West Ham’s New Back Line With Balbeuna

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.

Welcome Balbuena!

*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.

West Ham 1-4 Arsenal: A Well Timed Wanger

Despite a lopsided score line West Ham pushed hard and deserved better in this match. Well, Joe Hart and Arnautovic deserved better.

In a match that ended a handful to nil in Arsenal’s favor the score doesn’t tell the true story of this match. Nil-nil at half, and level after conceding first int he second half, West Ham showed resilience and hard work for 80 minutes of this game. But as well all know, a match is 90 minutes so that simply wont do, and predictably so, it didn’t do.

So what went wrong for the Hammers?
Defense making mistakes. Every goal can be credited to defenders missing balls, men, or getting caught out of position from over playing.

Arthur Masuaku contributed to Arsenal taking the lead in this match. Tasked with holding the near post on a corner, Masuaku inexplicably stepped away from a nice (but blockable) volley from Nacho Monreal. I would love to see what was going on in his head when the shot came in, because there is no real conceivable reason to not block a goal bound shot on the goal line. Unfortunately, this is the deal with Masuaku – you get speed and trickery going forward and have to deal with some boneheadery on the back end.

Declan Rice, unfortunately broke the back of his team – and judging by his face, he knew it. If he didn’t Joe Hart let him know it shouting at the back of his sunken head as he lined up for kick off. After missing a simple clearance the ball simply bounced into the net, and giving the Gunners the lead and taking the Hammers out of the match.

The goal was really an anomaly. Rice has been one of the few players who has actually grown and been an attribute to the team in this frustrating season. Hart wasn’t counting on his young, but good defender to miff a clearance, but it happens. You can bet he won’t make that mistake again ever in his career.

For West Ham, Joe Hart had a great game. He made a few saves notably on Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck that were top notch. He wanted to win, and he is playing for not only his international life at this time, but his top tier life, too. I don’t mind the appointment of Hart at this point in the season. Adrian hasn’t done enough to take his spot and seems like he’d rather be back in Spain, and Hart has something on the line. Disappointed for him after this one.

A possible bright point from this match is the probable use of  Arnautovic, Chicharito, and Lanzini moving forward. After Joao Mario and Edmilison Fernandes made way for Chicharito and Lanzini West Ham scored four minutes later. They pressured the ball when Arsenal had it, swarmed on free balls, and kept moving toward Ospina’s net.

Chicharito needs to be on the pitch simply for his presence, if not near automatic scoring ability. He has a reputation – fox in the box, but opposing defenders know that they cannot ignore him or he’ll net a goal.

Lanzini, who assisted Arnautovic’s rifled goal, is really the key to West Ham’s success this season. With a 5-4-1 formation there needs to be that link between attack and defense in the middle of the park. Mario did this well against Southampton but hasn’t consistently performed whereas Lanzini can do it at will against the lower half clubs and also impacts against the big boys. The issue is his work rate – will he show up or disappear with adversity?

This is a game West Ham were not supposed to win. When it comes down to it, West Ham suffered a ten minute meltdown against a team that is very good at attacking. West Ham made mistakes, they took those opportunities and didn’t miss. A point would have been massive, but it isn’t the end of the road for West Ham. Take it as motivation, train hard, get back to work, make sure it doesn’t happen again.

West Ham 3-0 Southampton: Don’t Put Baby In A Corner

West Ham performed to perfection with their backs up against the wall, hosting Southampton at the London Stadium. With the club owners barricaded in the directors box, the fans tense with uneasy anticipation, and the eyes of the (Premier League) football world upon the London Stadium, the players showed up.

Off to a quick start West Ham burst forward with exuberant pressure and kept the pace up for the entire first half, a half that would see all three goals scored. Southampton could not afford to put forward the pathetic effort they did in this match, as they had an opportunity to leafprog the hammers with a win and could have taken advantage of the toxic atmosphere surrounding the club currently.

Arnautovic who has been West Ham’s main man for offence this season was yet again the focal point of the front line. Arnautovic not only nets the goals but her creates so much pressure on the defence that even when he doesn’t score or assist he factors into West Ham’s success. He also directed the cross in from Joao Mario for his first goal, a rebound off of a laser header.

Joao Mario who had yet to impress this season for West Ham, had his best game in the Premier League today. He scored a rooftop laser and assisted Arnautovic’s first goal. He was effective today because of the pressure he brought in the open field on Southampton’s defenders and midfielders. He goal was brilliant and assist matched it – Mario had an amazing game and provided a glimpse of options beyond Lanzini in attacking midfield.

A saddening aspect of the game was Michail Antonio coming up lame early in the game game, giving way to Edmilison Fernandes in the 9th minute. Antonio left the pitch after an apparent thigh injury, with his face hidden under his jersey hiding tears. He wanted to factor into the turn around for West Ham, an attitude all West Ham fans should be happy to see. Captain Mark Noble ran up while he was walking off the pitch and pulled his jersey off his face, nothing to be embarrassed about here for the injured attacker.

His replacement, the Swiss international Fernandes, was absolutely brilliant in his first club action in four months. Coming off of an ankle injury, Fernandes was slotted in aside Mario and behind Arnautovic in a free roaming attacking mid role. This may be his natural position as his speed and ability to use the width of the pitch made him a constant threat. Edi also held onto the ball well, it sounds simple but its a facet of the game West Ham have been in need of for awhile now.

If you eliminate Arnautovic, the man with the first half brace, from contention for man of the match you could easily give it to either Declan Rice or Angelo Ogbonna. Both were stellar today in a very involved back three. Constantly used in the possession game for West Ham, Rice and Ogbonna were amazing outlets and kept play in the Southampton end for the majority of the afternoon.

Cresswell was also reliable in the back three. It isn’t his natural position but he doesn’t seem to care. Rather than rely on size like many centrebacks, Cresswell jockeyed for position and won aerial battles with his body positioning rather than height. He was great as well, but Ogbonna and Rice were next level.

Rice was coming off two matches for Ireland where he made his first team international debut. He was Man of the Match in game one, and impressed in the second game as well. Ogbonna was also with his home nation, Italy, over the International break but did not feature.

Responsible for the second goal for Arnautovic, Arthur Masuaku returned from a six match ban for spitting towards a Wigan player. Masuaku was immediately a threatening presence in West Ham’s offence and reminded us all what we were missing without him in the side. Always looking for a chance to embarrass a defender along the touchline, King Arthur did not disappoint in his return. He flung a seemingly innocuous ball into the box that somehow found the perfect space between keeper and defender – on Arnautovic’s foot- where it could be volleyed safely home. Just one example of his abilities to create goal scoring chances. He is an offensive spark plug and gave it all for the team today.

As you can probably tell by the steady compliments I’m feeding to the West Ham players that it was a solid team performance from the Hammers. Safe to say they understood that their backs were up against the wall and they performed; baby was put in a corner and fought her way out.

The points were crucial but the swagger that comes with a triumphant 3-0 win where the opponents were held to two (pitiful) shots on net. It was a well rounded game and provided a glimpse into what this team can do. The hill is still tall in front of West Ham but it isn’t as insurmountable as it would have been with anything than less than three points from this match.

 

West Ham Vs Southampton – The Saints Are Coming

Two points up, yet West Ham feels miles behind Southampton and for all the wrong reasons. Off-pitch issues have ground the season to a halt for the Hammers, and hosting Southampton this late in the season could see relegation staved off again, or all but confirmed.

For Southampton they have two big boosts to their team. New manager Mark Hughes has taken over the manager position from Mauricio Pellegrino. Playing a characterless style of play, Pellegrino didn’t take the Saints to the next level as many thought he could. Hughes stepped in at the beginning of the three week international break and has had time to drill his squad into shape.

The second addition is the reinstalling of striker Charlie Austin. Austin, who scored a penalty against West Ham in their early season victory over West Ham, is rejoining at a time where his squad needs him. Manolo Gabbiadini has left the Saints missing Austin at striker, and the script really writes its self, doesn’t it?

For West Ham they have two similar positives heading into this match. The first is Mark Hughes, yes Southampton’s new manager. Having been sacked by Stoke City earlier this season, Hughes was visibly pissed off at former star Marko Arnautovic who facilitated his move away from the Potters in the summer transfer window. Arnautovic steamrolled Hughes former team to the delight of West Ham fans and hopefully can do so again.

After a hotheaded performance that ended in an intentional elbow to Southampton defender Stephens, Arnautovic took his team to ten men early in the match. Chicharito tried his best to drag the teams level again, but just fell short as the game ended 3-2.

Southampton has yet to see the in form Arnautovic, and that could be West Ham’s secret weapon in this match.

The perfect wingback for Moyes’ unchanged formation returns for West Ham. After a loogie gone awry against Wigan, Arthur Masuaku has had a six game ban to think about his actions. Since then his team has fallen out of relative safety into the Kenny Loggins Danger Zone. What he brings in his return to the lineup is speed, shiftiness, and some impressive crossing skills he showed off against Dag & Red.

This game is almost too close to call really. New manager bump may carry Southampton over the line, where as fan unrest at West Ham may force the team to perform. Whoever wins, should three points be awarded, will secure one of the necessary games remaining for both sides against relegation teams.

The true defining factor for this match will come down to managing. Will Moyes have the guts to abandon his back-5 and implement a formation that will fit all of his of his offensive options? And will Hughes be able to inspire his new squad out of the bottom three?

Good lord, relegation is fun isn’t it? Horrifying, but fun.