West Ham's fortunes are very much on the rise at the present as they face 2016 with high expectations. With their key attacking talents returning from injury and a solid defence that is parsimonious in the extreme, Hammers folk are in danger of becoming smug!
At right back most observers are trumpeting the qualities of James Tomkins. Last season, Carl Jenkinson was excellent and looked destined to make the switch to the Hammers on a more permanent basis. However, Arsenal offered him a new five year deal and then pushed him back out on loan to the Boleyn for another season.
however, things have not gone smoothly and Jenkinson has suffered a dip in form and confidence. A series of defensive errors prompted Slaven Bilic into action and the versatile James Tomkins was switched to right back. Suddenly we looked defensively intact again and everybody has been happy.
Everybody except yours truly. Tomkins is an excellent centre back - strong in the air, astute in the timing of his tackling, and although not lightening quick, he is reasonably pacey for a centre back. However, right back is a highly specialised position that has possibly changed more than any other position in the modern game and now represents a hybrid of the old role and a traditional outside right.
Watching Tomkins against Liverpool a number of issues were evident. His capacity to push forward is clearly limited compared to a natural full back but more importantly, he was continuously pulled in centrally leaving space out wide that thankfully Liverpool failed to capitalise upon. For sure, he was compelled to come across as we became stretched, but his natural inclinations towards the right centre back position were clear to see.
By no means is this to criticise Tomkins - on the contrary, its a measure of his footballing maturity that he has adapted so well to his current role. If anything, he should be a starting centre back for West Ham and should be looking to add to his international credits. Roy Hodgson attended the recent game against Southampton and one wonders which players most attracted his attentions? For the Hammers it was known well in advance that Aaron Cresswell would be missing, which leaves Tomka and Mark Noble.
As for Carl Jenkinson, he looks to regaining his confidence with some useful performances off the bench. Whethere he can re-establish himself as our starting right back is uncertain, especially as his new contract with Arsenal makes an end of season exit more likely. With rumours that Sam Byram may be on his way from Leeds, it is clear that Bilic has recognised right back as an area where we need cover. Byram is very much an attacking full back in the mould of Cressy and Bilic's preferred system ultimately requires full backs who are offensively inclined.
With James Collins in such sparkling form it seems prudent to maintain the current defensive set up, but longer term Tomkins needs to be restored to his centre back role and a specialist right back should occupy that position. With our pattern of injuries it shouldn't be long before we have to reshuffle at the back again!