Monday, 7 March 2011

Der Hammer breathes life into West Ham's survival campaign

With two goals and three victories in his first three matches for West Ham, Thomas Hitzlsperger has become an instant hit with the fans. Aptly named ‘Der Hammer’, he has made an excellent start at Upton Park, having waited six months for his debut at the club. 

Grant recently said of Hitzlsperger: “he’s like a new signing” – funny that, considering he only made his debut for the club three games ago.

But Grant’s relief that his summer signing is finally fit is fully understandable. Hitzlsperger, despite missing out on World Cup selection for Germany, returned to captain his country in a friendly against Denmark before the start of the season, before spending the rest of August through to February on the sidelines. 

It gives Grant the midfield balance and strength to effectively implement the 4-3-3 formation he had wanted to purse ever since acquiring his man in the summer but has not been able to (to full effect).
Until recently, West Ham have looked – at the best of times – clueless and impotent with both 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formations, with Grant attracting much criticism for his tactics. But now Hitzlsperger, alongside Scott Parker, the club’s inspirational leader, and Mark Noble, himself on the sidelines for many of the side’s poor performances this season, make up a solid midfield three. 

While Demba Ba has taken much credit as a new face to revitalise the Hammers’ campaign (and rightly so, he looks a very good player for them), Hitzlsperger has had an immediate impact too. A good tackler, excellent passer and with 52 caps for Germany under his belt, Hitzlsperger is the calibre of player which has been sorely missing at the Boleyn Ground. Ba injects some much-needed quality up-front, but there is feeling that Hitzlsperger is the missing piece in Grant’s puzzle, something of a different class, which even when West Ham have played well this season, has been missing. The club’s chances of survival with him and Ba in the side are now greatly boosted. Indeed, West Ham is no longer a side with a single player of true quality in Scott Parker. Previously, Hammers fans and management would dread an injury to their captain and talisman, exemplified by their abject display in his absence at home against Arsenal. 

Carlton Cole posted on twitter this week that he believes West Ham could still finish in the top 10 of the Premier League. I would advise concentrating on the huge relegation battle they still find themselves in, with sides around them performing well too. But I think West Ham should be fine. They now look to have the quality that was missing earlier in the season and have played some excellent football the last few matches. Though having said that, with no other Premier League team can confidence after a couple of wins be so misplaced, with some characteristically bad performances always potentially around the corner, something which the fans will be all-too-aware of. But with confidence suddenly high at the club after an otherwise flat season, and the team performing much better, they stand a good chance of survival, and Hitzlsperger might be equally as important to the their survival hopes as any other player at the club.