Middle management will be vital for Zola

A LOT has been made about the lack of strikers in the West Ham squad at the moment, and that becomes even more appa-rent when you compare it to the embarrassment of riches they have in midfield, writes DAVE EVANS. Last week saw the return to action of mid

A LOT has been made about the lack of strikers in the West Ham squad at the moment, and that becomes even more appa-rent when you compare it to the embarrassment of riches they have in midfield, writes DAVE EVANS.

Last week saw the return to action of midfield general Scott Parker, meaning that only Valon Behrami is fighting for fitness, and his remarkable recovery could see him back for the Spurs game on August 23.

That means that if you include youngster Josh Payne and Nigel Quashie, the Hammers have an incredible 10 midfielders vying for a probable four places in the middle of the park.

If fit, Parker seems to be the one automatic selection, though manager Gianfranco Zola may want to ease him back gently.


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"Pre-season has been quite difficult for me as I still had the problem I had last year and only got over it two weeks before I came back," admitted the 28-year-old.

"As a professional athlete, I'm not sure you're ever 100 per cent fit, but that's the way it is.

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"I feel fine and as good as I can be. I just hope to get fit now and push on, but I've not played for the best part of four months."

One player who has got used to missing out on pre-season is England international Kieron Dyer, but after his goal against ND Sura in Austria last week, it is clear that he is at long last fit and raring to go, a real luxury for Zola.

"It was great to score, but to be honest, I am so happy to be getting so many games in pre-season," said the 30-year-old, who has 33 England caps to his name.

"It's the first one I've had in quite a while and I feel I am getting stronger and sharper with ever game I play.

"Fingers crossed I get a few more matches and will be able to achieve the main target of being in top condition come August 15 when the season starts."

Which is, of course, part of the dilemma facing Zola. What is his best midfield? And who starts the match against Wolves?

Certainly last season, Zola and Steve Clarke hit upon a diamond formation that really worked.

That saw Parker and Behrami playing with Mark Noble and Jack Collison, and the blend of youth and experience, toughness and flair worked a treat.

However, with Chilean international Luis Jimenez unlikely to have been brought to Upton Park from Inter Milan to sit on the bench, that means one of those will have to make way.

Similarly, Dyer's fitness will put him in the frame, and what about Junior Stanislas - one of the huge success stories of last season?

Added to that equation is young German Savio, who will be looking to improve on his efforts since his arrival, if he is given the opportunity.

Then there is Payne, who like Noble and Collison before him, will want to break into the first team sooner rather than later, not to mention Quashie, who is still at the club.

Some may say that it is vital to have a lot of options in midfield during a long and arduous Premier League season, especially with the amount of injuries the squad have suffered over the last two campaigns.

But it will be difficult for Zola to keep everyone happy and his management of the midfield will be one of the more important aspects of the new campaign.

The boss has been quick to stress that he is looking for goals from his midfield, something the team has been lacking in recent seasons, and if that is the main criteria, then Jimenez, Collison and Dyer may well be the choices alongside the vital and dependable Parker.

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