After raising funds following the controversial sale of academy product Grady Diangana, West Ham could be set to bolster their frontline with the acquisition of Said Benrahma from Brentford.
The departure of Diangana to West Brom, whom he helped seal promotion with last season, has sparked discord among fans and players alike at the London Stadium, most notably stalwart and club captain Mark Noble, who tweeted his frustration with the decision.
In the confirmation post of Diangana’s departure on the official West Ham website, the club were quick to stress that the funds raised from the winger’s sale “will be reinvested entirely in the team and in line with the manager’s targets”, opening the door for potential incomings.
One player who has been tipped to make the move across the capital this summer is Benrahma, the talismanic force behind Brentford’s late promotion surge last season and Thomas Frank’s catalyst as the Bees reached the play-off final, only to fall short against Fulham in extra time.
With that, Frank’s ferocious ‘BMW’ strike force now looks set to be broken up before the window slams shut, with other Bees forwards also in the crosshairs of plenty of Premier League clubs, but Benrahma appears to be attracting the most interest from West Ham.
So, could David Moyes be about to pounce for the Algerian forward, who Brentford reportedly value at around £20m? If so, what would he offer to the Hammers, where would he fit in and how would he complement the likes of Michail Antonio and Sebastien Haller?
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The man who could “nutmeg a mermaid”: Benrahma’s key attributes
It is not difficult to see why Benrahma has generated so much interest; he is a highlight reel player — pleasing on the eye and not afraid to showboat — but he backs up his repertoire of tricks and skills with a genuine end product, notching 17 goals in the Championship last season (the fifth most), as well as registering nine assists (the sixth most).
Given West Ham’s most productive wide player last season (excluding converted centre-forward Michail Antonio) was Robert Snodgrass, with five goals and five assists, it is abundantly clear why Moyes is in the market for a more explosive weapon to reinforce his armoury.
But, what type of player would West Ham be getting in Benrahma? Well, Benrahma is not afraid to face up to full-backs and take them on. He is comfortable on both feet, so has the ability to either burst down the wide channel, or cut in and exploit the half space.
This makes it extremely difficult for defenders to anticipate his next move, creating uncertainty in the attacking third and confusion among opposition backlines. But, his refined end product makes him so much more than just an out-and-out trickster and skill merchant.
“He could nutmeg a mermaid,” Brentford B assistant coach, Sam Saunders, once quipped, but a return of 26 direct contributions last campaign suggests a player with real substance. Given the underwhelming exploits of both Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini, Benrahma could seriously rejuvenate a beleaguered frontline.
In comparison to Lanzini and Anderson, as well as Andrey Yarmolenko (West Ham’s main wide options who played the entire campaign last season), Benrahma ranked better for dribbles attempted per 90 minutes (5.88), chances created (2.27), shots taken (4.15) and final third passes completed (17.48) — he also boasted the best forward passing percentage (31.12 per cent).
Of course it is difficult to compare Championship metrics with the Premier League, but given the encouraging track record of Brentford players in the top-flight, Moyes should take huge encouragement that Benrahma can make the step up.
How could West Ham line up with Benrahma?
Moyes has been a staunch advocate of the 4-2-3-1 since rocking up in east London, and he is likely to persist with this formation, particularly after his experimental 4-4-2 backfired against Bournemouth in a friendly on Saturday, losing 5-3 as the recently-relegated side cut through West Ham like a hot knife through butter.
The Scot was presumably trying to find a way to deploy both Antonio — who has found form up front — and record signing Haller in the same XI, but without ample protection in midfield, the lack of cohesion in the side and support for the centre-backs was alarming.
So, West Ham fans can likely expect more of the same from last season, which ties in perfectly with the potential signing of Benrahma.
The pursuit of Benrahma, a left winger by trade, therefore, makes clear sense. Fornals has often occupied the left-sided role, but his most natural position is as a No. 10. Shoehorning the Spaniard out wide has largely nullified his potential and stifled his output.
By fitting round pegs in round holes, i.e. Benrahma on the left, and other attackers in their natural positions, West Ham would look a much more menacing and potent threat, rather than languid and somewhat lacklustre unit they have often posed.
It would also mean shifting Mark Noble away from his recent attacking midfield role which, at 33, would make complete sense. Despite Gary Neville comparing him to Alessandro Del Piero in the 1-1 draw with Man Utd at Old Trafford, Moyes should really be looking at more athletic and penetrative options further up the pitch.
With the right-footed Benrahma cutting in from the left flank, West Ham would possess a potent threat. Full-backs be warned now, allow Benrahma to cut inside, and he can finish in the blink of an eye.
It is certainly a tantalising prospect for the Hammers, who have been searching desperately for their Dimitri Payet 2.0 since the Frenchman abandoned them three years ago. Should a move materialise, then Moyes will have more than enough attacking potential to ask questions in the uppers slopes of the table.
He still has the issue of a potentially unsettled and disillusioned dressing room, as well as plenty of defensive frailties to address, but there can be no denying that the purchase of Benrahma would give the entire club a lift, and set pulses racing again ahead of the Premier League opener this weekend.