Exclusive: West Ham’s major gamble with Rice’s position

West Ham United are plotting a major gamble with their defensive midfield position after choosing not to pursue a deal for Celta Vigo midfielder Stanislav Lobotka, sources have told Football FanCast.

The Hammers had hoped to sign both striker Maxi Gomez and the Slovakian defensive midfielder but sources familiar with the deal have now revealed that Lobotka is not actually among the club’s shortlist of targets.

Instead, they are tracking Villarreal attacking midfielder Pablo Fornals.

However, the moves, when taken into context, do not appear to make all that much sense.

West Ham currently have Declan Rice and Carlos Sanchez as their defensive midfield options; the England international is revered at the club and is seen as perhaps their most saleable asset, while Sanchez has been in the shop window and has not been the subject of a single enquiry.

Mark Noble is more of a shuttler, rather than being the man to shield the defence, and he routinely partners Rice, while Pedro Obiang is essentially in the same boat as Sanchez. He is not rated by the club and there is a feeling that he will be sold if an acceptable bid is tabled.

In attacking midfield, though, they boast Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshere and Robert Snodgrass. Bringing in a sixth such player does not appear to be the wisest strategy.

Indeed, one source within the club has expressed their confusion at their current transfer strategy, particularly given a recent timeline of events.

It has been confirmed to FFC that, in January, a bid was made for Besiktas midfielder Gary Medel as Pellegrini sought cover for Rice in the anchor man role.

And, in the early stages of the summer window, an approach was made to sign Barcelona midfielder Andre Gomes. The club eventually tabled a bid worth £20m but they believe that the Portugal international will instead join Everton, having spent the 2018/19 season on loan at Goodison Park.

Lobotka was then identified as a target and there was a belief that a double deal could be done that would also see Gomez arrive at the club, the striker having been a target since the January window.

The Irons hoped to secure both players for around £50m but that is now off the table and, while sources have confirmed that they will continue to pursue a deal for the forward, they are no longer in the market to sign his team-mate.

It is puzzling because of the thinness of Pellegrini’s squad but it may be that he has simply decided that he does not have the funds to secure all of the players he wants. He has £30m to spend plus whatever is raised in sales.

A striker is needed, with Andy Carroll’s release and Lucas Perez’s departure to Alaves, but so too is cover in defensive midfield.

As it is, the Hammers risk being stretched in the position if Rice sustains any kind of injury. If both he and Mark Noble are out at the same time, they will be forced to dip into the academy and potentially call up a player like Connor Coventry or Josh Cullen.

It adds up to a rather bleak picture for Hammers fans who had hoped to see a summer of investment as the club look to kick on and finish in the top-seven.

Of course, Pellegrini’s budget does not compare with the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool at the top end but there are funds there for him to spend.

One feels that he simply has to be clever with what he has. A move for an attacking midfielder is not being clever.

In fact, it is almost wilful ignorance and it places an awful lot of strain on Rice, who will simply have to stay fit for the entirety of next season. No pressure, then.