Who will fill the void?
Just when he was producing some of his best football of the season, Manuel Lanzini’s frustrating hamstring injury is undoubtedly a savage blow for West Ham, as the recent injury he suffered against Bournemouth looks set to keep him out of action for six weeks.
Having already had the start of his campaign curtailed by injury, the diminutive Argentine’s latest setback is a huge concern for David Moyes, who cited fatigue as the most likely reason for his ailment.
In what’s been a challenging term for the Irons, it’s been encouraging to see their fortunes take an upward turn with the arrival of Moyes back in November. Although it took Lanzini some time to impress his manager, the 24-year-old has become an absolutely integral component of Scot’s plans of late. When asked how important the former River Plate sensation is to his side after the draw with the Cherries, Moyes’ answer offered an intriguing insight into his opinion on his star, saying: “He’s very important. I think he was talked a lot about when I came and I have to be honest, I didn’t see that in the first half dozen games or so.
“I think in recent weeks we are beginning to see what everyone was telling me about and he is starting to form a great understanding with Marko [Arnautovic] though we didn’t quite get the magic we needed in front of goal.”
Contributing crucial goals and assists in the Hammers’ impressive wins over Chelsea, Stoke City and Huddersfield Town, plus in their draw with Tottenham Hotspur, he’s taken his tally to a promising five assists and three goals in league action.
Full of creativity and precision, Lanzini’s been an essential element in his team’s offensive phases, with his key in constructing, connecting and animating West Ham’s upfield progressions. Equally adept at playing intricate passes under pressure, unleashing raking cross-field diagonals, clipping dinked through balls over the top or hitting penetrative line breaking deliveries, the little magician’s influence has been unmistakable.
Moreover, his sublime dribbling ability allows him to not only thrive in 1v1 duels but also when wriggling away from pressure or by giving himself room to spot up a teammate. Through his trickery, deft feints, slick shimmies or deliberate shoulder drops, Lanzini’s been hugely unpredictable and extremely resistant to opposition pressure.
Another key to his success has come via his penchant to repeatedly undertake head checks of his blindside, in order to give him an updated mental imagery of his surroundings. This, in combination with his understanding of space, duly sees him take up ideal positions to be used by his teammates or to manipulate opposing backlines. Particularly effective at finding space between the lines, but also at dropping deep to create numerical superiority in midfield, shift across to support his wide players and embark on well-timed, dynamic runs in behind, this only amplifies his worth.
Deceptively strong, and masterful at changing pace and direction in an instant, there’s no doubting how essential his physical capabilities are to his game too.
Having completed the sixth most dribbles in the PL, on 2.7 per game, supplied 1.7 key passes pg (that ranks 19th in the PL) and launched 1.6 shots pg, the maestro has assuredly gone about cementing his reputation as one of the finest creative midfielders in the division in recent weeks.
With all this in mind, missing the Argentine for their pivotal clashes with the likes of Watford, Liverpool and Swansea is unquestionably a huge hit for the Hammers. But thankfully the club have just signed the classy Joao Mario on loan from Inter Milan, who should act as a quality replacement for Lanzini and go some way towards lessening the blow of losing their ingenuitive playmaker, who’s also a crafty set-piece taker.
While the addition of Joao Mario is certainly a huge positive, filling in the void left by Lanzini won’t be easy. After all, not only does Lanzini already shares terrific relationships with his teammates and is a hugely multifaceted talent, but he also has that unique capability to procure a moment of pure magic that can ultimately change a game in an instant.
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