Dean Ashton heaped praise on West Ham new boy Pablo Fornals and as a result it should have Manuel Lanzini sweating over keeping his first-team spot.
The former Hammers player shared he thought the 23-year-old Spanish midfielder would excite Hammers fans and claimed he had real quality that could see him be the creative spark Manuel Pellegrini’s side lacked last season.
“Fornals is a player that is going to excite West Ham fans,” said Ashton in an interview with West Ham’s official website.
“Nowadays I think a lot of teams are looking more at younger prospects that can improve – like Fornals – and he’s already shown with the Spain Under-21s, like with that winning goal he scored against Belgium, that he has real quality.
“Maybe at times last season that was something the team was slightly lacking in midfield; that bit of creativity to break certain teams down, but he can add that for sure. Fornals would absolutely be a striker’s dream to play with.”
While that high praise from Ashton should be enough to worry Lanzini about his new competition, his next remarks on Fornals will make him sweat further.
“It’s going to be difficult for him to force his way straight in because of the quality that is already there. We’ve seen in previous seasons unfortunately though that injuries play their part,” added the former Hammers forward.
“Yarmolenko missing most of last season was a real blow and Lanzini only really got himself back and fully fit towards the end of the season. I think Fornals will look at it, as every new signing should do, as a real opportunity to stake a claim early on.”
Ashton clearly implies that Fornals will be gunning for Lanzini’s spot and suggests there is a real opportunity for him to make an instant claim for a place in the first-team as the 26-year-old only started to look fully fit near the end of the 2018/19 campaign.
Lanzini’s lacklustre displays in the 2018/19 campaign were put down to rustiness after missing 33 games due to injury concerns, which included a serious knee injury that kept him out of action for 229 days, but he won’t have that excuse come the start of the season.
The 26-year-old featured 10 times in his latest campaign, with an average rating of 6.72 across his outings (Source:WhoScored), and showed glimpses of his talent by scoring once and registering two assists.
However, Pellegrini will want more than glimpses from him now he’s set to have a full pre-season under his belt.
This is especially the case when you consider Fornals looks capable of replacing Lanzini due to being a similar type of player and due to Ashton being spot on that he could be the creative spark the Hammers have lacked, even when Lanzini returned.
Fornals racked up five goals and six assists across his 50 outings for Villareal in his 2018/19 campaign and was notably involved with 10% of their league goals.
Also, it’s worth noting that the 23-year-old seems more of a threat when shooting for himself as hed averaged 1.7 shots per game in his latest campaign, which is more than Lanzini did in his 2018/19 campaign and 2017/18 campaign, so that could see Pellegrini end up preferring him.
While the Hammers manager could look to utilise both, given that Lanzini needs to get back to his best, it could be his spot Fornals takes at least for a little while next season.