Back-to-back goalless draws might not have left West Ham United fans with too much enthusiasm, but while entertainment may have been a little thin on the ground in recent weeks, it’s points the club have needed. They may have only come away from said matches with one, but at this stage of what has been a disappointing season they are all important.
Slaven Bilić has brought Adrián back into the fold in goal for the first time in five months at the expense of Darren Randolph, but the real key to their improved resolve has been the return of Winston Reid. The New Zealander is without question the best defender in the West Ham ranks and has been for some time at that, despite only sparingly being linked with a move away.
His committed displays and physical presence make the Hammers a much harder proposition to find a way past, and at 28 Reid certainly has the experience at this level to make a step up in his career. In truth, the club have done well to keep him until now, but surely a player of his proven ability in the Premier League should be attracting interest from some of the country’s top teams?
— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) April 29, 2017
The likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City all have problems at the back yet tend to look abroad for the answers rather than closer to home. Exaggerated price tags will no doubt play a part in that thinking, but none are short of cash, just perhaps a little pragmatism or, dare I say, sense. The physical demands and intensity of the Premier League can make it a difficult style to adapt to for centre-backs after all, as we have seen from signings of the aforementioned trio.
Yet it’s these demands that Reid stands up to so well. He relishes a battle and in turn when he hasn’t been available to West Ham, this season in particular, they have struggled as a result. The centre-back may only have missed seven matches in the league this term but it’s little coincidence that the Hammers have won just one of those, at home to Swansea last month. That was also the only one of nine clean sheets the club have kept this season in Reid’s absence.
Indeed, while the exploits of the attacking players at the other end of the pitch have of course been decisive, so too has the New Zealand international’s impact in defence: West Ham have won nine of the 28 games Reid has started, conceding just three goals and keeping six clean sheets across said victories.
It’s a surprise then that interest in his services doesn’t seem to be forthcoming at present, and the Hammers will be desperate that it stays that way. Just over two years ago the big six were believed to be circling, before Reid was convinced to extend his contract in East London until 2021. With four years still remaining on that deal, even if the likes of Arsenal were to come back in for the 28-year old, the London Stadium club are certainly in a strong position either to fend them away once more or command a big fee.
That’s not to say clubs of the Gunners’ ilk should be deterred to take what would surely be less of a gamble on a player with six years of Premier League experience, though. In that time, Reid’s consistency has been commendable after all, never looking out of his depth since West Ham returned to the top-flight in 2012.
His reading of the game has certainly improved in that period, and while Reid has never really been a hot-headed defender in terms of rushing out to win the ball, he bides his time to intercept rather than be drawn into challenges that could see him taken out of the game. An average of 2.8 interceptions per game is the most at the club this season and enough to rank fifth in the entire Premier League.
So often in the right place at the right time to alleviate danger, he’s again among the top five in England’s top-flight for clearances per game (eight), while an average of 0.8 blocks per game is another commendable figure. When you consider the relative dearth of top quality centre-backs outside of the current top two, the notion that a side gunning for European places should be searching sunnier climes to improve their back four is foolish.
If Manchester City’s recent track record when recruiting centre-backs is anything to go by, a change of tack may well be what’s required. John Stones may possess Premier League experience, but at 22 his career is still in its infancy as far as centre-backs are concerned. And, moreover, the club knew the sort of defender they were getting; the potential is there but reliability is an undervalued trait these days.
— TheWestHamWayCoUk (@WestHamWaycouk) April 26, 2017
It can be something to get caught up on, that players need to have experience of England’s top-flight to settle into a new club quickly, but while there are certainly examples that disprove that apparent necessity, it’s also true that many of the top six could do with a dependable head at the back. While Winston Reid might not be the big-name signing fans of those sides would particularly desire, the West Ham man has proven season after season just how capable he is at this level, and that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Keeping hold of the likes of Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini may be difficult for the club this summer, but if there is one player that really can’t afford to lose at this stage, it’s their rock at the back. They’ll be keen that Reid, their most important player, continues to be undervalued as a result.