‘Czech Sensation’ Hložek has terrific talent but is he Liverpool-standard? – scout report
A name that will ring bells within certain scouting circles, Adam Hložek has been playing at the top level of Czech football for a couple of seasons now – despite being just 18-years-old. In the Czech First League for none other than Sparta Prague, the league’s most prestigious club, has Hložek been featuring for, adding to the grandeur of his rapid ascent.
This scout report will take a look at the burgeoning prospect’s growing skillset, his pros and cons as a player, and why the likes of Liverpool and Bayern Munich have been linked to purchasing the teenager. There has been plenty of chat around his most suitable position, and this analysis will reveal where he is best suited to become the world-class player, he has the technical abilities to become.
In this tactical analysis, we will cover his role at Sparta Prague, his key strengths, and the level of player he could become.
2002-born Hložek would begin his footballing career with local side FC Ivančice, located in a small town in the South Moravian Region of Czech Republic. It is a small town with less than 10,000 residents and some trek away from the capital, Prague. His chance for success was low, yet his talent shone so brightly that he was eventually picked up by Sparta in 2014. Since his early teens, he has been touted for big moves to Western European sides, but his decision to stay at Sparta has reaped its rewards.
It was these intense transfer rumours that forced Sparta’s hand – either they played him, or they lost him. They would lose him for a significantly lower fee than they could pull now, too. As a result, Hložek would become Sparta’s youngest first-team debutant in their 127-year history. Aged 16 years and two months old, Hložek came off the bench in a cup fixture to play his first senior minutes: seven minutes into which, he would score. Some start to an already sparkling career.
Standing at 6’1” / 185cm, Hložek is taller than your average winger but retains the dribbling abilities of a player much smaller than his stature. He is however much better suited to playing as a centre-forward, where he has played the majority of his minutes this season. He is a player who can score an assortment of goals: curled efforts on the half-turn, taking it round the keeper to score into an open net, absolute long-range belters, soaring headers, he has it all.
Adam Hložek’s player profile, created by the wonderful Sathish Prasad (@SathishPrasadVT on Twitter).
Smart movement & clinical finishing
For such a young player, Hložek has a variation in his movement typically seen by players at least a couple of years his elder. On the counter, he can play off the last man but has the know-how to hold his run to stay onside – a skill which many players never fully learn. Inside the box, he knows when to stay still, and when to move at the last moment to latch onto a driven cross. It helps too that he possesses tremendous finishing.
Scatter plot of Czech First League strikers’ xG per 90 compared with non-penalty goals per 90.
As we can see in the plot above, Hložek is outperforming his xG per 90 by some distance, probably by the greatest extent within the entire dataset. Outperforming your xG at such a young age is some feat, and indicative of his goalscoring talents, whilst demonstrating some room for improvement. He has played a few matches on the left-wing this term, but overall, the large majority of his matches have come as a centre-forward this season, meaning his xG could do with being a touch better.
Where Hložek has struggled is in matches against the best teams in the division. His record against the top four this season looks like this: four games, one goal, one assist. Both those goal contributions came in one game versus FK Jablonec, in which game he would suffer a metatarsal fracture causing him to miss 120 days and 19 games of football. Regardless, against higher quality opponents, Hložek has struggled to find space inside the box as he does against lower-league opposition.
Against Slavia Prague, the opposition centre-backs tucked tightly together to nullify Hložek’s attacking threat.
He does play a more subdued role in these matches, opting to involve himself deeper down the pitch than usual, which we will cover later. When Hložek is in his pomp, however, he is a tricky customer to contend with. As mentioned, he can score a variety of goals, but the Czech is most frequently found to be exploiting the gap between the full-back and centre-back down the half-space.
Here, we can see Hložek calling for the ball in between the centre-back and full-back to earn a chance on goal.
From here, his two-footedness comes in very handy. At this point, he will have his opponent backpedalling one-on-one, and if they have done any research on Hložek, they should understand that he can go either way from here. He can turn left, bursting towards the byline, setting himself up for a cutback inside the area, or he can jink his body to the right, open up his body, and let fly towards the upper right.
Hložek’s direct ball-carrying forces his opponent to backpedal and question which direction he will go next.
He utilises his momentum wisely here; without any skills or tricks, he drives to his right and hammers home an excellent goal into the side-left netting.
He has a myriad of other finishes up his toolbelt too – 2.93 shots per 90 shows that he can carve out several opportunities for himself per game – but one of his most impressive has to be the ones that rely on his innate finishing ability. His ability to score from awkward angles or even off-balance will help him translate his goalscoring to a tougher league tremendously. He has scored a few flicked backheels during his time at Sparta, and none more impressive than against Jablonec last season.
Here, Hložek adapts to the speed of the ball and incoming pressure from the defender by spinning backwards and backheeling the goal into the open part of the net smartly.
The Czech’s Creative spark
Just like now-Sporting Director of Sparta Prague, Tomáš Rosický, Hložek has a creative flair about him, too. His ball-carrying ability, which has come on leaps and bounds since his professional debut, aids him in getting into positions of real threat. Running the channels not only carves out chances for himself, but it also creates space for his teammates to enter, allowing him to find them with a key pass.
Scatter plot of Czech First League strikers’ xA per 90 compared with assists per 90.
We can see a clear outlier in the data here. Once again, Hložek does outperform his underlying metrics though. In the case of assists, this cannot be placed down to anything but luck. He has teammates who can finish off the chances he creates at an elite rate. However, his xA per 90 is still second in the division for strikers, emblematic of his dual-threat nature within the final third.
Posting a high number of goals and assists at such a young age is indicative of a player who is calm and composed inside the area, knowing when to pass or when to shoot. His decision-making is bright, resolute, and keeps defenders guessing what he is going to do next. Playing out wide, he uses his pace to burst towards the byline, before cutting in and using quick-thinking to lay off the ball to a teammate in a more dangerous shooting position.
Hložek plays the pass around the corner to meet his teammate’s run into a wide zone.
This allows him to enter infield and receive the ball on the edge of the six-yard box. Surrounded by defenders, he quickly shifts the ball out of his feet to a teammate who can finish confidently.
He has the eye for a smart pass around the corner, he can spot when a through pass is on, but a large portion of Hložek’s creative efforts come from high-value opportunities either on the counter or inside the box. His movement allows him to get into these moments where he can just carry the ball into open space sometimes, where he can just off lay the ball to the side for an easy goal.
Hložek plays off the last shoulder, aiming to receive the through pass down the line.
Further up the pitch, he lays off the ball to his teammate, who, thanks to the goalkeeper’s poor positioning, essentially has an open goal to finish into.
It is hard to argue with any room for improvement given how excellent the 18-year-old already is creatively – his 0.8 key passes per 90 sit in the 96th percentile in the Czech league for strikers – but his glimpses of quality vision and long-range passing could be used more frequently. This would add another skill to his already monumentally stacked toolbelt. To have a striker who can open up defences in tight spaces is a highly-coveted skill that Hložek could yet unlock.
Against a compact defence, Hložek innovatively creates a goalscoring opportunity via a header for his fellow forward by a lofty cross.
Unique dribbling ability
Hložek is not the quickest player over ten yards, but when allowed to build speed over a longer distance, he possesses excellent pace that allows him to burst past defenders on the ball. Moreover, the 18-year-old has a bag of tricks he is ready to deploy at any moment. Part of this is a young player trying to enjoy his time on the pitch, but they also provide a good purpose at times that allow him to enter a dangerous area of the pitch.
Scatter plot of Czech First League strikers’ dribbles per 90 compared with successful dribbles %.
Another scatter plot, another set of statistics where Hložek sits in the magic upper right quadrant. Even if we treat these underlying statistics with a level of nuance required to analyse a player, the fact that at 18-years-old he is outperforming the majority of his competitors is impressive. He is attempting a decent number of dribbles and completing a good number of them too, especially for a striker.
It is tougher for a striker to complete dribbles in the centre of the pitch than it is for a winger to do the same out wide due to the lack of time on the ball and pressure you come under in a more threatening portion of the pitch. Hložek does complete a decent proportion of his dribbles in wider areas, however, or at least down the half-space where he exploits the space between the full-back and centre-back.
Hložek starts dribbling down the half-space towards the byline.
He turns back, and then back again, to create half a yard of space to send a delivery into the box.
These dribbles are not ending up in cul de sac’s either – they have a purpose of ball progression or at least to get the ball into space where he lay off the ball to a well-equipped progressive passer such as David Pavelka in midfield. Hložek ranks 8th in the division for progressive runs per 90 with 1.47 per 90 – indicative of the purpose in his dribbles for the most part. Though, on occasion, a poor touch in possession can cause the periodic turnover.
Hložek drops deep here to collect the ball and aid ball progression.
He turns his man, leaving him to eat dust, and drive up the pitch into green space.
One area he has improved this season, almost by virtue of playing more often as a centre-forward, is in his ability to dribble in isolated situations. At 6’1”, he has an upper-body strength likened to a player much smaller than him such as Sadio Mané or Isco when he was in his pomp. This allows him to bounce off players with the ball at his feet, which is a useful trait to have as it means he is not needlessly drawing fouls in areas of the pitch which are not beneficial to the team.
Hložek against Slavia Prague was not afraid to be direct in tight, central areas like this example.
Forecast for the future
In an attempt to answer the question of this piece; is he Liverpool standard? At this moment – possibly yes. Considering his competition is Roberto Firmino who has lacked any sort of goalscoring prowess or creative capabilities this season, Hložek would certainly be worth a gamble. It is not as if he does not give his due diligence defensively either – on many occasions as a winger was he caught tracking the opposition full-back inside his half.
However, a better move for his immediate future might be away from the limelight at clubs such as West Ham or RB Leipzig who he was linked to last summer. Joining West Ham might seem beneath his level, even at such a young age, but to join a club where two Czech players are already at – and playing regularly too – would help Hložek settle in at another country tremendously, at least for a couple of seasons before potentially moving onwards and upwards to another, potentially bigger club.