Analysis: All-rounder Soucek impresses at both ends of the pitch
When Declan Rice’s header crashed against the bar on Tyneside on Sunday afternoon and the ball looped high into the air, a lesser technically adept player would have almost certainly put their foot underneath it, ballooning high beyond the goalmouth.
Not Tomas Soucek, West Ham United’s January loan signing from Slavia Prague, whose studious technique allowed him to guide a volley low into Martin Dubravka’s bottom corner on Sunday afternoon.
While the Hammers would unfortunately concede a Newcastle equaliser just moments later, Soucek’s second West Ham goal in just four days capped an excellent week for the Czech Republic international, whose potency at both ends of the pitch is beginning to shine through.
According to respected football statistics website WhoScored.com, Soucek’s display was his second Man of the Match performance within a week, reflecting his flourishing prominence in the side since the season restart.
In the 2-2 draw against Newcastle on Tyneside, the 25-year-old's athletic frame helped him win eight aerial duels – more than any other player on the pitch.
That was the same total as Soucek attained in the 3-2 win against Chelsea four days earlier - one of which, of course, scored him his first goal as a Hammer, and another which arguably should have.
Indeed, it was Soucek’s threat drifting forwards on Sunday which saw him twice combine with substitute Andriy Yarmolenko to come close to a late winner.
In the first instance, he showed tremendous desire to get on the end of the substitute’s flat cross, before a clever backheel allowed the Ukraine international to get a fizzing shot away, both efforts saved by Dubravka.
While tactics in football can comprise largely of system and routine, they also need to be fluid enough to accommodate players' individual strengths and adapt to emerging events.
Ever that pragmatist, Soucek also contributed two tackles and one clearance from a more advanced role against Newcastle, contrasted with his impressive, more deep-lying defensive output (three tackles, three interceptions and four clearances) at home to Chelsea four days prior.
In the thick of the action, his total of 60 touches on Sunday was only bettered by the Hammer impressing alongside him in the centre of the pitch – Declan Rice.
The England international, who memorably played against Soucek for the Three Lions earlier this season, has dovetailed effectively with the January signing in midfield, contributing three tackles against Newcastle to add to his match-high five in the win against Chelsea.
Rice has also complemented Soucek’s greater aerial contributions, but marginally lesser passing accuracy – Rice recorded 84.9 per cent to Soucek’s 79.6 per cent on Tyneside – while working effectively in tandem with advanced midfielders like Manuel Lanzini, Jack Wilshere and Mark Noble and wide players Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen.
It was this fluidity across the forward line which produced flowing moves for Michail Antonio's close-range goals against Chelsea - during which every outfield player touch the ball - and his early opener against Newcastle.
Both of those culminated in Bowen assisting Antonio and, with a further assist for Soucek against Chelsea to his name, West Ham’s No17 is beginning to lay on an impressive number of shooting opportunities for his teammates, with three such key passes against Chelsea and two against Newcastle.
While the Irons have to work to do to stem the current concession of goals, as they head into a run of games against sides in the bottom half of the Premier League table, a truly exciting attack stands them in good stead for the tests to come.