Premier League

Gómez the signing West Ham need to spearhead attack

 • by James Piercy
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For the first time in more than a decade, there is considerable excitement surrounding West Ham heading into a new Premier League season.

The arrival of Manuel Pellegrini as manager coupled with a raft of new summer signings has created a peculiar but refreshing buzz around the Hammers, a welcome antidote to the vitriol of last season.

The Argentinean’s presence in the dugout should give the previously-chaotic Hammers a sense of organisation while Felipe AndersonAndriy YarmolenkoJack Wilshere, Fabián Balbuena, Issa DiopRyan Fredericks and Lukasz Fabianski are a nice balance of known quantities, maverick talent, youth and those with an air of mystery surrounding them.

The Hammers have been the second-highest spenders in the Premier League this summer, behind Liverpool’s £163m investment, with the new arrivals costing a combined £85.5m and with just over a week to go until the transfer window shuts that should exceed the £100m mark.

It creates its own pressure on Pellegrini to exceed the 13th-place finish secured by David Moyes last season, while the Chilean will not be permitted to simply grind out results, although identity of some his new recruits should ensure that.

The man, or more accurately young man, who could send spending into nine figures is Celta Vigo striker Maxi Gómez who, according to the London Evening Standard, have had a £27m bid rejected this week for the 21-year-old.

Gómez has only been in Spain for a season having arrived from Defensor Sporting last summer for just €4.5m but such was his impact in his debut campaign, Celta believe suitors should offer closer to his €50m (£45m) release clause.

That may seem a little ambitious but, in defence, the 6ft 1ins forward scored 17 La Liga goals in 36 appearances for a mid-table side and was easily the youngest among the division’s top-10 goalscorers.

He did feature at the World Cup, making two substitute appearances totalling 32 minutes, but the presence and form of Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani in Russia ensured he was only ever going to be placed in a supporting role.

But Suárez and Cavani cannot go on forever and when the Sons of Salto enter retirement, it is Gómez who looks the best placed to carry the torch for the national team.

It may seem a lazy comparison but there is more than a suspicion of Cavani in his best attributes, and on returning from his holiday this summer Gómez posted a picture on Instagram of a copy of ‘El Matador’, Cavani’s autobiography by his side.

The player himself has also said, with a keen understanding of what the future may hold: “People back in Uruguay say that I’m going to be Luis Suárez’s successor in the national team and I hope that will turn out to be the case.”

Tall and strong with a broad physique, Gómez excels in shielding possession and playing with his back to goal. At the risk of delving into national stereotypes, like most Uruguayans he relishes the physical side of the game and his disciplinary record bears witness – 12 yellow cards and 52 fouls, the third-most committed of any forward in the Spanish top-flight.

Only Alaves forward Munir won more fouls than Gómez’s 90, again highlighting his ability to lead the line and compete, despite his tender years and inexperience in European football.

In style and stature, he is the target-man Pellegrini craves in light of Andy Carroll’s enduring relationship with the treatment room in east London.

Maxi Gomez stats for Celta Vigo

Of his 17 La Liga goals, nine were with his head (joint second-most across Europe’s top five leagues), a statistic that should sing to West Ham’s manager given his acquisition of wingers Anderson and Yarmolenko, and all were inside the penalty area. In fact, of his 83 shots, only 10 were beyond 18 yards.

Unlike Marko Arnautović, West Ham’s likely starting centre forward against Liverpool on August 12, Gómez’s attacking attributes are best served inside the penalty area.

He’s efficient as well, as despite his excellent goal tally he averaged just 3.59 touches in the opposition box (63rd for attacking players in Spain) and 2.42 scoring attempts (43rd).

He averaged just 13.3 accurate passes per 90 (109th), 0.55 open play key passes (106th) and 0.12 expected assists (53rd) – he is not a forward to fashion high volumes of opportunities for others, or even himself, and requires service to flourish.

Considering West Ham were 15th for big chances created last term, Pellegrini has work to do in that department.

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It draws parallels with another penalty-box player within the West Ham squad in Javier Hernández. But unlike the Mexican, Gómez with his physical attributes, ability in the air (2.6 aerial duels won per 90, 20th highest in La Liga for attackers) and strength at holding the ball, could theoretically operate as a lone forward.

He is also nine years younger than Chicharito and while we know, and West Ham should have known when they paid Bayer Leverkusen £16m 12 months ago, exactly what the Mexican is all about, Gómez is at the stage of his career where he is still learning and adapting.

Celta coach Juan Carlos Unzué tended to favour a Barcelona-esque 4-3-3 in Galicia with Gómez through the middle and the more mobile and quicker Pione Sisto and Iago Aspas either side of him.

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A system that Pellegrini could replicate with Arnautovic, Anderson or Yarmolenko in the wider areas.

Unzué also liked to turn to a more traditional 4-4-2, Pellegrini’s stock-in-trade during his time at Manchester City, with Aspas and Gómez as a traditional front two.

If West Ham want to sign him it looks like it will cost a figure north of £30m, a considerable outlay on a striker with just one season of European football on his CV, however impressive it may be.

There are no guarantees the Uruguayan will settle in London or how long it may take to replicate just a fraction of his Celta Vigo form.

But if Pellegrini is committed to finding a young, physically-dominant frontman who can operate as the central focal point in attack who, given time, has the attributes to become an elite goalscorer, then it could just be worth the investment.

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