Paqueta still holds the key to unlocking our new era potential

He hasn't set the Premier League alight yet but has started showing glimpses of what he can do for us

Lucas Paqueta (WHU) Noni Madueke (C) at the West Ham United v Chelsea EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on February 11, 2023.

It is safe to say that when West Ham paid £51m for a Brazilian international midfielder in the summer, we all probably hoped that come February, he would have registered more than two goals and two assists for the club. Lucas Paqueta’s arrival gave us high hopes that we had a creative player who could help us unlock defences, as we progressed to a different, more possession based game.

And yet, his career in east London has had a stuttering start thus far. Early games saw the Brazilian play off the striker, ahead of the tried and trusted Rice and Soucek double pivot. And whilst he was able to provide a few assists for Gianluca Scammaca in these games, he was often receiving the ball isolated, with his back to goal and few options of runners to feed.

It was not a role that played to his strengths. He found the physicality of defenders difficult to deal with, he held onto the ball too long waiting for support and was often uninvolved for long periods of the game. Fans and pundits questioned his value and contribution, probably miss profiling him based on his Brazilian roots, expecting some kind of samba sensation capable of dazzling dribbles, fancy footwork and long distance shooting akin to the likes of Juninho or Coutinho.

David Moyes has recently admitted as much, stating that he may have misused Paqueta to begin with: ‘When we bought Lucas, we looked at him as more of a No 10. We tried to bring in someone who could give us a link between the midfield and forward players (but) when he has played for Brazil, it’s tended to be Casemiro and Paqueta alongside him, and Neymar getting the No 10 role. Lucas Paqueta was slightly deeper. So we’ve tried to give him the opportunity to play slightly deeper, where he’s played for Brazil (now) he’s settling in much better, he’s playing better in games. We’re playing him more like a No 8.’

It is, in truth, a glaring and galling admission and raises questions about our recruitment and the communication between Moyes and Rob Newman. But that is a discussion for another time. Certainly since his return from the World Cup, and his change of role, we have seen more from our record signing.

Getting on the ball deeper, with more room to turn and find passes forward, Paqueta has definitely been able to affect games more. He is beginning to build an understanding with Rice, combining well with quick exchanges before attempting penetrative passes for the runs of Bowen, Antonio or our wing backs.

It is also a move and shift that has seemingly helped Soucek, Coufal and Emerson find some kind of form. With Paqueta sitting alongside Rice, Soucek is able to get forward more, harass higher up and find himself in the box more.

Consequently, it also means the Czech midfielder isn’t being asked to be press resistant or help build play from deep, which are not skills in his wheelhouse. Emerson and Coufal can advance more, knowing that there are now two players capable of proving passes as well as defensive cover.

Paqueta’s goal against Newcastle was a real vindication that he was finally finding his feet and form. It is possibly quite indicative of how this season is going that, as we finally appeared to be getting the best out of our ‘Brazilian Magnifico’ he sustained an injury that ruled him out for a few games. Our luck has certainly been out this year when it comes to our big money signings.

Aguerd was seemingly a key signing, both for his defensive aptitude and his passing ability, but we’ve only been able to use him since January. Just as he was nearing a return, last summer’s big defensive signing Kurt Zouma underwent knee surgery which he is yet to fully return from.

And whilst Angelo Ogbonna has deputised diligently, it is frustrating that we haven’t been able to pair the two. Our defence misses Zouma’s physical presence and one can only imagine that a combination of this and Aguerd’s impressive reading of the game, and recovery speed, will have been a bedrock on which Moyes had hoped to build.

Likewise, Gianluca Scammacca has had a stop start season due to injuries and illness and has, as yet, not really been able to build any real understanding with his team mates or get into any kind of goalscoring groove.

As for Maxwell Cornet, the Ivorian winger hasn’t been seen since October. We desperately lack pace in the side, which is something that Cornet possesses in abundance. His versatility – over his career he has operated on both wings, as a wing back and as a striker –   is also something Moyes was probably hoping to utilise much more by this point in the season.

Moyes will undoubtedly be hoping that when he can finally use all this summer’s acquisitions, they will be able to secure our status in the Premier League. If it does, don’t be surprised if Paqueta ends up being the key to unlocking this side’s potential. We must hope that it is not all too little too late.

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