Talking Point

Squad Goals – Hammers in the Frame for International Acclaim

BREAKING NEWS: West Ham duo Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio named in England squad

It is widely reported that ticker tapes on frontline news and social media platforms will be displaying this headline later today.

With 15 Premier League goals between them, the front pairing have provided bright moments in an otherwise underwhelming season for the Irons. Carroll’s emphatic finish against Palace is a contender for goal of the season, whilst Antonio layed on 3 assists in the same fixture – a feat last achieved by the indomitable Paolo di Canio some 17 years ago. The Hammers’ talismanic twosome are revered for their industry, application and athleticism – the staple diet of the West Ham way – but they also possess genuine quality to impact, affect and, ultimately, decide games.

The challenges for Southgate’s England are well documented: established strikers are either injured (Kane), lacking match sharpness (Welbeck) out of form (Rooney) or all of the above (Sturridge); the team lacks width and is overly reliant on the fullbacks; and there is no ‘Plan B’ when proceedings veer off course. Carroll and Antonio, individually and collectively, provide a logical, credible and merited proposition to counteract these problems.

The 2018 World Cup is still 65 weeks away. Could additional claret and blue candidates yet stake a claim to board the plane? The Premier League is a volatile and ever-changing market, with public perception of individuals inextricably linked with parent club performance. West Ham’s displays during the 2017/18 season will have a considerable impact upon our English contingent’s prospects. For some, their stock will soar whilst, for others, their value will plummet. Form is temporary, class is permanent, but timing is everything. Channelling Mystic Meg, it’s worth considering which, if any, of our current playing staff will make it to Russia.

Aaron Cresswell
Hammer of the Year in his maiden season with the Hammers, the Liverpool trainee has already paid dividends on our modest £3.75m investment. Cresswell joined with a good injury record, attacking instincts and a peach of a left peg. However, his consistency has deserted him this season; influential performances are readily interchanged with displays littered with schoolboy errors and positional indiscipline.

Danny Rose is undoubtedly first choice for the left-back berth. With Baines and Luke Shaw out of favour, that realistically leaves a three-way tussle with Ryan Bertrand and Kieron Gibbs for the other slot. The Southampton man, who started for Chelsea in their Champions League victory at the Allianz in 2012, edges it for me due to his consistent contributions in both penalty areas.

Sam Byram
A technically gifted young footballer, who predominantly operated as a right wing-back or defensive midfielder for his former club Leeds United, Sam Byram has yet to come of age in a West Ham shirt. When he’s not on the treatment table, he’s readily targeted by opposition defences and duly obliges with alarming regularity.

Ronald Koeman recently said Ross Barkley can no longer be considered ‘one for the future’, but must start justifying the media hype by delivering influential performances on a regular basis. Like Byram, the Everton man is 23. Good point, well made by the Toffees boss.

Reece Oxford
The most exciting Hammers prospect since the likes of Rio, Lampard and Joe Cole. When Oxford burst onto the scene with that performance at the Emirates, he displayed a sense of assuredness and physicality which belied his adolescence. If developed correctly, the potential is boundless. A recent contract stand-off did neither the player nor Club any favours. Currently on loan in the Championship – best thing for him. One for the future.

Mark Noble
The perpetual debate surrounding the inclusion of ‘Mr West Ham’ has lost momentum in recent months. Whilst the 2015/16 season was undeniably one of the Canning Town midfielder’s best to date – fuelled by our gut-wrenching departure from the Boleyn – this season his form has nosedived. The legs have gone; costly errors are commonplace and tangible output during games is negligible. His inclusion in the Hammers XI is becoming increasingly difficult to admonish.

Having captained England U21s, Nobes has failed to cut the mustard at senior level. Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse now faces a similar challenge, albeit that he doesn’t have the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to contend with. Having been continuously overlooked for more fashionable and technically gifted holding midfielders, any debate surrounding our number 16’s inclusion is not so much the elephant in the room as the horse that has long since bolted.

Michail Antonio
Another shrewd acquisition from the Championship; in today’s market, Antonio represents an absolute snip at £7m. He has all the attributes – pace, power, passion and productivity – and, at 26, the wing-forward’s best years are ahead of him. Consistently in our top 3 performers, the former Nottingham Forest man wears his heart on his sleeve, a quality which fits the Hammers’ faithful hand in glove.

Antonio offers a sustained physicality on the right-hand side which is absent amongst alternative options such as Walcott, Sterling or Townsend. His remarkable ability in the air would greatly add to the Three Lions’ weaponry. The case for Antonio’s inclusion is compelling.

Andy Carroll
England need a Plan B. Against Iceland, our ‘tippy tappy, round the backy’ idealisms were insufficient. The minnows blunted our attack leading to the knives being sharpened on Hodgson. Form and fitness aside, Kane, Vardy and Sturridge will pick themselves. But, with 85 minutes gone, even the most cultured teams ‘go long’ to force the issue. The Gateshead-born striker, unplayable on his day, will compete with the likes of Troy Deeney and Peter Crouch for the target man role. Carroll is head and shoulders above the competition. When fit, his inclusion is a no brainer.

Ashley Fletcher
Fletcher enjoyed an enterprising loan spell at Barnsley last season, scoring in the both the Football League Trophy final and the League 1 Play-Off Final. Having proved himself a man for the big occasion, the young striker appeared a good addition for the Hammers, providing pace, movement in the channels and strength-in-depth up top.

Opportunities have been limited thus far. A decent stint with a footballing side in the Championship – the likes of Fulham or Bristol City – would best serve his short-term development. There’s more to come from this lad.

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