With Dimitri Payet continuing his fine form against Everton, disaster struck in the 34th minute as James McCarthy took it upon himself to take the Frenchman out of the game. The Irishman went steaming into the back of the Hammers’ number 27 leaving him in a crumpled heap on the ground.
Cue a gasp inside the ground as the summer signing stayed on the turf before a defiant rendition of the popular chant of ‘We’ve got Payet’. After some treatment he carried on although it was plain to see he wasn’t right. Three minutes into the second half he limped off to a standing ovation. It transpired that the result of McCarthy’s ‘tackle’ was an estimated three-month absence for Payet.
With the West Ham faithful now fearful of a slide in form with their superstar player now sitting on the sidelines, I will now look at the three options that Slaven Bilic can bring in to replace the injury-stricken former Marseille man before announcing who I would chose.
In Mauro Zarate, we have a player whose statistics speak for themselves; in four Premier League starts he has bagged two goals, including a stunner against Chelsea. But oddly he is not my pick, and here is why: he can be a little greedy and excitable at times, which is the main trouble. He runs into cul-de-sacs far too often for my liking and his moments of madness can leave the side on the back foot.
For evidence of this, you only have to look at his 20-minute cameo against the Toffees – a performance that saw him take to social media to apologise for his poor display. The Argentine continually ran with the ball before ambitiously shooting from all angles. So sorry, Mauro, but it’s a no from me.
Up next is the missing man himself – Michail Antonio. Since joining on deadline day from Nottingham Forest in a cloud of excitement, the powerful winger has had to bear the brunt of a host of Twitter jokes about him ‘going missing’. It has been more ‘Where’s Michail?’ than ‘Where’s Waldo?’ recently, but he has stuck to his task manfully and may now finally get his long awaited chance in Payet’s absence.
He has pace and power to burn and a keen eye for goal; I hope he finally gets his big break, as he deserves it, and I think he will get it sooner rather than later but not as a direct replacement for Dimitri. The former Forest man is more a winger than a central player, and he will be relying on the vision of the man who I would put in place of Payet. That man is of course the little magician they call ‘The Jewel’, Manuel Lanzini.
Now, Lanzini may not have caught the eye of many when he first joined the Hammers on loan, but the 22-year-old is now one of the first names on the West Ham United team sheet and with good merit too. Since his summer arrival he, along with Payet, have transformed the Hammers into an attacking, free-flowing outfit. But now with the Frenchman missing it is time for the Irons’ number 28 to step up to the mark.
And I am more than confident he will; he is taking the East End by storm. His flair and technique is second to none; his finish against the Toffees showcased that ability – a cool and clever side-footer into the top corner which left Tim Howard stranded.
Now under pressure after being put at centre stage, he will need to show character as well as his natural flair to prove he can be the Hammers’ main man. The former River Plate academy graduate is confident and class when he has the ball at his feet, and his confidence will surely stand him in good stead as looks to take that central attacking midfield role by storm.
To take the ‘Payet role’ and make it his own is the key challenge that faces him. When you watch Payet, it isn’t just his goals and assists that get people talking; it is his movement, vision and array of passing that stands him out from the rest of the team.
Lanzini now needs to take inspiration from that and start to create chances for his team-mates and bring people like Diafra Sakho, Victor Moses and co into the game with clever through-balls.
He has that in his locker and I have every faith that he can make that role behind the striker his own. Bilic has already said that Lanzini reminds him of Luka Modric, in my view that’s as good a compliment as you can get.
And I am sure I am not the only one who is excited by the prospect of him joining on a permanent basis, after David Sullivan confirmed that the Irons have a ‘watertight deal in place’. It seems more and more likely that the Hammers will fight off any competition from Liverpool, who are also said to be sniffing around the youngster.
Talking of Liverpool, Lanzini stole the hearts of the West Ham faithful just three minutes into his maiden Hammers bow. He collected the ball inside the box to prod past Simon Mignolet to set the Irons on their way to their first win at Anfield since 1963. Since that goal, he has gone on to bag a further two goals and an assist to continue his blossoming career in East London.
So fear not ladies and gentlemen, we are in the safe hands of Lanzini as the Irons look to continue to their fine start to the season.
Come on you Irons!
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