When Ryan Fredericks signed for West Ham back in the summer, many a Hammer was excited by his arrival. Starring for Fulham during their impressive campaign, in which they won both plaudits and the play-off final alike, he was the epitome of the modern fullback.
Blessed with natural athleticism and blistering speed he offered attacking intend with his overlapping runs and crossing accuracy — providing nine assists in the league. He had been one of Fulham’s stand-out players in the Championship, alongside Ryan Sessegnon, Tom Cairney and Aleksandra Mitrovic, and was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
It seemed liked shrewd business to pair him with the dependable, but aging, Pablo Zabaleta as our right back options. Fredericks, one assumed, at the age of 26, entering his peak and off the back of the best season of his career would be first choice, with the veteran Argentine as his back-up. However, as we enter the final throes of the season, the 34-year-old has made nearly double the appearances of his young counterpart.
And whilst it is true that Fredericks has suffered injuries that have ruled him out of contention at times, more often than not, when both have been available, Manuel Pellegrini has chosen the top flight experience of Pablo Zabaleta. Is this simply sentiment for his old Manchester City stalwart or is there a mistrust of the man from Hammersmith’s abilities at the top flight?
Either way it raises questions about whether Ryan Fredericks is really the man to be our first choice right back for the near future. His natural game certainly seems to fit into Pellegrini’s style. He provides something we sorely lack in our side — pace — and is always willing to making overlapping runs and offer width, which is key to Pellegrini’s approach. He likes to get high and wide, enabling our wingers to tuck inside as Pellegrini likes.
When attacking play breaks down, he can be caught out of position leaving his defence exposed, although his pace enables him to get back quicker than Zaba. However, he has also been known to be rash – his foul on Martial in the recent game against United that conceded the penalty a case in point. He has picked up five bookings in his few appearances. Stats suggest he is at least on par with our other full backs.
On the defensive side, he compares favourably with his fellow full back. Before our game against Spurs, he had the highest successful tackle percentage with 56 per cent, and has made 32 clearances, 39 ball recoveries and eight interceptions in his 12 league games. His crossing accuracy is better than that of Zabaleta, and all of our fullbacks, with Fredericks completing 29 per cent compared to just 16 per cent by the Argentine, 21 per cent for Cresswell and 15 per cent for Masuaku.
His turn of pace also makes him a valuable asset when trying to halt opposition counter attacks. However there are questions about whether any of our full-backs are good enough to help us reach the ‘next level’. Most fans would agree that full-back is an area that we need to strengthen.
Whilst Fabianski, Diop and Balbuena have all proven themselves to be quality signings that have impressed in their first season in claret and blue, our defence is just as leaky as it was last year. Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku have traded places on numerous occasions with neither seemingly offering exactly what Pellegrini desires. And the same could be said of Zabaleta and Fredericks.
Fredericks had a baptism of fire in the Premier League against Liverpool on the opening day. But that display aside, and lest we forget even our breakout star Declan Rice got pulled at half time that day, he has performed to a good level. It could be that he just needs a run of games to reduce his rash impulses, sometimes players desperate to impress try too hard. Knowing he has the manager’s backing may curb his enthusiasm. And if he does deem that he isn’t starting XI material, who do we get in? Give him a shot.