In the wake of West Ham’s first win over Liverpool at Anfield in 52 years, Hammers manager Slaven Bilic lavished praise on their outstanding Argentine, Manuel Lanzini.
“He was fantastic against Liverpool and not only because he scored a goal,” mused Bilic.
“Defensively he not only covered the left back, Joe Gomez, but he cut inside on Philippe Coutinho and James Milner when he went outside. He was great.”
Bilic’s praise was certainly warranted, for Lanzini put in a shift full of purpose, intensity and energy – on both sides of the ball.
From his post on the right wing, Lanzini would’ve known an afternoon consisting of plenty of defensive work lay ahead of him. Within Bilic’s supremely well regimented defensive setup, the Argentine adhered beautifully to the game plan. He pressed when required to, showed off his underrated ability to perfectly time his tackles, plus, as Bilic noted earlier, he tracked his markers and helped out his colleagues when necessary.
Stats from Stats Zone depict just how much essential defensive work he got through, as he completed an exceptional eight tackles and one interception.
On the attacking end, despite his side not enjoying a great deal of possession (only 37% to be exact), the technically gifted Lanzini also demonstrated his offensive quality suitably. While he didn’t touch the ball too often, it didn’t matter in Lanzini’s case, for when he did, he made the most of it. Using his nice blend of power, pace, intelligence and technique Lanzini impacted the contest markedly. Whether it was via mazy forward dribbles on the counter, combining tidily with his teammates in the final third or creating space for his fellow attackers with clever movement, Lanzini illustrated what a vital component of Bilic’s project he is, and can continue to be.
Having a flair player who’s prepared to work hard in all phases of the game was definitely invaluable to West Ham in this contest. He demonstrated his worth brilliantly by playing a key role in two of the Irons’ goals.
For the first, in the third minute, he timed his run perfectly to get on the end of Aaron Cresswell’s scuffed cross to score with a neat side-footed finish. There was no better way for West Ham to begin this pivotal clash at Anfield.
Secondly, for his side’s 29th minute goal, his determination not to allow himself to be beaten served as the catalyst for Mark Noble’s competent finish. Here, after attempting to dispossess Dejan Lovren near the right touchline, the smaller Lanzini found himself knocked to the ground and outside the field of play. Lovren, thinking Lanzini was now out of the picture, dallied about with the ball while he assessed his options. To his dismay, though, West Ham’s new number 28 had sprung to his feet briskly with a keen eye on getting back at the Croatian defender. And he did just that, robbing Lovren and firing a teasing ball into the box that ultimately fell to Noble.
This passage illustrated that Lanzini’s always willing to fight for the cause and not give up on any situation, no matter how badly the cards may be stacked against him. Dedicating himself so vigorously will have undoubtedly endeared him to not only his manager, but also the West Ham faithful. He’ll be hoping the good times will roll on for him, following the international break, when West Ham face a winless Newcastle.
Prior to him signing for West Ham, though, Lanzini had a truly fascinating journey to the top. The man who initially joined the famed River Plate academy as a nine-year-old eventually went onto make his debut for the Buenos Aires giants at just 17, and while he showed glimpses of his undeniable talent, injuries and inconsistency disappointingly hindered his progress.
Not long after, in 2011, the diminutive midfielder ventured over to Brazil, where he played a season on loan at Fluminense. Featuring on 37 occasions and scoring five goals for the Tricolor, Lanzini impressed hugely in the Brazilian top flight, so much so that the club were extremely interested in signing him to a permanent deal. Fluminense weren’t willing to pay the €15 million option to buy clause River had set, though, meaning he returned back home to Argentina.
Handed the number 10 shirt, much was expected of him, but while he wasn’t bad, on the other side of the coin, he wasn’t superb either.
In 2013, the year before he signed for Al-Jazira, Lanzini actually rejected a move to the UAE based club. However, his decision in this instance was completely vindicated, as River went on to win the title that season.
“That time I decided that it was best to stay in River because I felt that I needed to give something to the club and luckily we became champions. Now if another offer comes, I am going to analyze it,” he recalled.
A subsequent offer in 2014 arrived, and after being duly analysed, it was accepted this time. Intriguingly, when he signed for the wealthy club, at 21 years of age, he became the youngest player to ever play in the UAE Arabian Gulf League.
He marked his Al-Jazira debut with a bang, scoring a brace, which included a fine individual effort. Unfortunately, the man nicknamed “The Jewel” could only muster up a further six goals at the club, impressing only sporadically. Questions still remained over his consistency, and this is something that’s plagued him throughout his career to date. When he’s brilliant, he’s brilliant, but when he’s off, he flatters to deceive.
This is precisely why Al-Jazira were willing to offload him to the Hammers on loan.
Now at West Ham under Bilic, who has put his faith and trust in him, and who notably showed a keen interest in the player while managing Besiktas, his encouraging start to life in London might suggest he’s ready to add some crucial consistency to his game under the Croatian’s guidance.
“I watched him two years ago and I wanted to take him to Besiktas, but it was difficult. Now, the chance has come to get him, he’s going to help us a lot as he will add even more creativity in the crucial parts of the pitch,” explained the now West Ham manager.
“He’s a good player, he’s young and it’s good that we have got him on loan with an option (to sign).
“At the age of 20, he was given the No 10 jersey at River Plate who, with Boca Juniors, are a massive club of course.”
Many felt the slightly built starlet would have issues coping with the physicality of the Premier League, but this was importantly not a view shared by his manager, who gave this response when quizzed on the issue: “When he came in some of the people who were not for him and were for other players were slagging him off and said he looks more like a jockey than a football player.
“Maybe, but he rides the challenges. He’s not afraid of them and he goes right into the challenge,” said Bilic.
“He reminds me of Luka Modric. You can have tiny players who go into the tackle. He can do that.”
Lanzini’s joy upon making the move to London was well documented when listening to him speak on his arrival.
“This is a new challenge for me and that can only help in the future. It will test my ability in one of the best leagues in the world, so I am looking forward to getting started,” he said.
“I am someone who always gives 100 per cent. I’m an attacking player, I can change the game’s tempo and I hope to give my maximum for the fans to appreciate me.”
Most encouraging for teammates, fans and the coaching staff alike is his exemplary attitude towards always striving to improve and better himself at his chosen craft.
“I play football, a beautiful profession, and to be able to dedicate myself to it is a pride and a privilege,” humbly stated Lanzini.
For such a gifted, creative, technically exquisite player like Lanzini, questions will constantly be raised in regard to his physicality and value to the team. But in Lanzini, Bilic knows he has a footballer who contributes so much to the team and one who will never take for granted the opportunity the club’s afforded him.
West Ham are grateful to have him and you can guarantee Lanzini is overjoyed to be there. Lanzini will be massively keen to make a name for himself at the historic club, which is something his mindset and attitude should ably assist him in his quest to achieve.
After all, he doesn’t see it as his God given right to be at West Ham, it’s a privilege for him.
About the author – Edward Stratmann
Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.