You will struggle to find a West Ham fan right now that won’t tell you the merits of studying the Czech Fortuna Liga when looking for undiscovered talent. The emergence of Tomáš Souček and Vladimír Coufal – both from Slavia Prague – have dramatically improved the Hammers this season as they push for European football. There’s another talent, currently residing in the city of Plzeń, that the two Czech players might be recommending to David Moyes soon: Pavel Bucha.
Bucha will turn 23 before the U21 Championships start in March, but has already turned out for three top flight Czech sides. The central midfielder started his career at Slavia Prague before Viktoria Plzeń signed him in the summer of 2018. A year-long loan deal to Mladá Boleslav was organised six months later, allowing Bucha to taste European football for the first time as he helped guide the team to the Europa League via the play-offs.
Seven goals and five assists by the start of 2020 was enough to convince Viktoria Plzeń to add him straight to the starting line-up upon his return, and four goals and four assists in just over 1200 minutes justified the decision. Plzeń qualified for the Champions League qualifiers but this season has been anything but straightforward. Since 2010 – when Plzeń won their first ever 1. liga – Bucha’s side have never finished lower than third, however, at the halfway stage this season they sit in sixth, 19 points off the top of the table and they failed to reach the group stages of either European competition. There has been one bright spark through this torrid season; Pavel Bucha.
Bucha is a dynamic, aggressive central midfielder, with more of an eye on attack than defence, but with the engine to support both causes. His range of passing makes him a threat in the attacking third and setting up counter attacks, and his ability to finish from outside the box with both feet forces defenders to close him down quickly. If the defender in question doesn’t reach him fast enough, he’s happy to test the keeper, otherwise his ability to weight passes allows him to play strikers into the vacated space.
His stats in the Fortuna Liga back this up. Only Lukáš Sadílek has more assists this season (6), and only Sparta Prague’s Lukáš Juliš has more goal involvements (12). Only four players have completed more passes than Bucha in the league, although three of those players are his teammates, and he has completed more dribbles than any of the players above him in that department. This stat may be slightly flattering however, as two of those players are limited left back David Limberský and centre back Jakub Brabec, highlighting how Plzeń can sometimes be quite tentative in possession, keeping the balls in deep areas.
In the example above, Bucha (in the centre of the pitch in the top picture) is happy to pick up the ball in the middle of the pitch, and if given the opportunity, drive forwards. Midfielders struggle to dispossess him from behind, and once a defender commits and squares up to him, he’s then able to thread a pass through to the forward.
In the same game, a long ball has been knocked down to him by a teammate (see the player on the floor in the top picture). The ball is travelling at speed, but under pressure Bucha is able to volley a pass into the path of the striker, without pushing him too wide or giving the goalkeeper the chance to shut him down too quickly.
For the Czech Republic, Bucha has played on the left wing as well as a central or more advanced midfielder. In the example above, Bucha shows his ability to bring his teammates into the game with his back to goal. Impressively two-footed (as we’ll get onto later), Bucha prefers to cut inside on his right foot playing on this side, but shows he can hold up to ball and use his ability to expertly weight his passes to link up with his teammates.
A slightly different example of Bucha’s weight of pass combined with his aggression. Bucha shuts down the opposition’s midfielder before he’s able to get on the half-turn, opening up the space in front of him. He feints to shoot, forcing the defenders to square up to him, but plays a disguised pass instead, giving his teammate even more time to compose himself to shoot.
The final two examples (above and below) demonstrate Bucha’s finishing ability to two very different circumstances. In the first, Bucha arrives late into the box, takes a first touch as the pass was slightly in front of him which narrows the angle slightly, but he still finishes with aplomb on his left foot. The example below demonstrates a few skills which may be more useful in the Czech set-up if he is selected to play in a more advanced role. Bucha curves and delays his run to stay onside, before driving at goal and finishing confidently with his right foot.
Plzeń’s chance of qualifying for any European compeition this season look slim, and a player of Bucha’s ability and potential should be testing himself at a level above the Europa Conference League that Viktoria Plzeń are most likely to compete in next season if their form improves. His experience playing for several different top level Czech clubs at this stage in his career should make a transition to a stronger side – whether domestically or abroad – quite straightforward, although this is never guaranteed.
AND FINALLY ON THE CZECH REPUBLIC…
Considering the length of time the U21 qualifiers took place over, the Czech Republic had one of the most settled teams across the campaign. Martin Jedlička in goal and Libor Holík, Michal Sadílek, Dominik Plechatý and Matěj Chaluš sitting in front of him was a solid back line for the majority of their qualifiers, although they struggled against Scotland in their two meetings. The man to look out for in midfield alongside Bucha is Sparta Prague’s Ladislav Krejçi. The holding midfielder can also play at centre back, but that didn’t stop him being the Czech Republic’s top scorer in qualifying with five goals.
Manager Karel Krejčí may have his work cut out qualifying from a group that contains Italy or Spain, however a win against hosts Slovenia in their second game could keep them in contention going into their final game against the Spaniards. The lack of a quality goalscorer and players with experience against opposition from outside the Czech Republic will make progression difficult, but stranger things have happened during European tournaments.
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