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Player Zone: Form vs Big Six suggests Lanzini is ready to take the next step

Turning 25 today, Manuel Lanzini is entering the prime years of his career and there’s a growing feeling that they should be spent at a club with loftier ambitions than West Ham. That’s no disrespect to the east Londoners, who hope the move to the London Stadium will soon yield regular European football and could well be in the running for it this season had they not endured such a debasing start under Slaven Bilic.

But Lanzini has steadily become the Irons’ chief creative threat since arriving from Al Jazira in summer 2015, especially since Dimitri Payet’s departure last January, and that impressive progress won’t have gone unnoticed by the Premier League’s top clubs – who have been the most recurring sufferers of the Argentine’s quality over the last three seasons.

This term alone, Lanzini ranks joint-sixth throughout the Premier League for dribbles per match with 2.7, the same amount as former world-record signing Paul Pogba and 0.2 more than Liverpool’s rip-roaring winger Mohamed Salah, while he ranks joint-19th for key passes – just 0.1 behind Pogba and 0.2 behind Manchester City’s midfield metronome David Silva. Considering how turbulent West Ham have been this season, not to mention the fact they’ve scored 15 less goals than any side in the top six, that’s undoubtedly impressive form.

But Lanzini’s quality becomes most evident when his performances against Big Six opposition are put under the microscope. Since arriving in the Premier League, 24 top flight appearances against the best the division has to offer have produced seven goals and three assists.

Accordingly, the South American has contributed to one goal every 2.4 appearances against Big Six opposition, an incredibly solid return for a player who plies his trade with an inferior team, and for an attack-minded midfielder who hasn’t always been utilised in offensive roles. It also means 41% of his goals and 30% of his assists in the top flight have come against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and the two Manchester clubs.

The obvious assumption, then, is that Lanzini’s ready to play at that level on a regular basis, where he can have an impact in the Premier League’s biggest games. But there’s an inevitable counter-side to Lanzini’s impressive form against such lofty opposition; his consistency against the Premier League’s lesser sides – just 11 goals and seven assists in 55 appearances – leaves something to be desired. In contrast to the above, that’s one strike or setup every 3.2 appearances.

And it’s shown in the midfielder’s output droughts as well. There have already been five occasions in the Premier League in which he’s failed to score or assist for five consecutive games or more, and there have been two occasions in which he’s failed to do so for seven games. Barren spells that long for an attack-minded midfielder at a major club would inevitably draw criticism, at a far greater scale than he’s received during his time at the London Stadium.

But the underlying question is who the inconsistency truly belongs to – Lanzini or West Ham. The Irons are unquestionably one of the most inconsistent sides in the Premier League and there have certainly been occasions when Lanzini’s form has suffered as a consequence. In any case, we’ve seen this pattern before – 14 of Sadio Mane’s 32 league goals and assists for Southampton were against Big Six sides – and the ability to turn it on against top-quality opposition is usually an indicator of a player looking to take the next step in his career.

Speaking of Liverpool, they appear best-suited to Lanzini’s style of play. He’s creative, technical and can be devastating on the counter-attack, but knows how to win the ball in dangerous areas as well, averaging more than one interception per match this season.

It would be an assumption to suggest he’s an ideal fit for the high press, simply because West Ham have rarely employed that strategy, but he certainly fits the template of midfielder Jurgen Klopp seems to like in front of Jordan Henderson – offensive-minded players like Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and even James Milner who have been as much a part of the attack as the midfield at their previous clubs.

That list of Reds players alone though beckons another key question – is there actually room for Lanzini at Anfield, or for that matter any other top Premier League clubs? The Reds already boast huge depth in midfield, although Emre Can’s departure this summer and Milner’s subtle decline could free up some room in the squad, while Arsenal and Manchester City are awash with playmakers of Lanzini’s description.

It’s hard to imagine Lanzini – who Transfermarkt value at £16.2million – taking an attacking midfield slot from Eden Hazard, Willian or Pedro at Chelsea, while their 3-4-3 requires more industriousness and power for the central roles. Then there’s Manchester United; Pogba’s causing Jose Mourinho enough headaches on his own, and the Portuguese will unlikely want another creative presence thrown into the equation.

That leaves Tottenham Hotspur and curiously enough, Spurs have recently targeted a player who draws real similarities to Lanzini in the form of Ross Barkley – who they withdrew their interest in last month as the England international agreed a move to Chelsea instead. Like Barkley, Lanzini has that ability to beat a man with the ball at feet, to score goals or create them for others and his typically Argentine nasty streak – picking up as many yellow cards as assists during his Hammers career – may well appeal to Mauricio Pochettino.

It would be a controversial transfer given the rivalry between Tottenham and West Ham, not to mention the fact Lanzini’s winning goal at the end of last season essentially killed off Spurs’ title bid. But would you back a summer swoop for Lanzini, Lilywhites fans? Let us know by voting below…

Article title: Player Zone: Form vs Big Six suggests Lanzini is ready to take the next step

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