Pablo Fornals arrived at the London Stadium in the summer for £24m as the Hammers’ second most expensive acquisition behind record signing Sebastien Haller. The 24-year-old Spaniard has vaguely remained in the shadows of East London ever since, with his promising debut campaign going slightly under the radar to the Irons’ flirt with relegation.
No player for David Moyes’ squad recorded more assists in the Premier League this term than Fornals’ five, level with Robert Snodgrass, which highlights the creative influence he had. But former West Ham striker Frank McAvennie has been full of praise for the summer addition as well as his budding partnership with full back and academy graduate Ben Johnson.
What did he say?
Speaking to Football Insider, McAvennie said: “The boy Johnson, who played the last few games of the season, what a joy to watch.
“He played at left back and allowed Fornals to be up the other end of the park. Johnson did his job. He is a full back first, first and foremost and was telling Fornals to get up the park. That is where he can hurt the opposition. You do not want flare players in your own box,” added the former striker.
“Johnson may give a wee kick up the backside to [Aaron] Cresswell because he is playing way too far forward for me. It is taking the shine off Fornals.
I was very impressed with Johnson. Look at [Andy] Robertson and [Kieran] Tierney, they go forward, but they are defenders first. They will never get caught at the back. Sometimes Cresswell strolls back, and you cannot do that,” added McAvennie.
Johnson is primarily a right back, but he was drafted in to cover both sides of the defence with three games of the Premier League season remaining and performed exceptionally. His average of 2.7 tackles per match was phenomenal and exactly what the Hammers hero is referring to when saying that the 20-year-old is a defender first.
Fornals does make an average of 1.7 tackles per match in the top-flight but having a defender who prioritises winning the ball back allows the Spaniard licence to roam more freely in the final third, as McAvennie was eluding too. It will be interesting to see if Moyes puts his faith in the 20-year-old next term and continues to play Johnson.