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Sunday’s star man display gave West Ham fans glimpse of Paqueta’s brilliance

Posted on May 24, 2023

Last August, West Ham completed the club-record signing of Lucas Paqueta. The Brazilian swapped Lyon for east London for a reported £50m, beating the fee the Hammers paid for striker Sebastien Haller back in 2019. Despite being linked with moves to Arsenal, Newcastle and Tottenham, Paqueta was happy to depart France for the London Stadium.

There was of course pressure on the Brazil international to make an immediate impact in the capital given the fee West Ham paid for his services. The Hammers have had a mixed bag with their record arrivals, so there was the added burden that came with the transfer. Of course it's impossible to demand a player immediately adjust to the rigours of a new league, and Paqueta was no exception.

That said, given the fee paid to Lyon, supporters had every right to expect plenty from Paqueta, but it took time for the 25-year-old to make an impact in England. Now, as the season draws to a close, fans are seeing just why West Ham spent big on the Brazilian midfielder almost 12 months ago.

What has been a contributing factor to Paqueta's upturn in fortunes for the Hammers has been David Moyes' change to a 4-2-3-1 setup. Moyes had routinely tinkered with his favoured formation in the early weeks of the campaign, switching between a three-man and a four-man backline. In the former, Paqueta often joined Declan Rice in the middle of the park, thus forging the perfect Paqueta-Rice partnership, but in what was a waste of his attacking talents.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn't until Moyes saw sense and deployed Tomas Soucek alongside Rice at the base of a 4-2-3-1 that Paqueta began to really thrive for the Hammers. That's not to say Paqueta has instantly turned into a world beater, but rather supporters are beginning to see a better return for their club-record signing now than when he joined in the summer.

While it was only Leeds on Sunday, a 3-1 victory over the Yorkshire side marked Paqueta's best rated Premier League performance having returned a WhoScored rating of 8.76, enough to feature in the Premier League team of the week. The midfielder provided a superb assist for Manuel Lanzini's late strike, while a double-roulette early in the second half certainly brought the fans to their feet. What's clear is that Paqueta is playing with the confidence that was perhaps found wanting in the early weeks of his West Ham career.

"He’s looked much more settled," Moyes said of Paqueta after the home win over Sam Allardyce's side and that has translated to a series of much-improved showings in the West Ham midfield. His three best rated Premier League performances this season have come since the start of March as Paqueta shone against Southampton, Bournemouth and then on Sunday against Leeds.

There do remain issues to his game that need to be ironed out in time and that'll help West Ham progress, notably in his decision making. The Hammers don't retain possession in the same manner as those towards the top of the table, and it means their pass accuracy doesn't rank as high as the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal. Yet even so, Paqueta has made a habit of making the wrong choice, or even attempting the harder ball, when a simpler pass would allow West Ham to dominate opponents.

Paqueta ranks fifth for key passes (30) of all West Ham players in the Premier League this season, and has attempted at least six more through balls (13) than any other player for Moyes' side. However, a pass success rate of 79.7% is far lower than many would hope for a central midfielder, and this can be attributed to the former Lyon man looking to make the more difficult pass to pry apart defences rather than look pick out a teammate with an easier ball.

Conversely, Paqueta is bringing the excitement back to the London Stadium and even if his distribution is questionable, supporters would at times prefer to see a player as creative as the summer signing take a risk rather than miss a chance to play that inch-perfect pass in West Ham's pursuit of a goal.

Some fans must be sad to see the season coming to an end just as Paqueta gets into the swing of things in east London. He could end the campaign with a winners' medal around his neck as West Ham chase the Europa Conference League, in what would certainly mark a solid debut season in England, but if the last few weeks are anything to go by, supporters will be hopeful that this is the beginning of the best they get to see of Paqueta in the claret and blue.