It was barely three weeks ago, following the Everton game, when we lost Dimi Payet and Enner Valencia; there was an almost reflex, pervasive sense of ‘doom and gloom’, all around the West Ham community.
“How will we cope” seemed to be the reflected sentiment at the time. On November 23 I wrote about the ways we could adjust to the double-injury blow and the terrible loss to Spurs.
Now, all of those with creativity and insight are required to ‘dig deep’ after the sad loss of our top striker Diafra Sakho. In this, the first of two articles, I hope to provide sufficient reason for optimism, and how we might cope in the absence of Sakho, Payet, and Valencia.
At a later date, I hope to provide additional reason and evidence on how we might continue to excel during the last 12 games of the season; a time when can welcome back the return of ‘our mighty trio’.
Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the well-documented problems facing West Ham, I would like to focus on two important assets which seem to have been forgotten as we search around for solutions designed to save us from potential oblivion.
The first topic addresses the role of the playmaker, and its special relevance for West Ham. The second consideration, relates to an examination of players who provide us, for the current period, as the best options for scoring goals.
I seem to recall an early discussion made by Slaven Bilic, in which he highlighted the important potential role that many players could provide to the overall goal-scoring tally.
Ever since the Everton game, there has been considerable discussion relating to the role and dependence of Manuel Lanzini as our ‘walk-in’ playmaker replacement for Dimi Payet.
A playmaker is a player who controls and/or orchestrates the flow of the teams’ offensive play, and is blessed with vision and creativity, excellent technique, ball control, dribbling and passing ability, which ultimately leads to goals.
While we can easily pin-point many fine players, who may fit these requirements, it is the ability of the true playmaker to create the unexpected brilliance at the most unexpected times. I only have to think of the great Johann Cryuff & Roberto Rivelino, both prominent during the ‘70s, in order to encompass the best examples of the ‘supremo’ playmaker.
The playmaker usually operates somewhere between the defence and offensive zones. They are easily divided into the advanced playmakers and the deep-lying playmakers.
The most complete and versatile playmakers are often known as advanced playmakers, or ‘free role’ playmakers, as they can operate both in central, attacking midfield positions, as well as in wider positions on either flank.
By contrast, the deep-lying playmakers, operate from a deeper position, within or behind the midfield, in a seemingly defensive midfield role. In this position, they can use space and time on the ball to orchestrate the moves of the whole team, not just attacks on goal.
Many such deep-lying playmakers are often recognised for their vision & creativity and ability to provide long passes that target players making attacking moves. The term, “regista” is often used to describe such players, especially in Italy.
Since his arrival at West Ham, much attention and praise is being dedicated to the playmaking potential of Manuel Lanzini, especially under the mentoring of Payet.
While he has taken up the playmaker role with flair and elegance, I am concerned that he may become the next target for attention from opposing players, just as was the case with Payet. In the last game against WBA, he sparkled in the first half, but faded somewhat in the second.
The very best playmakers learn how to pace their effort throughout the entire 90 minutes. In addition, Lanzini needs some physical presence close to him, in order to reduce unwanted attention. Furthermore, the presence of other playing options, may help divert attention away from Lanzini, and in doing so, providing larger areas for him to explore and improvise.
Firstly, let’s consider the primary role of Alex Song as playmaker. He was so dominant last season with his long-passing accuracy and with his imminent return, he can provide long balls to the centre and wider positions, and short-range links to our over-lapping wing-backs.
Additionally, his strength and aggression may be able to provide some much needed body-guard role for Lanzini. However, this may require that Song moves a bit further up-field in order to be in touch with Lanzini. The presence of two playmakers adds much needed opportunity for our goal scorers to run on to accurate passes.
Or there’s a second option, which is to hit our opponents with speed & acceleration. Moses has shown his ability to make fast moves; Michail Antonio is even faster than Moses; so why not play with two wingers, or possibly Antonio as one winger, and/or Moses as a joint striker next to Zarate?
A vital role for Slav is to try and identify goal scorers as separate entities to our strikers.
Of course, Lanzini, if given his chance, is a proven goal scorer, as well as his newly assigned role of playmaker. Let us examine another four potential goal scorers…
Adding to the likes of Moses and Antonio, Cheikou Kouyate, who, since joining West Ham in 2014, has scored seven goals in 41 games. Of greater relevance, is the three goals scored in this season. He continually displays his willingness to make long-ranging runs through the centre. Again, Kouyate may also serve a secondary role (like Song), as another bodyguard for Lanzini.
A fifth selection as a possible goal-scorer is Aaron Cresswell. He is often seen making his forays/crosses down the left hand side. Often employed to take the left-hand free-kicks and corners,
I also suggest an additional role- given the beautiful left-right curves he is able to deliver. As an alternative to his long runs/crosses, if space is created for him, he could make an attempt to cut-inwards, reaching a position on the left-hand edge of the penalty box, a position from where I believe he could strike.
Present play-maker-scorer alternatives
Two playmakers: Lanzini & Song
Best striker option: Zarate alone, or possibly together with Moses
Goal scorers: Lanzini, Moses, Antonio, Kouyate, Cresswell
Impact subs: Carroll & Jelavic
The three possible formations
4-4-2 (straight or diamond)