For a good couple of seasons Manuel Lanzini was a player cherished by West Ham United fans but somewhat taken for granted elsewhere. An impressive goal would grab wider attention. So too a stand-out performance on Match of the Day. That aside beyond the London Stadium few truly appreciated the creative levels he aspired to and reached more times than not.
Thankfully, that widespread under-estimation is beginning to change now and quite dramatically so. This season has seen a full recuperation from the cruciate ligament rupture that robbed the attacking midfielder of much of last year and he has returned impish and reinvigorated, a key figure in a well-balanced set-up that has a similarly reborn Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson benefiting from his clever link-up play, while Mark Noble forages around them.
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It is via the artful 26-year-old, however, where most of the Hammers’ productivity originates with only eight Premier League players – including Kevin De Bruyne, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Gylfi Sigurdsson – providing more key passes so far. A 88.4% pass completion rate meanwhile is mightily impressive from a player entrusted to take risks and open opponents up.
The club’s decision to extend his contract this summer to 2023 was shrewd and not only in hindsight due to his terrific form. Lanzini clearly has a deep-set affiliation with the fan-base and a love for the area saying back in August: “I love London, I love the club, I am happy here.” With the loyalty shown by the Irons and a close working relationship with Pellegrini – “I talk to him every day” – these factors merge to create a perfect storm that has led to the former River Plate schemer feeling both settled and highly motivated.
This comes through in most of his displays but it must be said that his playmaking instincts were lacking against Crystal Palace, and it’s no surprise that his disappointing showing coincided with a defeat.
Yet so often his positive displays are over-shadowed by team-mates and this despite Lanzini loving nothing more than taking a player on – in his last flying season of 2016/17 he competed 52 dribbles overall. Sebastien Haller may get the plaudits for scoring. Yarmolenko may get the Man of the Match award for another eye-catching example of wing-craft.
It is only when you put the pieces together and the games accrue that you realise none of this would have happened without the Argentine international’s endless five-yard passes and astute movement and the hunting down of possession in the final third.
That is the reason why for far too long now it has mainly been West Ham fans telling the rest of us that Manuel Lanzini is a very special talent.
But that is changing now. Dramatically so.