David Moyes must unleash Said Benrahma when West Ham United host Chelsea on Saturday after confirming that Arthur Masuaku and Aaron Cresswell will be unavailable.
Benrahma has not started either of the Hammers’ last three Premier League fixtures and played just 33 minutes over wins against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leicester City and last weekend’s 3-2 defeat to Newcastle United.
Irons product Ben Johnson was fielded at full-back against Newcastle as part of a five-man defence, but Moyes faces a tactical shift this Saturday after Craig Dawson was sent off for two yellow card offences in 36 minutes on Tyneside.
Cresswell has an outside chance of returning to the line-up at home to Chelsea, otherwise leaving Fabian Balbuena as Moyes’ only available option to replace Dawson without altering the system favoured for West Ham’s last two fixtures.
“I’m hoping that somewhere along the line we can get Micky [Antonio], Declan [Rice], Aaron Cresswell and Arthur back in amongst it because they’ve been important players for us throughout the year,” Moyes said on Friday.
“We’re aware that if we can get them back it would help us. Aaron is getting closer, we’ll monitor it, see how he feels tomorrow [Saturday] and see how we think.”
Moyes being cautious with Cresswell’s return from a hamstring injury would be expected to see Johnson retain his position at left-back from the Newcastle defeat, and offer Benrahma a route back into the side with Dawson’s red card ensuring changes are made.
While Johnson impressed at St. James’ Park and provided a team-high three key passes – only Allan Saint-Maximin (5) offered more for the home side, per WhoScored – the 21-year-old occasionally struggled to push forward up the pitch.
The defender’s difficulties offering an attacking presence were heightened after Dawson’s red card, and will be a point of focus for Moyes in preparation for hosting Chelsea after seeing Johnson similarly struggle at Manchester United last month.
Former Sheffield United midfielder Michael Brown was particularly concerned by Johnson’s inability to get up the pitch and exploit the space being left by the Red Devils, before Moyes saw enough and replaced him with Mark Noble near the hour mark.
“Ben Johnson does not understand where David Moyes wants him to be,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live. “Moyes has told him regularly now: ‘go on, push on, be that outlet out wide at the top of the pitch’. I think he is frightened to do it.”
Moyes could avoid a repeat by starting Benrahma against Chelsea and taking some of the offensive burden away from Johnson, allowing the Algerian to be a potential game-changer for the Hammers amid his continued search for a maiden goal in claret and blue.
Benrahma – who Brown believes has “unbelievable ability” – offered two key passes in his last start at home to Arsenal, only behind Antonio (5) and completed a team-high three dribbles as he dragged play past Man of the Match Calum Chambers, per WhoScored.
Giving Benrahma the nod to start at home to Chelsea will also allow Moyes to see if the 25-year-old is adhering to his advice, after claiming an end product was the only thing lacking from the £30m summer signing’s game.
“I’ve had a bit of a laugh with him because I’m saying to him: ‘I didn’t realise I’d signed a really hard-working midfield player who runs and closes down, and does all the defensive duties,’” Moyes said, via quotes by The Guardian in February.
“I said: ‘I thought we got someone for assists and goal making.’ They’re the bits which I think he’s probably needed to improve. The other part has been excellent.”
It’s been a really difficult start to life at West Ham for Benrahma with no goals whatsoever in his 24 Premier League games. A clash against Chelsea could be the real start of his Hammers career however.