Slaven Bilic’s West Ham United have certainly been one of the surprise packages so far this season, having earned hard-fought victories at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City as well as beating Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at Upton Park.
Lying sixth with 21 points from their opening 13 games, the Hammers are on course to sustain a serious bid to finish among the European places. However, going into the busiest period of the season without a number of key first-team players could yet diminish the optimism circulating in east London.
The Boleyn Ground was buzzing just over two weeks ago. The bubbles were blowing around the stadium in celebration of Manuel Lanzini's superbly-composed opener against Everton, before James McCarthy’s lunge from behind on Dimitri Payet.
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All of a sudden bubbles were burst with the news that West Ham’s undoubted player of the season to date, would be out of action for up to three months.
Signing of the season
Bilic's displeasure at the injury to his prized asset is certainly justified. Payet has arguably been the signing of the season in the Premier League after joining from Marseille for £10.7 million. He has been involved in 35 percent of West Ham's goals, remains their top scorer with five in the league and has completed more dribbles than any of his team-mates.
The Frenchman has created 47 chances, more than Aaron Cresswell, Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Lanzini combined, and more than anyone in the league aside from Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil.
Payet's injury presents Bilic with a sizeable problem, particularly as his replacement against Everton, Enner Valencia, was also injured in the same game.
Although Diafra Sakho returned for the Hammers in their clash with Tottenham on Sunday, the West Ham boss will still have a lot of thinking to do.
Change in system
Perhaps Bilic could consider a change in system. Payet had been playing just behind Valencia with a great deal of success, with the Frenchman able to link the play from back to front.
Without Payet’s work-rate and creativity, could the West Ham boss consider starting Andy Carroll and Sakho up front together? Another option - which Bilic used against Spurs - was to replace Payet with Lanzini. The Argentine has been hugely impressive since arriving at Upton Park and is the natural replacement for the injured Frenchman.
The injuries have come at a tricky time with fixtures coming thick and fast in the festive period, but it could be worse for West Ham. Having already played, and beaten, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, they face four teams in the bottom half of the table before the end of the year.
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