Have West Ham found the answer to their long-term issue?

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Enner ValenciaI was pleasantly surprised to read somewhere this week that West Ham have scored the most goals from outside the penalty area so far this season of all the Premier League sides – four of them to be precise. These have come courtesy of strikes from Mauro Zarate, Stewart Downing, Enner Valencia and Mark Noble.

Such entertaining goals have been at a premium for quite a while for the Hammers before this season, and indeed manager Sam Allardyce is said not to be particularly keen on his players taking such efforts. There was even a rumour (probably untrue) that when Big Sam was manager at Bolton, he would fine players who shot from range and failed to hit the target.

So it has been great to see that the club now have players who are capable of being Goal of the Month contenders, which thrills the crowd and adds to the more enterprising approach that has been adopted on the playing field. Additionally, the threat of goals from outside the box provides the Hammers with an extra attacking edge as well as giving defenders something extra to think about.

However, there is still a lack of goals directly from free-kicks, which has been a problem for as long as I can remember watching the Hammers over the years. Even the likes of Paolo Di Canio rarely scored in such a manner. In fact over the past couple of campaigns I can only remember one goal direct from a free-kick – Stewart Downing’s effort against Tottenham Hotspur at the end of last season – which in truth owed more to the cowardice of the Spurs wall than to the quality of the strike.

In contrast, other teams have players who are a real danger from free kicks near to the edge of the penalty area, which adds an extra goalscoring option to the team, and can create panic amongst opposition defenders – terrified of making challenges in such an area of the pitch.

There were plenty of occasions last season, and indeed in recent history where the Hammers have been undone in such a manner. Just remember the two strikes from Leighton Baines from dead ball situations in the match against Everton at Upton Park last season for example, which cost West Ham dearly.

So will West Ham be able to get at least one of their players to become a free-kick specialist, and manage to contribute some valuable goals this season in this way?

One player who has shown early signs of promise in shooting from range has been summer signing Enner Valencia. His goal against Hull City last month was nothing short of sensational; with the ball pretty much stationary, he struck it with incredible force and swerve, which gave the keeper no chance.

Since then, the Ecuadorian has had a couple of attempts direct from free-kicks – one where he forced Simon Mignolet into a scrambling save against Liverpool – and then a somewhat speculative effort from a very long way out, which sailed hopelessly over the crossbar in the match against Manchester United.

Stewart Downing is another who you feel as though he should be good a shooting from free-kicks, but he has never really had the consistency with his shots since arriving at Upton Park. Apart from that I cannot think of any other obvious candidates in the squad who could provide this role. I have never been keen on Mark Noble in taking set pieces for example.

So it would be brilliant if someone like Valencia could turn out to be a real threat in this way from free-kicks, and add an extra feature to the Hammers attacking play that probably hasn’t been seen for a very long time, making them harder to defend against. I think most supporters have been delighted with the attacking performances that have been on show so far this season, and if that could be improved upon then all the better.

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  • Matt says:

    Carroll scored a free kick against Southampton in the campaign two years ago going under the wall, though he wouldn’t exactly be my first choice free kick taker.

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