As we venture towards mid-November in the footballing calendar, there can be little doubting that it’s already become clear that Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham United need to strengthen in certain areas of their squad.
Amid the blow of an injury list that has peaked into double-figures at stages of this season, many of them coming in a certain area, there is one positioning that undoubtedly needs more strengthening than others in the January transfer window. Join us as we analyse what that area is, which players the club should be looking to add to it in just under two months and which one(s) they should choose.
What Needs Strengthening?
The area that Pellegrini and his staff need to focus on strengthening the most is the central midfield area, with a plague of injuries to both attacking and defensive stars in this position leaving it thread-bare, despite starting the season with what appeared to be more than enough cover in it.
With central midfielder captain Mark Noble currently suspended, the Irons have a total of a staggering four CMs out of action, the other three being Manuel Lanzini, Jack Wilshere and Carlos Sanchez. While two of the three injured central midfielders are expected back in the new year, reinforcements are needed to lessen the strain on the team in event of any further injury crisis’ hitting East London.
The first of five possible incomings we are going to be analysing today is the one that is being rumoured by the press much more than others at present, Chelsea midfielder Ruben-Loftus Cheek.
Above, you will see a graphic containing his general statistics for the 2017/2018 season and the most recent matches he’s featured in, we have brought you one of these for every player we’re looking at today, and they have been provided by our good friends over at wyscout.com.
The man, who helped England to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup 2018, possesses some eye-catching figures for the stats in the image. Please note that while we can see the figures for every individual appearance the player has made, it’s just the averages column that we are focussing on with each.
Firstly, we are drawn to Loftus-Cheek’s outstanding number of actions per 90 minutes, all of these stats being per 90 minutes, next to a mini heatmap showing us that he can play and has played all across the midfield under Maurizio Sarri, even out wide.
He completes almost 100 actions every time he steps onto the field, a high percentage of which are successful and next to that, as you can see, is his average goals, which stands at 1.07 after his four this campaign so far. This displays his astonishing threat for a central-midfield man.
Other figures that really leap out include his 90.8 per cent short passing accuracy, along with the fact he is ambitious enough to attempt over 10 dribbles per 90 minutes. His completely clean disciplinary record is another huge bonus of his all-around game, showing us that, such is the quality of his timing, he can get stuck in often enough, without getting himself into trouble.
Our next name is yet one more that members of the Claret & Blue Army should be familiar with having seen him on the opposition team many times, Ander Herrera of Manchester United.
While the pace is yet to gather on the rumours linking the Spaniard to East London as it has for some of the other stars on his list, he is another midfielder currently out of favour at his club, after enduring a difficult start to the campaign under Jose Mourinho.
As you can see from the graphic, Herrera has been starved of game time and the stats prove that the quality of his performances have suffered, as a result, failing to deliver when he has been given his chance.
This is evidenced by only an average of 74.92 actions with barely over 60% of them successful, close to ten losses with over half of them putting his own team in danger in his own half is another stat he won’t want to see. However, he has found some consistency in 2018/2019, keeping his high standards up with such numbers as 7.5 interceptions, around 81% short pass accuracy and close to 13 recoveries per 90 minutes.
The third player in the running to strengthen Pellegrini’s midfield in January is the only name in this list that Hammers’ fans won’t be entirely familiar with as he is yet to play in English football, Diego Demme of the Bundesliga’s Red Bull Leipzig.
The former German International is being heavily rumoured to be moving to the Premier League soon and West Ham are one of the clubs leading the race for the 26-year-old central midfielder’s signature, along with strugglers Newcastle United.
While not being a favourite to switch the Red Bull Arena Leipzig for London Stadium, he is the only star of the five to have played regular football for his own club this term, giving a larger sample size for his average stats. And therefore, a better judgement of his quality.
The heatmap is revealing as it puts on show his great energy to cover large areas of the midfield and a busy 102.12 average actions displays he is no slouch in the centre. Over 85% short passing accuracy and dribble success rate means he is also gifted with the ball at his feet, to add to his physicality and workman-like style, although an average of 12.29 losses are cause for slight concern.
Josh Cullen/Edi Fernandes
The fourth and fifth options available to the club in terms of midfield recruitment in just under two months are slightly rogue and off-the-collar choices as they are two players who are technically already West Ham employees, despite playing for different clubs.
They are young midfielders Josh Cullen and Edimilson Fernandes, who currently find themselves out on loan at Charlton Athletic in Sky Bet League One and Fiorentina of Serie A, respectively.
Both of their loans began at the start of the season as Pellegrini sent them away for the entirety of the campaign to help them develop, but by calling both of them back prematurely in January, the Irons would be solving their midfield injury woes without spending a penny.
However, there are reasons the Chilean veteran didn’t want these players in and around the first-team set-up this season and while the duo have been consistent, allowing them to further their International careers in the last few months, Cullen with the Republic of Ireland U21s and Fernandes with Switzerland. The above stats tell us that neither have set their respective new leagues alight so far.
In conclusion, our statistical tactical analysis today has revealed that, in terms of adding to the level of depth in the central midfield area that currently sees Pellegrini with no backup options in central midfield, he is not short of options when January finally arrives.
Having registered a net spend of around the £100 million mark in the summer transfer window, it may well be the best option to recall the likes of Cullen or Fernandes or look to bring in Loftus-Cheek on loan, as tempting as it may be to splash out on names such as Herrera and Demme. What the East Londoners must remember is that only one of the aforementioned midfield absentees is still expected to be out of action in the new year, easing the crisis before the time they will have to make a decision on who to recruit.