West Ham visit Everton on Sunday afternoon with a renewed hope about their season. A strong EFL Cup performance defeated Chelsea in midweek, as the Hammers continue their recovery from a dire start to the campaign. Having not lost in their last three Premier League games, Slaven Bilic’s side are at least starting to resemble the team that had such success last season.
Everton are seeing their season dip. An unbeaten first five league games has been followed by a winless four and, although they could have won heavily against Burnley last weekend, a positive result is needed for the Toffees against West Ham if they are to continue dreaming of contending at the top of the table.
One thing that has epitomised these two sides across last season and this has been strikers. West Ham have been worrying about the fitness of Andy Carroll, while being linked with signing the majority of the world’s number nines. Everton spent big on Romelu Lukaku and, despite his limitations, the Belgian continues to find himself next to some of the game’s greatest names in the record books. His goal scoring record is unquestionable and Everton have been thankful for it.
So, what if West Ham had Lukaku? Or a player of his calibre?
The abundance of creative, attacking midfield talent in the Irons’ squad has been well publicised. Sofiane Feghouli, Andre Ayew, Dimitri Payet, Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini give Bilic options. Simone Zaza arrived with strong credentials to take advantage of the chances they create. His 2014/15 season with Sassuolo, which is the best of his career, is compared with Romelu Lukaku’s 2015/16 campaign below. The comparison shows their different styles as much as it shows the gap in quality between the two.
Zaza deserves understanding and time to adapt to the Premier League, but it is no secret that he was far from first choice for the hierarchy at West Ham. Carlos Bacca and Michy Batshuayi were both murmured to be targets, which begs the question of what may have been.
Whoever the eventual signing was, a striker of Lukaku’s ability, experience and goal-getting record would have made West Ham a fierce prospect this season. Defensive concerns may have hit the headlines earlier in the campaign, but those woes are beginning to be consigned to history after solid displays in their last few games. Strike force issues look set to rumble on for the Hammers, with Antonio carrying much of the burden.
It is, of course, a simple hypothetical. Lukaku may not have the same success in West Ham’s side, he may not be afforded space behind defences to attack, but it is hard to envisage the Belgian not thriving with the creativity of Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet behind him. Signing Lukaku clearly is not a realistic prospect for the Hammers at this point – absurd, really. But the prospect of this West Ham side, with all the talent at Bilic’s disposal, having a powerful, clinical striker is mouth-watering. Zaza could yet be the answer to the striking problems at the London Stadium, but facing Everton is tantamount to having their own forward deficiencies rubbed in their face.