Lee Bowyer was left baffled over Manuel Pellegrini opting to play defender Pablo Zabaleta instead of Ryan Fredericks against Newcastle United on Saturday and many West Ham fans will surely nod in agreement upon hearing his remarks.
Laura Woods asked the former Hammers midfielder whether any blame laid at Pellegrini’s door over the 3-2 loss to Newcastle and Bowyer suggested the decision to play Zabaleta should see the West Ham boss at least take some of the slack for Saturday’s result.
Bowyer explained that playing the 34-year-old Zabaleta against the “quickest winger in the league” Newcastle United’s Allan Saint-Maximin didn’t make any sense, especially when Pellegrini could have opted for the speedy Fredericks instead.
“I would say Zabaleta, you’re playing against the quickest winger in the league and then you play Zabaleta…so…that doesn’t make any sense…because you have Fredericks and he is rapid himself, so you match them up,” said Bowyer on The Debate (23:13, Sky Sports Premier League, Monday, November 4th).
“For me, that was the wrong decision, it was a mismatch.”
It’s hard not to disagree with why Bowyer was baffled as understanding why Pellegrini opted to start Zabaleta is difficult to do.
The 34-year-old is slow by normal standards, and a snail when compared to the lighting-quick Saint-Maximim, and he hasn’t exactly wowed in his previous outings this season.
Zabaleta has only averaged a rating of 6.25 across his five league outings, averaging a woeful 0.6 tackles per game, which suggests he isn’t exactly wowing at the back for the Hammers. (Source: WhoScored)
The veteran was also one of the players who participated in the embarrassing 4-0 defeat to League One’s Oxford United in the EFL Cup.
Zabaleta only achieved a rating of 6.17, as per WhoScored, in that match and while did make two tackles as well as four clearances, he played his part in the Hammers’ defence being terrorised by a lower-rank opposition.
In comparison, Fredericks has been having a decent 2018/19 campaign and surely would have been raring to go against Newcastle after playing no part in the club’s 1-1 draw with Sheffield United.
The 27-year-old has averaged a rating of 6.73 across his 10 league outings, averaged 2.6 tackles per game and has even proven to be an attacking force going forward as he has averaged 0.9 key passes per match. (Source: WhoScored)
So when you consider both player’s form, the fact Frederick’s speed made him more suited to deal with Saint-Maximin on Saturday, it’s hard to see why Pellegrini ending up playing Zabaleta.