West Ham manager David Moyes may need to be creative in his quest to find a short-term backup option to forward Michail Antonio.
The departure of club-record signing Sebastien Haller to Ajax has left the Hammers with just Antonio as a recognised striker option at the club and there is a clear void that needs to be filled as a matter of urgency in January.
Haller was not the perfect option for Moyes and this West Ham side but he did at least offer a physical presence and a focal point in attack, something they will now be without.
Antonio recently returned from his injury issues and came off the bench in West Ham’s last two games at Everton and Southampton so he should be ready to start their next Premier League fixture at home to Burnley on January 16.
However, before the visit of Sean Dyche and co West Ham travel to Stockport on Monday in an FA Cup clash and Moyes will be wary of a potential injury to Antonio.
As such he might opt to rest him against the National League side and his selection could be an interesting glimpse into the near future at who his number two frontman option is prior to a new arrival.
Obviously, it is essential that the Hammers tie up a deal for a new striker soon but until that is done alternatives need to be weighed up if the worst does happen and Antonio gets injured again.
Moyes made some interesting comments regarding the position when, as reported by the Evening Standard, he said: “Unless you do what Man City does, play without a number nine and you actually play even better than you’ve ever played before.
“You get in a situation, you play with a false nine and you can do that. You have to start being creative and certainly, Pep’s been that with what he’s done at Man City, and who knows if we don’t have anybody, we will need to start being creative ourselves here.”
So just who could act as the false nine in the current West Ham set-up? We have narrowed it down to two possible options; Said Benrahma or Pablo Fornals. Andriy Yarmolenko and Manuel Lanzini were considered but have been more peripheral figures over the last few seasons for a combination of form and fitness reasons.
After joining from Brentford in the previous transfer window Benrahma has enjoyed limited success at the club, making just three starts.
Despite his impressive displays on the left-wing for the Championship side, last season Benrahma has been deployed in a central attacking midfield position in his three Hammers starts.
However, he has struggled here with his obvious qualities being limited. He has earned a reputation in the Championship as someone who cuts in from the left-hand side onto his right foot and can fire a shot from distance, but he has not been afforded this chance in a central role.
No player in the West Ham side has been dispossessed more on average than Benrahma (2.1 times per game) and while it can be argued that is in limited game time, he was also dispossessed 2.5 times per game in the Championship last season.
Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino is considered to be the archetypal false nine nowadays and his dispossessions this season are 1.1 per game, so perhaps Benrahma is not suited in this respect.
With the pace and direct running of Jarrod Bowen on the wing this could be a tantalising prospect for Hammers fans.
If Moyes wants a bit more industry then perhaps Fornals is a player he should be considering.
Fornals makes more tackles (one) and interceptions (1.1) per game than any other West Ham attacker.
While putting the hard yards in Fornals hasn’t lost his innate ability to create, with 18 smart passes (Wyscout) this season ranking him in the Premier League top 20 and West Ham’s top performer in this metric.
He has two goals in the Premier League this season while Benrahma is yet to open his account for the Hammers.
Fornals is also more receptive to a central position having played there for Villarreal in La Liga, though the false nine role would be much different.
Although it is not as important for a false nine some hold-up play abilities are helpful and his diminutive stature might go against him.
Fornals is the man
As mentioned previously the absolute priority for West Ham in this transfer window must be to sign at least one forward who is capable of covering for Antonio at the top end of the pitch.
A player who is athletic, strong and quick would be perfect requirements for the role Moyes has created for Antonio in this team.
But for now, if the worst does happen and Antonio is ruled out of any upcoming games then he will be left with no alternative but to include a false nine in place of an orthodox striker.
For his defensive capabilities and natural central role Fornals would be the most ideal candidate in this West Ham team and it would allow Bowen and Benrahma to exploit space in behind the defence which can be utilised by Fornals’ creative abilities.
In other West Ham news, Hammers lining up £30m move for Championship ace.