Slavia Prague came into limelight with a brilliant display against Inter Milan in the first group stage match of the UEFA Champions League. The Czech Republic champions bowed out from the qualifying round of Champions League against Dynamo Kyiv last season but gave an enormous fight to Chelsea in the quarter-final of Europa League.
The Red and Whites, as they are famously known as, are currently leading the Czech First League table with an enormous 11 points from the second-placed Viktoria Plzeň. The large part of it is due to the dynamic midfield triumvirate of Josef Hušbauer, Nicolae Stanciu, and Tomáš Souček. The midfield trio scored 15 out of the 36 goals in Czech First League this season and the Slavia captain Souček scoring eight among those. Tomáš Souček has been a revelation since joining Slovan Liberec on loan from Slavia in 2017. Since then he has made the central defensive midfield his own for ‘The red and whites’.
An essential attribute of a midfielder is to circulate the passes accurately and with precision. Even a central defensive midfielder is judged by the way he passes around the ball and his ability to weave magic by creating chances along with his defensive abilities.
Jindřich Trpišovský, the Slavia Prague gaffer, loves building his play from the back. During buildup Souček often moves back and forms a three-man backline to open up passing lanes for his goalkeeper and centre-backs and pushes the attacking full-backs up. The other midfielders Hušbauer and Stanciu drop deep from their usual position to carry out fluid passing from the back.
However, Souček doesn’t always remain constant at the centre-back position during the buildup.
The midfield stalwart is very intelligent in his positioning. When he sees there is no passing lane to carry forward the ball, he moves from the centre-back position and draws out a Teplice player. Stanciu changes the flank and Slavia carries out their build-up from the back.
It’s evident that the Slavia Captain circulates a lot of passes to build up his team’s play. Even though the former Sparta midfielder, Hušbauer, plays out similar amounts of passes he is not able to circulate passes with the accuracy of his captain.
When it comes to Souček’s performance against the midfielders of the top six teams of Premier League and La Liga, his passing ability does not leave a huge mark as compared to the Czech First League. However, it all comes down to the league he plays in. If he makes his strides to any of the top four leagues in Europe, his numbers are sure to improve.
He is good at circulating the ball, but can the Slavia captain play long balls?
Jindřich Trpišovský generally fields his team in 4-1-4-1, with Souček acting as the pivot. Slavia manager occasionally utilises him as the deep-lying playmaker, just as Steven Gerrard was used at the later stages of his career.
Souček doesn’t play a lot of long balls as compared to his midfield partner, Hušbauer, but his accuracy is commendable.
As mentioned earlier Trpišovský loves to play in 4-1-4-1. However, as the match progresses, this formation may mislead a person. Slavia loves to play with a dynamic midfield with the three midfielders often changing positions especially Souček and Hušbauer
During the buildup, generally, Souček stations himself as the third centre-back to open the passing lanes for his defenders. Occasionally Hušbauer drops deep instead of the Slavia captain. In the middle third intermittently, Hušbauer acts as the ‘regista’ and orchestrates the play allowing Souček to move further up or stay alongside the former Sparta midfielder.
It is the reason Hušbauer delivers a massive 9.6 long balls per90mins.
When he is compared to midfielders of the top six teams of PL and La Liga, his long ball output doesn’t seem great.
He is good at producing occasional long balls but not great as the other top-notch deep-lying midfielders like Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, who used to spread the game and play occasional mouth-watering long balls and diagonal balls to disrupt the opposition organisation.
When playing for the Czech Republic though he is used in the double pivot, where he is not allowed to tread into more attacking positions. He seems to play more long balls when playing for the Czech Republic than for Slavia Prague.
In this game against Bulgaria, he provides a delicious long ball and spreads the ball to the right flank in the final third.
Pavel Kadeřábek fails to receive the ball and the Czech Republic attack goes blunt.
Another aspect of Souček’s game which is slightly different from his teammates is his passing length. It is quite evident that the deep-lying midfielders or the defensive midfielders are outside of the quartiles in the first quadrant.
He finds himself in a good company of defensive midfielders. Along with the short passes he makes to buildup the play, he often looks for players making runs or the forwards dropping deep to feed them with passes.
Midfielders are often appreciated when they produce a great display of their passing skills, try to break down the opposition defence with risky passes in the final third which leads to scoring chances.
Let’s look at how Souček fairs when it comes to playing balls to the final third.
Being a defensive midfielder or a deep-lying midfielder he delivers a fair amount of balls in the defensive third and with a final third passing accuracy of 72.57%. It seems ideal when in the Czech First League.
However, when it’s compared with the big stars he lingers around in the third quadrant. With the likes of Jorginho, Busquets occupying the first quadrant it may seem Souček doesn’t take more risk during Slavia attacks but he plays a much different role when it comes to these midfielders (which would be discussed later). Though he should work on the accuracy of his final third passes for the big teams to pounce onto him the next season.
We have seen earlier Souček doesn’t indulge much in risky passes. He likes to build up with short passes or occasional long balls to bother the opponents.
He isn’t much creative when it comes to providing smart passes, key passes or through balls but he is one of the best assist providers in the league. He has three assists in the league one from a through pass, another by winning an aerial duel in the box and third by winning the ball in the final third and producing a delicious cross from the left flank.
Even when his assist rate is compared to the midfielders of PL or La Liga, he is one of the best in business. The players who are above Souček in this chart plays in a more attacking role than him.
How Trpišovský utilises Souček during Slavia attacks?
Souček is a part of dynamic midfield triumvirate who changes their positions more often than not. In the course of Slavia attacks, it is often seen that the Slavia captain takes a position in the box and Hušbauer, Stanciu and the attacking full-backs often provide crosses and creative passes into the box. This is the reason Hušbauer records 5.6 creative passes per90 mins. Hušbauer also whips in 2.72 crosses per 90 mins which is more than most of the midfielders in all the leagues.
This image perfectly describes Souček’s positioning in the opposition box. During the buildup of Slavia attack against Viktoria Plzeň, he positions him just at the edge of the box. It helps him both in attacking as well as defensive aspects. If a cross is whipped into the box, he can easily pounce on it, making a slight forward run. This will give him extra power and energy in his headers. If the Slavia attack results in a turnover, he can easily fall back and win the ball for his team.
Souček is the chief penalty taker for Slavia. However, even without his three penalties, he has scored six goals from open play and set-pieces this ongoing season. His medium built tall figure is used perfectly by the Slavia gaffer. He is massive in the
air and wins most of his aerial duels. He has scored three headed goals out of the total six non-penalty goals.
Quality of shots
Midfielders often like to take chances from outside the box and score screamers. It sometimes pays dividends but most of the times end in lost opportunities. Let’s have a close look at Souček’s shot quality.
In this graph it is quite evident that the Slavia players like to shoot more often and leads the chart in the league, however, looking at the quality of shots, Souček deserves a mention in the top brackets. Souček takes 2.35 shots per90 mins which is really good for a defensive midfielder and 43% of the times it’s on target.
This graph would give a really good picture of the quality Souček possesses. It is quite evident from this graph the deep-lying midfielders or defensive midfielders has more than 40% shots on target but they take fewer shots. The midfielders who take more amount of shots are all advanced playmakers but their quality of shots is lesser than the Slavia captain except Franco Vázquez.
The reason behind his superior quality of shots is due to the way he positions himself.
As it is mentioned earlier he often positions himself in the opposition box or just at the edge of opposition box which results in him shooting from a closer range than the other midfielders.
His attacking aspect of the game sees him touch 2.97 balls per90 mins in the opposition box, which is way more than other defensive midfielders or deep-lying playmakers. It makes much more sense when you see the way Slavia plays and how do they build their attack, which has been discussed earlier.
He looks a great midfielder attacking wise but can he defend?
The defensive midfielders job is more than just protecting the defensive line. He is the extra layer of protection in the midfield. Roles can differ in this position. The player could be asked to orchestrate play as well as has to do more of the dirty work.
The Slavia captain has a daunting task in hand due to the fact that he provides a much more attacking dimension to the game than the other defensive midfielders.
He is tremendous when it comes to defensive aspects of the game. A divergent attacking dimension of a defensive midfielder doesn’t hinder his defensive performance. He is a quality defender which is vivid from the graph. He indulges in more defensive duels than his teammates as well as has the highest defensive duels won % per90 mins.
To make his defensive quality more comprehensible, let’s compare him with the top six teams of PL and La Liga. He indulges in 6.7 defensive duels per90 mins and wins it 67% of times. Only Toni Kroos, Nemanja Gudelj and Georginio Wijnaldum have a greater success rate than the Slavia captain and only Toni Kroos among them indulge in more defensive duels.
He is great in defending ground duels but how good is he in the air?
The strongest aspect of his game is his dominance in the air. He is a beast who wins the aerial duels in both the defensive plays as well as the attacking plays. This may be one of the reasons Trpišovský instructs Souček to position himself in the opposition box while the attacking midfielders Hušbauer and Stanciu positions themselves deeper.
He is a complete outlier when it comes to vying for aerial balls. He indulges in 10.56 aerial duels winning 59.60% of those.
Even when he is compared to the big guns of Europe, except Mikel Merino of Real Sociedad no one comes close when it comes to reveling in aerial balls
The quality he offers makes him one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe who has been under the radar.
Second ball magnet and positioning
Souček is an intelligent footballer who positions himself in the right positions at the right times.
Trpišovský likes his midfield trio to be as dynamic and flexible as possible. The triumvirate constantly changes positions and deceives the opposition.
Here, is a perfect example of their positioning. While in the attack, Hušbauer moves deepest to orchestrate the play. Stanciu positions himself to open a passing lane for the former Sparta Prague midfielder. Souček occupies a position in the final third which makes it easier for him to attack the opposition box in case of a cross.
This sequence of play would give further details of their change in positions when they attack. In the first image, Hušbauer is deeper to direct the play and Souček positions himself in the final third.
In the next image, when Hušbauer moves to the extreme end of the right-flank the Slavia captain stations himself deeper in the midfield.
We have seen that Slavia usually builds up from the back and the reason they are so successful in it is the triumvirate’s flexibility in their positions.
In one previous example, in the beginning, we saw how Souček’s movement drew out a marker along with him which gave Stanciu enough space to change the flank.
In this scenario, we see how the two attacking midfielders when they drop deep draws in two of their markers leaving Souček completely unmarked which gives the Slavia goalkeeper, Ondřej Kolář, a passing option.
The little movement he makes does the trick. It is often seen he doesn’t crowd an area. He makes a little movement, positions himself in a place where there is no one marking him as well where his fellow members could pass him the ball.
Souček is brilliant in his positioning, that is one of the reasons even without being gifted with an enormous pace he easily recovers to his defensive position once Slavia loses the ball.
In this image, we see how exactly he creates space for himself in the final third. He finds himself in a place where a through ball by his teammate could find him one on one with the goalkeeper. Though it did not happen, his positioning helped him to be in one on one with the opposition goalkeeper after two interchanges.
His defensive positioning is enormous and is the best aspect of his game along with winning duels. He positions himself perfectly in his own box during crosses and prevents those. But the finest aspect of his game is his positioning in the midfield where he often wins the ball.
This will give a slight idea of the Slavia captain’s perfect positioning. He positions himself at the heart of the midfield where he keeps a track of Roberto Gagliardini as well as can intercept the ball in case someone makes a run from the midfield. In this sequence of the game Marcelo Brozović plays a lob through above the midfielders. Souček is quick to his task, moves himself to the path of the ball and intercepts Inter Milan’s play.
His brilliant positioning makes him a second ball and a loose ball magnet. He made 12.26 recoveries per90 mins in the ongoing season, which is enormous and most by a midfielder in the Czech First League as well as the top four leagues in Europe.
He occasionally positions himself at the edge of the box (when he is not in the box, which is minimal) when too many Slavia players attack the box. Slavia loves to whip in crosses especially from the right flank. He latches onto every second ball that is cleared by the opposition. He even succeeds to win the loose balls in the opposition box.
An overall package: Ball carrier or a destroyer?
The red and whites captain is an enormous figure in the centre of the midfield. He provides a shield to his team’s defence and is quite potent in his job. Let’s have a close look at an overview of the midfield stalwart.
He is an amalgamation of a ball carrier as well as a destroyer, slightly inclined towards being a destroyer.
Another aspect of his game which is very vital in bringing out the best of him is his quick change in body orientation.
Milan Škriniar is carrying the ball forward. Souček’s body orientation is towards the right-flank in case Škriniar moves further forward and overloads the right-flank of the final third. Škriniar opts to pass the ball to Lautaro Martínez. Analysing the situation, the midfield stalwart quickly changes his body orientation and intercepts the play.
He occasionally positions himself at the edge of the box (when he is not in the box, which is minimal) when too many Slavia players attack the box. Slavia loves to whip in crosses especially from the right flank. He latches onto every second ball that is cleared by the opposition.
This sequence of play entirely depicts the kind of player Souček is. He wins the ball in the middle of the park, carries the ball forward and passes it to Petr Ševčík for him to drift in and score a goal.
Each and every player has his/her own weaknesses. The major flaw of Souček’s game is that he loses the ball too often. In the ongoing season, he has lost 11.19 balls per90, 35.4% of which happens to be in his own half.
Slavia loves to play out from the back which has been reiterated numerous times. Sometimes he has no short passing options and is slow in decision making. He withholds playing long balls and eventually looses the ball.
In the early minutes against Inter, when Inter pressed very high, he lost the ball to a high press unable to find a short passing option. Gagliardini and Brozović mark the two Slavia midfielders. Lautaro and Romelu Lukaku blocks the other passing lanes. Ibrahim Traoré is marked by Sensi and he quickly moves forward to press the Slavia captain. Souček tried to turn and play the ball to his goalkeeper. Lautaro was quick to his action and prevented Souček from any further action. Fortunately for Slavia, it did not result in a goal.
The opponents might want to follow this strategy when playing against Slavia.
Tomáš Souček is a medium built tall midfielder who utilises his height to the maximum extent in winning the aerial duels. He is great in defensive duels, interceptions, and positioning. The red and whites captain is good when going forward too. The midfield stalwart has developed every aspect of his game during the loan move to Slovan Liberec and since then he has made the midfield spot for his club and currently his country his own.
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