West Ham’s midfield conundrum: What’s our best lineup?

If Moyes can utilise the right options at the right time, we can still have a season to remember

Mohammed Kudus (WHU) celebrates scoring the first West Ham goal (1-1) at the Brentford v West Ham United EPL match, at The G-Tech Stadium, Brentford, London, UK on 4th November, 2023.

Recently, an interesting tweet – at least I think that’s what they’re still called – caught my eye about what our starting line-up should be. It read: ‘Kudus, Bowen, Paqueta, Alvarez and JWP all have to start. They just simply have to. But in order to fit them all in the team at least one of them will have to play out of their preferred position.’

It’s hard to argue against this, not only because these are all players in form, but also because they’ve been the standout players of the season so far for us – particularly Bowen and Ward-Prowse. Comparing the form of Bowen to, say, the form of Antonio is like comparing chalk and cheese – they’re miles apart.

So, the big question is, if they are all in the starting eleven, how do you accommodate them in the side without upsetting the balance and getting the most out of them? Here are four permutations, which we dive into here…

Option 1: Paqueta up top supported by Benrahma, Ward-Prowse, Kudus, Alvarez & Bowen

I love looking through these formations, largely because they show just how far we’ve come. There’s no Antonio or Soucek here, and last season these would have been certain starters – yet we would still consider this a really strong line-up, if not stronger. But this is a non-starter for me. You could argue that no Antonio, based on this season’s form, isn’t a bad thing, and he’s a decent option off the bench to give the opposition something to think about, but no Soucek?

He seems to have been given a new lease of life since the departure of you-know-who. He’s scoring goals again, too. Surely he can’t be left out. Also, Paqueta up front as a false 9 doesn’t work for me. I think you need his creativity in midfield, and yes, I am still thinking about that pass to Bowen in the Conference League Final. 

I also remain to be convinced that Bowen’s best position won’t be up top in the years ahead, and I think Moyes sees his position there too in the future, which I will come back to later.

Option 2: Kudus up top supported by Paqueta, Ward-Prowse, Soucek, Alvarez & Bowen

There seems to be a lot of clamour for Kudus to play up front right now. My question is, are we basing this on his abilities, or just that we think that Antonio isn’t playing well, so someone else should be there instead? What I do know is, Kudus was culpable for a mistake in the heavy defeat by Aston Villa and I don’t know if we’ve seen enough of him yet to instil him in that role, replacing Antonio. The side has been settled because overall, it’s performed well.

Overall, I think this side has a better balance than option 1. However, Soucek’s inclusion means no place for Benrahma in the 11, and whilst certain West Ham fans will no doubt be rejoicing at this, I still think he has something to offer, notably that he’s our regular penalty taker (and yes I know about JWP).

Option 3: Antonio up top supported by Paqueta, Ward-Prowse, Kudus, Alvarez & Bowen

I won’t spend a lot of time on this one because I know that this option is not the preferred one for a lot of West Ham fans, principally because it features Antonio up front. As the Football365 website put it in their weekly ‘Winners and Losers’ segment: ‘Maybe postpone the podcast, just for a bit.’ Putting in a player out of form and leaving out a player in form (Soucek) doesn’t work, so this is a flat no.

Option 4: Bowen up top supported by Paqueta, Ward-Prowse, Soucek, Alvarez & Kudus

If I’m completely honest, I think this is kind of where Moyes is headed with his desired selection in the future. As I’ve mentioned before, Moyes has already alluded to Bowen being up front rather than on the wing, seeing him as a focal point of the team with a strong and creative midfield behind him. I think Antonio, while his best days are probably behind him, still has something to offer, off of the bench. Soucek is back to being a beast in the middle. We will see where Kudus’ strongest position is in time.

And perhaps this is the point, really – we’re talking about these four formations as if they are set in stone, when the most exciting thing is the options we have, and the variety of positions that players can play in. Things can change. So perhaps it’s not about how we shoehorn these players into the side, but instead how we can best nullify the opposition. 

That’s the thing – on our day, we know we can be a match for almost anyone. Utilising the right options at the right time will be the key to our season.

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