After a great start to the season, in January West Ham suddenly found themselves down the table in the relegation zone. Signings were needed to quickly get out of the rut and change things for the better. The hopes of European football are long dead, but finishing mid-table is a must for a club of a West Ham size. Fans were screaming about getting a new right-back, but West Ham transfer board decided not to after several tries. However, with the youngster, Jeremy Ngakia coming out of the academy for that position solves the problem at least until the rest of the season. The new addition came into the midfield spot in the likes of Czech player Tomáš Souček from Slavia Prague. His team were surprisingly good in the group of death with Inter, Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, amassing 2 points, but losing on the small margins. One of the stand-out players of this team was the 24-year-old Tomáš Souček, who caught the attention of West Ham owners. In this scout report, we are going to see what exactly can he bring to his new side, what are his unique qualities and how David Moyes is likely to use him in his squad.
His role in Slavia Prague
Slavia Prague coach Jindřich Trpišovský usually uses 4-1-4-1 formation from the start, where Tomáš Souček plays as one deep-lying midfielder. The initial scheme looks like this:
In-game this changes drastically, and the new formation is very different from the one above. For example, in the match against Barcelona at Nou Camp Slavia lined-up in the usual 4-1-4-1, but in game the coach used defensive tactic and thus it looked very different and was very close to 6-1-2-1. It looked something like this:
In most matches regardless of in-match formation, Souček plays just above the defensive line, especially in the defensive phase. What role does he play in the build-up phase and in the attack we will look into later on in this tactical analysis. The 24-year-old defensive midfielder was the most valuable player in the Czech powerhouse, the most-played player and a captain. Now we will talk about his positioning, and then we will explore what unique traits gave him so much influence on and off the pitch.
Even though Tomáš Souček plays as a nominal defensive midfielder, his gameplay is very different from an ordinary player of his position.
Here you can see the heatmap of Tomáš Souček for the first half of the season at Slavia Prague. You can tell that most of his time on the pitch he spends in more defensive positions. However, it is visible that he is familiar with going forward, and heatmap shows his involvement in the penalty area. Later on in this analysis, we will see what is the reason for that. Also, it is easy to note that he spends a lot of time in his own third and positions himself in the centre, and closer to the flanks as well. It is because like a lot of defensive midfielders, he tends to drop back to join the two centre-backs in the build-up. He plays either centrally, or more right and left depending on the situation. In the defending phase, he covers the whole width of the middle third and tries to get the ball back in the centre and on the flanks as well.
Overall, he is a hard-working player, and his physicality allows him to cover huge areas over the pitch. He manages to go forward and then come back, and defend in the centre and on the flanks, and this definitely going to be useful to David Moyes.
Tomáš Souček was among the best, if not the best defensive midfielder in Czech First League. He dominated this league defensively, and, what is more interesting, he managed to keep those levels up in the Champions League as well against the likes of Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and Inter. In six matches against them, he averaged 2.5 tackles and 2.5 interceptions combining with 2.8 clearances. It is very impressive to be so solid defensively on that high level. In his first game for West Ham, he made five tackles and eight interceptions (all according to WhoScored). So, he seems to be ready to compete against the Premier League attackers.
While playing in Czech First League this season, Souček made incredible 3.91 interceptions and 11.45 recoveries on the opposition half per game. These are mind-blowing numbers, aren’t they?
Let’s dive in what exactly helped the 24-year-old to produce such defensive immense performances.
First of all, he is more than 6 feet tall, which allows him to be dominant in the air and have long legs for stand and slide tackles. Despite his height, Souček is a quick and agile midfielder, and because of that, he is able to cover enormous distance every single game. Above all of that, he is a master of a clean sliding and standing tackles, which is obviously the main reason why he is playing so well defensively:
It is very hard to explain this example with just an image, but Souček slide-tackles Lionel Messi from behind and gets the ball for his team without a foul or harm to an opponent. It is a very difficult type of tackle to pull off, especially against one of the best dribblers in the world. In more simple positions, he obviously shows his defensive dominance and excellence as well.
He is just as good with his stand tackles, so it becomes very hard to get him by. Slavia Prague use the man-marking system in the defensive phase, so Souček can be dragged out of his position. Anyway, I think this system of playing one-on-one defensively definitely suits and benefits him. He can defend 1v1 very well, and he put up such solid defensive numbers like that partly because of this defensive system.
Slavia Prague played 20 league games this season, conceding only four goals in those matches. It is an astonishing number, and I don’t want to say that it is all because of one Souček. This team is just much better than the rest of the league, and they are organised well defensively(not conceding at Nou Camp is already an indicator). Anyway, the influence of Souček on the defensive record is undebatable and it will be interesting how Slavia will cope with his absence and how much the numbers will alter.
Tomáš Souček is a very good defensive player, and he will be a much-needed addition to West Ham, who allowed 40 goals in just 24 games this season. Hopefully, he will help them improve their defensive record.
It comes as a nice bonus if a defensive midfielder has the ability to play not just simple passes, but also passes that can switch the direction of the attack, long passes and so on. Souček is not sensational and extremely good with his passes, but he can provide a necessary switch of play or play the ball in behind the defence. Moreover, according to Wyscout, he makes 8.49 passes to the final third per game with an accuracy of 72%, which gives you a sense of what he can do on the ball. He can play vertical passes with good success rate, which definitely helps his team in attacks.
Also, as previously mentioned, he can play passes to switch the direction of the attack from one flank to the other, moving the opposition defence.
He is more a conservative type of a defensive midfielder, who is looking to retain the ball instead of passing and risking. However, he is capable of pulling off good passes and helping his team move the ball forward when it needs to be.
In most cases, other people are responsible for ball progression, Souček leans towards keeping the ball and playing more conservative. So, the main option for him often becomes the pass to the centre-back, nearest midfielder or a pass to the full-back. For Souček it is much more about ball retention than progressing it. In the last five games, he made 42.95 passes per game, so basically 43 passes on average. It is a pretty low number when you consider that he plays in the best team in the league by far. But, as was mentioned, when the situation allows Souček to make a long pass or a through ball and he sees an opportunity in it, he can execute these types of passes.
We’ve already talked about his ability to quickly switch the game from one flank to another or from the centre to the flank (which usually happens more often). He is not keen on though ball or a smart-plays either. Maybe at West Ham, he will improve his passing and decision-making. He won’t need it desperately as he is a defensive midfielder, but it will make him more all-round and valuable to the team. The quick summary of his passing play is that he is a conservative passer with the ability to make great passes from time to time, but he can enhance his gameplay in this direction.
Good defending and passing, having physicality needed for any proper defensive midfielder, and at the same time the agility which makes you very hard to get by. That is already a great set of skills and abilities, but Tomáš Souček has that one more dimension in his game that makes him special: attacking. He managed to get 12 goals in 26 appearances this season, which is an unbelievable statistic for a player with defensive bias and he plays an important role in Jindřich Trpišovský’s tactics. He has the most goals in the team in Czech First League, which is odd considering the fact that it is not his main responsibility on the pitch and that his team is level above all the others, getting 54 out of 60 possible points.
The main reason for his unusual goalscoring record is that Jindřich Trpišovský tells him to join the attack for crosses and finishes in the box. Souček is really good at that, and some games this season he was scoring doubles by getting into the penalty area in the right moment.
We’ve already observed his heatmap and saw how much time he spends in the penalty area during attacks. He is very excellent in aerial duels and his height helps him a lot in that, so he can score after crosses. Having one more man in the box definitely increases the chances and the level of danger for opponents’ defence.
Also, he is the main penalty taker, and goals from the penalty spot are basically half of his goal list (five goals from pens).
He is averaging an xG of 0.61 this season, which is impressive because obviously scoring is not his main duty. Moreover, the xG of 0.61 is a good xG for a striker, not to mention defensive midfielder. Of course, penalties have a large influence and without them, the number would be lower. However, this doesn’t take away the fact that he is definitely useful moving forward and he provides his team with not only defensive output but creates lots of goals as well.
His possible role at West Ham
It will be interesting to see how David Moyes will use Souček in the future. In the first game, the coach used him in 4-1-4-1 formation as a part of midfield pivot with Mark Noble, while Declan Rice was playing in front of the defence. I assume two possible variants of using the Czech international: either as box-to-box midfielder like in his first game in the PL or as a pivot with Rice as two defensive midfielders.
He already played as box-to-box in the game against Brighton, which was a great game from him defensively(as previously mentioned, five tackles and eight interceptions), but a poor performance attacking-wise (only 18 passes made in the whole match with just over 50 accuracy and zero key passes). We definitely shouldn’t judge by just one game, it is too small of a sample, but it is intriguing if he can keep up even half of his attacking output in the Premier League.
The second variant as a double pivot with Rice presumes even lesser involvement in attacks, as his main job will be to defend and to keep the ball. If he plays the similar role in which he played in Slavia with getting into the box and playing as an additional forward, then there is a slight chance for us to see a defensive midfielder scoring a bunch of goals.
There is a lot of uncertainty of analyzing the future role of this player, as he possesses such a mix of qualities for a defensive midfielder. In the remaining 13 games of Premier League football, we should get a sense of how Souček plays in the Hammers squad.