David Moyes should recall outcast defender Fabian Balbuena when West Ham United visit Manchester City on Saturday.
The Paraguayan has been unseen in the Premier League since December’s 2-2 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion, having lost his spot in the starting line-up to summer loan signing Craig Dawson of Watford.
Balbuena had opened 12 of the Irons initial 15 fixtures of the top-flight season before being axed away to Southampton and he has only served to act as an unused substitute for the seven games in which the 29-year-old has been included in a matchday squad since.
That’s also despite Angelo Ogbonna sitting out his side’s last two games with a high ankle sprain sustained in the FA Cup against Manchester United, when Issa Diop was favoured off the bench and Balbuena was ignored.
Balbuena has recently opened up on his situation with Paraguay’s Radio Monumental on their show Futbol a Lo Grande, explaining that his current status is a decision made by Moyes
“I’m quite well. The team is in a good moment. It’s not my turn to play for various reasons, but physically I’m very well”, Balbuena said, via quotes by D10. “The entire squad is fit to play [against Manchester City].”
With Balbuena adamant that he is fit to play, Moyes should recall the £7m-rated enforcer at the Etihad Stadium having seen his side frequently carved open by Tottenham Hotspur last time out, despite them coming out as victors in the clash.
Moyes named a four-strong backline of Aaron Cresswell, Diop, Dawson and Vladimir Coufal at home to Spurs as West Ham won the London derby 2-1, after deciding to bench Ben Johnson despite an impressive showing from the academy product against Sheffield United.
If the Irons boss feels that Johnson is not up to scratch to face an established top-six Premier League side, Balbuena should be brought in from the cold so that Moyes can switch his line-up back to a five-man defence at Manc City, without forcing Cresswell into a central role.
West Ham gave up 20 shots at home to Spurs last Sunday compared to the mere four taken on Hugo Lloris net, per WhoScored.
Harry Kane accounted for six of his side’s efforts, while Gareth Bale and Lucas Moura struck three each, Erik Lamela, Son Heung-Min and Eric Dier hit two and Sergio Reguilon plus Davinson Sanchez hit one each.
West Ham have, on average, allowed opposition sides just 12.5 shots a game in the Premier League when playing at the London Stadium this season, a total which falls to 9.8 when away from home.
Yet Man City take more shots at the Etihad (15.8) than any other side in the division when playing on home soil. Tottenham usually take just 11.8 attempts on their travels, showing the scale to which the Hammers were picked apart.
Balbuena could help prevent a repeat performance, with the 2020 free-agent still ranking first among Moyes’ centre-halves for successful tackles recorded per game (1.8), as well as the most interceptions (1.8) and clearances (4.9).
Matching his standing away to Man City would see Balbuena prove key to any potential result. It just remains to be seen if Moyes is willing to bring him in from the cold and tinker with a formation that’s served him well in recent weeks. Given City’s attacking prowess, it is something he really should consider.