Slaven Bilic has had an interesting attacking conundrum to deal with at West Ham United this summert as they bed into their new Olympic Stadium home. The Hammers’ leading scorer last season Dimitri Payet scored 12 goals from the left-wing, whereas none of Bilic’s forwards broke into double figures in the Premier League, Andy Carroll coming the closest with nine.
Despite this, it seems that Bilic has kept his emphasis on providing goals from out wide to provide more effective service to his misfiring forward line as well as easing the pressure on them to come up with the goods. To this end, the Croatian has already recruited Valencia’s live-wire Algerian Sofiane Feghouli and Swansea City’s Ghana international Andre Ayew, but even with his options out wide strengthened, the Hammers are looking to add further firepower to their flanks with the signing of another Algerian international, Rachid Ghezzal of Olympique Lyonnais.
Sky Sports News claims that Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has made public an approach from West Ham regarding the Algerian winger, after a report from French sports outlet L’Équipe that the East London club tabled a £6.9million bid. 24-year-old Ghezzal was a bright spark for Olympique Lyonnais last season, scoring eight goals and providing seven assists as the club finished second in Ligue 1 behind Paris Saint-Germain to secure a UEFA Champions League spot.
The Algerian has one year left to run on his current deal at the Stade des Lumieres and Lyon are desperate to keep hold of their man in the midst of the Irons’ interest, having already rebuffed their approach for Alexandre Lacazette earlier this summer. But with West Ham interested in bringing in yet another wide man, where would Ghezzal actually fit into their side?
What is clear is that there is a lack of out-and-out centre forwards at the club. Senegalese striker Diafra Sakho is still keen on a move away since a move to West Bromwich Albion collapsed, and with an exit potentially in the pipeline, Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia, along with latest loan signing, Argentine forward Jonathan Calleri, are the only three centre-forwards at the club likely to feature in 2016/17. Though Bilic favours a three-pronged attack, with a centre-forward flanked by either two other forwards or wingers. The recruitment of Ghezzal and his role in the side may well depend on either a change of formation, or what Bilic intends to do with Andre Ayew and Dimitri Payet.
Payet featured on the left of midfield for the majority of last season for West Ham, and it seems likely Ayew will play on the right given the fact Calleri has now been brought in from Uruguayan club Deportivo Maldonado. Though if Ayew is deployed through the centre, which may be likely given the signing of Sofiane Feghouli Bilic may opt to switch Payet to the right flank, meaning Ghezzal would feature on the left wing for the Hammers.
Alternatively, Bilic may opt to deploy the mercurial Payet in more of a free role this season, which would mean that Ghezzal may feature on the left wing in his stead. It would be a task for the Algerian to provide competition to dislodge last season’s player of the year from his position on the left flank, and it is highly likely given his talent that Feghouli will be the first choice option on the right, with Ayew adding firepower in the middle or providing competition for the former-Valencia man. For Ghezzal to feature regularly in the first-team in the front three, Payet featuring in a free role behind a forward, any of Carroll, Ayew, Valencia or Calleri, may be the way forward for Bilic’s Hammers next season.
Given the injury problems that have hit Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia in previous seasons, Bilic has been in need of forward reinforcements nonetheless, so Ghezzal may be a signing with emphasis on providing strong back-up in case of injuries, however it is not inconceivable that rather than play the Algerian in the front three, he may feature on the left of Bilic’s three-man midfield if he persists with his favoured 4-3-3 formation.
Ghezzal would certainly provide a direct, attacking engine to that midfield down the left, and would help in bringing play forward as well as providing creativity to overlap or support Dimitri Payet, which could make West Ham’s left wing attack a force to be reckoned with. With Payet the crux of West Ham’s creativity, Ghezzal would add an extra outlet and allow Payet to play more directly, with the Algerian focusing on winning the ball and playing passes forward for the Frenchman to profit from. Ghezzal’s goal contribution would also be another welcome asset to the Hammers, particularly if their centre-forwards continue to miss the target.
Ghezzal certainly has the talent to break into West Ham’s first team, but with so many wide options with Dimitri Payet, Andre Ayew, Enner Valencia, Diafra Sakho and Sofiane Feghouli all capable of playing wide roles, depending on Bilic’s setup, he may have a difficult time trying to break into the front three. Therefore a role deeper in the midfield three seems the likeliest way that Ghezzal would fit into Bilic’s plans, unless Payet will be used in a more central role behind the front three, with two deeper lying midfielders to shield the back four.
Ghezzal’s creativity would certainly provide a fresh outlet in attack, whilst Payet wreaking havoc behind the centre-forward may add a new dimension to West Ham’s attack, with Payet having operated well in the free role for France at Euro 2016, and profited by scoring goals, and transferring Payet to add more of a threat down the middle may be critical not only in getting the forwards firing again, but in allowing Ghezzal to feature on the left-side and contribute creativity of his own to the team from out wide.
If the Hammers are able to get their man, it will be interesting to see where and how the Croatian manager chooses to use the 24-year old, though with other clubs thought to be interested including Everton according to the Evening Standard, and Lyon equally keen to retain him, the Irons will be in for a real battle if they are to coax the Algerian to East London.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Ronan Caroff.