2017-18 HET Liga Review – Week 4: Losing Direction

“We need to improve our finishing,” said a rueful Dušan Uhrin Jr. after Mladá Boleslav’s 3-0 defeat to Slovan Liberec. The Středočeský side did have their chances. Golgol Mebrahtu had two great chances to score, but was twice denied by an impressive Ondřej Kolář in the Slovan goal.

Mebrahtu’s teammates, however, could not use the excuse of an in-form goalkeeper to save their blushes: Tomáš Přikryl, Nickolai Komlichenko and Lukáš Magera did their wasteful best to either shoot straight at Kolář, or fire woefully off target. Jan Chramosta, who scored three times in Europa League Qualifying, was near enough invisible in his half-hour return from injury.

But Mladá Boleslav’s profligacy in front of goal was by no means their biggest weakest. That was their inability to deal with Liberec’s direct approach. “Every ball that was kicked towards our defence was a problem for us. [Playing like this], we cannot win. Even in the second or third division.”

Uhrin was right. All three Liberec goals followed a similar blueprint and exposed the same frailties in Boleslav’s backline. Nobody was tracking the runners from deep and everybody looked too afraid to attack the ball.

There was no tactical understanding either. Nobody cottoned on to the idea that dropping deeper and narrowing the gap between a leaden-footed defence and an isolated goalkeeper would reduce Liberec’s chances of going clean through on goal. Even if an order failed to materialise from the sidelines, somebody should have stood up and made an executive decision.

As the questions from the press kept coming, so too did Uhrin’s answers, some of which were brutal in their honesty. “Probably some players are too comfortable,” he surmised after one line of inquiry.

Can you blame the players though when that attitude surely comes from the top? Mladá Boleslav are a fixture of the Czech top four and have qualified for Europe for the past six years. Indeed, they have not finished lower than eighth since 2005, and even those mid-table places are anomalies, explained away through injuries and bad luck. And they’re never in the relegation mix either. They’re the very definition of a well-run, stable club that has become a little too comfortable.

The problem is, where can Mladá Boleslav go from here? Despite having commercial arrangements with Škoda, they lack the financial power to compete with Viktoria Plzeň, the two Prague ‘S’ clubs and they are too good to get sucked into the pack, let alone a relegation battle. Instead, they attempt to be sustainable and have entered a perpetual cycle: Players and managers come; players and managers go, and fourth is both the maximum and minimum expectation when it comes to the league.

But after four games, Mladá Boleslav find themselves in uncharted waters. After a poor start to the domestic season and a frankly embarrassing elimination from Europa League qualifying, the club is rubbing shoulders with Zbrojovka Brno and Vysočina Jihlava at the foot of the table.

Admittedly, it is early days, but there is a feeling emanating from the club that not all is well. Maybe complacency has set in and we’re about to see the fall of Mladá Boleslav?

Zbrojovka fire first

With the season just a four weeks old, Zbrojovka Brno released a statement that has been months in the making.

“The Board of Directors analysed the current situation and agreed to end its relationship with Svatopluk Habanec,” the club announced. And with it, fans of Zbrojovka let out a sigh of relief.

The decision to relieve Habanec of his managerial duties at Srbska should not come as a surprise to anybody. Despite arriving in Brno with a strong reputation after establishing Slovácko as well-run, mid-table club, Habanec has taken the slumbering Moravian giants backwards. Worst of all, he was brought in to revolutionise Brno’s tactical approach to the game after the pragmatism of his predecessor, Václav Kotal. If anything, Zbrojovka are worse now than they were eighteen months ago.

The final straw was Zbrojovka’s capitulation against Sigma Olomouc on Sunday. Two goals from Jiří Texl, either side of a neat run and finish from David Houska, inside the opening fifteen minutes all but sealed Habanec’s fate. And if that wasn’t bad enough for the besieged manager to witness, the travelling supporters stayed behind in Olomouc after the game and congregated next to the club coach to vent their frustrations to both players and manager in person.

Richard Dostálek and Lukáš Přerost will take charge for Brno’s next game, a home tie against Sparta Prague.

Ekpai shows that Zlín could surprise again

Since moving to the Czech Republic from Israel at the turn of the year, Ubong Moses Ekpai has scored six times in twenty appearances and registered two assists. It’s not surprising that Slovan Liberec pushed hard to keep the Nigerian winger after his original loan spell from Maccabi Haifa had come to an end. But with European football, Ekpai chose Zlín and has made a flying start to life in Moravia, netting twice and putting in two game-winning performances.

It has been a rocky couple of months for the Cobblers, who have seen three of their best players from last season, Jakub Jugas, Vukadin Vukadinović and Diego Živulić leave for Slavia, Sparta and Plzeň respectively.

However, Bohumil Páník and his management team have recruited wisely. Aside from convincing Ekpai to move south, Zlín have welcomed forward Lukáš Železník back and given and Lukáš Bartošák, Daniel Holzer and Petr Jiráček the chance to reignite their careers with the defending MOL Cup champions.

Despite some predictions that Zlín will sink like a stone this season, the early signs are promising. And with Friday’s Europa League draw on the horizon, who knows if they can spring a surprise on the continental stage.

HET Liga Results

Saturday 18th August

Sparta Prague 1-0 Slovácko

Sunday 19th August

Baník Ostrava 3-3 Teplice
Bohemians 1905 0-0 Slavia Prague
Mladá Boleslav 0-3 Slovan Liberec
Zlín 1-0 Karviná

Sunday 20th August

Jablonec 2-2 Dukla Prague
Sigma Olomouc 3-0 Zbrojovka Brno
Vysočina Jihlava 1-2 Viktoria Plzeň

  • Posted by Chris Boothroyd
  • On 21st August 2017