“A fantastic work ethic”: Why Czech playmaker Kateřina Svitková has been essential to West Ham’s improvement – scout report
West Ham United Women have gone under the radar this season, quietly getting on with business and trying to finish as high up the table as possible. At the time of writing, they sit seventh in the league, having won six, drawn six and lost seven. Whilst consistency has been lacking, they have managed to avoid a second successive relegation battle, which is a big improvement in itself. They have also scored 21 goals, the same number as they managed in the entirety of last season, and currently hold the title of top scorers outside of the top four. With three games left in the season, there is a strong possibility that they will beat last season’s total.
One who has contributed a lot to their development is Czech Republic international Kateřina Svitková. Capable of operating as a winger, attacking midfielder or a wing-back, she initially struggled after joining the club in 2020 but has looked much happier this season, and this tactical analysis will look at her individual game to see why this is. The analysis will focus specifically on her positioning, passing and different roles within the team, finding the reasons for her becoming an essential part of West Ham’s tactics.
The first aspect of Kateřina Svitková’s play that this scout report will deal with is her positioning around the field, looking at how this has helped her team to be more expressive with the ball.
What we have seen a lot of this season is Svitková making overlapping runs when her team is in possession, using her natural pace to ensure that there is always a forward passing option available when required. With West Ham United Women generally opting for wing-backs this season under Olli Harder, this is one way in which her individual qualities have helped her to fit into his tactics.
However, what is key here is how her qualities have allowed other West Ham players to flourish, with one of those who has really benefitted being on-loan Arsenal Women winger Lisa Evans. At her parent club, the Scotland international was generally used on the wing or at right-back, with freedom to come inside but more often than not staying close to the wings.
However, this season, she has come inside a lot more and been arguably one of West Ham’s most dangerous players, and Svitková has been key to this. Here, she has taken the wide forward role and drawn Everton Women players away from Evans and striker Claudia Walker, giving them more space to operate in, and this is one way in which the Czech Republic international has been essential to her team’s attacking play this season.
Another common feature of Svitková’s final third play has been the position that she takes up in the goal area. Generally, she plays just in front of the outside defender, in this case Birmingham City Women’s Jamie Finn, and stays where she can be seen. However, once the ball is delivered into the box, she makes a quick run behind her opponent and ensures that there is someone available if the ball comes across the box without being touched, with her in the perfect position to shoot at goal from close range.
Again, this demonstrates how her positioning has been key to West Ham’s ability to create more opportunities and pose a bigger threat this season, and her increased awareness and confidence to make these runs has been a key factor in West Ham looking a better attacking side.
When in her own half, Svitková has been key in helping her team to keep possession. Here, she has dropped back to receive a short pass and play the ball back inside the pitch, and this ability to remain composed in tight spaces is another reason that she has been key for her team in 2021/2022, allowing them to have more of the ball and not give it up so easily, which has subsequently led to them becoming harder to beat.
The decision to play Svitková in a defensive role, whilst still allowing her to get forward and support attacks, has been a good tactical decision by Olli Harder, with her evident ability in both roles another reason that she has been so important to their understated but still positive season.
However, whilst it is all well and good being able to get into different areas of the pitch, it won’t lead to anything if players are not good with the ball. However, this is something that Kateřina Svitková thrives in, with her playing a key part in West Ham United Women’s ability to build attacks as a result.
Last season, when playing in a mostly attacking role, Svitková struggled to have an impact on games and didn’t pose much of a threat to opposing sides. This season, in her new role, she has been able to demonstrate her wide range of passing and constantly transfer the ball into different areas of the pitch. Here, she has four players close to her, with all good options that would keep possession.
However, none would lead to a goalscoring opportunity in the short-term and would give Birmingham an opportunity to try and regain possession higher up the pitch. Therefore, Svitková makes the longer and riskier pass towards the far side wing, moving the ball into an area where Birmingham can’t close it down as easily. The fact that she has been attempting these longer passes is likely why her passing accuracy this season is only 62.3%, down from 69.1% last season.
When further up the pitch, Svitková is constantly aware of her surroundings and looks for the options that would keep their attacking momentum going. Here, Sheffield United Women have got players back to close off as many spaces as possible, aiming to limit West Ham’s attacking options, but Svitková sees Denmark international Emma Snerle inside the pitch, playing the ball into her before running forwards to receive the return pass.
Therefore, even when options seem to be limited, the Czech Republic international finds a way through, meaning that less West Ham attacks have broken down this season. A better pass back to her from Snerle here might have led to a shot on goal from this situation, but the ball ended up behind Svitková. However, the intent was still there, and that is the key thing.
As a winger or wing-back under the current West Ham team structure, Svitková has needed to be good at delivering the ball into the box, ensuring that promising attacking situations are converted into shots on goal, and her crossing accuracy has increased this season from 27.6% to 36.1%, showing how this is something she has clearly been working on.
Here, she has two players on the edge of the box and signalling that they want the ball. However, she doesn’t cross the ball directly towards them and instead aims for the open space behind Birmingham’s back line here, shown by the white square, with this being the so-called “corridor of uncertainty”. Once the ball is in transit, Birmingham goalkeeper Marie Hourihan is unsure of whether to come out and win the ball or stay back and protect the goal, allowing Snerle to connect with the cross at speed and head it towards goal with added power.
On this occasion, the effort is missed, but we can again see that Svitková’s ability to accurately deliver the ball into dangerous areas has been key to her team turning these chances into goalscoring opportunities, again increasing their attacking potency.
Different roles around the pitch
The final part of this analysis will look at Kateřina Svitková’s varied roles around the pitch, both in defensive and attacking situations. This season, she has become a reliable utility player for her team, able to do whatever job is needed, and this is another reason that she has been key to their improved performances.
We have mentioned already that Svitková likes to get up the field and control the wide channels when her team are on the offensive, and this situation once again demonstrates that point. However, on this occasion, she has not come inside the pitch and has instead pulled away from her Reading Women opponent, creating more space to receive the ball in. With her in this position, former AC Milan Femminile midfielder Yui Hasegawa, who has got into the hole between Reading’s defenders and midfielders, has three different players to pass to.
As has previously been the case in this scout report, Hasegawa’s pass towards Svitková lacked the necessary quality and the move broke down, but it is clear that Svitková this season has been tasked with helping to stretch the pitch out when the team is attacking and give the central players more space to work in, with opponents now less able to stay compact in their own third when playing West Ham.
When she does receive the ball in the final third, Svitková is composed and doesn’t tend to give it away that easily. It is often the case that she will take on opponents in 1-v-1 duels, with her aforementioned quick movement and awareness meaning that she has won 44.1% of them this season (a slight decrease from last season’s 45.5%). Once she has taken defenders out of position, she opens up gaps to play the ball through, as happened here against Manchester United Women. The fact that she has a 45.2% accuracy for passes to the final third, a jump from last season’s 35.6%, shows how, when she does have these opportunities, she is clinical and creates good chances for her teammates.
The other thing that comes from her ability to hold play up in this manner is that her teammates have time to get up the pitch, with quick counter-attacks often meaning that they are not there when the ball is. Under previous head coach Matt Beard, who has just led Liverpool Women to the Women’s Championship title, West Ham tended to target Martha Thomas and Leanne Kiernan with longer passes from deeper areas, but this is not something that we have seen as often since Olli Harder took over.
However, with Svitková demonstrating that she can act as a target player if required, they do retain the ability to resort back to this style of play if a situation calls for it, and this tactical flexibility has been critical in allowing them to adapt to different games this season.
Being a wing-back or an ordinary left-back, Svitková has also needed to drop back into her own third and carry out the more mundane jobs during games, but her aforementioned pace means that this is another thing she excels at. Here, Chelsea Women’s Niamh Charles is looking to feed the ball into new England international Jess Carter, with Svitková a long way behind. However, she sees the danger and gets back to make a crucial block, just as Carter shaped to make the pass, with the ball subsequently going out of play for a corner.
Getting back to close players down in this way has become a regular feature of the Czech Republic international’s performances, with her 5.69 interceptions per game this season (an increase from last season’s 4.94) showing how it is something she has clearly worked on in her new role as part of the defensive line.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at West Ham United Women’s Kateřina Svitková, focusing on why she has become such a vital part of their tactics after an indifferent first campaign. The analysis has identified several ways in which she has helped them to adopt an alternative style of play, but perhaps the key thing to take from this scout report is the different roles that she can play in, as this is the most noticeable change in her individual game during the course of this season, and her ability to adapt to the different tactics is down to her “fantastic work ethic”, as Matt Beard commented when he signed her for the club.
It is worth noting that, out of the top 15 players in the WSL’s assists chart this season, she is the only name that isn’t from Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United. This in itself shows how good a season she is having individually and why she will be important in West Ham’s continued progression and improvement.