Tuesday, 4 February 2014

New Signings: Abdul Razak & Pablo Armero

Abdul Razak
DOB: 11/11/1992
Age: 21
Position: Midfield

Previous Club: Anzhi Makhachkala
Previous Division: SOGAZ Russian Football Championship

Transfer Date: 30/01/2014
Reported Fee: Free

Pablo Armero
DOB: 02/11/1986
Age: 27
Position: Left Back

Previous Club: SC Napoli
Previous Division: Serie A

Transfer Date: 31/01/2014
Reported Fee: Season Loan

The final two editions of last month’s transfer window were former Manchester City academy graduate Abdul Razak, and Colombian international left back Pablo Armero.

It’s fair to say the majority of West Ham fans will know little about either player, and may be a little unsure over what the can bring to the Claret & Blue from now to the end of the season, and possibly beyond that.

Let’s start with Razak.

The Ivorian has endured a rather difficult spell in Russia since departing City in September. As has been well publicised, Anzhi Makhachkala are no longer the big spending powerhouse they had threatened to be a year or two ago, with their owner withdrawing his billions in an attempt to cut costs. As a result, the club have been, frankly, rubbish this season, with just two wins all season – both against Norweigen side Tromsø IL in the Europa League.

The early whispers among the fans here has been that this signing is a strange one, but that Razak should keep Alou Diarra further down the pecking order, which instantly makes it a success, in my opinion.

But Razak is a completely different player to Diarra, and is actually more akin to the likes of Nocerino or Noble in the middle of the park. Razak enjoyed a pass success rate of 82% whilst in Russia – better than competitors Mohamed Diamé (78%), Jack Collison (81%), Matthew Taylor (65%) and equal to Antonio Nocerino (82%). As well as holding a better passing accuracy than his new teammates, Razak also attempts more passes than all of the players mentioned above.

The chart below shows the number of passes played per game by each player. Razak’s 34 per game is almost double that of Diamé (18) and is significantly higher than each of the other three (Collison 20, Taylor 21, Nocerino 22).

The best example of Razak’s game probably came in the Europa League against Tromsø. Razak completed 51 of his 61 passes on the day. But it is the images below that best display Razak’s main skillset.

The first image shows his heatmap from the game. As you can see, he was everywhere, in a performance not unlike what we might see from Mohamed Diamé. And the second image shows just how similar the two can be, with Razak completing 5 of 7 attempted take ons.

How much we are likely to see of Abdul in a West Ham shirt is up for debate. However, what is plainly clear is that he is a player with potential. He has the drive of a Diamé, but the passing range of a Noble. As of today, the position of central midfield partner to Mark Noble is still up for grabs. Should Razak be afforded the opportunity to stake his claim, we might just see him keep the spot.

The final transfer of the window was SC Napoli fullback Pablo Armero.

The Colombian was brought in as a last minute replacement for the suddenly departed Rǎzvan Raţ. I’ve seen some fans questioning the wisdom of this pair of transfers, particularly with George McCartney currently in form, and with a few able stand ins within the squad already (Matthew Taylor, Joey O’Brien, Dan Potts). It seems there is a feeling that right back is the fullback position we should have targeted.

So why did the club decide to bring in Armero?

According to rumour, Raţ was disposed of because of his failure to adhere to instruction, and getting into a habit of being too far up field, and too far out of position. Well, if the idea was to bring in a more disciplined fullback, Allardyce and his team may not be getting what they were anticipating.

Armero has made his name in Italy has an attacking wingback, with Napoli, and previously Udinese, often going with a 3-5-2 formation. This side of his game is where he excels. The chart below shows Armero’s offensive performance compared with Raţ and McCartney.

As you can see, Armero attempts less crosses per game than Raţ, but other than that he outstrips his competitors. The Colombian international makes 2.7 crosses per game, takes on his man 1.7 times per game (McCartney attempts 0.6 and Raţ attempted 0 in his 15 league appearances), and creates 0.8 chances per game, more than both the others.

And the images below display Armero in action. The heatmap comes from Napoli’s two nil victory over Atalanta earlier in the season. Armero spent the majority of the game in the opposition half, acting as more of an attacking outlet than a defender. And the second image shows his passes on the same day, again illustrating the fact that he spends as much time as possible as far forward as possible.

Defensively, Armero is probably the weakest of himself, McCartney and Raţ, making an average of 3.2 defensive actions per game compared to McCartney’s 7.9 and Raţ’s 6.5, as displayed in the chart below.

But that’s not to say the Colombian can’t defend.

Armero has attempted more tackles per game (2.2) than McCartney (2.1) and Raţ (1.9) this season, with a success rate of 48%. And combined with his far superior aerial success rate of 82% (Raţ 54%, McCartney 48%), you have a very good all round player.

On paper, Amero is everything that Raţ was meant to be. He will offer an alternative to McCartney, and will undoubtedly trouble the opposition with his electric pace.

On the whole, the verdict on both of these signings is that they have the potential to be shrewd acquisitions. Armero certainly is has the ability to be a regular in this West Ham side, whilst Razak has all the potential to become a top player in the future, and the ability to hit the ground running.

And if these signings, along with our double Italian loan swoop, can blend and make an impact with our side, we have the possibility of fielding a very good side.

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