I t seems a common trait within most people to always focus on the negatives, and for weeks we were held captive to negativity by the rumblings of Payet-gate. Prior to Bilic’s condemning of the Frenchman we were, unbeknown at the time, put through the rigours of a team playing poorly because they were divided both on and off the pitch.
Payet’s career, in my mind, was over as soon as Bilic put the truth out into the public domain. To me, he was no longer at our club. For many it was the same, other than the squabbling regarding his price tag. Why? Because many feel we needed to replace the Frenchman.
But did we really need to sign someone when we have a ready-made, younger, loyal midfielder at our disposal? In the games against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough, Manuel Lanzini has shown he is ready to step forward out of Payet’s shadow. He was able to take the role of the main creative force in our side, and he notched two assists and a delightful goal, not too dissimilar to Payet’s chipped goal against Palace last year.
Lanzini’s improvement in form has been a revelation for us on the pitch. When is the last time Lanzini created five chances and notched two assists in a game? Not this season, that’s for sure.
Those statistics from his performance against Middlesbrough were also the highest for chances created in the Premier League that weekend. After watching these games you saw so much of our new-look style of play, not only from Lanzini but the team as a unit. I would be very surprised if Lanzini failed to record those sort of statistics again in a another game this season.
The only other longterm option that has been touted for this summer is Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson. Whilst the Icelandic international is a player I would very much like at the club, I would rather it be in addition to Lanzini, rather than instead of him. That’s not to say we couldn’t have both of them in the same XI, but let’s not get too excited about that prospect just yet! On statistics, Lanzini has almost bettered his return this campaign versus last year’s campaign.
Finishing the season with six goals and two assists for a player of his technique, vision and flair was perhaps underwhelming in hindsight. He, along with the rest of the team, was firmly in the shadow of Payet mind you, but after our trip to the North East, Lanzini stood on four goals and two assists. With him being the main source of creativity in the XI, I feel he would be setting the bar low to not want to at least double those numbers before the close of the campaign.
Lanzini is much quicker than Payet, despite still being slightly easy to knock off the ball at this stage. But despite the age and experience differences between the two, he is just as capable of picking out defence-splitting passes, as well as getting on the end of them. One thing I have often found strange is that he tends to get himself into really good positions.
At times he is anticipating the balls into the box better than our strikers. Again, this is testament to the way his brain works, a key example of this would be his sublime finish against Crystal Palace earlier in the season when he ghosted in to open his body up and tap home following a delightful bit of build up play. It’s calming to see Lanzini providing the early signs of evidence that he can slide straight into the void left by Payet.
Importantly though we must remember that Lanzini is six years younger, still learning, and hasn’t even reached his peak. This is scary that he still needs to be afforded some leeway due to his age in relation to his talent. Regardless of the fee we get for Payet, we have to put our trust in him and build our side around him. If we do stick with Lanzini, it will surely pay dividends for years to come but we’ll have to give him the time to develop and become an even better player than he is now.