Just over one year ago, Manuel Lanzini’s career was flying high.
“The jewel” had just been selected by Jorge Sampaoli his final 23-man squad for Argentina’s World Cup campaign in Russia 2018 after an impressive end to the 2017/18 season with West Ham United.
Lanzini was really beginning to kick on as a complete attacking midfielder – his on-field relationship with Marko Arnautovic being a springboard for his progress.
The pair formed a telepathic relationship which really sparked under the reign of David Moyes, hence the recognition from Sampaoli.
Things seemed almost too good to be true, and in a way, they were.
In preparation for his and Argentina’s World Cup exploits, just a week before the start of the tournament, Lanzini suffered a ruptured anterior knee ligament injury. The then 25-year-old’s World Cup dream was over, and to rub salt in the gaping wound, he was confirmed to be out for at least another seven months and would miss a large chunk of the following season.
Fast-forward to the following February and Lanzini made his comeback game for West Ham as a late substitute in a 3-1 victory over Fulham. The Hammers’ faithful were excited to have their man back, knowing that his style of play would add an extra dimension to their football – something that had been vacant in the early stages of 2019. Every touch was cheered with memories of the previous three seasons fresh in the minds of folk around London Stadium.
However, things perhaps didn’t progress as quickly as the Hammers fans had anticipated.
As games passed by, the sharpness was clearly lacking from Lanzini’s game, and that touch of magic that everyone knew he had, wasn’t quite coming to fruition.
In retrospect, were West Ham fans right to expect so much from a player who had suffered such a horrendous injury?
To end on a bright note, he did get his much-awaited goal in the final game of the season – a tremendous 4-1 away win at Watford – helping guide West Ham to a top 10 finish.
With a full pre-season under his belt, can Lanzini get back to his exhilarating best, and perhaps more importantly, where does he fit into Manuel Pellegrini’s plans for next season?
With the acquisition of Pablo Fornals, it will be interesting to see how and where the Chilean fits both Fornals and Lanzini into the midfield.
Rumours suggest that Pellegrini has plans to play the pair of them in front of the anchorman Declan Rice in midfield. Some feel that would be footballing suicide, as it would leave Rice far too exposed – encompassing similar problems to what the Hammers experienced for much of last season.
Others may see that formation as a step in the right direction. A move to a possession-based system with technically-gifted footballers being able to pass and move, an omission of the constant worry of giving away the ball after every other pass.
It could be argued that Lanzini was at his very best in West Ham colours in his debut season, where he linked up so well with Dimitri Payet.
It could also be argued that Lanzini has yet to have had someone of that technical quality to link up with in the midfield since that season – Fornals potentially being the man to fill that void.
Either way, a West Ham team containing a fully-fit and magical Lanzini is a better West Ham team and having him back to his best will be like a new signing.
By Louis Pye (@lou_pye)
[Featured image from whufc.com