Manuel Lanzini has taken an interesting route to the Premier League. The attacking midfielder started out, much like other top football prospects in Argentina, at one of the big clubs such as San Lorenzo, Racing, Independiente, River Plate, or Boca Juniors, the boyhood club of West Ham United legend Carlos Tevez. Lanzini came up through the youth ranks at River Plate in Buenos Aries, eventually breaking into the first team as a 17 year old in 2010. He had a quality few years at River Plate, scoring 8 goals in 26 appearances in the 2012-13 season, after spending much of the 2011-12 season on loan in Brazil with Rio de Janerio’s Fluminense.
When Lanzini was 21 years old, instead of transferring to Europe like so many of his countrymen or staying at River Plate, he instead took a different path, signing for Abu Dhabi based Al-Jazira of the UAE Arabian Gulf League. He spent a single season at the club, scoring 8 goals and 8 assists. He was tied for first place in the league in assists with four other players, and helped Al-Jazira place 2nd in the league table.
After that successful season, he was brought in on loan to West Ham United in the summer of 2015, joining other new recruits to the club. While Dimitri Payet stole the show, Lanzini quietly had a great year for the club, scoring six goals in 26 league appearances. He was set to play for Argentina in the Rio Olympics, but injury forced him to pull out of the Olympic squad. Lanzini made the switch to East London permanent last March, agreeing on a four year deal to keep him at West Ham.
Ever since the Payet situation blew up, Lanzini has raised his game to be the team’s most creative player. His fantastic goal against Crystal Palace was overshadowed by Andy Carroll’s goal-of-the-year candidate, and his free kick goal against Leicester City in last week’s loss was a sublime effort that put the Hammers back within striking distance of the Foxes.
Manuel Lanzini's goal to pull one back for West Ham. pic.twitter.com/0WmY8O1CuW— Uber West Ham (@UberWestHam) March 18, 2017
Lanzini has show his ability to score timely goals this season, and while he’s not the most physically imposing player, standing only 5’6” tall, his quickness, pace, and dribbling ability make him a vital cog in the Hammers attacking engine. In fact, if West Ham are going to play like they did last season, Lanzini is going to need the ball more, and not merely rely on constantly crossing into the box for Carroll to get his head on, as every team has got the memo on how to defend West Ham.
Slaven Bilić needs to play Lanzini in a classic South American number 10 role, playing in the hole behind a lone striker. With the defense having to account for Lanzini in the middle, it would open up the wings for players such as Ayew or Antonio to attack and get behind the fullbacks and get into the channels and get shots on goal. Against Hull, the team should try to line up a 4-2-3-1, with Randolph in goal, a back four of Sam Byram, José Fonte, James Collins, and Aaron Cresswell. The holding midfielders would be Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyaté, with André Ayew and Sofiane Feghouli on the wings with Lanzini behind Andy Carroll as the lone striker. While this formation has been used in the past by Bilić, the team needs to do a better job of having the attacking play go through the middle for Lanzini to drive the ball forward at goal, not endless long balls towards Carroll. Even if the team does resort to long balls, Carroll can easily knock down balls towards Lanzini and get the attack going that way.
Lanzini is wasted on the wing, as the team has plenty of wingers who can easily get into space and join the attack. Ayew has been scoring goals on the wing in the past few matches, and using him and Feghouli creates an attack with more pace than relying on Robert Snodgrass and Cresswell to cross into the box from the left, limiting the team to slow build-up that almost any team in the Premier League can deal with, especially with Carroll’s apparent lack of fitness.
Manuel Lanzini may not be the next Lionel Messi or Carlos Tevez, but like his countrymen, he can use his pace and dribbling to drive play and score highlight reel goals. It is time for West Ham to embrace the small Argentine and set him free in the midfield to create mayhem and goals.