West Ham’s unsung hero could be key to their push for Europe
While Leicester City have become the darlings of the media and neutral alike, West Ham United have perhaps gone under the radar somewhat in their quest to upset the Premier League status quo .
Their dogged 1-0 victory of Tottenham on Wednesday saw the Hammers move on to 46 points, just one behind both Manchester clubs who sit in the fourth and fifth spots respectively.
The performance from the east London club was one apt for probably the final Premier League fixture under the lights at their much-loved home of 112 years, as the whole squad showed grit and determination to dent their London rivals’ title ambitions.
It was the perfect summation of the side’s season as the captain Mark Noble brought about comparisons to Billy Bonds with an imperious, no nonsense performance in the centre of the park, while the quality of Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini was delivered in flashes once again.
Pedro Obiang showed that he is very much a part of the first XI, while Michail Antonio continued to impress with another goal in the claret and blue.
Amongst all that was a showing from Cheikhou Kouyate that was no surprise to the home faithful as the powerful Senegalese delivered an excellent performance that demonstrated his versatility and influence.
All season the former Anderlecht man has been a vital cog in Bilic’s machine and has continued to prove his worth in the team, and then some, usurping Alex Song in the race for a starting spot.
The central midfielder has shown that he’s not just the physical brute that his frame suggests, providing an extra outlet in attack bagging four goals and providing an assist this season.
This week though, it was his defensive capabilities that shone through as he was forced back into a defensive three against Tottenham.
Kouyate has proved a tough nut for opposition midfielders and attackers to crack this term, with Squawka stats showing that no player in West Ham’s squad has won more duels than the 26-year-old.
In the air, 57 winning aerial successes is clear of the likes of Andy Carroll and James Collins, while only Noble has got within 10 of him in the ‘tackles won’ department.
With the aforementioned Collins limping off injured, and Angelo Ogbonna nursing a knock, 17-year-old Reece Oxford was brought on to steady the defensive ship.
As Tottenham pushed for a late equaliser it would have been easy for the teenager to crack under pressure, but alongside the dominant Kouyate, he looked assured and composed.
Of course, Oxford himself deserves plenty of credit, but his elder team-mate ensured he had his back on all occasions.
The battle for the European spots looks set to go down to the wire and with the potential for Collins and Ogbonna to join Winston Reid and James Tomkins on the treatment table, Kouyate could yet have to fill in in defence again.
And with the 24-capped international a model of consistency this term, it seems Irons’ fans have little to worry about.
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing.