West Ham United left Turf Moor on Saturday afternoon with a bitter taste in their mouths. Chris Wood’s late header for Burnley salvaged a point for Sean Dyche’s men and left Slaven Bilić with that familiar feeling of frustration.
Not only were the Hammers denied a first away win this season, their fans were left disappointed by another show of ill-discipline, as Andy Carroll got himself sent off for two bookable offences after just 26 minutes.
Following Marko Arnautović’s red card against Southampton in August, perhaps it is time for questions to be asked about West Ham’s players’ unchecked aggression.
However, one positive drawn from the game was the return of Argentine Manuel Lanzini in midfield.
The 24-year-old playmaker, who became West Ham’s attacking jewel in the latter stages of last season following Dimitri Payet’s acrimonious departure, has missed most of the current campaign through injury.
But he was in from the start against Burnley and his return to the starting line-up will come as a huge boost as the Hammers look to claw their way back up the table following a poor start.
LANZINI THE CREATIVE GENIUS
Without Lanzini, West Ham have looked devoid of invention. Before his return on Saturday, they had managed to complete only three through balls in seven games, illustrating an alarming lack of penetration and forward-thinking from midfield.
And with just seven goals in as many games before the Burnley clash, it was clear the Irons were missing Lanzini’s craft and attacking spark.
Lanzini is the one player who can change all that. He is the creative cog that makes this West Ham side tick, much how Payet was until he decided he wanted to return to France. When the Frenchman left for Marseille in January, Lanzini stepped up to fill the void and became an indispensable member of Bilić’s attack.
Last season he scored eight goals and notched two assists in the league, with a pass success rate of 87 per cent while averaging 1.6 key passes per game. Lanzini’s performances led to him being named runner-up to the brilliant Michail Antonio in the club’s Player of the Year award.
Lanzini also averaged 2.5 successful dribbles last season and without him, in recent games, the Hammers have struggled to replicate such a palpable sense of attacking intent in possession.
His ability to drive at defenders and unlock defences can transform West Ham’s attacking woes that he is fit again.
PROMISING GLIMPSES AT TURF MOOR
Carroll’s red card when West Ham were already 1-0 up meant Lanzini’s creative influence on the game was somewhat stifled. The Argentine operates most effectively when there is space but with Burnley dominating possession, it was a frustrating return to the starting XI.
However, there were still flashes of quality which show how influential Lanzini can be in the West Ham attack. He completed 88 per cent of his passes, while managing two key passes and registering one shot on target.
As previously mentioned, he was forced to operate from much deeper than he would have liked after Carroll’s dismissal, so Bilić will look to unleash his creative talents in earnest this Friday night when they welcome Brighton & Hove Albion to the London Stadium.
But there was one moment at Turf Moor when Lanzini showed how he adds fluency and precision to the West Ham attack. It was their most eye-catching move of the game.
Javier Hernández started on the right, cutting inside before finding Pedro Obiang. The Spaniard then found Hernández with a neat back-heel. The Mexican laid it off to Lanzini, who returned the favour with a crisp, perfectly-weighted pass. Hernández then found Antonio, who forced a save from Tom Heaton.
Although Hernández was very much the architect of that move, Lanzini’s immediate return to the Mexican, playing it perfectly into his path on the edge of the area showed the quick-thinking and deft execution that keeps a move like that flowing.
THE CHICHARITO CONNECTION
After joining West Ham from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer, Hernández has often cut a frustrated and isolated figure up front.
The former Manchester United striker has still struck three goals, but he hasn’t received the kind of top-quality service that a clinical poacher needs.
Hernández has proven time and time again that he scores goals regularly when he receives quality balls into the box. In his first season in England, he netted 20 goals in 45 appearances for United, while he struck 26 in 40 for Leverkusen during the 2015/16 campaign.
Unfortunately, for Hernández, he hasn’t been able to feed off the same level of service he got at Old Trafford and the BayArena, but that can certainly change with Lanzini back in the side.
Hernández has had precious little so far, with West Ham having only created five ‘big chances’ this season, as per the Premier League’s official website. Last season, Lanzini managed five single-handedly.
In recent weeks, Hernández has not been able to strike up much of an understanding with fellow summer recruit Arnautović but the hope is that he will be more compatible with Lanzini.
The important thing now is that maintains his fitness and plays with Hernández as much as possible.
The more that Lanzini and the Mexican can find out about each other the better because a combination of imagination and ruthlessness in front of goal will be essential to rescuing West Ham’s season.