Cheikhou Kouyaté has been a mainstay in the midfield since arriving at West Ham United from Belgian club RSC Anderlecht in 2014. This year, in addition to playing in the midfield, Slaven Bilić called on Kouyaté to play central defense, a centreback on the right side of a back three, and and as a right back. Kouyaté missed most of January with AFCON 2017 where he captained Senegal, but was vital down the stretch for the club, including a game-winning goal against Swansea City which may have saved West Ham’s season.
Cheikhou Kouyaté was largely believed to be the starting central midfielder along with Mark Noble for the Hammers this past season. He was not expected to be a fill-in right back or a central defender. As the injuries early in the season piled up, Kouyaté was used out of position, first as part of a back three. After coming back from AFCON, he was used as a right back for a number of games, none of which he played especially well, nonetheless staying as right back even after Sam Byram was fit. Once Pedro Obiang went down with injury, Kouyaté returned to the central midfield spot he was expected to hold down.
As a midfielder, Kouyaté is able to use his strength and pace to disrupt the other team’s passing in the middle of the park, stretch the opposition’s formation, and get the other team’s central midfielders out of position. As a right back, he frequently relied on his pace to get back into the proper position on defense, which was exploited on a number of occasions by the opposition. His ability to drive the play from the middle of the park was also lost on the right flank, but he is a skilled enough defender to play on the right in a back three, bringing pace and height that the other central defenders lack.
Highlights and Lowpoints
Highlight? THAT goal against Swansea. Saved the season and stopped a five game losing streak. Without that goal, West Ham could be booking trips to Barnsley or Burton Albion next season.
Lowlight? The penalty given up as he “defended” against Watford FC. It was a awful job of defending, and pretty much sums up the “Kouyate as Right Back” experience.
Watford penalty! Kouyate bundles over Zarate, very poor challenge, stonewall! #WATWHU— Harry (@AFC_Harry34) February 25, 2017
Kouyate will likely be forced to share time as a central midfielder with Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang. While Kouyate is more athletic than either of them, both Noble and Obiang are better passers and distributors of the ball. While Noble is the captain, Kouyate is a better player at this point in his career, and so should probably start. However, Bilic often seems unwilling to drop Noble from the side, so all three may be forced to split time. At least until the injuries pile up again.
Depending on the formation, Kouyate could be used as a right-sided defender in a back three formation, but with Pablo Zabaleta signing from Manchester City, it looks like the right back experiment is thankfully over.
Final Grade: B-
B+ as a midfielder, C- as a right back