This week on Fans View we get the take from Gary Portugal on the form of Tomas Soucek and what we should be done by David Moyes.
As supporters, we all remember how effective Tomas Soucek was in his first season and a half at the club. He came up with big goals that helped up us avoid relegation and helped us to achieve a 6th place finish in the Premier League. He even broke up play quite a bit as well, and contributed a lot from a defensive point view. And then something changed last season, especially in the second half of the season when fixture congestion took its toll. Soucek and many other players looked exhausted, understandably, given our lack of squad depth. The goals for Soucek dried up and he became more and more of a passenger, seemingly unable to influence games either in attack or defense. Unfortunately, Soucek, and several other players, have begun the current campaign with a notable lack of energy and inability to influence matches. Soucek, not good on the ball or a particularly good passer, is unable to help us get up the pitch, resulting in us having to go aimlessly long at times. Nor does he cope well with a high press.
Is there a solution that could allow the player to return to the form that we saw two seasons ago, or should he simply be benched in favour of Downes or Fornals, both of whom are capable on the ball? Central midfield is not Fornals natural position and Downes lacks PL experience, but you could argue that both could do a job there until the club brings in a more experienced natural holding midfielder. I would argue that although it is tempting to bench Soucek, there may be a solution that allows him to remain in the starting 11.
To begin, I think it needs to be acknowledged that Soucek’s dip in form may be partly down to the way in which he is being used. In other words, some or even much of the blame could be directed at the manager. Ever since Declan Rice has been allowed to take on a more attacking role, Soucek’s ability to get forward and make runs into the box has been limited. If he does try to get forward and Rice does not hold, then we look very exposed in midfield and vulnerable to teams countering on us or playing through our midfield too easily. In my opinion, we have been less effective as an attacking force since Rice was given license to get forward more. We are yet to score in the PL this season and were struggling to score in the back end of last season. Playing with 4 attackers and Declan getting forward does not seem to be causing problems to the opposition, although to be fair, we have had 38 attempts on goal in 3 PL games. So one obvious solution would simply be to have Rice revert back to his previous role which was as more of a holding player – we looked much more solid and capable of keeping clean sheets then. But that is a non – starter. Now that Rice has had a taste of being able to get forward more, it’s unlikely that he would be willing to give that up. Rice sees himself as an all rounder now and wants to be viewed that way within the England setup as well. From his point of view it would be like going from mobile phones back to rotary. In fact, one of the reasons Rice may have agreed to stay this summer is that he may have been given assurances from Moyes that he would continue to have license to get forward. So although it would be the unselfish and team orientated thing to do for Rice to revert to a traditional holding role, I just can’t see that happening unless there was a change in manager and it was forced upon him to help us get up the table.
So is there a realistic option which is not a non starter? I feel that there could be. It would involve a change in system from the current 4 2 3 1 system, which I feel has become all too predictable and easy to defend against, especially when we lack a ballplayer in midfield. I think that if we went 4 3 3 this would allow either Rice or Soucek, or even both, to get forward when appropriate, without leaving us dangerously short in midfield. If Soucek had the freedom to make runs into the box as he used to, I feel that he would contribute some goals. We have a young, but ready made third midfielder in Flynn Downes who is a very efficient passer of the ball. He could help us get up the pitch, yet play the holding role that would allow Soucek to get more involved in attacks. Some may complain that this would deprive us of an attacker at a time when we are already struggling for goals. I get that, except that the reality is that we have been struggling to score for many months now even when playing with 4 attacking players. Having 4 attacking players has not brought us rewards in the PL in 2022. So would it really be that big a miss having only 3 attacking players? In my opinion, no. There is the possibility that the problem is not the 4 2 3 1 system, but the choice of players. And that if we started Scamacca and Cornet, that the 4 2 3 1 would return to being as effective as it used to be. I have sympathy for that argument, but in truth, I think that teams have figured out how to play against our 4 2 3 1, almost regardless of who plays in our front four.
There may be concern that Downes, though an excellent passer of the ball, is unproven in the PL. And to be fair, I get that. However, I do think that is worth giving the guy an opportunity to see what he can do. And I feel more comfortable doing that with Downes in a midfield 3 than a two. There is also the option of going 4 3 3 with Fornals as the holder even though that is not Pablo’s natural position. Fornals is good on the ball, full of energy and capable of making a tackle. I don’t see Lanzini as the answer as a third midfielder in a holding role, even if he has played in a deeper role for us in the past, as breaking up play and making tackles isn’t really his game in my view. There is of course also the option of getting in a proper holding midfielder, either on a permanent deal, or on loan, before the window shuts, but that is easier said than done with the window open for only another week.
Any way you slice it, I feel that the 4 2 3 1 needs to be scrapped. Going to a 4 3 3 could potentially make us less predictable, help us defend better, and also allow Soucek to get back to contributing in the way that he used to. It’s clear that things have gone stale and that we are paying a price for that now. There are many issues affecting the team’s performance at the moment, both on and off the pitch in my opinion, and our current struggles cannot all be down to the underperformance of Soucek. A number of players are underperforming. But a change of system could potentially revitalise the team collectively and Soucek individually. I feel that it’s essential that the manager act quickly. Once a malaise sets in, like dry rot, it needs to be removed. I like Moyes as a manager and a person, but he is going to need to show some flexibility if he is to ensure his longevity as the club. This is a very big week at the club and the next two games could go a long way towards determining the course of our season, and Moyes’ future at the club, in my opinion.