West Ham announced the signing of Corinthians centre back and captain Fabian Balbuena from Brazil’s top flight of football. The fee is rumored to be between £2.5-5 million. Balbuena will be West Ham’s sixth signing of the window and joins Issa Diop and Ryan Fredericks in West Ham’s new back line of defenders.
While a lot is unknown about Balbuena’s game due to him playing in Brazil, the scouting reports on him suggest West Ham could be getting a bargain. He is known for his aerial skills by winning balls and clearing his lines with timely headers but he also has some offensive prowess, too. In the 2016/17 season Balbuena scored 6 goals, most coming from set piece play in the opponents area and most coming off of his head.
He seems to read the play well and knows when to clear his lines, when to look for a long pass, when to step in on a tackle, and when to rush up into the play. His tackling is a specific area of his game that West Ham fans should be excited about. He isn’t afraid to step up on attackers and stick a well placed foot into their feet to legally win the ball, rather than constantly be backed down.
It sounds as if Balbuena (26) could effectively be the heir apparent to current centre back Angelo Ogbonna. Both are strong tacklers and both excel at aerial duels. While it is unlikely he walks into the starting line up this season, Balbuena should see first team action in the Cup teams Pellegrini puts out.
With Balbuena now signed West Ham have new recruit Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Winston Reid, Reece Oxford, and possibly (if he isn’t a midfielder by seasons start) Declan Rice lining up to be centre backs. Oxford has expressed his desire to leave the club, and unless there is a massive boost in his play and attitude he should be off. As well West Ham could look to cash in on Winston Reid while he still has some solid value (£10-15m?), stripping another CB option away.
That would leave Balbuena, Diop, and Ogbonna as true centre backs with both Rice and (should he be here) Cheikhou Kouyate as depth options at centre back. Ideally a youngster should slot in for some valuable bench and Cup time, but if there is no easy choice for that role look for Mario Husillos to recruit another young player to add to the CB depth chart.
Younger and quicker – two words to describe West Ham’s defense this season. Young(er) comes from Diop and Balbuena, and quick comes from probable starting fullbacks Arthur Masuaku and Ryan Fredericks. With football becoming more and more focused on skill and speed over physicality and grit Pellegrini is adapting his squad to this evolving style of play rapidly.
*Amendment – With Reid’s injury (knee, 3 months) West Ham are essentially hamstrung with a potential deal. Look for Pellegrini and Husillos to look for a solid bench option to replace him, or to hold onto Reece Oxford now as a potential depth centreback.