“Moyes’ new Fellaini,” “The perfect box-to-box midfielder,” “Hammer of the Year.” All the ways that Tomas Soucek was described after a brilliant 18-month start to his stint at West Ham.
“Not a real professional footballer,” “Can’t impact the game in any way,” “Like playing with 10 men with him on the pitch.” That is how the last 18 months have gone for Soucek.
The dramatic falloff of Soucek over the last season or so has been apparent for all to see. Whether it be misplacing simple passes or just failing to make any impact on the game, he hasn’t been the same player. Once a fan favorite, Soucek quickly became the scapegoat for all things wrong with West Ham.
However, after the sale of Declan Rice and a new four-year contract, the Czech midfielder looks to be back and better than ever. Soucek has scored in three straight games, and further, seems to be improving in his all-around play.
Tomas Soucek has demonstrated he can be an elite Premier League midfielder, is he getting back to that level this season?
When Soucek first arrived on loan in East London in January 2019, his physical presence and aerial prowess were on display right away. After a few games, however, Soucek’s ability to make late runs into the box and score crucial goals made him a stalwart in the team. Soucek scored 10 goals in the Premier League in his first full season and became a fan favorite with his likable personality.
Since his first full season, however, Soucek’s role was slightly tweaked, and his performance levels dropped because of it.
When things were going well for Soucek, he was making driving runs in the box and arriving late to score plenty of goals. Last season, however, David Moyes asked Soucek to stay back a bit more to allow Declan Rice to demonstrate his attacking capabilities. With these roles, the balance never looked right and Soucek seemed like a fish out of water.
With his contract set to expire at the end of 2024, a big decision had to be made on whether he would sign a new one or be sold. Teams such as Newcastle and a few clubs in Germany were rumored to be interested, but West Ham and Moyes opted to double down on their belief in Soucek and offer him a new deal.
If low confidence and concerns over his long-term future were part of the problem with his performances last season, this show of faith from the club and Moyes seems to have boosted Soucek back to his old self.
From the first game of the season away at Bournemouth, Soucek looked energized and ready to go. While Edson Alvarez had signed at that point, he was not ready to start so Soucek had to play deep in midfield while also making runs forward as usual. Soucek registered an assist and came close to scoring while being given a match rating of 7.5 by WhoScored.com, an impressive start to his campaign.
Unfortunately, Soucek suffered a concussion in West Ham’s win over Brighton, forcing him to miss the Luton Town fixture. Upon his arrival back in the XI for the team’s Europa League game against Backa Topola and league games against Manchester City and Liverpool, Soucek continued to impress.
Soucek scored headers in both the Europa League contest and West Ham’s trip to Lincoln City in the Carabao Cup, where his second-half goal proved to be the winner. That brings us to this past weekend when Soucek scored once more against Sheffield United at home.
A quick turnover in possession saw Soucek time his run perfectly and slot home after being found by Michail Antonio, a trademark Soucek goal. Beyond just the goal though, Soucek’s passing and all-around game impressed. He played a key pass in the build-up for Jarrod Bowen’s opening goal.
Soucek’s recent form can’t all be put down to the departure of Rice, but it has undoubtedly played a role. While Rice is a world-class player, he often tried to do too much in a struggling West Ham team last season and do his and Soucek’s role on his own. Now that Rice is gone and Alvarez has replaced him, the roles are more defined and West Ham looks like a more balanced team because of it.
Further, the new contract seems to have lifted Soucek’s general mood. Last season Soucek’s frustration with his performances could be seen just from the look on his face. This season, it has been nothing but smiles and he seems to be back to his old self.
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Soucek’s return to form has kept new signing Mohammed Kudus out of the starting XI and caused a real selection headache for Moyes, but a welcomed one. With Soucek back to his best, West Ham have looked as good as they ever have under Moyes, and the Czech midfielder is a huge reason why.