Since joining from Schalke last summer, Alex Král has featured in nearly every Union Berlin game. Frequently the pivot in a midfield three under former Coach Urs Fischer and current Coach, Nenad Bjelica, Král is generally responsible for the tempo of the game, initiating attacks, breaking up counters and being a key creative source.
However, with just one goal and one assist to his name in a side struggling for goals and languishing just above the Bundesliga’s relegation places, Král has not quite found his feet in Köpenick.
Today, he had a point to prove as we took an in-depth analysis of his performance against Bundesliga’s bottom-side SV Darmstadt 98.
First half: Contributing off the ball
Král made a name for himself with Czech giants, Slavia Prague.
He came through their academy before transferring to Russian side, Spartak Moscow.
Three seasons in Russia was followed by a brief stint at West Ham United and then a season at Schalke before finally arriving in Köpenick on loan.
With 36 international appearances to his name and Championship honours with Slavia Prague, Král arrived in Berlin on a wave of excitement.
Unfortunately, with Union Berlin quickly knocked out of their inaugural Champions League campaign, Král has failed to impress.
Playing on the right of a midfield three, Král struggled to adjust to his new role against Darmstadt.
Aside from a couple of nice flicks, he managed just 14 touches with a pass accuracy of 40% inside the first 30 minutes.
Král’s main attacking contribution in the first half came from a skewed effort from 20 yards that sailed at least ten yards wide of the right-hand post.
Off the ball, Král was more useful and showed his experience.
His more advanced positioning in the final third took another defender away and freed up Hollerbach and Behrens to find more space in the box.
It wasn’t much but it was effective.
In defence, Král was against Fabian Nürnburger and Tim Skarke. He worked hard to stay goal side and frequently thwarted the Darmstadt attacking midfielders from finding space in the box.
This was best epitomised in added time in the first half.
With legs tiring and Darmstadt dominating possession, Union had set up in two banks of four on the edge of the box. Král nipped ahead of Franjic on the edge of the box and made a vital interception with Union chasing shadows and starting to show cracks in their iron defence.
It was small, barely noticeable in the grand scheme of events but the game can turn in an instant and Union Berlin held on for half-time.
Second half: Reading the game
In the second half, Král was more influential on the ball.
With barely 60 seconds on the clock, he was on the edge of the box with Darmstadt defenders closing him down quickly. Král stayed composed and found Christopher Trimmel in a better shooting position on his right.
Král’s lay-off invited Trimmel to shoot but the effort fell agonisingly wide of the right post as Union Berlin eyed an opener.
On the hour mark, smart footwork by Král under pressure on the halfway line unlocked the midfield as Union Berlin went on a counter-attack. He initiated a quick one-two to set Behrens free before play was halted for a foul off the ball.
A minute later, Král was called into defensive action.
With Darmstadt controlling the right side, Justvan and Matthias Bader moved the ball from right to left, with the ball destined to fall to Pfeiffer at the back post. However, Král had read the game and positioned himself ahead of the attacker as Darmstadt threatened to take the lead.
A minute later, Union Berlin were ahead through Benedict Hollerbach and nearly doubled their lead soon after through an audacious effort from Robin Gosens.
With twenty minutes to go, Darmstadt nearly equalised as Fabian Nürnburger was on hand at the back post to head in a cross but Král was again awake to the danger to thwart the visitors.
Like the first half, touches were few and far between, with just 20 in the second half but Král more than made up for his lack of attacking threat with his defensive efforts.
In added time at the end of the 90, with his peers tiring and desperate to hold on, Král led the midfield and formed the centre of a formidable midfield that Darmstadt could not break down.
Král was a ghost stalking the Darmstadt defence in the second half.
Match rating: 6.5
It wasn’t vintage Král but it’s hard to know what that looks like these days.
For the national side, Král chaperones the midfield: leader, creator, conductor.
For Union Berlin, Král has struggled to stamp his authority on the side and change games. However, he is a model professional and is happy to do the ‘dirty work’ off the ball and in defence.
Today was a wonderful example of his strengths and weaknesses, his ability to read the game and to go unnoticed whilst influencing with game-saving, if not game-scoring, results.
If Union Berlin are to avoid Bundesliga relegation, Král will need to stay fit and keep contributing at both ends of the pitch.
Today, he did just enough to help Union secure a vital three points.