It is a well-documented fact that West Ham are dangerously light on fit first-team players in their senior squad this season.
In fact, only the flanks can be considered as having a relative surplus of players, given 5 first team quality fullbacks are available to David Moyes, and a plethora of internationally capped wingers too. Everywhere else, considered the spine of a football side – central defence, midfield, and centre forward – are dangerously light on quality personnel.
Barring the centre forward spot, with only former winger Michail Antonio as David Moyes’ only option there, arguably no position is more understaffed than central midfield. Which begs the question – why is a young, internationally capped central midfielder being underutilised, as midfield lynchpins Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek are worked into the ground with endless back-to-back 90-minute stints?
The curious case of Alex Kral’s season
Alex Kral, the compatriot of Hammers stars Soucek and Vladimir Coufal, was brought in to much fanfare from Spartak Moscow in the summer, after a lengthy courtship by the London side.
The 23-year-old had long started at the base of midfield for club and country and was seen as the possible third “Czech Mate” to join a club quickly ramping up its connection to the Eastern European nation. With the West Ham midfield in dire need of a backup for their defensive midfield duo (given Mark Noble was their only reserve), Kral was a logical fit.
Crucially, however, the club had negotiated a loan deal, whereby Kral’s deal was to be made permanent only on playing a certain amount of games. Any player takes a certain amount of time to transition to the fast-paced nature of the Premier League – particularly so for Kral when coming across from the much slower Russian league.
While he enjoyed a solid early game in midfield against Manchester United in the EFL Cup, his following few appearances in cup competitions were mediocre at best.
The West Ham boss, pragmatic as ever
Unfortunately, it appears David Moyes, pragmatic as ever, has deemed Kral not good enough for his squad and made a decision not to play him, in order to avoid activating his transfer fee. While this makes sense, in that Moyes avoids being lugged with a player he does not want beyond this season, it effectively leaves the squad with only Noble once more as the sole midfield backup.
Ultimately, with Noble well past his prime, Moyes has had to resort to playing either or both Rice and Soucek in virtually every single game they are fit. While (miraculously) neither have been out for extended periods of time thus far, this risk would surely have been alleviated in January by recalling Connor Coventry, cancelling Kral’s loan and signing a replacement, or, in fact, playing him.
With the season reaching its climax for a Hammers side still in the hunt for European places and the Europa League, now is the time they will hope their midfielders’ gruelling workload won’t come back to haunt them. If it does, somehow you feel Moyes would rather play Craig Dawson there, out of position, than poor Kral.