Why West Ham really do need this star to be fit (not Payet or Lanzini)

This season has been one of success for West Ham United so far, with heightened expectations and the shadow of the impending move to the Olympic Stadium blurring the achievements of the club to date in 2015-16.

With Sam Allardyce stepping down in the summer and replaced with Slaven Bilic, with a host of new players joining the Croat at the London club, there was always going to be a period of transition to be endured.

Despite this, the Hammers opened their campaign with a shock away win over Arsenal and followed this up by also beating Liverpool and Manchester City on the road in the early days of the season.

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In recent weeks the wheels have come off to some degree for the Boleyn Ground outfit, who have seen more modest results. This has largely been down to a growing injury list for Bilic to deal with and his newfound reinforced squad being tested to its limits.

Many have been quick to factor the absence of key attacking protagonist Dimitri Payet as a reason for West Ham dropping from the top four into mid-table.

There is no doubting that the former Marseille playmaker had an imperious start to life in England and looks like a player capable of inspiring the club to a successful debut campaign at the Olympic Stadium.

The France international’s presence, along with other technically gifted stars such as Manuel Lanzini, have increased the aesthetic appeal of West Ham’s play, but another star that is not as easy on the eye continues to be an important member of the Hammers contingent.

Andy Carroll is a throwback to the days of pre-professionalism when number nines weere burly characters in their respective teams to rustle feathers and score headers.

Many leading teams, including his former club Liverpool, have deemed someone of Carroll’s attributes as not wide-ranging enough to lead a line, with more technically astute and footballing intelligent alternatives preferred.

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That said, for a team like West Ham that is still growing under Bilic and will need a number of seasons under the Croat to be the final product, there cannot be an immediate switch between a relatively direct style of play to completely expansive football.

Carroll is the link man that will facilitate the evolution of the Hammers’ playing style; the no-nonsense offensive weapon that offers not just a Plan B but also an effective way of transitioning defence into attack.

Without the former Newcastle centre forward in recent games, West Ham have been forced to try and play through opponents, without much success, and having been craving a dominant presence in the middle to hold the ball up and bring others into play.

Carroll’s knockdowns and the disruption he causes in the opposition defence has a role in allowing the likes of Payet and Lanzini to capitalise, which should not be understated.

In the long run West Ham fans will hope that their side is playing a style of football that is pleasing on the eye and also successful.

However, in the short term, a more functional figure such as Carroll is crucial in the team’s progression.