Has Manuel Da Costa solved the West Ham defensive crisis?
Portuguese defender has been in top form of late
The spotlight has been firmly on Robert Green since the World Cup and there is little surprise he grabbed the headlines after his performance on Saturday. However the contribution of Manuel Da Costa against Spurs and over the past few games should not be understated.
Since last August’s transfer window, when James Collins left for Aston Villa, there has been instability at the centre of West ham’s defence with club captain Matthew Upson playing alongside seven different players in the backline.
Injuries, as well as Upson’s own precarious form, have not helped in the team’s defensive record, with the Hammers conceding 29 goals at home last season, a number only eclipsed by Portsmouth, Burnley and Bolton.
“It’s so hard to get momentum and clarity of what your job is when things change all the time,” said the skipper.
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“We need players to come in and stamp their authority on a position and make it their own.
“All good teams have that and in every position we need to have that stability. We must get that momentum going and stop letting in goals.”
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It seems like Upson’s words have been heeded and in the past two league matches he and Da Costa have been joined by Danny Gabbidon and Lars Jacobsen in defence, leading to two positive results.
At the start of the season it seemed like history was repeating itself, as Upson’s partners included James Tomkins, Gabbidon, Tal Ben Haim as well as Winston Reid, with the lack of stability at the back contributed to the club’s slip to the foot of the table.
With injuries and poor form taking hold, boss Avram Grant was forced to field sixth-choice Da Costa against Stoke.
The club’s fortunes have since changed dramatically. In the three games he has played alongside Upson the club are unbeaten, conceding just two goals in the process, while also claiming their first clean sheet in the league since last April’s 1-0 win over Sunderland.
Da Costa has performed well in each of the three matches he has played this campaign.
At well over six feet and boasting a superb leap, there are unlikely to be many better in the air, which is quite a skill to have when playing as a centre half in English football.
Against Tottenham, the French-born defender was completely dominant. Given the tough task of marking six foot, seven inch Peter Crouch, Da Costa didn’t give the England international a sniff.
He won the majority of aerial balls, put in some crunching tackles and the fact that Spurs’ sole striker managed only one shot, speaks volumes of Da Costa’s performance.
He is also a good foil for Upson, who, although is more than solid in the air, is best played as a sweeper, where he allowed to utilise his ability to read the game.
Fulham are likely to mirror Tottenham’s formation from last week and play with a lone striker, which should play into West Ham’s plans, while giving the foursome another game to gel and become that consistent unit Upson and the club have been crying out for.