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Who is Hans Vanaken? The creative Belgian wanted by West Ham

Posted on August 24, 2022

Despite ample investment in the final third this summer, West Ham are the only team yet to score a Premier League goal this season. The Hammers have spent big to bring Gianluca Scamacca and Maxwel Cornet to the London Stadium, and while the pair linked up well on their full debut against Viborg in the Europa Conference League last week, that West Ham have failed to hit the back of the net after three games isn't ideal.

It's not for want of trying of course. David Moyes' side are averaging a modest 12.7 shots per game, and saw a Michail Antonio goal ruled out against Nottingham Forest, a match in which Declan Rice saw a second half penalty saved by Dean Henderson. It's only a matter of time before they end their goal drought, yet Moyes is taking no chances ahead of the close of the transfer market.

The departure of Nikola Vlasic, the Croat leaving for Torino on loan earlier this month, does leave West Ham short of a creative player to provide cover and competition for Pablo Fornals, Manuel Lanzini, Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma, and it's an area that West Ham are looking to strengthen ahead of next week's deadline.

Prior to Club Bruges' 2-1 win over Kortrijk on Sunday, the home fans unfurled a banner pleading with vice-captain Hans Vanaken to remain at the club. The Belgian has proven a very popular player at the Jan Breydel Stadium following his arrival from Lokeren in 2015 and the desire to retain his services is completely understandable.

Since WhoScored started collecting data for the Belgian Jupiler League ahead of the 2020/21 season, Vanaken is the Blue-Blacks' best rated player, returning a rating of 7.22 in the process. Over the same period, the 29-year-old has been directly involved in an impressive 39 league goals, netting 23 times in the process, a commendable return for the midfielder.

While West Ham showed notable signs of progress last season, reaching the Europa League semi-finals as they finished seventh in the Premier League, one thing that was found wanting was goals from midfield. Jarrod Bowen (12) finished the campaign as their top scorer in the league, with Antonio (10) second for that. In terms of goals from deeper, Benrahma (8) and Fornals (6), finished the campaign third and fourth, respectively, in the scoring charts for the Hammers. Clearly an additional threat in the supporting trio in Moyes' favoured 4-2-3-1 setup would be a huge boost for West Ham.

What stands out most about Vanaken upon first viewing is his size. At 6'4", he is an imposing figure in the middle of the park and he uses this to his advantage. A 65.7% aerial success rate since the start of last season is a respectable return fo the Belgian, who has developed a statistically calculated WhoScored strength of 'aerial duels' as a result.

However, while an effective option to counter teams that do go direct, Vanaken's best quality is his eye for a defence splitting pass. West Ham don't necessarily struggle in that regard - 8.4 key passes per game since the start of last season is a fairly modest return - but an additional creator from either a deep-lying midfield role or further forward would certainly aid the Hammers, particularly as they are the only Premier League side yet to create a clear-cut goalscoring opportunity this season.

Since the start of the 2021/22 Jupiler Pro League season, Vanaken has made 71 key passes from open play, the fourth best in the division, and ranks third for accurate through balls (7) over the same period. He's prepared to get on the ball high up the pitch and has the expert vision to pick the right pass that'll open up steadfast backlines. What's more, even in these tight areas, Vanaken is able to shake off pressure to help open up angles to be exploited.

He's been dispossessed just 53 times across 44 league appearances since the start of 2021/22 and this ability to hold off pressure from opposition markers has certainly aided Club Bruges and would benefit West Ham. Having all-but-sealed their Europa Conference League group stage spot, the Hammers will look to push on and return to the Europa League next season, be it via the competition itself and by securing a top-six finish.

In either case, Vanaken would be a hugely influential member of the squad in West Ham's push for either scenario to come to fruition, particularly when factoring in his Champions League and Europa League experience. It's no surprise, then, that the Hammers are eager to get this deal done before next week's deadline.