Manuel Pellegrini is clinging on for dear life at West Ham and if he can hold out until January, then there is likely to be an investment made in the winter market.
The Hammers made a mess of the summer window and have sorely paid the price this season, with Pellegrini so far overseeing a tumultuous few months in the dugout, which has left the club dangling just above the relegation mud.
Allowing Adrian to leave on a free transfer and replacing him with Roberto has proven one of the biggest transfer clangers in recent history, while the acquisition of yet another nimble and lightweight attacking midfielder in Pablo Fornals has called into question the club’s strategy in the market.
Fans were left scratching their heads as to how another window passed by and the elusive pursuit of a competent (and injury-free) central midfielder once again eluded the club.
For the most part, Pellegrini has had to make do with just two central midfielders this season: Mark Noble and Declan Rice. Carlos Sanchez leaves much to be desired, while it has now been over a year since Jack Wilshere last completed 90 minutes.
With that, a plethora of central midfield candidates have been linked with a move to West Ham next month. And we’ve weighed up the possibilities, putting forward a dream, realistic, Squawka suggests and wildcard option for Pellegrini to finally remedy the club’s midfield ailments.
Dream: Sander Berge
The 21-year-old Norwegian is exactly the sort of midfielder West Ham need at the minute. His all-round play, dribbling ability, passing accuracy and energy make up for the sort of player every manager dreams of. It is no surprise then that Berge has been linked to pretty much every top club across Europe.
Liverpool were strong favourites to secure his signature after Jurgen Klopp waxed lyrical about his performances during the Reds’ group games against Genk in this season’s Champions League.
However, the German coach looks destined to get his hands on the extremely versatile Takumi Minamino from Red Bull Salzburg, while reports indicate Berge – who has previously trained with West Ham during his formative years – would prefer a move to the capital.
So where would he fit in? Well, Noble and Rice are excellent talents but extremely one-dimensional. The former passes with metronomic accuracy but lacks the requisite dynamism to dominate games, while the latter is an exceptional anchorman but struggles further up the pitch. In Berge, West Ham would have a player who brings all of the aforementioned qualities together.
His laser-eye distribution, tenacity and dribbling virtuosity would seriously beef up and enhance a somewhat beleaguered midfield, and perhaps even revolutionise Pellegrini’s system. The prospect of a Berge-Rice partnership is certainly a tantalising one on paper, while he could be exactly what’s needed to get the best out of Felipe Anderson, Sebastien Haller, et al.
Realistic: Abdoulaye Toure
The 25-year-old has previously been linked with a move to the Premier League and next month could see that scenario now come to fruition. Burnley were frontrunners for his services over the summer, but West Ham could very well edge ahead and entice Toure to the London Stadium.
With a physically-imposing frame, standing at 6ft2in, good vision and a strong passing game, West Ham would do well to get their hands on the reigning Nantes ‘Player of the Year’, while he probably won’t elicit a substantial outlay either, making him an archetypal signing for the Hammers.
In a Nantes side who are currently fifth in the league, this season Toure has registered more passes than any teammate in Ligue 1 (916), made more recoveries (130) and has won the third-most duels (103). That sort of midfield versatility and authority would work wonders to revitalise the centre of the pitch for West Ham.
Squawka suggests: Santiago Ascacibar
There was a time in the summer when Ascacibar looked nailed on to pitch up in east London and join West Ham, but dreams of the Hammers getting their hands on a player every fan seemingly wanted proved short-lived as the diminutive enforcer stayed at VfB Stuttgart, despite relegation from the German top-flight.
The pint-sized hatchet man has drawn stark comparisons with compatriot and former Hammer Javier Mascherano, who was kept out of Alan Pardew’s side by Hayden Mullins. That said, the Argentine is arguably more Esteban Cambiasso than Gennaro Gattuso, or perhaps somewhere in between.
He made the third-most tackles of any midfielder in the Bundesliga last season (78) and the second-most passes of any Stuttgart player (1093). So, Ascacibar is far more than just a midfield destroyer, but rather a deep-lying tempo-setter mixed with a little bit of South American bite.
Not to mention he also dons a Diego Maradona tattoo on his calf, so it’s clear the young Argentine has a penchant for the aesthetics of the game. If West Ham can swoop and secure Ascacibar then it would be a massive coup for the club and a real statement signing.
With Stuttgart currently plying their trade in the 2. Bundesliga, that may not be beyond the realms of possibility.
Wildcard: Victor Wanyama
The industrious Tottenham Hotspur midfielder has had ill-luck on the injury front recently, but he has since recovered and could now be on the move. There are conflicting reports that he has been deemed surplus to requirements in north London, meaning a January move is potentially on the table.
When fit and firing on all cylinders the Kenyan is a force to be reckoned with on the turf; unfortunately, the treatment table has been an all too familiar setting for Wanyama in recent times, which may detract some suitors from pursuing the Spurs castaway.
That said, he has made a full recovery and could now need a change of scenery to revitalise his career and get back to doing what he does best: bossing the middle of the park. If he can stay injury-free then a Wanyama to West Ham transfer deal would be an absolute no-brainer.
However, what makes Wanyama a wildcard option is that track record with fitness problems. Would West Ham once again gamble on an injury-prone player? Perhaps not, but they could sign him on a cut-price deal, and if they keep him fit, then he could prove the solution to their midfield quandary.