When Kalas joined Chelsea last season very little was known about the young Czech defender. Fast forward a year and many here are questioning whether or not we should have purchased Gary Cahill due to the youngster's impressive form while out on loan. While I think that may be a bit of an overstatement on how impressive the young center back has been, it's certainly an indication that Tomas has been very, very good.
Kalas looked relatively composed during the club's pre-season tour of Asia but the aggressive loan to the Eredivisie still caught me a bit off guard. While Kalas had certainly impressed in the youth ranks and reserves I was not 100% sure he'd be polished enough to become a regular in one of the top ten leagues on the planet. Apparently I was underrating the young Czech by a fair margin though. He stepped into what was a woeful Vitesse defense last season and has been a major component in what's now arguably the best defense in the Netherlands.
When Kalas first arrived at Vitesse their was some question about how he was going to be utilized by the club. There were rumblings that he'd see time at both center back and flanked on the right to assure he got plenty of playing time. Kalas made his first Eredivisie appearance on September 17th, starting in the center of the defense for a side that had allowed 8 goals in their prior two contests. Since that point Vitesse has allowed only 9 goals in their 15 contests with 4 of those coming in the fixture in which Kalas limped off injured during the first half. It's pretty clear that Vitesse have improved on the defensive end of the pitch since Kalas arrived, so let's take a little deeper look at what he's been bringing to the table.
One thing that was awfully clear since Kalas stepped into the lineup was his composure on the defensive end. He's very calm and never seems to panic when Vitesse are under pressure. He's also been quite sound in his positioning. Vitesse doesn't play with a very high line in general, but Kalas hasn't been caught by a run behind in any of the contests I've seen thus far. He's proving to be very good at covering for his partner's lack of mobility as well, often doing a very nice job at cleaning up for an overly aggressive teammate.
The other thing that has been exceptionally impressive thus far with Kalas has been his passing. When he's got the ball at his feet he's been absolutely outstanding in his decision making, very rarely misplaying a pass and never doing so in his own end. While he doesn't make forward runs as often as WAGNH favorite David Luiz, he does advance the ball from time to time when the opposition doesn't press at all. He seems to prefer the shorter safer pass and allows his midfield to build up the play as opposed to the over the top balls. When he does play the long ball it's generally looked pretty good.
Kalas has been pretty solid in his tackling, he doesn't often dive into them because he's often in good enough position not to have to. When he does dive into tackles though he does it very well. His speed helps there as well since when he doesn't read the play perfectly he's often fast enough to get to the correct spot anyway. In the air Kalas leaves a little more to be desired. In general he's held his own, but on the few occasions he's really been tested by an aerial threat he doesn't win all that many balls. He's 18 so that's something I'd expect to improve, but he's certainly not ready for the Stoke City's of the world quite yet. He's not alone there though, as Messi probably couldn't handle a rainy Wednesday night at the Brittania.
As far as getting in front of shots goes Kalas does quite well. He's among the Eredivisie leaders in blocked shots since he's debuted, something that's largely attributable to his speed and agility. He's fairly convincing when he has the time to clear the ball as well, often booming it to safety. You don't see too many deflection from Kalas that end up troubling his own keeper and more often than not he manages to take the ball out of danger. He's also been a useful player on set pieces. Where he's not fantastic in the air, his positioning usually means he doesn't need to be. He's definitely more useful in defending them then he has in the offensive box. The athleticism, vision, and positioning is there though, so cross your fingers that this develops.
Here's a little highlight video of some of his tackles and clearances. It's nice to see some highlights focusing on his work on the defensive end of the pitch, often you'd only see his forays into the attacking third. If you're at work I'd turn the volume down though, as the first song is not an edited version:
All in all the loan spell for Kalas has been very good and his stock has certainly risen this season. While there is still a second half of the season left to be played, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the club is considering a move to the Premier League for Kalas next season given the way he's performed thus far. It's also entirely possible that they'll simply give him more time in the Eredivisie as he's certainly getting the game time to develop there. Should Vitesse climb up the table into the European places (they'd currently be in the Europa playoff) it would certainly make that decision a little easier. For now though, Kalas and Vitesse will focus on getting there. Their Eredivisie journey resumes this Sunday when they square off against NEC Nijmegen. Best of luck Tomas...we'll be watching.