Managing West Ham 2
Looking at the West Ham United squad there’s not a lot of depth in a number of key positions.
We have two average goalkeepers in the squad, Darren Randolph and Adrian. They are both 29 years old and reasonably experienced goalkeepers. When comparing them to other teams in the division we do not have a keeper of the sufficient quality for what we are aiming. The likes of Cech (Arsenal), Courtois/Begovic (Chelsea), Bravo (Manchester City), De Gea (Manchester United), Forster (Southampton) and Lloris (Tottenham) are all better keepers at clubs we are hoping to compete with. When comparing the two keepers we have, it seems that Adrian is the slightly better option.
He has better Aerial abilities, a better distribution of the ball and better communication than Randolph, but lacks speed when compared to his fellow keeper. In my opinion Adrian is a good goalkeeper to keep as a backup, and whilst Randolph and he are extremely similar I would prefer to sell Randolph and bring in a new first team option.
At centre-back we have a lot of quality in the squad. Fonte, Reid, Collins and Ogbonna are all good defenders of an experienced age and whilst I expect Fonte and Reid to be obvious number one choices, I wouldn’t be all that worried about dropping them if Collins or Ogbonna were in better form. My only concern is depth, as I am tempted to play 3 at the back; two backups would provide the squad with extra depth in the case of any injuries or problems with fitness. This however is not a pressing matter, and I’m happy with the central defenders at my disposal.
At full back, we are lacking depth either side. In the first team squad, we only have Arbeloa on the right and Cresswell on the left. Cresswell is currently injured for 2 to 3 months with strained knee ligaments, and with no cover on the left-hand side, a left back is urgently needed. Arbeloa is a reliable player to have in the squad, however at 33 years old I see him as more of a capable backup rather than a first team player. Looking into our Under 23 squad, Sam Byram is fit and I will immediately promote him to the first team squad as my first choice right back as I believe him to be a better option than Arbeloa.
Defensive midfield and central midfield contain some very talented players. Kouyaté and Nordtveit are both defensive midfielders who could both fit into the first team. My only concern is that Nordtveit is not a strong passer of the ball, and seeing as he is a ball winning midfielder I would prefer he had the passing range to get the ball to more attacking players further up the pitch upon winning the ball. Kouyaté is only slightly better in terms of passing but is more of an all-round player who I would expect to start in the first team ahead of Nordtveit.
Ahead of the two defensive midfielders we have 3 central midfielders; Noble, Obiang and Fernandes. The immediate star to me is Obiang as he has some great stats which make him a wonderful passer and tackler. Not to be scoffed at though are his mental stats, he is an extremely hard worker and team player in a similar mould to Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté, only significantly lacking pace when compared to the Frenchman.
When compared to his teammate Mark Noble, Obiang is the better all-round player, only lacking in vision. Whilst it’s very close between them I think it’s fair to say that Obiang is a first team player ahead of Noble, and a more creative player might be required to play alongside either player to spark an attack or be the catalyst for an attack on the counter.
In comes Fernandes. At 20 years old the swiss wonderkid is not a guaranteed first team star, but certainly has the potential to start if he plays well or begins to live up to his promise. With more of an eye for attack when compared to his two fellow central midfielders, he might be the ideal playmaker to play alongside either of them in the middle of the park.
Manuel Lanzini. The clubs one and only first team central attacking midfielder. Having lost French megastar Dimitri Payer in the January transfer window in real life (and in the Football Manager 2017 winter update), West Ham are lacking a star with a driving force for goals, in set pieces and for chance creation. Lanzini is the perfect candidate to fill his boots. He is faster than the Frenchman, perhaps due to his youth (he is 6 years younger than Payet) but he has the similar abilities to Payet and must be included in the squad as a worthy replacement.
Moving to the right of Lanzini, we are overcome by players on the right flank. Snodgrass, Antonio, Feghouli and Töre are all very similar players battling for a place on the right-hand side. Feghouli and Töre are both wingers who can play on the right of midfield or slightly higher on the right of attacking midfield. Whilst we want to be a team with attacking intent, it is important for players to be able to track back and defend, especially against bigger teams. Feghouli is significantly better at this than Töre, and with Snodgrass and Antonio, it might be best to terminate Töre’s loan to free up the 27.5k he takes from the wage bill.
Snodgrass and Antonio are both possible first team players, however there is a clear difference in how they play. Snodgrass is a natural inside forward, and is a lot more technical in comparison to Antonio. Antonio has great physical stats in comparison to Snodgrass and is naturally a wide Target Man. Both are great players but both could be used in very different ways. Immediately what springs to mind is the recent Champions League Juventus v Barcelona game in which Juventus won 3-0. Mandzukic was all over the pitch that night using his strength to win the ball against the physically inferior Barcelona players; winning the ball wide before linking up play to create chances. In games in which we are forced to defend Antonio could be the ideal man to play this role, and man mark specific players before linking up play. I expect Snodgrass to be the ideal first team player, but I expect Antonio to be playing when away to some of the bigger teams.
Antonio can also do this on the left-hand side of the pitch, meaning he’s a great option to play this role if I want to keep Snodgrass on the pitch as the same time. This is an ideal solution to another glaring problem in this squad. We only have one left sided attacking midfielder in Ayew, and he is currently out for 3 to 4 months with a thigh strain. Without Antonio, this would be a very difficult situation as we would have no one who is able to naturally cover this side. I could spend the money to bring in a new left sided player, which I still might do, but it’s not as much of a pressing matter with the flexibility of Antonio.
Another problem area is up top. 3 strikers with the ability they all possess is not to be dismissed. However, with Sakho out for 3 to 4 months with a damaged spine and Carroll out for 3 to 5 months with a damaged kneecap, we are relying on the 22 year old Calleri to bang in the goals himself. An experienced striker might be the ideal short term solution to provide some competition for Calleri and to cover if we are short on goals.
After offering out Darren Randolph, no offers were made for the goalkeeper and he teeters on the edge of the senior squad as a backup to the backup Adrian. A £12m offer plus bonuses was made by PSG for the services of Winston Reid, but following intense discussions involving the fee raising to £25m plus bonuses they quickly took their money and ran, to spend another day. I did consider the termination of Töre’s loan, but he offers a dangerous option in the team and only takes up 2.5% of the total wage bill. I may still consider terminating it in the future, but for now I’ll keep him in the squad.
We have two players in so far in the transfer window, totalling £12.5m. Coming in for £8m, a very decent goalkeeper in the form of Tomas Vaclik from FC Basel. There were a number of keepers I wanted to bring in, including Begovic, Butland and Pickford. However, in the end their transfer fees proved too much and I settled on the lesser known Vaclik. He was technically and mentally a better keeper than Adrian with better handling abilities, who was also more adept to rushing out. His composure and concentration are also better than that of the Spaniard, and with the same strength and stamina attributes I would rank him as the slightly better keeper and the new first choice we need.
My second signing saw Charlie Taylor join the squad from Leeds United. At £4.5m, he was a great price to play as backup to Cresswell, and even had the potential to overtake his fellow Englishman as the first team starter. Again, there were a number of options, but after scouting I settled on either Taylor or the German left back Marcel Halstenberg. Whilst I could have gone for much better options, such as Kolasinac or Toljan, I only had around £5m to spend and a backup left back was a priority in terms of transfers. When first considering the two left backs, Halstenberg appeared to be slightly better upon comparison.
He had much better stats all around, but for myself I believed he suited the role of a winger more than left back.
The radar graphs helped me make up my mind, confirming to me Charlie was the much more defensive option, skills which I believe suit the West Ham United team much better given their current situation.
I’m happy with the window so far, but I would be more than willing to accept bids for players should they come in, provided I can get similar players in at cheaper prices for replacement. In the next part of the series I will provide some tactical ideas for the squad and play our first couple of Europa League games as we look to find the right tactics for our first game against Burnley in the Premier League. I hope you’ll join me then, and look forward to hearing any advice you might have.