West Ham United manager David Moyes has an opportunity to experiment with the team for the Europa Conference League clash against FCSB tonight, with his side already securing progression to the knockout phase as group winners, having won all five games in the competition so far.
With that in mind, the 59-year-old should be looking to properly integrate new boy Flynn Downes into the team, reverting to playing him in his more favoured position of central midfield, in which he offers so much more to the team.
On the Chalkboard
Since signing for his boyhood club for what the club announced as an undisclosed fee in the summer, Downes has failed to make his mark at the London Stadium, yet to record a goal or an assist in 11 Hammers appearances despite often playing in an advanced role, starting on the right wing against Liverpool, and behind Gianluca Scamacca in a playmaker role against Manchester United.
However, attacking contributions were never the 23-year-old’s forte, registering just one goal and two assists during his time with Swansea City in the Championship, commonly playing in a deeper role, an area of the field where he manages to make more of an impact on the game.
The Englishman was dubbed “incredible” by his former manager Russell Martin, and he began to show why at the start of October when Moyes opted to play him further back, accompanying more creative midfielders in the middle of the pitch.
For the 1-0 win at Anderlecht, the Ipswich Town academy graduate started next to the more forward-thinking Manuel Lanzini, allowing him and dynamic winger Said Benrahma to advance forward, while he focussed more on his defensive duties.
In what was an encouraging performance, the £25k-per-week enforcer made five tackles in the match, more than any other West Ham player, while two interceptions was the second-highest total in the side, highlighting his defensive acumen.
West Ham’s summer signing flourishing in duties such as winning the ball back for his team likens his game to that of Declan Rice, who is forever linked with moves to the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, so it is important that he continues to start in a similar role to the England international, as he could make a suitable long-term replacement if the Hammers cannot persuade him to stay at the club.
There is also a similarity in terms of the ability to retain possession, with Rice boasting a 91% pass accuracy in the Premier League this season, compared to Downes’ figure of 84%, which, while still impressive, may be slightly lower due to being played in more advanced positions than his counterpart, and therefore being expected to make riskier passes.
As such, it is important that West Ham’s £12m summer signing continues to develop in the position that he is best suited to, and Moyes should start him in central midfield tonight, allowing more creative players such as Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini to play further forward.