2022/23 team preview: Bohemians Praha 1905

In July 2020, as Bohemians were readying to take on Mladá Boleslav at the penultimate hurdle of their unlikely journey towards continental Europe, the man pictured above — club’s director Darek Jakubowicz — insisted UEFA competitions are a logical next step. Then it all turned out to be just a temporary (dis)illusion. Boleslav prevailed that summer, and ‘Bohemka’ proceeded to finish fifteen and thirty-three points behind the last cup participant in the following two regular seasons. A lack of ambition, or indeed a plan, has become a common point of criticism.

Jakubowicz’s line of thinking then wasn’t inherently flawed. He argued the club was effectively re-born in 2005, then it yo-yo’ed between the two top tiers for a bit, finally found its consistent level in 2014-16, peaked in 2017/18 through a 7th-place finish, took a step forward following the firing of Martin Hašek two years later, and now it was —naturally— time to push for Europe.

It does sound logical, doesn’t it?

Then this season arrived and Bohemians seriously flirted with relegation again. It looked like the semi-regular cycle had been broken via back-to-back Top 10 finishes, but nah… “Klokani” were about to experience yet another scare, following up on 2019, 2017 and 2014. The pattern has been re-established.

To their credit, Bohemians have certainly been active the whole summer, not sitting on their hands uncomfortably and just waiting for what comes to them.

Sometimes a bit too active, in fact, like when they removed the logo of Družstvo fanoušků Bohemians (DFB) from the new kits and went on to have a public fight with the club’s official fanclub on freaking Facebook.

But most of the off-season moves Bohemians have done were positive. Jakubowicz has been very transparent about the club’s finances and transfer policy — with the main aim being to trim the A-team roster, unsustainably inflated for about three years — while the recent announcement of a new general partner wasn’t quite the (player) signing most of us expected, but it was still a very significant one for the poor club itself. Malina Group is rumoured to contribute 5+ million CZK against the club’s annual budget — arguably the biggest financial game-changer in about two decades, I’m told.

“Klokani” are also beginning the process of the dreaded, yet long overdue re-construction of the iconic Ďolíček stadium. Later this year, a provisionally assembled stand shall be erected close to the tram stop, giving the most active group of fans a new temporary home so that Bohemians can carry on playing at their holy ground even once the main re-construction phase gets underway.

Looking back on 2021/22

What went (particularly) right

I pronounced them the Czech Brighton in my second Power Rankings edition after 10 rounds, and while I was later forced to more or less backtrack on that, there were still traces of analytics darlings on Bohemians after the season concluded. Sixth biggest share of all xG generated in their matches, and actually the fourth biggest one when it comes solely to the middle strip of the pitch… that doesn’t really sound right for a relegation play-off participant. “Klokani” cementing their reputation of high-intensity ball-winners up top was a fine catalyst of that, with Bohemians performing 14% of all their ball recoveries in the final third (2nd biggest portion), creating a bunch of dangerous turnovers.

Additionally, there was some notable improvement in terms of passing out from the back and winning crucial duels in the back-end. In 2020/21, Bohemians bottomed out with more than a half of the shots conceded by them (53,5%) preceded by a possession/duel loss; this past term, the same was true for only 45,1% of all shots against Bohemians (4th lowest rate in the league).

What went (especially) wrong

Now, those were some all-season numbers that hide away the fact Bohemians players completely gave up on their coach Luděk Klusáček soon after winter restart. At the point of his firing, 4 of the last 6 conceded goals looked to be a part of a genuine sabotage, qualifying as either avoidable or outright dumb.

That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, but there were far more concerning, long-standing issues. For starters, Bohemians took a lead in 15 regular season games, only coming away with six victories. But most damningly, the quality of goalkeeping they received (almost 12 goals conceded above expectation) and faced (more than 7 goals saved above expectation) together created a hole that was nigh impossible to dig out of. I mean, that’s a 19-goal swing! Imagine running into a hot goalkeeper 16 times a season, yet facing a cold one only 6 times. A horror scenario that was also Bohemians’ actual reality.

Most valuable player

who I consider to be the greatest 2021/22 contributor of all players still on board

Last summer, I featured him in the “chip on the shoulder” section, writing that he “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”.

That was when Roman Květ landed in the 73,9 percentile. Now it’s 89,4.

And people still mostly don’t care. Sigh.

Better clubs may be unwilling to go after him because his defence leaves a bit to be desired, but I don’t think it’s out of the question Květ would be an effective no. 10 either. His rate of expected assists is identical to that of Karabec (0,19) — a prototypical number 10 — and his rate of high-danger shots (0,36) beats that of Kuzmanović (0,33) — another number 10. Per my mini-model, only Adam Hložek had a greater prime offensive output and only Michal Beran possesses a greater range of tools to gain the danger zone.

Whether you agree or not, you don’t get into these echelons by accident.

Chip on the shoulder

who’s got something to particularly prove — either to himself, fans or the coach

We’ll stay in the company of attacking midfielders for now and take a look at Petr Hronek, Květ’s usual partner in the peculiar 3-4-2-1 formation.

Hronek acts as more of a shadow striker to the actual striker in this scheme, so I’m at peace with him posting poor ball progression numbers, but it’s the general threat he carries that makes me take a pause. In fact, there are just two metrics he beats Květ in — Hronek forces marginally more high turnovers (always his calling card) and shoots less from long-distance positions (which isn’t too bad a habit, though; Květ’s low sharp bullets can beat a GK cleanly).

What you’re left with are some mediocre-to-above average values in terms of getting to finish off attacks, and some below average-to-awful ones in terms of creativity. It’s not like he needs to be creative next to Květ (and potentially Beran), but you’d hope his five 2020/21 assists and decent enough underlying numbers wouldn’t look like as big an outlier as they do at the moment.

Inside the club’s off-season

with much thanks to @ogy_16, @MartMartinec, @Nedy47 and @hlavinson for guiding me through the motions of Bohemians’ pre-season

Squad turnover

Here’s an odd thing: Vladislav Levin has withstood the challenge as the 9th most used Bohemians player despite leaving the club in winter.

That shouldn’t happen, should it? Neither should he have beaten any of the three involved goalkeepers, arguably. Three more members of the most frequent starting XI have followed Levin out of the door this summer, with the overhaul in defence by far the most significant — Jiří Bederka and Jan Vondra are gone with their 3 871 mins of action, or a staggering 38% of the lost total.

At the moment, it seems like Jan Chramosta is not returning on loan, but his 11 points (6+5) are basically the only considerable subtraction when it comes to point production. The maximum for everyone else departing: one point.

Biggest upgrade

On paper, it’s Martin Hála effectively replacing Jakub Fulnek, and it’s not too close. In reality, though, nobody can be sure what ‘Bohemka’ are getting in him.

Hála was a star of the early 2021/22 goings, but towards the end of the very same season, there were already murmurs he could give up on professional football altogether and invest more energy into his football academy. Hála hasn’t kicked the ball competitively since early November, and while he did join Bohemians’ training camp in Austria, he’s said to have re-aggravated his Achilles heel injury against Újpest, missing the following friendly vs Liefering.

But let’s be positive for now and pretend all is well with Hála. In that case, Bohemians are not upgrading much in most areas of winger’s game, but they are potentially getting a game-breaker in front of the goal. Hála’s most recent prime offensive output was borderline “significant” and easily pocketed that of Fulnek, borrowed from Boleslav, who clearly lacks smarts and technique.

That said, I wouldn’t trust the 2021/22 sample of less than 11 starts. As recently as in the spring 2021, Hála was also predominantly a winger, yet buried none of his eleven shots with an underwhelming set up rate of 0,57 shot assists per game. That was an even smaller sample (788 mins across the whole season), but my point is: are we sure his 985 more recent mins are more telling as far as the future of a 30-year-old goes? I, for one, am not.

Hála has a strong David Douděra 2022 vibes for me. But hey, Fulnek…

Biggest downgrade

For the sake of not repeating myself, I’ll wait for Ladislav Mužík to show how much of a Jaroslav Veselý talisman he can be in the top flight, and instead pick up on the apparent departure of Jan Chramosta. His situation is still a bit blurry, but if he doesn’t come back and the club doesn’t find an adequate replacement (they will want to find it, be sure of that), I’d worry for them.

Chramosta’s underlying numbers are not sterling in most respects, but he was by far the best counter-attacking option upfront and offered a tempting mix of finishing and creative touch. His 3,49 expected assists are unrivalled across the board when converted to a per-90-mins basis (0,22) and are made of 15 individual shot assists — nearly one-per-game rate that’s pretty rare for a CF.

Maybe it’s all a big fat unsustainable accident, but even watching Bohemians, Chramosta was always heavily involved… which duly showed on the scoring totals. “Klokani” scored every 58 minutes when Chramosta was around, with him personally chipping in to make 13 of the 24 goals happen. Without Chramosta, Bohemians had to on average wait 92 minutes for a celebration.

New kid on the block

I can tell you Bohemians fans are excited to have Vojtěch Novák (b. 2002) back after the absurd decision to loan him out to an awful second-tier side for this spring. He could thrive in the right setting (3-4-2-1) but he’s more of a breakout candidate than a new kid on the block, having debuted in pre-pandemic times. Who else then? A couple of defensive prospects bring some intrigue, but not too much of it admittedly. Adam Kadlec (b. 2003) has drawn some praise on fan forums, but I’d already tipped him to make most of the Lukáš Hůlka injury last summer — and he wouldn’t take the field even once. Could Denis Vala (b. 2000) take advantage of Jan Vondra’s departure, for a change? He’s got experience from midfield as well as right-hand side and has held his own when thrust into the LCB role, with coach Veselý talking him up.

Looking ahead to 2022/23

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 14 and obviously subject to change since the transfer window is far from closed at the moment. Players highlighted in red are longterm absentees rather far from making a comeback, while players in italics are all-but-confirmed arrivals. Those likely to depart will be highlighted in the text below, as will some other depth options or changes occurring since July 14. To add a little flavour, I’ve intuitively rated various positions/areas of the pitch — goal, right flank, left flank, central defence, central midfield, forward positions (incl. attacking midfielders) — on a simple scale (creating five tiers), which is what the different shading (blue to red) represents.

Need left to be addressed

For a long time, I’ve been calling for Bohemians to bring a ball-playing centre back on board and I won’t stop just due to Lukáš Hůlka returning to action, because he wasn’t a solution to the longstanding problem once healthy. He’s more of a ball carrier and if he’s indeed started on the left of the back trio (as indicated by the pre-season action), even that attribute of his may be tamed.

Meanwhile, Bohemians have let Jan Vondra escape to North Macedonia — just as he was in the process of solving the issue. Make no mistake, he was an offensive liability at left wingback (his original starting position), but he’s done well progressing the ball in the LCB role. Vondra posted a stunning progressive pass accuracy of 79,2% and hit the sweet half spaces more often than, say, Lischka or Karafiát — two tremendous ball-playing centre halves.

It could easily be that Vondra wanted abroad himself, but if Bohemians had made a conscious decision of letting him walk first — ie. if they decided this was the deadwood needed to be cut — then they just can’t be helped. Together with his reliability in the air (won 13 of 19 aerial duels in his own box), all those aforementioned attributes will be missed more than most fans realize.

Some random notes on the depth chart:

  • A couple of updates: Daniel Mareček is under contract for 29 more months (!) but out of the picture, currently tested by Mladá Boleslav. The same is true for Ibrahim Keita who’s been told in no uncertain terms that his attitude/work rate/production don’t align with Veselý’s ideas. Honestly, those are some of the most baffling contract decisions right there. Pavel Osmančík is on loan at Příbram, meanwhile, so count him out as well.
  • Stefan Vilotić, whose Příbram stint is probably “best” remembered for some rough (mostly aerial) challenges, is officially still on trial with the Vršovice club as far as I know, having suffered an injury mid-summer.
  • Lukáš Soukup — who’s somehow 27 already — is the current goalkeeper no. 3 and could make things interesting behind one of the less assuring tandems. That said, Roman Valeš — installed in the goal this winter — got gradually better and put in some difference-making performances towards the end of 2021/22 (Zlín, Liberec), so he’s locked in at no. 1 for now.
  • I must say I expected Bohemians to make more out of the Martin Nový signing. Now it appears as though they’re thinking of deploying him in central midfield; just about the last role he hasn’t filled in for them yet.
  • I didn’t find suitable space where to mention it, so I’ll just drop it here: David Puškáč scored 9 goals with 13 shots on goal in 2021/22. How insane is that? Only what looks to be chronic health issues can fully stop him.
  • Michal Beran has stayed on at Bohemians after a couple of turbulent months with little club security, and that should do him a world of good. He’s amazing at cutting through midfield both in possession and via smart passes, and always made things happen in final third for Bohemians. One major detriment: he didn’t appear in a single high-danger chance himself.

Roster battle to follow

Bohemians are clearly going to roll out a very defensive double pivot; it would make zero sense to re-sign both Ondřej Petrák and Josef Jindřišek plus bring Adam Jánoš on board to then only field one of the three. I wouldn’t make all those decisions, but with Jánoš’s reputation still largely intact despite a wasted year and Petrák’s German pedigree, some people would likely rank this CDM deck above league average. Again, for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t.

First of all, they are all 30 or older. Second of all, they are not very good.

Jánoš’s toxic habit of shooting from afar rather than passing the ball is well-documented, while Petrák sits way too deep to ever pass into the final third. And Jindřišek? Going as strong as ever at 41, mind, but his pizza chart paints a picture akin to a solid centre back rather than a central midfielder.

Bohemians are so very lucky that some collection of Květ, Beran, Novák and Puškáč will pretty much always do the damage in front of the destructive double pivot, because otherwise it would be a concentrated pain to watch.

Season forecast

Well, if the Mladá Boleslav forecast covered a confusing amount of ground, what’s this? Bohemians have as big a chance to wrap up the regular season sitting dead last and inside the Top 4. That inescapably points to a team that’s too good for a relegation group, but still too likely to participate in it. ‘Bohemka’ are projected to spend most of the season hovering around 10-11th positions where the table crucially splits, plausibly deciding at the very last moment what’s the right bracket for them. It’s going to be another nail-biter.

By the way, it may not be relevant anymore given his recent injury, but we ran a few thousand of simulations for an alternative universe where Bohemians do actually end up re-signing Jan Chramosta (an unlikely outcome, having spent the whole pre-season at Jablonec), and that alone would nudge them closer to the 8-10th territory, on average giving them an extra ~3 pts.

Bold prediction

The track record: 0/1. Necid was actually on fire against Karviná.

The prediction: Bohemians will earn just as many points as in 2011/12

The rationale: This might seem random, but it’s not. You see, in June 2011, Bohemians also decided to switch to a different kit supplier. Back then, Adidas announced itself on the stage big time by designing a throwback jersey which closely resembled the one last Bohemians’ title-winning team of 1983 wore.

It proved to be a prelude to a disaster; a 24-point haul for the relegated side.

Now, with Puma freshly taking over from Adidas, I expect more of the same. Not necessarily a direct relegation like ten years ago (24 points would still put Bohemians ahead of Teplice in our model’s eyes), but possibly another relegation play-off experience. To be clear, we are talking 24 points after the regular season; ie. 0,8 points per game. The spring version of Bohemians with Jaroslav Veselý as part of the coaching staff earned 8 points in 11 regular season games; ie. 0,73 points per game, on pace for 22 points after 30. Ha!

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

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