After years of turbulence, West Ham have seemingly reached some level of stability this season. Despite largely being tipped to be the first managerial casualty of the season, David Moyes has guided the Hammers to sixth in the table, with European football a realistic objective.
A hallmark of Moyes’ success in the past has been signing undervalued players who can fulfil specific roles in his team. While Jarred Bowen, Vladimir Coufal, and Said Benhrama have all proved to be sound investments, Tomas Soucek has undoubtedly been the Scott’s best signing thus far.
The Czech international has scored top-flight eight goals and, along with Declan Rice, has formed arguably the most formidable midfield double pivot in the Premier League.
After using a 5-4-1 with reasonable effectiveness earlier in the campaign, Moyes has reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation. In midfield, the 57-year-old generally favors two distinct types of players: deep-sitting defensive midfielders who can keep possession ticking over or those who are aerially dominant and can provide an attacking threat in the box. In Soucek, the former Everton boss has found a midfielder who can perform both functions.
In possession, Soucek is safe and reliable in his passing. He normally opts for horizontal passes to the fullbacks, Rice, or wingers dropping deep, all of whom are better suited to progress the ball. This can be seen as a prosaic role, indicative of Soucek’s limitations as a player. Nevertheless, it’s a function that’s necessary for the team’s overall balance.
With the improved distribution of Rice and the dynamism of the Hammers’ fullbacks and wide players, they don’t need another midfielder who can progress the ball. Rather, Soucek’s ability to slow the game down and circulate possession safely ensures that West Ham can retain the ball and choose the right moments to take offensive risks.
While Soucek may not contribute significantly to the Hammers build-up and creation of attacks, he is still instrumental in their offensive capabilities. When compared to other midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues during the past year, Soucek ranks in the 99th percentile for non-penalty goals scored per 90 and non-penalty expected goals per 90. He is genuinely an elite goal-scoring midfielder.
The majority of Soucek’s goals are scored from set-pieces or late arrivals in the box. He wins a staggering 5.62 aerial duels per 90, and so he thrives off of the excellent delivery of players like Creswell, Coufal, Jarred Bowen, and others.
At 6’4″, he towers over most players, already giving him an advantage. But this is also aided by the fact that he almost always attacks crosses with forward momentum rather than from a stationary position in the box. The timing of his runs is crucial to this.
He seems to have an intuitive understanding of when his teammates are going to deliver the ball, the area they’ll try to deliver into, and which spaces in the box he can best exploit. Soucek scans the pitch constantly to have a better understanding of these things, but it’s his natural instincts as a player that set him apart as a goal-scoring midfielder.
Apart from his aerial prowess, Soucek has shown that he is a versatile finisher with good instincts in front of goal. He’s not an eye-catching striker of the ball who can threaten from outside the area, but as he showed against Aston Villa, he is just as capable of steering a low-driven shot in the bottom corner as he is scoring a header. The 25-year-old shows good fundamentals in his shooting that can allow him to latch onto through-passes or loose balls in the box.
Soucek is also an active presence defensively. He makes 2.29 tackles and 1.13 interceptions per 90, which is particularly impressive in the context of West Ham’s passive defensive approach. His physical attributes and stamina are his standout defensive traits, but he also shows reasonable reading of the game to be a reliable midfield partner to Rice.
He isn’t particularly mobile or adept at covering large amounts of space, meaning that his forays forward can leave West Ham exposed to counters in certain situations. But this is a minor issue given the rewards Soucek’s style brings, and when West Ham are in a settled defensive position, he is an effective defensive player.
Tomas Soucek’s performances this season and impact on West Ham have been nothing short of remarkable. From his tenacity to his consistency, he epitomizes the broader attributes of David Moyes’ side this season. Whatever success the Hammers enjoy during the rest of the campaign, he will prove instrumental in it.