It is little coincidence that the return of Andy Carroll has come at the same time as a small revival from West Ham, picking up four points in the space of six days to move off the bottom of the table.
Picking up a first victory of the season over Huddersfield and following it with a creditable away draw with West Brom has seen pressure ease slightly on boss Slaven Bilic after a poor start to the season, where the Hammers lost their opening three matches and conceded ten whilst doing so.
But whilst Carroll’s return has been a catalyst for results on the pitch his return to a stereotypical number nine role has thrown up a new issue for Bilic, with Javier Hernandez struggling in his new position.
The Mexican international was arguably the silver lining of West Ham’s opening three games, re-adjusting to Premier League life nicely by scoring twice in 270 minutes as an out-and-out striker.
Yet since Carroll’s re-emergence into the first-team Hernandez has been played out of his natural position in more of a left-wing role, and as such he has had little impact in the last two league games.
The West Ham manager himself admitted after the 0-0 draw with West Brom that his current striking conundrum is a tough one to find a straight answer to, telling the Evening Standard:
“I am thinking about them the most but it is hard to have them both in their natural positions.
“It is hard to do that and then have three at the back, then with [Michail] Antonio and [Marko] Arnautovic – it is almost impossible.”
So the question that’s now on every West Ham fans’ lips is, how do you accommodate both options?
The difficulty is that both players, despite their vastly different styles of play, both rely on being on the shoulder of the last defender to get success, with Carroll accustomed to taking the ball down with his back to goal and looking for options whilst Hernandez makes smart runs across the defence.
Everybody knows that Hernandez operates at his best in the penalty area, and as shown in the previous two matches at left-wing he gets very little time in the box, so that system is a firm no-go.
But at the same time Carroll is a focal point of the West Ham side, giving them something to aim for when there’s a tricky situation at the back or a physically weak defence, and his contribution in a striking role can’t be underestimated – in just two matches he’s already won 20 of his aerial battles.
As Bilic alluded to in his post-match comments, the return of Marko Arnautovic from suspension on Saturday will also provide another selection dilemma – just like Manuel Lanzini when he comes back.
It seems that the only way to accommodate his attacking options is to revert to a four-man defensive unit, rather than three, allowing the likes of Arnautovic and Antonio to work in tandem on either flank as wide outlets and enabling Lanzini – or Andre Ayew for now – space down the middle.
As for the Carroll-Hernandez conundrum, it could well be worth experimenting with the Mexican operating just behind the target-man in a 4-4-1-1 system, utilising his pace to anticipate flick-ons.
This would keep Carroll as West Ham’s most forward player, as he is when at his influential best, but further allow Hernandez to utilise his pace to stretch defenders and still be in and around the area.
It is likely that Bilic will set his side out a little more defensively considering they face Tottenham on Saturday, but going forward – and once players return from injury – a system change would be wise.
It is certainly not a bad place for West Ham to be in considering the position the club was in just a fortnight ago, but Bilic needs to try and find a working system soon to push towards that top-half.
Take a look at how The Boot Room thinks West Ham could look at full strength: