When West Ham signed Mohammed Kudus in the summer for £38 million, it was seen as something of a coup, not dissimilar to Lucas Paqueta joining the previous year. Having dazzled for Ajax in the Champions League and Eredivisie, he was considered one of European football’s hottest properties.
The previous season he had registered 16 goals and three assists in 41 games for the Amsterdam giants across all competitions. Chelsea, Liverpool and a host of European sides were all interested. So when the deal was confirmed and he was pictured on Tim’s jet, it’s safe to say expectations were sky-high.
David Moyes, as is his way, slowly drip-fed the forward into the side, allowing him to get up to pace with the Premier League. But he has been fully unleashed now and it is safe to say that £38 million, our second most expensive signing ever, looks like it could well have been a bargain.
Kudus has shown already that he is built for the Premier League. His stocky frame and low centre of gravity, coupled with exceptionally tight ball control and blistering pace means he excels at receiving the ball in tight spaces, wriggling free of defenders and bursting into space driving us forward. And boy can he hit a ball sweetly.
His defensive work, a prerequisite for Moyes’ wingers, is equally as impressive and has further endeared him to the Hammers faithful. But it is his burgeoning chemistry as part of the front three that really has fans and pundits alike excited.
Following Antonio’s injury, Jarrod Bowen has been deployed as the centre forward, vacating the right wing spot he has made his own over the last few years. This has enabled Kudus to get a regular run of games in his preferred position and has seen Ghana’s star boy begin his ascendancy.
It is also helping to get the best out of our Brazilian magnifico. He has someone else on his wavelength, who wants to attack. And entertain, to give us a bit of that Jogo Bonito. Much is made by some fans, that Paqueta is a “number 10” and should be played centrally.
However, when he played there before, he wasn’t as effective. He thrives in being involved in the build-up. Starting wide but drifting inside allows him more room and helps him link with Emerson on the overlap.
They draw defenses and then release the explosive pair of Bowen and Kudus, who are then in more isolated situations so they can exploit the opposition. We now have a fluid front three who can interchange.
When Bowen drops deep or drifts wide, Kudus can feel the space. When Kudus cuts inside, Bowen can go into the channels where he is so dangerous. And Paqueta has options to pick out with his passes. It gives us an element of unpredictability that we have lacked before.
Moyes decision to play Paqueta as a false nine in the second half against Man United further demonstrates the flexibility this trio gives us. It is also one of the most potent pairings in the league. In all competitions this season our front three have contributed 36 goals and assists, 27 of which have been in the Premier League.
For comparison, Arsenal’s front three of Saka, Jesus, and Martinelli have 20 combined. All of Man United’s attackers have just 11 between them. Kudus himself has 10 goals and 1 assist. And if we were to be critical, his creativity is an area he can certainly still improve in.
Often he doesn’t get his head up quick enough to spot the runs or the space others find themselves in. But that only suggests he can still get better, which is a tantalizing prospect indeed. Losing him to the AFCON is going to be a blow to our aspirations this season. He will potentially be gone till mid-February if Ghana makes it to the final, and our squad players didn’t cover themselves in glory when called upon so far, as the 0-0 draw with Brighton showed.
However, it could be seen as an opportunity for one of the understudies to take centre stage in his absence – but the signs aren’t encouraging. Michail Antonio’s return to fitness could then be timely as Bowen can just revert to the right in the short term.
And when Kudus returns, we may then actually have some genuine depth in our forward areas.
But one thing is certain; if Kudus keeps performing to the level he has done so far – he could end up the brightest star in east London.