Phil Parkes: ‘It’s difficult to pinpoint why Soucek and Coufal haven’t reached the same heights’

Sometimes I wonder if they perhaps achieved a standard last season that they will struggle to reach again.

Tomas Soucek (WHU) at the EPL match West Ham United v Burnley, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 16th January, 2021. English Premier League matches are still being played behind closed doors because of the current COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, and government social distancing/lockdown restrictions.

From our Hammer and runner up of the Year last campaign, we’ve seen a very different Soucek and Coufal this season but why is this?

In all honesty, there are lots of reasons that can impact a player’s performance and it’s very hard to pinpoint just one from the outside.

We did wonder at the start of the season what impact their performances over the summer in the Euros might have on this campaign. Could this be to blame?

For Coufal, he’s now had surgery on a groin injury and has been out a few times this season. 

He always clocks up so many miles on the pitch so I’m wondering now if this injury has been to blame for his dip in form.

As for Soucek, maybe he has struggled with not having the freedom he had before with Rice now taking up more advanced positions – although it was pleasing to see him get back on the scoresheet against Wolves last month.

Rice has been playing so well that it does feel like maybe we are sacrificing one player for another.

It’s just a pity we don’t have another player in the middle to allow both Rice and Soucek to do what they do best going forward.

I know Rice does a lot of defensive work too but I do often wonder what kind of player he could become if he keeps adding to his attacking play?

He reminds me a bit of Alan Devonshire and what he used to do. If he wanted to get on the ball, he would go after it. He wanted it all the time.

Back to our two Czech mates and sometimes I wonder if they perhaps achieved a standard last season that they will struggle to reach again.

A bit like a golfer who goes out and has a great round. Everything seems to be going in the right direction but then they can’t replicate that in the next round and struggle to reach the same high again.

Maybe they were playing above what they can achieve on a regular basis.

You sometimes wonder too how much of an impact other players have. Antonio not scoring and not being the same player – you could argue this has an impact on how Soucek and Coufal play.

But, as I say, there could be any number of things that have impacted the performances of Soucek and Coufal this season. It could be something in their personal lives that is playing on their mind.

I remember in my day, you’d have players who were out of this world for a few games and then play a few games where they weren’t the same player, and you just can’t put your finger on what’s gone wrong.

One thing that I don’t think is helping any of the players today are all these breaks they keep having.

There are those that say: ‘These players are playing too much football, they must rest’, so then they have a rest and then have four games to play in 10 days.

It does all seem a bit crazy to me, and then you have Chelsea go off to play in the World Club Cup when they were supposed to be resting. It just shows you it’s all about money.

I can understand why it’s been decided not to have replays in the Cup but I have felt sorry for the smaller clubs who miss out on a payday – like Kidderminster did.

With Rice scoring at the end, in the past, they’d have got a replay at the London Stadium. With today’s rules, they missed out on that.

And they missed out on being in the hat for the next round which I’m sure most of us will agree, they deserved to be in. They should have won.

Without Rice coming on and doing what he did, they would have won, and not one West Ham fan could have complained. 

Moyes rotated his squad to give some of his other players a chance to get some minutes in and remind the boss what they can do but we just didn’t show up. It was embarrassing.

Yarmolenko should have been booked for his dive. Here was a player who has 100 caps for Ukraine, has played at the top level across Europe, and yet he can’t turn it on against Kidderminster.

What this game highlighted was just how poor the squad is. When you are pushing to finish in fourth, it’s not just about your best XI, it’s about the whole squad.

You need these players to come in and reach the same heights as those challenging for the same position but they just haven’t been.

I am glad that West Ham did win – the stigma would never have gone away for these players had we lost to a non-league side. 

I mention the top four and we all know that it was going to be difficult to achieve this because, as has been shown, we haven’t got the strength in depth in the squad.

If this was Man City and they had players like Soucek and Coufal not doing it, they’d bring in two players who could – we can’t do that.

With Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, Man United, Arsenal – you need at least two of these teams to struggle to get into the top four. Spurs are also up there challenging.

We are surely now looking at sixth place, which is still not shabby when you think about it. It’s certainly better than battling against relegation. 

I think it’s fair to say that all our expectations have got a bit higher but most seasons in recent memory, if we’d been told that come March you are battling at the top end of the table and have had good cup runs – we’d all take that.

January’s transfer window was key and I still don’t quite understand why we never spent anything in January. It was clear we needed to strengthen the squad.

Looking ahead to this month, I’m looking forward to seeing how we get on against Sevilla, who only just saw off Dinamo Zagreb.

It is going to be really tough because they have won this competition six times and they know what they need to do to progress.

But they will be concerned about playing West Ham. They would know more about the other teams in the competition and have probably played against them in previous seasons.

West Ham will be a bit of an unknown quantity to them – even though I’m sure they will be watching us closely over the next couple of weeks.

If they manage to watch the Kidderminster game then they might not watch anymore and be lured into a false sense of security!

It would be interesting to know just how far back in the campaign their team will watch videos for. The side at the start of the season is so very different to that of recent weeks.

I was glad that we avoided Rangers because although on paper, it would have given us a better chance to get through, it would’ve been tough.

They did brilliantly to get through against Dortmund, and then when you throw into the mix that it would be a Scottish side against an English one, you know their game will go up another notch.

You’ve seen it a number of times over the years with both Rangers and Celtic and also I was thankful for not getting Rangers because I did worry there could be trouble off the pitch too.

I hope we’re able to return to the kind of form that got us into the Round of 16.

More than anything, we need to start keeping clean sheets again. 

Against Newcastle, if we’d kept a clean sheet, we’d have got all three points. Hopefully we can shut out Sevilla in Spain to give us the best chance of progressing in the second leg at the London Stadium.

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