Javier Hernandez is without question one of the most naturally talented poachers in the Premier League, something he not only proved during an affluent spell with Manchester United but also across two seasons at Bayer Leverkusen that saw him net 28 times in the Bundesliga.
The problem Slaven Bilic faces, however, is how to get the best out of his summer signing and the Irons’ second-deadliest weapon in attack, Andy Carroll. Indeed, for all the talk of returning to the ‘West Ham way’ after the board axed Sam Allardyce to make room for the Croatian, the Hammers’ best performances still seem to have Carroll’s physical menace and aerial prowess at their core.
So, how can Bilic optimise both centre-forwards amid an era in which lone strikers reign supreme? Football FanCast take a look at the options and then give you the chance to have your say…
Returning to a back three has revived West Ham’s season after an abysmal start, instigating a mini-run of three clean sheets across all competitions followed by a narrow defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. However, the three-man front-line requires Hernandez to be somewhat sacrificed out wide, making room for Carroll in the central role. During his first two performances in the system, the Mexican international was very much a marginal figure, struggling to get on the ball and find opportunities that allowed him to drift into the box. But a goal against Spurs last Saturday, a real poacher’s effort from a corner, showed the benefits of having Hernandez on the pitch even if he’s in an unflattering role. It’s just a question of how many clear-cut chances will come his way when playing as the left forward and whether another formation will bring more out of him.
Perhaps the most logical solution considering a back three now seems so important to West Ham’s efforts defensively. 3-5-2 would give the Irons an extra body in midfield and put Carroll and Hernandez alongside each other; in theory, that should be a potent partnership in the traditional little-and-large mould, allowing the Irons to switch between the aerial service that Carroll adores and passes into space for Chicharito. The consequential dilemma, however, is what happens to West Ham’s wide men. With the wing-back slots likely to be filled by Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell, the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Andre Ayew, Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini will essentially be fighting it out for the No.10 role. Competition is good, but West Ham will inevitably end up letting quality go to waste on the bench.
Leicester City proved 4-4-2 can still work in the Premier League with the right players and the Carroll-Hernandez partnership could be what makes it such a proficient system for the Hammers. It encourages a direct style and could quickly counteract the many 3-4-3 systems now used in the English top flight, placing two centre-forwards against three defenders. The key difference between 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 from West Ham’s perspective is that it will allow some of those aforementioned names more game-time in their preferred positions – although with the likes of Arnautovic and Ayew particularly, it could end up being more of a 4-2-4. On the other hand, it will likely leave West Ham exposed at the back and in central midfield, which many would argue is now their weakest department on paper. Likewise, there’s no obvious role for Manuel Lanzini, someone West Ham fans will be keen to see back in the starting line-up following his injury layoff.
Arguably the inevitable but least popular solution to Bilic’s conundrum – choosing between Hernandez and Carroll as the lone front-man. After all, West Ham acquired the 29-year-old during the summer in the knowledge that Carroll would still be on the books; surely the landscape of their season hasn’t changed so much after just six games that the towering England international is now as indispensable as the striker they essentially signed to replace him? Likewise, regardless of Carroll and Hernandez’s potential as a strike force, how West Ham perform as a collective must take precedent over a solitary partnership. So far this season, the Hammers’ only points and best performances have come with a single figure up top. That, in turn, begs the question of whether West Ham work better with Carroll or Hernandez leading the line, and who can have the bigger impact from the bench.
So, Hammers fans, which option would you choose? Let us know by voting below…