When Slavia Praha were drawn against FC Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan in the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League group stage, everyone expected them to end up with six defeats.
But for Tomas Soucek, it was the opportunity to shine and showcase his quality against three of Europe’s biggest teams.
And he did just that, leading Slavia Praha to impressive draws away to both Inter Milan and Barcelona.
Soucek’s performances in the Champions League saw him earn links to a number of big clubs, but ultimately it was West Ham United who ended up signing him. And he has proved to be a very shrewd acquisition for the Hammers.
Since joining West Ham in January, Soucek has been influential on both ends of the pitch. His presence in the Hammers’ midfield has given them some much-needed steel.
He is dominant in the air and also very agile. He covers every blade of the grass on the pitch and averages an impressive 1.5 interceptions per game, 2.2 clearances per game and 1.9 tackles per game.
Soucek is not afraid of doing the dirty work for his team either, and only three players have committed more fouls than him in the Premier League so far this season (Pierre Hojbjerg, Mateusz Klich and N’Golo Kante). He also averages 9.66 ball recoveries per 90 minutes.
The towering midfielder also leads the Premier League for aerial duels won, having won an impressive 92 duels.
Is Tomas Soucek one of Europe’s best?
Only four players in Europe’s top five leagues have won more aerial duels than him, and none of them are midfielders.
No wonder Jose Mourinho called Soucek the new Marouane Fellaini when he played a key role in helping West Ham earn an unlikely point after going 3-0 behind away to Tottenham Hotspur.
And the similarities between Soucek and Fellaini go beyond both just being tall target men for a David Moyes side.
Soucek presence in the final third and his ability to get on the end of crosses makes him a very effective player going forward.
The 25-year old is West Ham’s top scorer this season, with five goals to his name. No other midfielder in the English Premier League has scored more goals than him, barring Bruno Fernandes. But the Manchester United talisman is a much more attack-minded player and also takes penalties, unlike Soucek.
What makes Soucek so dangerous in the box is his poacher-like movement which makes him so hard to pick out for opposition defenders.
Soucek often makes late runs into the box and finds space for his teammates to find him in. His five goals this season have come from an xG of 4.6, which shows the quality of his positioning in the box.
Soucek isn’t someone who tends to play a lot of line-breaking forward passes, as evident by his shot-creating actions per 90 minutes of just 1.06, and his goal creating actions of just 0.18.
But what he does do is provide steadiness in midfield, which is vital especially for a team like West Ham. He lets the other players carry the ball forward, leaving him with space in midfield to make his late runs into the box.
It’s easy to see why Soucek’s performances are already attracting the interest of the likes of Bayern Munich.
His high-intensity game and physical presence from the number six role would certainly suit the Bavarian giants.
And while he is unlikely to leave West Ham anytime soon, if he keeps his performance levels up, it’s only a matter of time before the big clubs come calling.