A lot of fans would have been really anxious about the prospect of facing Manchester United without Diafra Sakho on Sunday.
An injured Andy Carroll, a disgruntled Carlton Cole and an adapting Enner Valencia meant that the West Ham front line was looking very bare. It was almost inevitable that Big Sam was going play the lone striker up front and look towards damage limitation, keeping players behind the ball to nullify the effect of Manchester United’s impressive attacking force.
However, £71,000 out of pocket later and Diafra Sakho is suddenly back in contention. This is huge news for West Ham. If Sakho is played from the start, it would mean that West Ham fans will be treated to the popular strike pairing of Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho. It feels like an age since the strikers last played together, with Andy Carroll often being the striker that Allardyce looks to when setting up his team. Although the Geordie has been impressive in recent games, it will be interesting to see how Valencia and Sakho fare against a far from convincing back four.
Some may claim that Carroll’s bombarding physicality would be the best approach to getting past the Manchester United defence. However, there’s no doubt that Sakho and Valencia can offer a sense of steel to their game as well. They are both incredibly dangerous in the air, have bags of energy and are a lot more agile than our number nine. Yes, Carroll would be an absolute handful but he doesn’t offer the pace and movement that both Valencia and Sakho bring to the team.
If Carroll was fit, it wouldn’t exactly be a huge surprise if Allardyce looked to line up defensively against Van Gaal’s side, using Carroll as a target man from the occasional set piece, as well as providing the long ball option. However, in his absence, Allardyce, you would think, has very little option but to go for it. Games against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City spring to mind.
West Ham took the game to the opposition and it caught both teams by complete surprise. Against Liverpool, we won the game comfortably due to the style of football we played, they didn’t sit back and invite pressure, they went for the win instead. The same applied to the City game, the pace of Valencia stretched the City defence for West Ham’s first goal and Sakho was in the right place at the right time for the second.
When Carroll has featured against the top teams, West Ham simply don’t look like the same attacking side. Chelsea away was always going to be a tough test but when Sakho came on in the second half to partner Valencia up front, the team created more chances and posed a greater attacking threat. In terms of the Arsenal game at home, the presence of Carroll led to the team often chipping balls up towards the big man. After a while, Arsenal caught onto the fact that Carroll was the focal point of every West Ham attack and it eventually became very easy for the Gunners to defend against the long balls.
Against the big teams, Sakho and Valencia are the better option. Manchester United will be hoping that West Ham put men behind the ball and invite pressure. However, with Sakho and Valencia up front, I honestly believe that we can give them a good game, making it very difficult for them to leave with a win.
The visit will still be a tricky affair due to the attacking talent they have available and the fact that West Ham don’t have all their defensive options available to them due to the injuries of Collins, Tomkins and Reid.
Therefore, surely attack is the best form of defence in this case? West Ham can create an abundance of chances with both Sakho and Valencia up front and the presence of Alex Song in the midfield means that West Ham are not completely exposed to the inevitable counter-attack that Manchester United will look to exploit. All the options suggest that West Ham should return to the Sakho-Valencia partnership.
However, Big Sam seems to have been reluctant to play the two together in recent fixtures but does he have a choice now? What’s certain is that Allardyce could face a backlash if he doesn’t field the popular duo at some point in the match, as both players have scored goals against better defences than United’s so far this season.