The Pace Problem – An over-reliance on Antonio?
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 8 December 2019 at 5:32pm
Written by: Graham Keeffe
At the beginning of the season when Antonio picked up that nasty long-term injury, it became apparent very quickly that West Ham had a problem. A serious lack of pace. Since his return, Antonio has rejuvenated the Irons’ attack. With dogged determination, Antonio hustled and harried the Chelsea defence on his full return from injury and was a large part of why we won the game. His physical presence, hunger to win the ball back and desire to close down the space in front of him make him a handful for any defence. In his absence against Wolves, the Hammers reverted back to their soft-touch approach and were outworked over the 90 minutes.
Given our track record of managing injuries, an over-reliance on Antonio is definitely not the answer to pace issues up front. So, do we need to bring in a new face over the January transfer period? More importantly, can the club afford to do so? Here, we examine potential options available to the Hammers.
Firstly, the Hammers could recall Grady Diangana from the Championship. As some fans may have noticed, our board aren’t keen on the idea of spending money – so from this point of view, recalling the young Englishman may appeal to them. Primarily deployed on the right wing, Grady’s pace and power have seen him rack up four goals and six assists in 17 appearances, which has greatly contributed to West Brom’s current attainment of second place. Similar to Antonio in his approach, Grady uses his rapid acceleration to breeze past defenders before either delivering a killer ball into the box or slotting it home from close range. His link up play with his teammates has also been fantastic to watch. Ultimately, recalling Grady should only be considered as a last resort if the club don’t have the money to bring a fresh face in. Taking him away from an environment where he’s progressing and placing him in a struggling West Ham side could hamper both his confidence and long-term development.
Option two, quite obviously, involves bringing in new personnel. Bearing in mind that few premier league sides would be willing to part with a player similar in versatility to Antonio, European leagues should be looked to. From the Bundesliga, Karim Bellarabi of Bayer Leverkusen could be an option. At 29, Bellarabi is a Champions League experienced right winger capable of playing as a second striker. His standout attributes are his pace and ability off the dribble, something West Ham could seriously do with. Entering into the last year of his contract, he is currently valued at £13-18 million, but given the ludicrously unpredictable nature of the market, this could be much higher. It’s also worth noting that he does have a history of injuries, but has always come back strong from them.
The second potential option is Steven Berghuis of the Eredivisie in Holland. Berghuis actually played in the premier league for Watford back in 2015, but wasn’t suited to their formation. He has since moved to Feyenoord where he primarily plays as a right winger. A capped Dutch international, 27 year-old Berghuis is enjoying one of his most successful seasons to date, with 8 goals and three assists in 14 appearances. Most relevant to the Hammers, he is a proven crosser of the ball, something that Haller desperately needs to consistently score goals. A fast, adaptable player who enjoys breaking through the centre of the park, Berghuis was valued on Transfermarkt in September at £11 million. Given his current goal scoring record, his stock is now more likely to be £20-25 million. Based on current form, this valuation is warranted.
Money is by no means the answer to all of the club’s problems. There are players currently in the starting 11 who need to take a hard look at themselves. Antonio has led by example since his return, but he can’t do it alone and we don’t want him to suffer a burnout or a relapse in injury. Bringing in a fresh face may not only take some of the burden off of his shoulders, but also light a fire under those who are currently underperforming. However, we certainly won’t be holding our breath on the spending front. For now, we look forward to Arsenal and hope for a much needed home win.