West Ham are targeting a top-seven finish this season – something within the realms of possibility – but finding a winning formula from Manuel Pellegrini’s attacking options will be crucial if they are to achieve European football.
The attacking trio of Manuel Lanzini, Felipe Anderson and summer signing Pablo Fornals is yet to combine and the Hammers faithful are hopeful that this is the recipe for success.
Pellegrini has opted to deploy a 4-1-4-1 formation thus far; 20-year-old Declan Rice acting as the anchorman with Jack Wilshere accompanying him slightly further forwards.
Lanzini was a bright spark throughout pre-season and, although he did not play his best game against Manchester City on the opening day, was a constant threat and looked the most likely to ‘make something happen.’
He followed that performance up with a much-improved display against Brighton – registering a delightful assist for Javier Hernandez – and was playing full of confidence and flair.
The 26-year-old completed four passes and five dribbles against the Seagulls, oozing class with the ball at his feet. Fans were sceptical as to whether last season’s injury would halt his progress as a footballer but any concerns have surely vanished after witnessing his performances thus far.
Not only his attacking contributions, but Lanzini’s defensive output is overlooked and in many ways, undervalued. The Argentina playmaker completed three interceptions, the joint-most with colossal centre-back Issa Diop, and this provides a different element to his game from what people expect.
Anderson arrived in east London with a poor defensive work rate and that was evident in the opening matches of the 2018/19 campaign. However, that vastly improved and is now one of the hardest working members of the attacking composition.
Fornals, however, does not inherit the same defensive attitude. The 23-year-old made his first Premier League start against Brighton and operated as a wide midfielder, playing on both the left and right-hand side at different stages of the match. However, he failed to make a meaningful contribution and, in my opinion, will not come to fruition in wide areas.
The Spain midfielder is a technically gifted ballplayer who needs to operate centrally to demonstrate his worth. Fornals is a specific type of player and if we force him out wide, we will not see the Fornals we signed.
So how does the attacking trio come together?
For me, Lanzini’s best position is on the left. He played there against Brighton for large portions of the match and glided past defenders, making them look like manikins. He can operate centrally and has the technical ability to play there, but out wide he has more time and space, which allows him to exhibit his dribbling and direct qualities – something we want to see more of.
If Lanzini occupies the left, that leaves the No.10 role vacant for Fornals to fill. Fornals is not someone who looks to dribble past two, three or four players. He differs from Lanzini. The Spain midfielder likes to play the ball quickly and keep play ticking – playing in the central role of the attacking trio would allow him to just that.
And that leaves Anderson. The 26-year-old made the left-midfield position his own last season but may struggle to cement that spot down with the options now at Pellegrini’s disposal. The Brazil winger has the ability to operate on either flank and can be just as successful on the right – take Manchester United away last season as the perfect example.
With time, I think this trio of attacking talent is the way forward for this football club. Michail Antonio deserves a solid mention and has demonstrated his worth within the side, but if the Hammers want to contest for the top seven this season, this will be the best way to do so.