Coming off the back of a largely unsuccessful 19/20 campaign, hammers must have been feeling quietly underwhelmed by how the Paraguayan international had performed throughout the season, but he now appears to be becoming a key player for David Moyes.
The 6’2 Paraguayan has hit the ground running this season, assisting West Ham to one of their best starts to a Premier League season in their recent history, guiding his defence to 4 clean sheets in their first 11 games, whilst scoring what proved to be a hugely important goal in the hammer’s shock 3-3 draw with Spurs.
Obviously, scoring goals isn’t what he is known for, yet David Moyes will be fully aware of the aerial threat he provides from set pieces due to his stocky build and towering height. Previous to this, he had only 2 Premier League goals, making Fabian’s important goal even more of a spectacle.
Wearing the number 4 shirt, Fabian Balbuena has been an influential figure in West Ham’s revitalized 5 at the back structure, with him occupying the right centre back spot. Playing next to Vladimir Coufal, Fabian has been able to act as a covering centre-half, which may be one of the reasons he has been so impressive this campaign.
Before the 20/21 season, Balbuena had been deployed in a four at the back structure, with the role of picking up the ball in deep positions and carrying it forward. This wasn’t exactly his forte as many fans found out, with his on the ball ability being below the standard you would expect from a Premier League centre-half. His poor performances in the four at the back structure caused many hammers fans to write him off, and rightly so after some of the shambolic performances he put in.
Fabian was part of the embarrassing 4-0 slaughtering League One side Oxford City inflicted onto the hammers, yet I feel as though the fact he was playing in-front of the worst goalkeeper in Premier League history, Roberto, can’t go un-noticed. Fabian wouldn’t have been able to fully concentrate on his own game, as he would have been constantly worrying about Roberto’s next move.
It is a similar situation to that of what is happening at Chelsea. Ever since Edouard Mendy has been between the sticks, the entire defence has looked twice as confident as they did before, and this is simply because they are able to trust the player behind them. Prior to this, Kepa Arrizabalaga was the man organizing Chelsea’s defence, and I’m pretty sure you’ll all be aware of how that man used to perform. Yet Chelsea’s recent defensive solidity just goes to show that a reliable goalkeeper really does impact the overall quality of defending within a club.
Fabianski’s return has had the same effect as Mendy’s arrival, with Balbuena’s revitalization being largely thanks to his reliable aura in goal.
You may be asking how a goalkeeper can affect a defender’s performance levels, and the simple answer is confidence. When playing Infront of a human wall in Fabianski, defenders will be able to defend with the knowledge of the man covering them being top class. Conversely, when playing with an abysmal goalkeeper such as Roberto behind you, not only will he not be organizing his defence, he’ll also be causing you copious amounts of stress, as you simply won’t know what he is going to do next.
Seriously, Roberto was that bad.
Going back to Fabian, I feel as though going forward, he should only be utilised when playing in a back 5, as he simply does not possess the pace and on the ball prowess a Premier League footballer should. However, at this very moment in time he is quickly becoming an imperative piece to David Moyes’ puzzle.
The Paraguayan international’s return to the first team squad has left French-man Issa Diop isolated in the fringes of the squad, which begs the question of “Should West Ham have sold Issa Diop for 40 million when the offers were there?” The simple answer is yes, they should have in every way imaginable.
Fabian Balbuena certainly seems to be back to his best in this 5 at the back setup, and all credit to David Moyes where it is due for getting the best out of him.