Manchester United supporters leaving Old Trafford on Sunday will have been pleasantly surprised by the near perfect performance turned in by debutant Nemanja Matic with the Serbian showing a uniquely technical side of his game in the 4-0 victory over West Ham.
It wouldn’t be fair on the hosts to suggest he alone was the difference between the two teams but it is clear his arrival from Chelsea has gone a long way to improve Jose Mourinho’s side this season.
In the opposite dugout, Slaven Bilic watched his side struggle for the entirety of the match and in the end the result was actually a fair one. The Hammers never turned up and they themselves lacked a midfield presence like Matic who is technically gifted enough to drag the team forward.
This is why the impending arrival of William Carvalho from Sporting Lisbon makes so much sense; although supporters have to be aware he has his limitations and won’t be able to do it all on his own, he’ll need help.
Carvalho is a name synonymous with the English press with the midfielder having been linked regularly with moves to Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United over the course of recent transfer windows.
For whatever reason such a move never came to fruition but with the East London club believed to have tabled an offer upwards of £35 million, it is likely we will see the Portuguese star in the Premier League soon enough.
What he will bring to the London Stadium is actually misrepresented occasionally due to his build. He is a strong, physical presence but this doesn’t necessarily shape his game. He is a very technically gifted midfielder and can sit at the base of a midfield and shield a defence or play a little further up and be creative.
His range of passing is excellent and one of the things West Ham simply failed to do at Old Trafford was keep the ball for any length of time, Carvalho will only help that cause.
It is interesting to look at the makeup of Bilic’s midfield at this moment in time, in the captain Mark Noble you have a player who will do a lot of the dirty work defensively and partnering him with the 25-year-old could actually protect the Portuguese midfielder and allow him to dictate games.
You cannot however expect him to do it all himself, his physical stature at times limits him.
Of course this is very seldom the case but there are times when his lack of speed, agility and mobility are highlighted. He doesn’t have a great turn and if players are running at him in space he will struggle.
This is why it may well be prudent not to thrust him in as a shielding midfielder right away. Despite his experience on the international stage with Portugal, the step up from the Portuguese Liga to the Premier League is huge, there is no way around that.
He will have to be eased in if West Ham are to see the best of him this season.
Not a tough-tackler
Currently there is a sizable amount of debate surrounding the necessity of tackling in football. Pep Guardiola infamously stated last season that he doesn’t coach it and whilst that seems bizarre as a sound-bite it does translate to how his teams play on the pitch.
Sergio Busquets is the best defensive midfielder in the world and has been for the last five to seven years. He has revolutionised the role in the sense that he doesn’t tackle regularly; his strength is anticipation and being in the right place to cut danger out.
Carvalho is similar in this regard, don’t expect him to be charging through people to win possession back, that will be Noble’s job, the Portuguese international will place himself smartly and close passing lanes or anticipate a loose ball.
This level of protection is what West Ham’s defence has lacked over the past season and it was evident again at Old Trafford. Winston Reid had his hands full attempting to deal with Romelu Lukaku in the centre whilst Marcus Rashford just punished an isolated Pablo Zabaleta all afternoon.
Carvalho’s arrival will not solve those problems but he will be a huge help. His technical prowess is so eye-catching and clearly he will make the Irons a higher quality, more attractive team in transitional play.
Still a coup, nevertheless
Of course you have to wonder why a player with such potential and a reputation like his has never left the comfort of Sporting Lisbon until age 25, why has he never been taken by a team like Arsenal, Manchester United or Juventus when they have been desperate for a shielding presence for years?
The answer in truth isn’t really relevant to West Ham. They are getting a coup whichever way you look at it, an expensive one, but a coup nevertheless.
Adding quality to a team in the transfer window can never hurt and when Dimitri Payet walked out in January, West Ham lost an awful lot of quality. Carvalho is an entirely different player but it is encouraging for the club’s development that they can attract such a player.
If the players around Carvalho can improve then Bilic has a lot to work with over the coming season. Pedro Obiang had a wonderful year last season and will only improve playing alongside Carvalho.
West Ham’s transitional play will improve as previously mentioned which in turn could help them recapture the counter-attacking threat that defined their exceptional 2015/16 campaign with several memorable away victories.
Of course the Portuguese midfielder has his limits and he won’t be the all-action presence many supporters may be tricked into expecting given his build but the fact is he will bring a lot of quality to the club at a time when they desperately need a lift.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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