Cheikhou Kouyate’s new attacking role could see the athletic African become a regular goalscorer for the Hammers…
A look back through Cheikhou Kouyate’s career history suggests the Senegal midfielder has never been particularly proficient in front of goal.
The 26-year-old had never netted twice in the same match before marking West Ham United’s first match at London Stadium – and the 321st club appearance of his career – by doing just that.
With Norway international Havard Nordtveit providing a disciplined shield in front of the back four, breaking up opposition attacks and setting the Hammers on their way with short, intelligent passes to his more creative teammates.
One of the beneficiaries of Nordtveit’s presence was Kouyate, who made the most of his more-advanced position on the pitch to terrorise the NK Domzale defence.
With his long strides, strength and desire, as well as his under-rated technical ability, the No8 can cause problems in many different ways.
On Thursday, it was his presence in the penalty area that enabled him to pounce for both of his first-half goals.
The first saw Kouyate race into the box and maintain his position on the edge of the six-yard box, from where he expertly flicked Sam Byram’s low cross past goalkeeper Axel Maraval.
Seventeen minutes later, the Dakar-born star was again just a few yards from Maraval’s goal when Andy Carroll steered Michail Antonio’s deep cross into his path, and Kouyate again needed just one touch to prod the ball past the Frenchman.
Havard Nordtveit's presence will give Cheik more freedom
In all, Kouyate had three shots, all of them on target, and scored two goals. When you consider that West Ham produced six shots on target as a team, the former Anderlecht man’s contribution becomes all the more important.
The popular midfielder scored just nine goals in 246 appearances in Belgian football, including six in 206 for the all-conquering Anderlecht.
However, the signs were there last season that Kouyate could hit the net more often if given the chance further up the field, when he scored five in 42 games for the Hammers.
Now it seems that Slaven Bilic wants to give his ‘great engine and determination and quality’ a chance to flourish in attacking areas, and West Ham look set to benefit.
If Kouyate gets into the opposition penalty area regularly, he will get chances. He is quicker than he looks, strong, anticipates opportunities to get to the ball before others and can finish with his feet and his head. In short, we can expect more goals and more ‘Lions of Teranga’ – the Senegal national team’s nickname – celebrations!
Fans putting the final touches to their fantasy football teams for the coming Premier League campaign could find a sneaky bargain in the shape of West Ham’s newly-prolific No8!