The Brazilian Magnifico getting us to dance to his samba beat

The pieces are finally in the right place for Lucas Paqueta, and the conductor has found his baton

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

They say good things come to those who wait. Anyone who saw Lucas Paqueta’s goal against Liverpool at the London Stadium will attest to the validity of that claim. The Brazilian strike was the manifestation of his magnificent rise to prominence within the West Ham side.

He is now beginning to look every bit the midfield orchestrator we hoped he would be when he signed for a record fee in the summer. I wrote back in March that getting the best out of the Brazilian could be the key to unlocking the team’s potential, and our form of late certainly seems to have coincided with the samba star finding his rhythm and his getting teammates dancing to his tune.

That it has taken Moyes this long to find the right midfield balance to suit all the component parts is, perhaps justifiably, a stick used to beat the “Moyes Out” drum with; but it could be that the trial and error approach has, in the end, been of benefit. After initially being utilised as a no.10, Paqueta found himself isolated, with his back to goal and unable to really play forward – suffocated by the physicality of the Premier League.

Moyes shuffled his pack and dropped him into a double pivot alongside Rice. Paqueta finally had room to breathe. Finding little pockets of space, with players ahead of him, he started to understand the team’s mechanics more.

Working in tandem with Rice, we saw Paqueta affect games more and exert more influence on matches.
He started to get on the same wavelength as Benrahma, Bowen and Antonio, learning their runs and movements. Being at the heart of the team, he became more accustomed to the tempo of the league and the rhythm of his team mates.

But whilst our form has seen an improvement since the post-World Cup adjustments, the performances still lacked intensity, fluidity and attacking intent. Someone was out of tune. Because, whilst Paqueta was starting to swim as a six alongside Rice, Soucek was floundering further upfield as a pressing no.10.

We were unable to take advantage of the high turnovers and really unleash our attacking potential and attacking moves and moments lost their momentum. Then came what may be a watershed moment for the manager, Paqueta and our season.

Despite it being only the briefest of cameo’s, Paqueta’s impact off the bench away to Gent was sensational. For 75 minutes we were laboured and passive. The introduction of the Brazilian, sharp in his pressing, incisive with his passing and full of attacking intent, nearly earnt us an undeserved victory.

Since then, Moyes appears to have finally found the formula to fix our midfield trio. Rather than playing two of them in a pivot and the other as a 10, Rice seems to be operating as a lone 6, with Soucek and Paqueta both playing more as 8s, ready to step into the second line of the press. The skipper is then ready to mop up behind or actively press the spare man if the central trap is played into.

It means that Paqueta is there, higher up the pitch and able to find penetrative passes for our front three.
The link up play is there, the passes around the corners, the flicks, the back heels, are all being executed in the right areas and releasing the right players to attack unorganised defences. The numbers don’t necessarily support the claim. Before the World Cup, Whoscored gave Paqueta an average rating of 6.8, 2.3 tackles, 0.5 interceptions, 1 key pass per 90 and a pass completion of 80.5%.

Since the World Cup, it has been 2.5 tackles, 0.7 Interceptions, 1.1 key passes, and a completion of 80.7% with an average rating of 7.05 but the eye test certainly attests to a player really finding his form. Because it is not so much about the number of tackles, interceptions or passes, but where on the pitch he is finally able to make them and the impact this can have on our attacking play.

It seems that all the pieces are finally in the right place, and the conductor has found his baton. It’s a view that the man himself agrees with, telling the clubs official site: ‘I feel the players are understanding each other more and more on the pitch. It’s normal that, with time, the players get the hang of each other.

‘I feel like we are demonstrating that in the games. I’m very happy to be helping out my teammates and West Ham as a whole. I can safely say that I am adapting. Yes, it took some time to identify myself with the pace of the Premier League, the physicality, but I believe I am now 100 per cent adapted and I hope to get better and better and give my all each time I step out onto the field.’

If he does keep improving then Lucas Paqueta really will be the entertainer, whose samba beat the team should follow, follow, follow.

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