Filed: Wednesday, 22nd February 2017
By: Adam Smith
With the league break coming to a close, it seems fitting to evaluate the Hammers squad as it stands and look towards the future as well.
Assessing the current state, the development of system youth, and looking at potential signings will help in understanding West Ham currently stand, and will show where the team can grow to soon.
Letís begin with the strikers.
Internal focus immediately shifts to Andy Carroll and the unbelievable January he had to start 2017. Most impressive was the overhead bicycle kick, on a perfect cross from Michail Antonio, which secured Carroll the goal of the month award. The added bonus was that Carroll beat out Arsenalís Olivier Giroud and his scorpion kick for the award. Rightfully so.
The only knock on AC has been the usual one Ė his health. Despite his recent successes, Carrol missed the last match against West Bromwich Albion due to a nagging groin injury. The match-up saw West Ham dominate possession and use the creativity of their attacking midfielders to swing the ball into the box at will. Carrollís prolific skills in the aerial attack surely would have secured three crucial points against West Brom, and it is clear that injury troubles will remain part of the package moving forward. In his 12 appearances this season Carroll has delivered six goals, three in January of 2017.
The next-in-line striker is Jonathan Calleri. The Argentinian who was a summer signing for West Ham before the 2016/17 season has failed to find a position in the clubís attack. Totalling just nine appearances, Calleri scored the insurance goal on the January 22nd victory over Middlesbrough. This marked his only tally on the season, capitalising on an over-extended and desperate team looking for an equaliser late in the match. Calleriís goal came after a missed opportunity by him that was fortunately cleaned up and re-set up by Manuel Lanzini. Calleriís goal touched a defender on its way in appropriately summing up his goal scoring abilities as he has shown them.
Calleriís future with the club appears to be all but sealed. His goal swayed manager Slaven Bilic to keep him through the January transfer window after his departure seemed imminent. Calleri remains at West Ham purely as a depth player and once Diafra Sakho returns, his position will be lost. This was confirmed in Calleriís halftime substitution on against West Brom. He failed to create offensively as he was not a threat on runs, and appeared reluctant to shoot, taking too many touches on solid balls, spoiling the offensive output of the team.
The return of fan favourite and historically dangerous striker Diafra Sakho adds a new dimension to the squad attacking. Where Carroll brings strength and size, Sakho brings versatility. A great balance between speed and skill, Sakho can launch shots inside and outside the box with determination and intent, but has a flair for the finesse on his ability to chip and outclass the opposition. Sakho is also a threat to score with his head but relies on athleticism to beat opponents, rather than size.
When healthy after rehabbing from his back-surgery, Sakho fits in the line-up as a complimentary player to Carroll, who cannot be sat (notwithstanding injury) playing at his current level. A striker like Sakho, who takes the guess work out of performance, can allow Bilic to relax when alleviating Carroll of his position when needed. In his two appearances for the club this season Sakho netted one goal. His proposed return in March is welcomed and exciting.
Options at striker can be crucial tools for Bilic to survive any injury scares with Carroll in the foreseeable future. As a team eliminated from any extra-curricular tournaments and play, West Ham is taking advantage of their time off to bond, train, and mend, having returned from a training trip to Dubai.
Previous to the break Carroll was forced to miss the West Bromwich Albion match and with Bilic lack of faith in Calleri to start, Michail Antonio made a Ďgadgetí start in the middle up front for the Hammers. The move was not overly successful, and Antonio was eventually moved to the left wing later in the match. Despite the most recent application of Antonio in an unnatural position, Antonioís nose for the goal and ability to use his physicality in the box make him an option upfront for the Hammers in a pinch. Bilic continues to invest and believe in his young star as an option to fill in and play with impact where the club needs him.
Another hole-filler for striker is record signing Andre Ayew. Fresh off of a fourth-place finish in the African Cup of Nations, Ayew is poised to return to West Ham and make an impact, something he has not been able to do after suffering an injury early in the season. Ayew does slot in as a midfielder, but with the play of Lanzini, Feghouli, Obiang, Snodgrass, Antonio, Noble and Kouyate, there is a sizeable log-jam in the middle of the pitch. His opening may come at striker, as position he has experience in during the time in-between Sakhoís return and Carrollís nagging groin injury.
The youth of the club also should be addressed here. First in line is youngster Ashley Fletcher. Many see Fletcher as getting more of an opportunity as this season plays out, and believe he has played better in his 13 starts than Calleri has. While Fletcher hasnít notched any goals for West Ham this season, he has subbed on eleven times primarily coming on in situations that were not conducive to scoring. Fletcher's ceiling is unknown as a striker for West Ham, but there is certain opportunity for his arrival.
One of West Hamís biggest up-and-coming stars is Toni Martinez. Signing with West Ham in the summer, Martinez was lauded as a promising striker and after being loaned to Oxford during the January window he is exhibiting his potential as a striker. Having scored twice for his loan team, Martinez is gaining confidence and solidifying himself as a scoring threat. Described as opportunistic and lucky, he needs to develop his play with the ball showing he can create chances without relying on others. Martinez has shown off his ability to cap when the ball is on his boot, and is an exciting option Bilic will have to incorporate in the team's future.
Speculation is always fun and often gives life to opinion pieces such as this, so letís have at it.
Firstly, let us give praise to the sage wisdom and, perhaps, dumb luck of Billic who opted to pass on Championship striker Scott Hogan. Many criticised Bilic for his unwillingness to pay for a needed striker, but not convinced of his skill and weary of his injury history (two ACL injuries), Bilic passed. Hogan was stretched off the pitch with an ankle injury in his most recent game for Aston Villa. Having yet to score for his new side West Ham may have dodged a bullet with Hogan, and Super Slav deserves credit to show his unwillingness to overreact with a signing.
Secondly and lastly, the future for West Ham signings at striker. While many names can be tied to the team, I believe these three players could factor into the squad and help West Ham establish themselves as a top tier team in the Premier league next season.
First is Lucas Perez from Arsenal. Perez has only scored twice all in all play this season but in his defence, he plays behind Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud. Perez has stated he wants a release from his team, and his presence on West Ham would inspire their attack with creativity and pace up the middle, with international and top-table experience.
Second, and most far-fetched is Alexandre Lacazette. His name is often tied to West Ham, and his skill is undeniable. In his most recent play for Lyon, Lacazette netted two goals in a dominant 4-1 win over AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League. His pace was unmatched as he cut through the defenders with ease and showed great patience on both goals. However, with recent estimates upwards of £59 million, Lacazette may only be a pipe dream for the Hammers.
The third and final option is probably the most likely striker option for West Ham to sign in the upcoming summer window. Linked with manager Slaven Bilic, Sunderlandís ageless goal scorer Jermain Defoe could be set to re-sign with the Hammers in the summer. Playing for them in the passed, Defoe has a knack for netting goals and while advanced in age (34) he has shown for an abysmal Sunderland side that he can create on his own. His position on the team would most likely be as a late substitution to score a goal either for result or security. Defoe currently has a relegation release in his contract making him an option in the near future. His platoon role could elongate his career if he was successful in this role, making his landing at West Ham a mutually beneficial scenario.
Currently a position with plenty of ebb and flow, the West Ham Strikers are at a crossroads. Current powerful and dominant play by Andy Carroll, and upcoming youth talent like Toni Martinez seem to bookend endless injury for the Hammers at striker. Depth in the summer can bridge these two pieces and round out what has the potential to be a top-class striking group.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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