There’s no denying that over the past six months, Tomas Soucek’s performances have dropped. Reports of contract negotiation struggles alongside him playing 48 games for West Ham last season have been suggested as reasons for this decline. However, I believe that a change in team style and the Czech’s specific role in that team may be responsible.
There’s no doubt that he strengthened our side and was a huge asset in his first 18 months but why have the Czech midfielder’s performances dipped so alarmingly in recent months? Does Soucek – who joined us initially on loan from Slavia Prague back in January 2020 – still have a future at West Ham following our summer signings and in particular, the arrival of our Brazilian magnifico, Lucas Paqueta.
Cast your mind back to the start of his life with us and he proved himself as a solid defensive attribute with a real eye for goal. He then managed to win Hammer of the year in 2021 after scoring 10 goals and getting one assist in the 2020/21 season.
In his first season and a half Soucek – capped over 40 times by the Czech Republic – assumed a box-to-box role next to current club captain Declan Rice. He was given free rein to drive into the box with many of his goals coming from his late arrival into goal scoring areas. Soucek also capitalised from our set piece ability scoring five headed goals in this period.
It’s worth pointing out that during his first 18 months, West Ham played a counter-attacking system and held a very compact shape when out of possession. This allowed the midfield to largely have the play in front of them and arguably making it much easier to read the opposition’s attacks.
However, over the last six months there have been many questioning Soucek’s ability with some calling for him to be replaced. Hammers fans have suggested that his passing accuracy and ball retention isn’t good enough in a West Ham side looking to progress. It seems as though the club were close to agreeing with these suggestions as over the most recent transfer window there was much discussion about possible replacements for the Czech international.
We were rumoured to be in talks with both Ibrahim Sangare and Amadou Onana — both of these players have similar physical attributes to Soucek, however, seem more assured in possession of the ball. These attributes would both make sense in the West Ham side with David Moyes expressing his desire to transform the focus of the team from counter attacking to possession based.
Soucek’s most recent performance was in my opinion his worst to date. In our 1-0 loss away to Everton, he seemed a passenger. He seemed to hide from receiving the ball and in possession, at times, it seemed as though we were essentially playing with 10 men. He also seemed to lack motivation and at times, when he gave the ball away, didn’t seem bothered to work back at all — worrying signs.
I’m not much of a stats man myself, however, I feel as though, in the case of Soucek, they help to halt some possible unfair judgements. Soucek’s passing ability is the main point of criticism, but his pass percentage stats since joining the club show improvement. In his first season, his pass completion was 70%, whereas, this season so far it is 79%.
Similarly, Soucek is criticised for being clumsy, however, there has been improvement here too. In his first full season Soucek had 1.1 bad controls per game. This has now dropped to 0.7. Despite these stats showing progression and improvement, I understand the criticism and do worry for Soucek’s place in this West Ham team.
With us currently sitting 18th in the league with four points from a possible 21, questions are being asked of manager David Moyes. Supporters and pundits are questioning why some of the newer players are not yet featuring regularly and after the international break, there is a good chance that Moyes will shake the team around a little.
If this is the case, it is likely that at some point we will see Lucas Paqueta in a role next to Declan Rice. Paqueta is more comfortable on the ball and has a great eye for a pass. With Soucek out of the team, we may lose out on his physicality, but we will gain creativity and calmness. Paqueta has played the box-to-box role previously during his time at Lyon and it could suit this West Ham side perfectly.