David Moyes’ solution to West Ham’s fullback woe has been sitting on his bench for five games


West Ham’s fullbacks have come under scrutiny since the resumption of the Premier League, even more so after their performances against Burnley in Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat at London Stadium.

Both Aaron Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks have had iffy campaigns under first Manuel Pellegrini and then David Moyes. Both were culpable for Jay Rodriguez’s winner in midweek and it was arguably the nadir of both of their seasons so far.

Fredericks, a free transfer from Fulham in the summer of 2017, hasn’t really lived up to expectations since he joined the Hammers. Cresswell meanwhile, a long-time servant in east London, is regressing season upon season but has had little to no challengers for his spot in the team.

Fredericks had lost his place earlier this season through a combination of injury and the emergence of Jeremy Ngakia from the Hammers academy. Ngakia, of course no longer at the club, was first choice prior to lockdown and for the first game back before he decided that he didn’t want to stay at the club and has now left after his contract expired.

Had that contract been sorted, Ngakia would be lining up for the Hammers post-lockdown for the rest of the campaign as he had ousted Fredericks from the lineup and with Pablo Zabaleta having also departed after his deal ended.

Fredericks has pace to burn, is averaging three tackles per game and one interception per match. Often his pace is what bails him out as he does have afterburners in his boots. He was caught out twice against Burnley but managed to get back thanks to his jet heels.

But he didn’t cover himself in glory for Rodriguez’s goal. Fredericks meekly closed down Charlie Taylor, if you can call it that, and the Clarets left back was able to cross for the Burnley frontman to steer home past Lukasz Fabianski.

Ryan Fredericks and Dwight McNeil of Burnley in action

Going forward, Fredericks too often is afraid to take on his man. Moves stall as he passes back inside or backwards towards his centre halves, allowing the opposition to get themselves organised. When Burnley in particular get set up, it’s incredibly hard to break them down.

His match was summed up when a simple pass from Tomas Soucek across to the right flank went under the right back’s foot and out for a throw-in with the Hammers chasing the game.

On the opposite side, Cresswell didn’t fare much better. He had Rodriguez in his sights for the goal but inexplicably let the frontman get across him. Angelo Ogbonna had already dealt with the other threat in the middle, Matej Vydra.

Cresswell’s attempt to clear the ball with his foot as six-foot-one Rodriguez got his head to the ball summed up his recent form as it was all too easy for the Burnley striker to score.

Cresswell has been fortunate in that his competition at left back, Arthur Masuaku, has consistently struggled defensively and with Moyes preferring a four at the back formation is clearly loathed to use the DR Congo international. An ankle injury hasn’t helped Masuaku’s case, however.

The left back has had more impetus going forward than Fredericks has but his crossing has been incredibly hit and miss, perhaps leaning more towards the latter, since the restart.

Aaron Cresswell in action against Burnley

Both players are seemingly comfortable knowing they don’t have too much competition for their place but Moyes may well start looking at another academy product, Ben Johnson, who can play on either side of the defence but if he had a preference, it would be right back.

Having been handed his senior debut by Manuel Pellegrini last season, subsequently signing a new long-term contract, showing enormous promise in pre-season and a solid start to the under-23s campaign, Johnson was ready to make the step up.

However, a hamstring injury picked up in early September wrecked his season.

The 20-year-old didn’t play for five months, returning in late February to play 66 minutes for the Hammers youngsters at left back in a 4-0 tonking of Aston Villa.

Ben Johnson plays a pass against Crystal Palace

After the game, Johnson was looking forwards and not back, saying: “I’m back in training and I want to play more games.

Just 17 minutes into his next outing however and disaster struck when he limped off with a recurrence of the hamstring problem and would miss the next four games before returning in a 4-0 drubbing of Norwich City prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Johnson has always been highly thought of at West Ham. Pellegrini saw his potential when he called up the youngster for a training camp trip to Marbella in January 2019. A month later, Johnson was lining up for his full debut against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

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Pellegrini took Johnson on pre-season trips to Austria and then to China for the Premier League Asia Trophy, where he was the only under-23 player to head to the Far East as part of the travelling squad.

Pellegrini told football.london in Nanjing last summer : “The way he [Johnson] worked last season and the very special game against Manchester City, when he played on the left side of the defence, he is a player who has a big future.”

Should the Hammers stay up this season, right back could be an area Moyes might look to target. The Scotsman has tried previously, he had a bid rejected for Matty Cash back in January, held an interest in RB Salzburg’s Rasmus Kristensen and is now apparently keen on a move for River Plate defender Gonzalo Montiel.

The next three weeks could be crucial to Johnson’s career in east London and if he finally makes the big step up that has been expected of him for nearly two years and it could spell the end for either Fredericks or Cresswell. Of course, he can’t play in both spots so one fo the out of form duo would keep their spot ut being replaced by Johnson should be enough for the other to up their game.





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