so, don’t worry.

Looking back on 2020/21

What went (particularly) right

Gosh, where to start? And — perhaps more acutely — where to stop? First of all, they owned Sparta and Plzeň (aggregate score of 11:1) on the way to become the first unbeaten champions since Sparta in 2009/10, and will be aiming to push their ongoing streak — already a Czech record — to 50 games by Round 4. You may as well throw in some sub-records; 22 straight league trips without a loss (Czech record) or 50 straight home stands (club record). At one point, Slavia came awfully close to 500 consecutive minutes without conceding once more. Across the whole season, they’ve only lost four xG battles, and their worst differential (-0,43 away to Ostrava) would still rank ahead of Sparta’s 5 and Plzeň’s 8 individual xG differentials. Jindřich Trpišovský is now one of only three Czech coaches to ever notch a clean hat trick of league titles, and the first one to do so since the 1960s.

What went (especially) wrong

Slavia didn’t win a couple of games they should be winning in their sleep. Most notably, of course, they failed to beat the relegation-bound Brno on each occasion — once making a teenage goalkeeper desperately foul for a red card a mere 18 minutes into his second top flight start — which otherwise only happened to a fellow relegated side, Příbram. Oh, and speaking of Příbram… what the hell was that?! On top of that, there’s the failed trip to Teplice, too. Absolute fraudsters they are! (Again, a joke.)

Most valuable player

I’ve got nothing at all against Lukáš Provod winning the league’s top individual award, but per my model that judges one’s value according to one set of metrics, it was Nicolae Stanciu — and it wasn’t all that close either.

No one was shortlisted for the official Team of the Week more often than him (16), no Slavia regular boasted a higher average Deník Sport mark (6,6/10) and only Kuchta delivered more expected points than the midfielder (7,38). Out of his 18 direct goal contributions, only 8 came in tied/tying situations, but that’s richly compensated by his eight extra contributions in goal moves through second or third assists, making him signed under 26 strikes.

While the first-year Stanciu could’ve been criticized, a full buy-in from the Romanian— much improved defensively, too— swiftly followed, and so any capitalizing on him just for the sake of it wouldn’t have made any sense. Fortunately, the board ultimately settled on a “hard no” to Galatasaray, thus keeping Slavia’s chances of cracking the Champions League proper high enough.

Returning to a comparison with Provod, however, it must be pointed out that if you focus on underlying numbers rather than the end product (which is what guides my MVP model, for obvious reasons), the injured star edges it:

for more background on each metric, read this guide

Chip on the shoulder

Possibly the most criticized Czech regular at 2020 Euro together with Jankto, Jan Bořil sees the amount of his prove-it points immediately increased. But that’s not even the main reason why he features here; that’d be his slight decline.

It’s not been particularly visible, let alone problematic, thanks to the general brilliance surrounding him, of course, but only the fact Oscar Dorley looked an upgrade on him in an unfamiliar role was enough to serve as a tip-off.

Now, we are very far from concluding Bořil is even close to being bad. There are still a few areas where he’s actually come on leaps and bounds in 2020/21 (possession-adjusted interceptions but also xG) and much of what he’s not very good at now — accelerating with the ball or crossing towards the 6-yard box — he’s never been very good at anyway, so why burden our mind with it.

But dropping from 1,05 shots assists per game in 2019/20 all the way down to his current 0,68 is never good on such a historically dominant side, is it?

If nothing else, this is more the reason for me to not automatically start Bořil every game anymore, especially against weaker opposition that needs to be broken down. Not least because running a 30-year-old Bořil (post-Euros) to the ground isn’t quite the same as riding him week in, week out 4 years ago.

Inside the club’s off-season

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

In the case of any other Fortuna:Liga club, we could’ve talked about their pre-season results, who stood out and who underwhelmed. The usual stuff. In the case of Slavia, however, we have next to nothing to talk about, which is also why I frankly didn’t feel the need to ask too many Slavia fans for guidance.

The Euros and a delayed start of the second training camp due to good ol’ Covid resulted in a preparation that was incomplete for a vast majority of players (fourteen of them didn’t take part in the first pre-season training season!) and ultimately “the worst I’ve ever experienced” by Trpišovský’s own admission. Slavia only got to play one friendly in the end — looking predictably rusty and disjointed in a wildly improvised line-up that saw David Zima deputize at left back a mere hours after returning from a vacation.

Squad turnover

As things stand, Slavia are the only one of 15 old Fortuna:Liga participants with their 11 most used players still on their books, and neither Abdallah Sima — who’s the lone member of the squad subject to ongoing negotiations — is going to change that because he landed just on the outside, ranked 12th.

That’s pretty incredible, because 2019/20 Slavia only remained intact from 8/11s, whereas now there’s only a distant possibility someone still snaps up Jan Kuchta (6th) or Peter Olayinka (9th), and that’s it. An early UCL exit may yet influence things the other way, but that one declined offer for Tomáš Holeš was quite plausibly the last one as 2020 Euro slowly disappears in the rear-view mirror, and a Stanciu departure has already been ruled out.

That said, Slavia are definitely not retaining the current 94,1% minutes allocated in 2020/21 — that’d be insane. As per Trpišovský, the roster will understandably stay a little inflated for a couple of weeks now, but at least some fringe players scarcely used in 2020/21 like Abdalla Yusuf, Petar Musa or even Jakub Hromada are for sure coming off the books sooner or later.

Biggest addition

Slavia boss Jaroslav Tvrdík estimates there’s only a 10% chance of Michael Krmenčík not signing, and every little detail could get ironed out as soon as tomorrow, but 10 is still not a zero, and so I can’t possibly highlight him here in place of Ivan Schranz. Trpišovský said it himself: Schranz can fill about four different roles on this team, and that alone makes him a huge addition.

On the depth chart below, we have him alternate at CF only, but that’s just because of our self-imposed limit of a maximum 4 alternatives per position. With such a deep roster in its current state, Yusuf couldn’t even fit at all.

Ivan Schranz is not a tremendously skilled footballer, but he’s got boundless energy and is an incredibly effective ball-winner in the final third. Kuchta is one as well, yet even he was beaten by Schranz in terms of high recoveries:

One fairly big concern about Schranz that doesn’t arise from that comparison table above is his willingness to pull the trigger. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing to test a goalkeeper’s attention once or twice, but here we are talking unhealthy willingness. Only Jiří Klíma and Hložek try their luck from low-xG (0,03) positions more often than Schranz, and they have a better shooting technique in my view (+ greater shooting efficiency in the view of data).

Greatest subtraction

Heh. I don’t ever have a problem to come up with a suitable candidate here — usually picking from two to three decent options — but Slavia leave me with one; and even in the case of Simon Deli, we’ve got just 866 official minutes to consider. Luckily, there’s Wyscout counting added time, which is why the expensive Club Brugge loanee works his way into my CB model after all.

And frankly, he’s going to be missed more than I realized just watching him.

Mind the sample size, but knowing Deli, one’s got to think he would have such massive influence on building plays from the back on a bigger scale, as well. He’s hitting all the sweet spots with his progressive passes, and until Hovorka (hopefully) returns to the fold, there’s no natural heir to his craft since David Zima is more likely to carry the ball upfield on long distance than pass it.

New kid on the block

Daniel Samek is for real. The first player born in 2004 to get a sniff in the league for Slavia, he’s now got a number assigned (and it’s not some seventy-something bullshit, but a real-deal number 13), meaning he’s quite likely sticking around for some more valuable experience. Samek showed great poise on the ball in his two starts towards the end of 2020/21, looking incredibly press-resistant for such young age and completing three progressive runs against Jablonec of all teams. I can guarantee you there’ll be plenty of Slavia fans having a Pavlov reflex once he’s named in the starting XI.

Another kid who’s got a fair few fans salivating: Aiham Ousou (b. 2000). A right-footed centre back with an extensive experience playing on the left, he looks to stretch the field but also embark on a run deep into the attacking half and undergo a peculiar number of offensive duels, so he’s certainly an interesting prototype Slavia’s analytics department got an explicit credit for.

It’s worth noting he’d done all of this in the Swedish 2nd tier, but Ondřej Kolář said he looked very good in his first intra-squad practice game, so… yay!

Aboard the hype train everyone!

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.

  • Right off the bat, note that all rosters had been sealed for the purposes of this exercised on Sunday, because otherwise the ranking would be all over the shop. Pencil Krmenčík in as a starting striker and push aside whomever you feel worst about — a tough call, but with Sima on the way out, Schranz arguably completely disappears from the CF depth and moves to RW full-time. Ousou will likely take the place of injured Hovorka and skip over Tijani who’s looking to make a positive return after a serious knee injury;
  • Not like the eventual presence of Krmenčík and Ousou moves the needle all that much in the Czech context. Whatever you think of their European exploits, I’d still have Sparta’s Hložek-Dočkal one-two punch (I group CF+CAM together for these rankings) down as stronger than anything Slavia choose to counter with. In central midfield, I prefer Plzeň’s depth ever so slightly, mostly because Provod will miss at least half a season. And elsewhere, Slavia naturally reign supreme — most of the time comfortably;
  • Who does move the needle rather emphatically: Srđan Plavšić. Paraphrasing @vojtechhulinsky, Slavia had been missing “a skillful dribbler with low center of gravity and a quick first few steps” ever since Miňo Stoch left, and it was particularly obvious against teams sitting in a deep block;
  • I don’t want to dig into the Slavia captain too much, but there’s one more Bořil-related thing I’d like to point out: while Slavia owned the most dangerous right flank and central channel when it came to xG generated from positional attacks, their left-hand side only ranked 6th league-wide. That’s not a huge issue in the wider scheme of things (because the left flank was also the sole Slavia channel leading the league in preventing chances), but I still thought it’s a worthy build-up for this table below that shows you how — dare I say — replaceable (?!) Olayinka and Sima appear:
  • I might be entirely wrong, but Jakub Hromada strikes me as that kind of a player who shines in 5-8 individual games a year (and sometimes, as it happens, those are some truly big ones — like Leicester at home), but over a longer period, he’s not nearly as reliable as he should be for Slavia standards. As you can see, Holeš is a way more consistent performer:
  • Ubong Ekpai is cleary a coaching staff’s pet project, and a fascinating one to follow. It’s no secret he’s barely played, hardly stayed fit and only scored once (ironically against Slavia) in the past three years, but Trpišovský et co. clearly still hold him in high regard going back to the Slovan days, and it’s not like this reunion comes in Ekpai’s twilight years or anything. He’s still 25, so of course he can turn it around. The biggest issue is how stacked Slavia are at RW even without Sima — there’s a lot of bush to cut through. @zivadira points out how level-headed he sounded in his first interview, which should serve the winger right, especially in such a situation;
  • Ondřej Kúdela is better and better and better... I can’t wait for him at 38:

Statistical/tactical trend to follow

Especially if Sima leaves, it’s going to be interesting — once more — how Lukáš Masopust and Alexander Bah line-up, ie. who’s nominally stationed higher and how long does that setup last each time. Their organic interchanging has contributed heavily to Slavia’s utter dominance on the right-hand side; over the whole season, Masopust, Bah, Sima et co. generated a crushing 0,37 xG from positional attacks per game, besting Plzeň’s no-less impressive Ba Loua-powered right flank by a fairly substantial 0,06 xG per 90 minutes of play.

According to Transfermarkt, Slavia have accumulated a total of 17 deficits in three seasons under Trpišovský, always falling behind the least often in the league. Can they do it again? A combined total of 9 deficits over the past two seasons would still lead the league in 2015/16 (when Plzeň also topped out at 9) and 2012/13 when the lowest total was — bizarrely — still in double digits.

The only recent side that’s ever come at least close to equalling Slavia’s individual season totals of 4/5 was… Jablonec of 2014/15 (6 deficits). Huh.

Look, I’m sorry, but you knew what kind of a niche you were subscribing to!

Roster battle to follow

Not many people will think of this as a battle. After all, Ondřej Kolář was the most in-form Czech goalkeeper ahead of the Euros despite suffering a career-threatening injury not long before. But that head injury scare could actually end up being what makes this a battle after all: you see, I wouldn’t be awfully surprised if Slavia come consciously close to the classic ice hockey route of riding a 1A-1B goalkeeping tandem that splits the season 60-40, give or take.

Aleš Mandous is a grateful fella — as he should be, coming over to the best club in the country roughly two years after making his top flight debut. But seeing this as a straight-forward scenario of Mandous learning from Kolář and not the other way round is — in my humble opinion — missing a point slightly.

That’s because these two goalkeepers are both similar in style and reliance on fantastic positioning (instead of pure reflexes) when stopping shots, but at the same time subtly dissimilar to each other in two respects in particular:

  1. Both are good with their feet, but Kolář excels in spreading passes to the byline Van der Sar-style, whereas Mandous offers greater value on long distance (Kolář completes 50,7% passes into final third; Mandous 69,2%);
  2. Both are sweeper keepers in broad nature, but once the whole team is pinned back, you’ll notice Kolář getting a bit too passive, a bit too rooted to the goal-line, whereas Mandous tends to leave the line and intercept more;

This, I believe, is where two-way learning from each other truly comes in play. And the more I think about the transfer (which I’d considered a bit of a luxury initially), the more I can see the point and sense of it for everyone involved.

Bold prediction

The prediction: Sparta will, at one point, develop a 9-point lead on Slavia

The rationale: I guess I enjoy being on Slavia fans’ blacklist too much. It’s like a drug.

No, but seriously: does it really sound all that ridiculous to you? Slavia have barely practiced together and will focus on the Champions League primarily due to last year’s failure to make it, whereas Sparta showed us last year they can sprint out of the blocks. There’s a little doubt in my mind Slavia would eventually catch up — they have too good a coach in Trpišovský and too great a depth not to — but the first two months could be a serious pain, honestly.

The opponents are not the toughest, granted (Zlín, Teplice), but starting on the road and then going back to the bus again one week later isn’t ideal either. Plus, there’s one recent upset that could serve as a cautionary tale.

Nevermind, I’ll stop babbling before I change my mind (and lose you all)…

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Tomas Danicek

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