On the whistle: Krejčí fails his first tournament test, Šilhavý sees his players boost their confidence
An evening of two ideal results and two less-than-ideal performances. On paper, a draw with Italy is by all means a fine start to the U-21 Euro while an emphatic 6:2 away win never goes without saying with the Czech senior national team, regardless of the strength of the opposition.
That’s just on paper, though.
And I’m (mostly) looking at you again, Karel Krejčí.
In reality, the U-21 side put in a very weak performance, surviving a strong penalty shout and three shooting opportunities just in the last 10 minutes when in man advantage. Once Italy settled into the game (from around the 15-minute mark on), we had one Šašinka shot and a lucky set piece resulting in the equalizing own goal. That was pretty much it for our offensive output.
We didn’t deserve to get anything from the game, mostly because the setup was inherently flawed and our mindset towards the end was “a tie is fine” even after Italy saw their second player sent off, which is why we all will be absolutely furious when Krejčí inevitably doubles down on his ‘vision’ against Slovenia, feeling vindicated by a draw against Italy that looks great on paper.
A formation change as an off-the-cuff experiment
The line-up announcement generated much buzz, as coach Krejčí succumbed to the public pressure and finally opted for a 3-at-the-back formation. However, he clearly didn’t bother to give his players any drill and instructions to go with it, ultimately just banking on the stupid “the more centre backs, the more defence” formula that has failed many (bad) coaches before him.
What initially promised to be an interesting, technical midfield trio of Šulc-Bucha-Karabec supported by two offensively gifted wingbacks with a platform to bomb forward freely in Sadílek and Holík, turned out to be a 5–3–2 with Šulc as a left fullback (hardly a wingback in reality) and the central midfield — once again — a complete blackhole. Karabec showed poise on the ball that Sadílek didn’t show on numerous other occasions, but the trouble was Karabec himself was only allowed to touch it 11 times before the break.
Passing from the back was almost exclusively directed straight to the two forwards, be it aerially or on the ground, which resulted in a frankly stupid amount of duels they needed to undergo just to… hopefully retain possession in the middle third? Tactical analysts may correct me, but for me this was a textbook ineffective use of the front two in a 3–5–2/5–3–2 formation.
It was infuriating to see.
Not just because we were wasting the potential of Bucha, Karabec and Šulc all at the same time, but also because Italy played the exact kind of football we all thought they would — possession-based football full of cautious passing — inviting us to counter-attack.
Yet, we barely ever used Lingr and Šašinka as counter-attacking outlets. Instead, we had them both set their adult career highs in offensive duels undergone (nineteen for Šašinka who’d only gone higher once in his life, for U-19s against Slovenia in October 2016, and a ridiculous twenty-two for Lingr), with Šašinka’s map of received passes looking like this:
Šašinka’s movement was (asked to be) so confusingly deep, Wyscout even went as far as listing his respective roles on the pitch as CF and… RCMF.
All considering, I personally thought both Lingr and Šašinka fought admirably even despite technically winning just 16 of the 41 combined offensive duels they took part in (they also drew 9 combined fouls after all), but the thing is we shouldn’t have needed them to fight such an uphill battle in the first place.
The coach had failed to put them in a position to succeed, failed to adjust once the shape proved to be flawed (we stuck to 5–3–2 for the entire 90 minutes, as a result producing just two blocked shots and one attempt off target of a combined xGF value of 0,04 after the break) and should therefore shoulder nearly all of the responsibility for failing to cause a real upset in the opener.
Three best performers: Ondřej Lingr, Martin Jedlička, Ladislav Krejčí
Much to improve: Martin Vitík, Matěj Chaluš, Michal Sadílek
As for the senior national team, this will do for an intro:
Let’s not take this high-scoring victory for granted
First of all, let’s dive back into history for some context. Some may scoff at our 6-goal victory, largely dismissing it for the quality of severely weakened Estonia side. It should arguably be rather hard to do it for us all, however, since we all should remember this was never a foregone conclusion in WCQ.
You may recall our first trip as part of the 2010WCQ when our boys returned from Northern Ireland with just a point (0:0) back when Northern Ireland were nowhere close to seriously contending for a tournament spot.
It’s also worth remembering we put in three goalless performances in the opening four 2014WCQ stands, or that we couldn’t buy a single goal in the first three World Cup qualifiers last time out, which included the horrendous 0:0 home draw with Azerbaijan. Sure, only Patrik Schick remembers that 2016 misery from those who started vs Estonia, but hey, the pattern of our firepower struggling out of the gate is real, and it could’ve happened again especially after we went down so early. That the team responded with the sort of swagger largely unseen prior under Šilhavý is no automatic thing.
I’ve got no problem with Čelůstka…
… unless he starts again on Saturday.
It’s not something I’d usually do, but I’m here to defend the coach. For one, I was glad Šilhavý had the unexpected epiphany of putting Čelůstka on the left and playing Kúdela on his preferred right side. Up until yesterday, it was always Kúdela — our only true ball-playing centre back — adjusting to others and shifting to his off side, which made no sense whatsoever and resulted in a string of uncharacteristically subpar performances from him.
For two, whatever you think of Čelůstka now, it’s important to realize he’s been a model, steady international for Šilhavý up until now, never really letting him down. It’s therefore OK he trusted him against Estonia, obviously.
However poor he looked on the first conceded goal, I found the outrage about him starting overblown. Mostly because this was just the first of the three March qualifiers, and the one we should be winning even with a B squad (which Estonia, coincidentally, ended up fielding too). So, in a way, wasn’t Šilhavý doing exactly what you and I wanted all along, ie. starting his second-choice left centre back now to bank on the Slavia backline later on against Belgium? He still may not do it, of course — and it would be a very Šilhavý thing to do, mind — but that’s something to potentially circle back to on Saturday. As of now, I’m at peace with this kind of roster management.
Should I have a problem with our switching off, though?
This is a rhetorical question on my part, and I honestly don’t know how to tackle it. Should I be bothered that we were outshot across four sixths of the game (1–15 min and the entire second half)? Maybe not, since we essentially had nothing to play for after the break and it would be a legitimate tactic to save some valuable energy for the two upcoming matches that will, or could, determine the whole WCQ outcome for us. But the 4:6 result on the shot clock, and the 0,82:1,1 score in the xG battle, don’t look good nonetheless.
That remaining half an hour, though. We took 23 ball touches in the penalty area compare to Estonia’s one. We scored 4 goals from an accumulated 2,63 xG compare to Estonia’s zero from a 0 xG. Darida himself set up a teammate in danger areas five times with Provod chipping in with another four examples.
I don’t care about the (strength of the) opposition; this was fantastic to see. And going back to the point I made above, it was no automatic thing either.