Lucas Paqueta shows his class as West Ham gear up for fairytale European final
FROM LONDON STADIUM – With two roulette spins perfectly executed within the space of five seconds, West Ham’s supporters, enjoying a week to remember, roared with appreciation.
Such audacity is rarely seen in the Premier League, let alone attempted by a West Ham player. Dimitri Payet and Paolo Di Canio the star turns of yesteryear who may have given it a go, maybe even Joe Cole. This time it was Lucas Paqueta bringing 60,000 to their feet.
The Brazilian became West Ham’s record signing last summer, penning a five-year contract in a deal understood to be worth more than £50m plus add-ons. There was huge anticipation and excitement around his arrival. The dawning of a new era, some felt.
But, like with most things in life, it’s taken a little while for Paqueta to click into gear. The 25-year-old has needed time to adjust to the pace of the Premier League and life hasn’t been plain sailing.
Paqueta, who was a regular starter for Brazil at the 2022 World Cup, has begun to hit his stride in recent weeks, though, and he was the standout performer against Sam Allardyce’s Leeds United, who started their quest for three points in east London brightly before falling into old, bad habits.
He produced not only the aforementioned pieces of brilliant skill but an overall performance that was instrumental in helping West Ham take control of the game – they had started sluggishly and quickly trailed to Rodrigo’s superb volley. The momentum shifted as soon as Paqueta started getting hold of the ball, driving at a midfield that was clearly inferior in quality.
Lucas Paqueta stat pack vs Leeds
Robin Koch in particular was soon overrun as Paqueta, ably supported by Declan Rice, began to make things tick. Quick feet, astute body positioning to protect the ball, strength when contesting one-on-one; all traits he showed off on numerous occasions.
West Ham manager David Moyes has previously spoken about the need for players, no matter their price tag, to be given time to adjust to the Premier League. Pablo Fornals a previous example of a foreign import needing to get used to their new surroundings.
Paqueta has also taken time to settle but that’s not something Moyes was unprepared for, despite his hefty price tag. Indeed, the Scot knew some of his summer signings would need time to acclimatise – a change of tact by West Ham in the transfer market given they usually look to sign players who can make an immediate impact.
“I think a lot of the teams are looking that way. If you have a model, which we’ve had some good models in Brentford, Brighton, people etc it’s for longer, they’re probably not absolutely signing for now, they might just be signing for a couple years down the line,” Moyes said when asked by 90min about West Ham looking abroad with their business.
“Our model has more been when they come in, they need to be ready. Probably this year, we bought in quite a few players and for me personally, not so many of them hit the ground running. But I think Lucas has been the one who has really, really come through now and shown it. It’s a good time for us, because at the end of the season, we needed him. Making some goals, helping us get to a final and obviously, he performed really well today.”
There are areas of Paqueta’s game that still need fine tuning, despite the improvement. Making the right decisions and not overplaying immediately spring to mind. Releasing the pass earlier another thing that could be worked on.
But those failings pale into insignificance when he does so many other things so well. The subtle drops of the shoulder, the quick changes of pace and the ability to beat a player. Paqueta could, and should, have had a goal for himself – as Leeds committed bodies forward to expose themselves to the counter – but in the end he had to settle for an assist for Manuel Lanzini’s goal. It was certainly enough to convince Moyes that things are heading in the right direction.
“I think we’re beginning to see someone who we brought to make assist, score goals if he could. He’s looked much more settled,” Moyes added of Paqueta.
“Still at times I think, don’t do so much, and we’re trying to show him that, but he’s got it in his blood. He always wants to make the hard pass, which is a good thing because it probably leads to a goal. We need to see it more but today I thought he was really, really good, exceptionally good and played a big part in a lot of things we did.”
Paqueta’s first year at West Ham could culminate in a Europa Conference League winner’s medal and a place in the 2023/24 Europa League. On the evidence of this performance, he’s likely to be front and centre in Prague if the Hammers are to make their first European final in 47 years a night they’ll never forget.