This was an excellent team performance against a disciplined Middlesbrough side. The players showed quality, determination and desire – everything that can be asked of them.
Carroll was again superb. He looks fit, confident and unstoppable in his current form – long may it continue. His prowess in the air is unrivalled but it’s his vision, passing and interplay that have taken his game to a new level. He leads by example from start to finish and we can only hope that his injuries are behind him.
Obiang was imperious in midfield, consistently breaking up attacks and launching counter-offensives. He is currently the most effective tackler in the Premier League with a success rate of 91% winning 41 of his 45 tackles. He is quickly developing into one of the best holding midfielders in the league.
The whole team performed well and the players look united. We can’t underestimate the effect of the Payet saga and its impact upon Bilic and the players. They have all handled this unprecedented situation with dignity and professionalism, something they have rightly been commended for.
With that behind us, the world seems brighter and there is an air of optimism around the club again. Bilic appears happier in himself and his tactics, along with the player’s determination to execute them reflected this.
Lanzini has started to flourish in Payet’s absence. Even at the height of our powers, last season questions were asked about the practicality of playing both attacking midfielders together, fearing that necessary defensive duties would suffer.
The issue became more noticeable at the start of this season with our well-documented struggles. Little did we know, at the time, what was developing behind the scenes.
Since Payet’s exclusion from the squad, Lanzini has been tasked with providing the spark in our creative engine, and he has not disappointed. He may not yet be as technically developed as Payet, but what he lacks marginally in technique, he makes up for ten-fold with energy and fight. The stats below highlight what a huge contribution he has made over the past two games, as well as his versatility.
*One goal (1st)
*Two chances created (2nd)
*Take ons 5/6 (1st)
*Ball recoveries 10 (1st)
*Tackles 2/2 (3rd)
*Pass completion 87.5%
*Five chances created (1st)
*Attacking third passes 18/23 (1st)
*Corners 2/4 (1st)
*Take ons 2/3 (2nd)
I thought the club showed realistic ambition in the signings of Jose Fonte and Robert Snodgrass. Fonte is one of the best centre backs in the Premier League and brings experience and composure to our defence. He will be highly motivated to end his career on a high and he will be committed to giving his all for the club and his teammates.
Snodgrass is a hugely underrated player who is technically excellent and mentally resolute. He, along with Fonte, are clever signings that bring more than just their ability on the pitch. They bring steel, determination and leadership.
These are the type of players that we need.
The caveat with Fonte is his age. Had he been two or three years younger he would surely have had the opportunity to move to one of the top teams in Europe. Fortunately, he has ended up in claret and blue.
Hats off to the board for the efforts so far in the transfer window and also for the way they did it – behind closed doors as much as possible.
I’d consider Scott Hogan in this category and I think he looks promising. However, his injury record is concerning and I’m certain this has been a key factor in the delay/suspension of his transfer. I’m not convinced this one will go ahead as it appears the club could have secured it much earlier if they’d been motivated to.
Square pegs in square holes
One of the key factors in our recent improvement is the return of Sam Byram. Having players playing in their natural position is crucial on many levels. It allows a team to function effectively with an in-depth tactical understanding of their role. It also allows the players around them the freedom to concentrate on their role, rather than consciously, or subconsciously, concerning themselves with covering their teammate’s shortcomings, understandably brought on by a lack of experience in their position.
However, we look at it, having a natural right back fit for selection has helped us improve.
Byram has been instrumental in the past two games, especially against Middlesbrough where he got a full 90 minutes. He boasted an 82.6% pass completion rate, created one chance from a right wing cross, made four clearances, two tackles and two interceptions. His energy and defensive intelligence brought solidity to our back line and his ability to get forward and support the forwards provided a welcome outlet.
Considering his recent return from a lengthy injury, combined with relatively little Premiership experience, I’d say he’s come back strong and looks highly capable of making the position his own.
However, one thing that concerns me is our lack of cover. Fatigue, injury, illness and suspension could all render Byram unavailable for a number of games and currently, we have Antonio, Nordtveit and possibly Arbeloa as cover. None have shown the ability to deputise for him effectively.
This is no easy matter, however. Recruiting any high-quality player in the January transfer window is notoriously difficult, let alone a full back. We also have to consider what type of player we sign. With Byram developing well do we want to sign a similar prospect? Can both be kept happy and motivated while fighting for the starting berth? Or do we sign a more seasoned player, as we attempted with Arbeloa, so Byram can be mentored but also receive competent cover should he be unavailable to play? It’s a tricky situation for the club.
Personally, I would consider the latter option, favouring a move for Ivanovic, Sagna, Zabaletta or a player of similar profile. These things are considerably more complicated than they appear and I’m certain both Bilic and the board are fully aware of the necessities of the team and will be doing all they can to recruit sensibly.
Looking ahead to Manchester City
This game should answer a lot of questions. Man City ran riot against Tottenham and they were unlucky to walk away with a draw. They are a team that, on their day, can play some of the most sublime, free-flowing, attacking football on display across Europe and we’ll need to be at our best. However, they are vulnerable and teams have exposed their frailties this season.
Discipline, controlled aggression and concentration will all be key factors in this contest. Our defence will be strong and I believe that Fonte will match and improve the performances of Ogbonna in central defence. With Byram and Cresswell on the flanks and Reid partnering Fonte, we have a formidable defensive unit.
Obiang and Noble will assist in shielding the back four and this will allow Byram and Cresswell to venture forward and provide an overlapping threat down either wing.
The team feels more united now and we’ve witnessed the tactical genius of Bilic at work when it’s in harmony with the team. Those players are capable and motivated to go and execute every game plan now, and I think we pose a challenge to anyone in the league.
We need to retain our belief and continue to grow and build as a team. The addition of Snodgrass adds a wealth of ability and grit to the side, and Fonte will bring leadership and composure.
Whatever the result on Wednesday under the lights, I’m confident that we’ll give a good account of ourselves and show everyone what we’re building here at West Ham.