Following on from my previous article, which was published earlier today about our best back four, in this piece I choose our strongest midfield. As I believe the 4-2-3-1 formation is our strongest, I am playing two holding midfielders, with an attacking midfielder and a left and right wing.
Again, there are a few players with worthy shouts to this position, but the pairing I’m going for are Cheikhou Kouyate and the captain, Mark Noble. Yet again this position represents depth for us with both Alex Song and Pedro Obiang waiting in the wings if given an opportunity, even Reece Oxford may hold a claim of being in contention after his pocketing of Mesut Ozil on the opening day of the season. The competition is so strong that you could choose to shuffle the formation and play three holding midfielders, as we did the other day against City, and it worked pretty well to be fair, but on the other occasions we have deployed three holding players I feel like it leaves us wanting going forward.
The choice of Kouyate is, to me, a simple one. He maintains in my eyes a heartbeat of the team that can do just about anything. He has an engine with pace and power like that of a 4×4, sniffs out a lot with his strength at the back, often very dangerous both in the air and on the deck going forward, as shown against City in his run to create Valencia’s first goal as well as almost nicking a winner when his header hit the bar at the death, and he is more than capable of chipping in with a goal, hitting 4 last term and 3 already this time around. If I’m being honest, I absolutely love Cheik and he was never going to be left out.
As for the other slot, as much as he often receives some unnecessary stick and does have the odd poor game, Mark Noble is also a shoe-in for the team. A West Ham team feels incomplete without a local boy in it, and so with Noble flying the flag for the East End in the middle of the park, with the kind of enthusiasm and passion welcomed with open arms at his beloved Upton Park, he provides us with not only a top quality midfielder, but also a top quality captain and a vital link between the fans and the players. As long as his performances are up to scratch, Noble’s place in the team is safe. Should Alex Song’s performances hit the heights they did before his injury last season then he would be make a hugely strong case for inclusion too, but since that injury he hasn’t looked the same player. However, he is still a good player to have, and his performance against City yesterday was a very good one, the closest we have seen to his pre-injury best and fully deserving of the sponsor’s man of the match award, so maybe he might just give Bilic another selection headache soon enough.
Not only that, but through no fault of his own, Pedro Obiang has not been able to make his break into the first team permanently since his arrival from Sampdoria in the summer. He looks tidy whenever called upon, and is a comforting late substitution to make if trying to hold onto a result, so once again he’s a great player to have around. The depth and quality of these four players is yet again a comforting feeling, as I feel any of the four can certainly do a job if needed, but as for the starting pair, Noble and Kouyate are the two I would want.
We’ve got Payet. Dimitri Payet. That should be enough explanation. The man that makes me believe in magic and re-evaluate my sexuality, Dimitri Payet really is one of a kind. He does things with that ball I can barely believe, I almost have to double take. There have been multiple moments this season that he has got us all of our seats just with a little touch or flick to embarrass yet another defender, and there are some glorious moments that he literally makes me laugh at how good he is. I can’t give the man enough praise. I love football more than anything, I love West Ham even more than that, and there are times that Dimi just reminds me exactly why I fell in love with both. I just don’t think you understand. Needless to say, he’s the creative spark in the middle, behind the striker.
This is a position that I feel splits opinion amongst fans. At the start of the season Victor Moses seemed to have made this position his own, but when injuries hit we saw the long awaited introduction of Michail Antonio to the team. Now the two are both fit, there is an argument (or at least there is where I sit anyway) about who you would prefer in the team. My own personal opinion, I sit in the camp that prefers Michail Antonio. He had to be patient while Moses kept him out of the team early in the season, but when he finally got a true chance I feel like he has taken it with open arms. Coming up from the Championship he still has things to learn, but he is learning tremendously quickly and offers plenty to the team. There was a freshness about him I felt, but I couldn’t put my finger on what until my mate perfectly described it, he’s like the perfect Sunday league kind of winger, and with that specific mate being a left back I’m inclined to agree with him.
Antonio’s raw, natural pace and power are a nightmare for defenders, and his work rate is exceptional. Even before his confidence boosting, if not highly fortunate, goal against Southampton, he seemed to be causing problems and bringing this brilliant work rate, which in itself was a threat. I remember in the game against Southampton at one point he won the ball on the edge of our own box, and within a matter of huge touches which he repeatedly ran onto, he won us a throw on the edge of their box, all in the space of seconds. Further, as we remember from the Liverpool game, he won a tackle by our own corner flag before getting up, sprinting fully 90 yards or more up the pitch to get his head on the end of Valencia’s delicious cross and put us 1-0 up. His first touch is sometimes not as crisp as you might want, but he is dangerous on the ball, he never seems to stop running, and he also happens to have a hell of a long throw, which came in handy when coupled with his quick thinking for Valencia’s 2nd goal.
Another man who has taken the Boleyn Ground by storm this year, rather unexpectedly it could be said, Manuel Lanzini. He’s creative, he’s agile, he’s skilful, he scores goals, he makes goals, he plays with a smile on his face, what more could you want from the little Argentine (except for his signature on a permanent deal)? He can basically play anywhere across the midfield, but to accommodate everyone he often gets stuck out on the left, but he can easily still do a job out there. His little tricks and flicks, as well as the creativity, rank up there with Payet at times, and he can’t half hit a ball either. Then again, he’s delicate when he needs to be, like that magical little dink against Everton. Lanzini, like Payet, plays football the way everyone wants to see it played, and when it comes off (which it seems to more often than not), it is simply beautiful. The sooner we get him signed up for the long term, the better.