Sometimes clubs can have the very best of intentions in the summer transfer window and despite seemingly taking one step forward they then find themselves two steps back, wondering what to do next.
At West Ham United, a club defined by it’s apparently unquenchable desire to rise up the Premier League table at any cost, such a situation has taken hold. The sensible signings of goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański from Swansea and central defender Issa Diop from Toulouse were a step forward.
Learning creator-in-chief Manuel Lanzini would miss most if not all of the 2018/19 campaign after sustaining a serious knee injury on Argentina duty was a sizeable blow.
To date, the East Londoners haven’t signed an attacking player this summer but with that devastating blow the tables have been flipped, plans have been binned and new head coach Manuel Pellegrini will have bunkered down in his office with his backroom staff to figure out how to make up for the goals and assists that have just left their team for the new campaign.
Last season Lanzini scored five goals and bagged nine assists, with notable performances in the 1-0 win over Chelsea, the 3-0 win away to Stoke City and the 3-2 victory against Tottenham Hotspur in the fourth round of the League Cup. Not only was Lanzini a consistent creator of chances and goals but he also tended to thrive in the big games when West Ham really needed him.
Alas, finding replacements within the current squad may, at first, seem like an impossible ask. Pellegrini will have a lot of work on his hands but he could perhaps reshuffle the team and allow back-up players an opportunity to step up in Lanzini’s place.
One such option might be Michail Antonio, who spent much of last season trying to overcome numerous injuries. Two seasons ago the utility man was one of the Hammers’ most impressive performers and his form even saw him called up by England.
Despite a 2017/18 campaign blighted by injury he still mustered 0.19 goals per 90 last term, only just behind Lanzini (0.21). Antonio managed more successful take-ons per 90 than Lanzini (3.44 vs. 2.85), more touches in the opposition’s box (2.91 vs. 2.59) and more shots (2.25 vs. 1.93). He was only just behind for open-play key passes (0.86 vs. 1.09) and big chances created (0.13 vs. 0.3)
Similarly, Pellegrini could opt to pull Marko Arnautović a little further back from the No.9 spot he thrived in last term and play him in the No.10 or roaming role that Lanzini tended to occupy last season.
Naturally, the initial reaction is to keep Arnautović where he thrived under previous manager David Moyes. But with Andy Carroll and Javier Hernández in the squad the Chilean coach would do well to make full use of the abundance of options he has in one part of the squad and shuffle his tactics around accordingly.
West Ham could instead take the path quite often trodden in the club’s recent history and buy their way out of trouble with a new attacking player in this summer’s transfer window to directly replace Lanzini for next season.
In recent months the Hammers have been linked with a plethora of names from across Europe. Two that could potentially step in to Lanzini’s position are Lazio’s Felipe Anderson – who is a known West Ham United transfer target – and Fulham’s Tom Cairney.
Anderson, who can play as a forward or attacking midfielder through the middle or on either wing, averaged a better goals per 90 record than Lanzini last season with 0.38 for Lazio. And with 0.43 assists per 90 the Brazilian forward also tended to provide assists for his team-mates at twice the rate of West Ham’s Argentine talent.
Previously the Brazilian might have been unobtainable to all but the Premier League’s biggest sides. But last season Anderson was a victim of coach Simone Inzaghi’s use of wing-backs and looks set to leave the Roman club this summer.
West Ham had been thought to have offered around £37million but, according to Goal.com, they would need to raise that to £50million to get a deal done – that could prove a stumbling block.
Similarly, Cairney could quite feasibly provide a spark of goalscoring and playmaking through the middle of the park much like Lanzini has done for West Ham in the past.
However, having skippered Fulham back to the Premier League the Scotland international is unlikely to have his heart set on a move away from Craven Cottage where he is the beating heart of Slaviša Jokanović’s impressive side.
So it’s back to the drawing board.
Lanzini will be a huge miss for West Ham. He has stepped into the spotlight seamlessly since Dimitri Payet was sold to Marseille in January 2017 and replacing him – albeit in the short term – will be of paramount importance for Pellegrini.
What West Ham must not do, however, is rush and risk compounding the loss of the tricky attacker with yet another poor signing.