David Moyes hatched his master plan in the summer to create his perfect central defensive trio. It started by acquiring Moroccan international Nayef Aguerd from Rennes, a natural left-footed ball-playing centre-back.
The plan to link him up with Zouma and one of either Dawson or Ogbonna made perfect sense for the Scotsman. Fast-forward a few weeks and in a glamour friendly at Ibrox those plans were ripped up and chucked into the bin.
An under-hit pass from Aaron Cresswell, a mis-control to put the forward through on goal, followed by a last-ditch perfectly timed lunge from Aguerd stopped a certain goal. Unfortunately, that heroic bit of defending would be the last we saw of the new Hammers number 27 who had seriously damaged his ankle ligaments in the process of making that last-ditch tackle.
Plans ruined, and back to the drawing board for Moyes and his backroom staff. The scouts were sent out on a mission to find another versatile centre-back, who could in turn play in a three, or anywhere across the back-line. In came Thilo Kehrer from PSG, another promising young defender — who plays internationally for his country.
Suddenly that plan pivots again when the struggling Vladimir Coufal needs dropping and Kehrer slots in at right back — where coincidently he starts internationally for Germany. The season is rolling on, and each week fans are hoping for a positive update on Aguerd as the defence starts to look shakier and shakier as the weeks’ pass.
Craig Dawson, who by now is home-sick, with his wife in his ear about coming back up north begins to struggle and the need for the Moroccan to come back and fast is becoming more and more evident. Noise begins to come out that he is starting to train on grass again, albeit lightly but hopes begin to raise that we might see our new ball-playing left-footed centre-back we have been crying out for before the winter World Cup.
Testament to Aguerd and his work rate, he came back a few weeks before the World Cup which at one stage looked like he might miss altogether. His debut came in the Conference League against Silkenborg at the London Stadium. There was an expectation that he would be class, and maybe the inferior opposition made him look just that, but he didn’t put a foot wrong.
Indeed, a fan behind me described him as a ‘Rolls Royce-esque’ defender, he showed great pace on the few occasions the Danish side got in around the back, nipped in and won the ball at will. And he played the odd beautifully-weighted diagonal pass to set the Hammers away on the counter.
What impressed me the most was the fact he was leading the backline, organising it and being vocal which was the most promising sign for me. Moyes finally got to play his three at the back, albeit at a Beta level with Ben Johnson, Ogbonna and Aguerd, but it seemed his plan looked a solid one.
The Scotsman admitted he was impressed with the Moroccan’s start but that he was nowhere near fit enough to start a Premier League fixture. Click that fast-forward button again to Leicester at home, and Moyes was forced to bring the former Rennes man into Premier League action.
Probably a month or so earlier than the West Ham manager planned on chucking him in the deep end. Kurt Zouma had felt his knee in the warm-up but soldiered on just long enough for the Foxes to take the lead, play a terrible ball down the line straight out for a throw-in and fall to the ground to clutch his dodgy knee and hobble off inside the first 10 minutes of the game.
Moyes calls over Aguerd and throws him on, not in his masterplan three but in a two with Craig Dawson. Now, we all love Dawson, he has been magnificent but he isn’t blessed with much pace, and neither is Aaron Cresswell in truth, so if you’re Nayef Aguerd who is probably around 75% fit against a Leicester side already one-nil up you’re probably thinking ‘this is going to be tough’.
Sure enough, it was. Despite huffing and puffing the Hammers struggled along to a 2-0 defeat. Aguerd for his part was solid enough, a few misplaced pressured rushed passes were the only real negatives from his performance.
A few nice tackles and good balls as well, but it won’t have been the Premier League debut he would’ve wanted for himself. Moyes will now hope to be able to put together his masterplan after the World Cup, three at the back, with Kehrer, Zouma and Aguerd with wing-backs in Cresswell and one of Coufal or Johnson or someone new.
And that his dream plan he cooked up in the summer works to drag the Hammers out of the mire, as pre—World Cup West Ham looks a lot like Pre-Moyes West Ham and that wasn’t pretty. But for the new West Ham number 27, it’s been a solid start, but a start is all it has been and Moyes and West Ham will need him to kick on and help to lift this team up the league table and fast.