Alex Song, West Ham, and necessary diversification

Alex Song

Alexandre Song has returned to West Ham on a season-long loan and, once fit, he’ll diversify Slaven Bilic’s options in midfield.

That’s probably the right way to view it, too.

West Ham’s start to the season has been a mixture of the good and the bad, with the mightily impressive performances at Anfield and the Emirates being undermined by fairly chaotic displays at the Boleyn Ground.  And, while it’s too early to make any serious conclusions about what that means or what it is that’s behind that contradictory form, Song is still probably a reaction to it.

Deep-lying midfielder though he is, he is really a front-foot player in mentality.  Away from home this season, West Ham have been superb and the discipline and defensive responsibility of their three-man central-midfield was at the heart of their two wins.

At the Boleyn Ground, however, it’s been slightly different.  On the second weekend of the season, Leicester City essentially did to them what they had been so successful in doing to Arsenal the week before: absorbing blunt attacking football, ceding possession and taking counter-attacking opportunities as they fell.

Similarly, although the Bournemouth game was characterised by defensive friendly-fire, West Ham’s failure to be penetrative with the ball was equally problematic.  They may have scored three times in that game, but it’s worth remembering that - once they had a lead and once they regained it after losing it - the visitors became increasingly passive in an effort to secure the points.  In a way, then, West Ham were invited back into that game and allowed to impose themselves with sheer weight of numbers rather than through any real guile.

Song will theoretically prevent that situation from re-occurring.  He rather phoned-in the second half of last season and he became an increasingly ineffective presence in games, but at his best he’s a very aggressive holding-midfielder.  He may not charge up the pitch or be much of a threat in an opponent’s half, but his distribution from the base of midfield is very eclectic and his ability to continually change the focus of attacks will be an especially pertinent quality at the Boleyn Ground against inferior opponents.

That’s probably the logic behind the signing.  He’s a very good player, but he’s also the right sort of player in that he is stylistically different from Pedro Obiang, Reece Oxford, Mark Noble or Cheik Kouyate.  At home, West Ham need to play slightly quicker, with a bit more variation, and also in a way that stretches an opponent’s shape a bit more.

Song will help them do that.  His passing range is very broad, he’s capable of stepping out of and around tackles, and offers a degree of dynamism that this squad really needs in midfield.

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