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Back from AFCON, André Ayew could cause selection headache

Will record signing be odd man out?

Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

André Ayew hasn’t had a dream start to his West Ham United career. In his very first appearance for the club back in August against Chelsea, he suffered a thigh injury which kept him out of action for about two months. Following his return to fitness, Ayew played a few times in the side while the team struggled. Ayew finally scored his first goal for the club in a 4-1 rout of his old team, Swansea City, on Boxing day.

However, with Ayew being a critical part of the Ghana national team that placed fourth in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, he hasn’t appeared in the West Ham lineup since being an 89th minute substitute against Manchester United January 2nd. Other than two ugly losses to Manchester City, West Ham has won three Premier League matches since Ayew has played, including a win at Southampton for the first time in 17 years. In fact, Sofiane Feghouli, apart from a horrendous turnover against Manchester City in the Premier League match on February 1st, has played some of his best football in a West Ham shirt while Ayew has been away.

All of this gives Slaven Bilić a bit of a selection problem. With the team playing best using, more or less, a 4-4-2 formation with Michail Antonio playing up front along side Andy Carroll, Ayew would logically go into the side on the wing. However, Robert Snodgrass has been playing well this season for Hull City and West Ham and on the other wing Fegouli is showing why he was a star in La Liga for Valencia. The central midfield also has a bit of a selection problem itself, with Cheikhou Kouyaté coming back from AFCON himself and has continued his brilliant play for the team. Pedro Obiang has been one of the best Hammers this season and was easily the man of the match against Southampton. And while some have called for Mark Noble to be dropped, Bilić won’t drop the captain, will he?

So what line up does Bilić use? Does he drop Feghouli from the side, just as he is coming into form? Will he drop Antonio to the bench, causing a riot as Antonio’s work rate and goals have made him a fan favorite in East London? Will Bilić change formations yet again, and go to a midfield diamond with Ayew sitting behind Carroll and Antonio, and leave only one central midfielder in the team? And if he does that, does he bench West Ham captain Noble in favor of Obiang?

Perhaps Bilić will put Antonio back at right back if Sam Byram is not able to play again this week, or maybe he’ll pretend this is Xbox football and Feghouli will line-up at right-back and Ayew will start on the wing. From looking at the lineups from this fall, it would appear that Ayew will slot into the side on the right wing and Feghouli will drop to the bench. However, Ayew looked best this year against Swansea when he played almost as a second striker, but then again, everyone looked good against Swansea. Playing a 4-2-3-1 with Carroll as the lone striker up front with Ayew, Feghouli, and Snodgrass as attacking midfielders and having Noble and Obiang shielding the back four would make sense, but again, if Antonio is left out of the side there might be a fire set in the stands.

All of this is enough to make anyone’s head hurt, and Bilić will be feeling the weight of his decision the most. He won’t want to hurt Feghouli’s confidence just as he is rounding into form and playing three at the back, as he did in the fall when Byram was hurt, was pretty much a disaster. With all of the talk of the board’s expectations of Bilić, he must be feeling pressure with a big fixture against West Bromwich Albion coming up to get it right without any drama or growing pains. And if he does leave Ayew on the bench, will the board be happy with West Ham’s record signing spending an extended time out of the team? Time will tell and hopefully Bilić get it right and the Hammers get a win against the Baggies on Saturday.