Arthur Masuaku has been a revelation for West Ham United this season. He’s been unleashed as a left wing-back and Premier League sides haven’t been able to cope with his unorthodox but effective dribbling style.
Reports suggest he’s in contention to start against Southampton on Saturday, it would be his first appearance since he was sent off for spitting at Wigan Athletic’s Nick Powell in the FA Cup in January.
Though the temptation might be to get him back into the starting XI as soon as possible, West Ham need to look at the bigger picture.
Masuaku is a threat going forward but, right now, the Hammers need to shore things up in the defensive third.
They have conceded 11 goals in their last three matches and the game at the London Stadium is what’s described as a relegation six-pointer. The aim should always be to pick up all three points but simply not losing is sometimes what’s more important.
Avoiding a loss against Mark Hughes’ side keeps David Moyes’ men ahead of the Saints and outside of the bottom three. The best way to do that is by being as compact and disciplined as possible. It’s that simple.
West Ham have conceded a high number of goals from set pieces – 13 in total – as well as having conceded ten headed goals. Guido Carrillo isn’t firing yet and the home side will want to keep it that way by cutting off his supply line.
On average, the majority of Southampton attacks (40 per cent) come down the the left flank. However, on Saturday, if Masuaka starts, the Saints might switch things up.
James Ward-Prowse has been deployed on the right at times this season and his xA90 (expected goals assisted per 90) is the highest in the Southampton squad.
His delivery, in open play as well as during set plays, is superb. The 23-year-old has averaged 2.13 key passes per 90 minutes this season and has an 80 per cent pass success rate. The Saints No.16 isn’t a dribbler but his skillset doesn’t necessarily rely on beating players. He will need to be shackled and Masuaka might not be the man for the job.
Aaron Cresswell, however, could be.
The former Ipswich Town left-back has been used as a left-sided centre-back at times this season. He’s done well there but his more conservative approach as a full-back could be what’s needed with the Hammers wanting to avoid getting dragged into the relegation zone.
The graphic above compares Masuaka’s stats this season and those posted by Cresswell during the 2016/17 season, when he was used only as a left-back. The French-born wing-back wins more tackles per 90 minutes but in every other category he loses out to his English counterpart.
Cresswell manages to block more shots and crosses (2.1 compared to the 1.6 Masuaka averages) and the opposition manage fewer dribbles against the Liverpudlian.
Keeping Masuaka on the bench might be viewed as a safe on Moyes’ part, and it may frustrate West Ham fans who haven’t been impressed over recent weeks, but points in this match could be vital come the end of the season.