Pablo Fornals must have been fearing for his starting spot after Jesse Lingard’s January move but he produced a West Ham masterclass v Tottenham on Sunday.
The 24-year-old was instrumental in both Irons goals as they secured a 2-1 victory against Spurs to open up a nine-point gap over their London rivals and push themselves into the Champions League places.
David Moyes and his charges have climbed above Chelsea into fourth spot and this win was a clear statement of intent to their competitors – this side is here for the long haul.
And that was in no small measure down to the performance of Fornals at the London Stadium.
It was his first Premier League start since January 31 v Liverpool after he was dropped to the bench for the following three games but he showed his importance on Sunday.
The Spanish star might only have one assist to his name but his role in both goals was undeniable.
Let’s look at Michail Antonio’s opener to start off with.
Jarrod Bowen receives the ball in oceans of space and has time to size up his options in the box which consists of Fornals and Antonio, but they are up against at least four defenders.
Antonio is the obvious danger with his physical presence and that is why there are two Spurs players covering him.
Fornals is a more diminutive player known for his close control and is not a great aerial presence, but he proved all you need is clever movement to make yourself a box threat.
He recognises that Antonio is being closely followed and makes a run to the near post which can do one of two things – give himself an easy header at goal, or drag away Antonio’s nearest marker.
It proves to be the letter as Eric Dier shuffles across to try and block Fornals but Bowen’s whipped ball deceives him and the ball floats over his head onto the onrushing Antonio who has found himself a free man and he bundles the ball home after his initial attempt is thwarted.
What may look like a basic goal was anything but – it took three key elements to combine the opening.
That is, Bowen’s beautiful cross, Fornal’s dangerous run, and Antonio’s movement and finish.
If you just glanced at the stats you wouldn’t know the role the Spaniard played for that goal, but he bagged himself an assist in the second half as Jesse Lingard put the Irons 2-0 up.
In the image below, the Manchester United loanee regains possession inside the visitor’s half and is immediately surrounded by white shirts.
But Fornals recognises where the danger lies and makes a smart run into the space left behind the defence for Lingard to loft the ball to him.
Fornals takes it down with aplomb and Lingard immediately sets about a bursting run of his own to offer some support which is acknowledged as the one-two is played.
Lingard rushes onto the ball and West Ham are immediately in a two-on-one situation.
His touch takes him past the hapless Dier and actually falls perfectly into the path of Fornals but the January arrival elects to take the opportunity on himself.
In truth Fornals probably could have shot before Lingard and this showed another example of his selflessness that inspired the Irons to victory over Jose Mourinho’s side.
There were plenty of impressive performers to pick out on Sunday but at West Ham Zone we think Fornals is an unheralded star that deserves more mainstream attention.
Hammers know all about his industrious efforts but his displays can often get overlooked with the likes of Lingard, Antonio and Toma Soucek playing starring roles this season.
With Said Benrahma, Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko waiting in the wings the pressure was on Fornals to perform and he duly stepped up.
It’s his place to keep now as the Irons motor on in their search of bringing European football back to East London next season.
In other West Ham news, Harry Redknapp salutes Craig Dawson and names him as PL signing of the season.