In last month’s Blowing Bubbles, editor David Blackmore poised a series of questions following the arrival of Gianluca Scamacca. One month on, and we’ve not had much chance to see what our new man is capable of and attempt to answer these questions.
Before our game against Villa, the Italian hadn’t started a game in the league, but we have had a taste via hour-mark substitutions in each of our initial three matches. We were fighting from a losing position in each match and although Moyes did not wait until the 80th minute as is his trademark, there was still not much Gianluca could do to get bedded into the team to influence a win.
But in our first Europa Conference League match against Denmark side Viborg, Moyes broke form and Scamacca was given the grace to start. He rewarded his manager with a rocket header into the back of the net from a glorious cross that was put into his path from newly signed Maxwel Cornet and opened our Europa goal-scoring account.
Scamacca has already captured the excitement of the supporters, but not just in fulfilled dreams of having a striker with the fantasies of what may lie ahead. But also in the actual glimpses of talent shown in Scamacca’s hold-up play, some signs of deft dribbling, and sharp finishing skills by both boot and skull, in his attempts and success on target.
Besides these technical abilities, Scamacca also possesses physicality and isn’t easily bullied off the ball, being energetic and proactively getting involved in the build up play.
The questions David was left wondering last month was how Scamacca and Antonio could line up, and if Scamacca might be consigned to the fate of Haller — being forced into playing Antonio’s role as a like-for-like substitution? He also wondered if Antonio would actually be converted back into a winger to leave Scamacca as a target man?
Or whether or not David Moyes’ might have the guts to play a classic 442 system, with Antonio drawing off defenders, and Gianluca playing the traditional center forward?
Moyes has seldom wandered from the patented 4231 system that is standard in these times, only slightly varying this at Everton with a 4411 using Fellaini to sit behind the striker. With West Ham still a counter attacking team, it’s doubtful Moyes can make 442 workable and revert to a more direct play with two strikers.
It is more likely that Moyes loving his defensive backbones, will employ a 532 in defense or a 352 in attack if he can get his wing backs and fullback situation sorted. With Emerson Palmieri signing, Moyes has a wingback at least for the left side sorted.
In a small hint of this possibility Moyes played both Antonio and Scamacca in the game against Brighton. And although most West Ham fans were thrilled by the novelty, Antonio seemed too worn out for this to be a dynamic pairing.
Antonio’s fitness has been off the mark as he’s looked gassed in the second half of each match, but it might not be down to summertime sloth, but rather at how much he’s had to run about the pitch. Michail has yet to put a ball into row Z in a flawed finish in these initial matches, but neither has he gained the post-Covid form he had two seasons ago.
With Scamacca’s introduction, I do believe there is no threat to Antonio’s position or the threat he gives us, but hopefully, he can be used as an impact sub to stupefy legless defenders.
Moyes now has two strikers in east London, and this puts him at a crossroads that is inevitable. He can choose to continue playing his classic 4231 in a stale side that other managers have figured out hoping that Antonio and Scamacca can swap out.
Or he can be bold and try a new formation and new pairings. Either way, for as long as Antonio can run his socks off he’ll be needed, but the burden will be lifted now a bonafide striker has finally arrived — not a roving winger, a late-running midfielder, or an elusive false nine but an actual striker.