Slaven Bilic has come to West Ham and his performance as manager has been nothing short of magnificent.
Despite an enormous injury list which has threatened to ruin his best laid plans, he has managed to put together a squad which has seen us reach 5th position in the Premier League, and an FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United.
For the first time in quite a while we have a fairly strong squad, most of which have returned to top form and near-peak fitness. At this stage of proceedings, there is little time for experimentation with player selection. T
he most important issue must surely lay square with the objective, simple as it may seem, of maximizing our chances of scoring goals. There has been no better time than the present to identify individuals and groups of players who are most likely to score the critical early first half goals.
This may be an excellent time to make a fine-tuning review on a player-by-player basis, of those attributes which can hopefully achieve a high scoring yield.
Surely, if we are serious about Europa League and/or Champions League qualification, together with FA Cup glory, ‘heroic’ draws at this critical stage of the season should not enter the psyche.
Furthermore, Slav and his management team must examine the best selection of players who will score the goals, as well as those players who are capable of both scoring and assisting in attack.
Add to this the players who are blessed with speed and ball-control, and there is further interesting options to the attacking process.
Then, of course, we have another factor, which is difficult to explain accurately – we have Payet! His management, in these final games, cannot be over-stated. While he will no doubt be a target of attention from aggressive midfielders and defenders, his presence will require over-marking, allowing options for Sakho, Valencia, Lanzini, and Antonio.
One of the most difficult decisions Slav faces concerns how he may handle the selection of Andy Carroll. Carroll’s performance at Old Trafford was one which distinctly highlighted his positive and negative attributes.
As manager, Slaven Bilic would have hoped Carroll was an awkward opponent for the Red Devils’ defence to handle.
He won 10 aerial duels in the contest, more than the rest of the West Ham team combined (7). Only Emmanuel Emenike (3) managed more than one.
If this suggested Carroll was setting himself up for a dangerous display, think again, for he was let down by his lack of control in possession. He could only manage a 50 per cent pass completion rate, lower than anybody else on the pitch, including both goalkeepers.
Perhaps more unfortunate was his three shots on goal, all of which were off target.
Against United he worked their defence hard, but his quality ultimately let him down, and whether he should start the replay and other Premier League games is a big decision Slaven Bilic will have to make.
Whether we start with two or three strikers, Sakho and Valencia have proven to be a wonderful combination. Valencia has not been given the same number of opportunities as Carroll.
There is no question that Valencia enhances Sakho’s attacking prowess – so well demonstrated in the first half of last season. If we include Dimitri Payet as part of the attacking trio, this would allow Antonio and Kouyate to attack through the middle and right-hand side, posing all sorts of problems to defences.
Noble and Lanzini could play a strong anchoring role, joining up with Kouyate and Antonio. Lanzini also has the ability to launch attacks deep into the left-hand final third, or via clever dribbling through the middle of the pitch. This four man engine room looks pretty solid.
We have become accustomed, week in week out, to the important contributions from Aaron Cresswell in his role as an over-lapping left wing-back. I’d be delighted to see this as a potential starting XI for the majority of our remaining games, and have confidence that these players can get the job done.