Come deadline day in the summer window, there is unfortunately a possibility that this article will be futile. However, I obviously hope and do believe that Declan Rice will be playing football under Pellegrini’s tutelage next season, as opposed to Guardiola or anyone else’s.
The frustrating 2-2 draw with Leicester yesterday which I reluctantly streamed was again punctuated with poor officiating costing us all three points. The game did once more highlight an issue we must address in the summer. Leicester’s ability to play through our midfield in the second half was concerning, and underlines the need for a central midfielder in the summer.
One of the many advantages to studying a degree in the Arts is the free time! Alongside obviously being a conscientious student, I have had time to consider how successful this season has been, as well as the areas of the pitch we definitely need to improve. Pellegrini has learnt a lot about this team, players and the culture this season, and he needs to try to iron out the club’s ability to be consistently inconsistent! Next season with another transfer window, we will be better positioned to judge where we are as a team, and how we compare to clubs in and around us. With regards to which positions need to be strengthened, an athletic and more mobile central midfielder to play alongside Rice is of paramount importance.
Noble divides opinion at times but, when he has not featured, generally the team has looked worse. Moving into next season, Noble will be 32 and, having never been particularly quick, he should not be relied upon week in and week out. Obiang will probably leave this summer but has always been a bit too inconsistent regardless.
I remember watching Watford ending the nice four game winning streak we went on in December by winning 0-2 at the London Stadium. I recall myself being frustrated that the run of three points had come to an end, but the consensus was clearly that it was always going to happen at some stage. However, the more I thought about that game both at the time and now, I realise that it really illustrated we need a better midfielder alongside Declan. Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré are at least 6ft tall, both athletic and technically skilled as well as both being great at ball progression. The two have built a powerful partnership and at times strolled through our midfield with worrying ease, and this I believe has been a large reason as to why we’ve struggled and been inconsistent.
I have started to watch a bit of basketball whilst at Uni. In basketball the two teams go from one end to the other trying to score and it is played at a frenetic pace (players are allowed to sub in and out of the game). Watching West Ham play this season has a times felt like watching a basketball game in that our midfield has been easily bypassed by more dynamic players, and the game springs from end to end. Rice has covered for Noble’s lack of mobility at times, but in turn that means sometimes he’s out of position and teams find it easier to play through us.
The recently capped England international has been superb all season for us and in a recent interview with the Official West Ham website after signing the greatly anticipated new contract, he said ”I’m still young, so to put more years on my contract and keep developing here is the best thing for me to do… we’ve got a top manager who has won a Premier League title and quality players in the squad, so there is no reason why we can’t be competing at the top”
Rice is a fantastic talent and, judging from interviews, he does genuinely seem very happy with us. He certainly knows that playing week in and week out for fans that love him will be more beneficial for his development than coming in and out of a bigger side. But for Rice to develop as a player, and for the team to improve next season, a more athletic midfielder in the mould of a Capoue needs to come in.
On Twitter, I have seen some good suggestions of midfielders who would work well with Rice and might fit the bill from teams that have been/may well be relegated. Some good examples that might be available at a cut price include Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa at Fulham, Philip Billing at Huddersfield as well as Yves Bissouma at Brighton. Some fans might be underwhelmed by these names but all three are athletic and would definitely provide a presence alongside Rice.
Perhaps given the significance of this position, more money will be spent on this area of the pitch. I firmly believe that if (and it’s a big if) the club acquire the correct blend of athleticism, ball progression and technical skill, which is easier said than done, we will automatically be a much better side, and far better equipped to compete with teams such as Leicester, Watford, Wolves etc.
Enjoy your week.