It’s fantastic to be a West Ham fan right now, isn’t it? Riding high in the league, scoring far more goals than last season, defensively sound, winning matches, hard to beat and much of the credit must go to the new players.
The effect that Sakho and Valencia have had is obvious from a goal-scoring point of view, but the midfield has also been stiffened significantly by the acquisition of Alex Song, who surely ranks as one of the signings (albeit on loan) of the season. An ex-Barcelona player? At West Ham? At 27 years of age? Pinch me.
Watching Song play, it’s easy to see the Barca in him. He’s at the center of most of what happens on the pitch. When I’m watching us in action, if he’s on song (pun not intended) I am confident that we can boss the midfield in any game. In particular, his performance against Manchester City was magnificent — one of the best I’ve seen in a West Ham shirt for many a year. Don’t get me started on that perfect through-ball for the (eventual) first goal again — I could watch that on repeat. The man knows how to pick a pass, no question.
Of course, for an ex-Barcelona player, you would expect this sort of quality. Crucially, though, this begs the question: why did Barca let him go? Perhaps the answer has been hinted at in the last couple of matches. No goals and no assists so far (to be fair, the season is still young, but in particular the assists count is surprising given his contribution to the team overall).
He also has a slightly wilder side. Against Stoke, for instance, his tackle prior to us scoring the first goal would have been a red card on any other day — it was just as well that Diouf jumped out of the way. There are occasional flashes of frustration in his game if things aren’t quite going his way — you could imagine him losing his temper if pushed the wrong way, with the inevitable consequences that would follow. Of course, we really don’t want him to be suspended.
It’s also interesting to note Song’s passing statistics for the season. He’s been excellent in his midfield role for us so far, but in his first six starts, his pass success percentage was 80 per cent, compared to more than 90 per cent last season at Barcelona. Indeed, this pass completion rate is the lowest it’s been in his career, which may surprise you. Here, though, it’s questionable where the blame actually lies.
With the greatest of respect to the likes of Messi, Neymar and co, he’s now playing alongside Mark Noble (don’t get me wrong, I love Noble, but I think he would probably struggle to be on the same page as the aforementioned). On occasions, Song plays passes that his team-mates simply aren’t anticipating, and it may take a little more time for him to adjust to the different strengths of the team as he gets to know our players more.
Crucially, though, Song and Noble do work really well together — they compliment each other very well and have a decent understanding, which is getting better by the game. If he can stay fit — and out of trouble — Song’s inclusion in the side each week should ensure that we can aim for bigger things than merely staying away from the bottom sides this season.
One thing’s for sure. He’s our Viera, Fabregas or Toure — and if he does help us to climb into the top half of the table come May, the pressure on the owners to sign him permanently will be intense, particularly with the move to the Olympic Stadium looming. West Ham need world-class players to be in the team when that happens, and Song could well be one of them.