The three realistic Issa Diop and Kurt Zouma alternatives have become clear for West Ham ahead of Sunday’s Chelsea clash.
West Ham head to rivals Chelsea for a big London derby on Sunday with much to play for.
Chelsea find themselves in a difficult situation mentally with the FA Cup final now their only chance of silverware this season.
The Blues are more or less guaranteed third spot in the Premier League and were knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid last week.
Tuchel’s side have put in some Jekyll and Hyde performances of late. And the same can be said of West Ham who are now struggling to maintain performance levels between the Europa League and domestically.
A case in point is last week when West Ham’s amazing 3-0 away win at Lyon – which set up a semi-final against German side Eintracht Frankfurt – was followed by a 1-1 draw at home to Burnley.
That result – and a 2-0 defeat at Brentford the week before – has piled pressure on West Ham’s remaining Premier League games if they want to seal a Europa League spot for next season.
The Hammers can of course qualify directly for the Champions League by winning the Europa League.
But David Moyes’s task has been made seriously difficult by injuries to Diop and Zouma.
Moyes delivered a more hopeful outlook on both in his pre-Chelsea press conference.
But with both definitely missing from the squad at Stamford Bridge, Moyes faces a real dilemma over how best to set his team up given the crisis at left centre-back.
Well the three realistic Diop and Zouma alternatives have become clear for West Ham ahead of the Chelsea clash.
When we say realistic that means no Alex Kral suddenly shoe-horned in at centre-back. And no big risks taken on Aji Alese or Jamal Baptiste for such a big match.
Although Moyes has chucked youngsters into the team for big matches before, centre-back is a different kettle of fish.
Therefore the three alternatives right now for West Ham quickly become clear, starting at Chelsea.
And two of them rely on a formation change to a back five – which served West Ham well on occasion last season but not so much this.
1: Back five with Ben Johnson and Aaron Cresswell either side of Craig Dawson
Johnson has played as a centre-back in a back three for West Ham before. So too has Cresswell. So it could be they play either side of Dawson with Vladimir Coufal and Ryan Fredericks at right wingback and left wingback respectively.
It is highly unlikely Moyes will risk the hapless Arthur Masuaku in the side unless an absolute emergency. The DR Congo international surely certain to leave this summer and won’t be missed.
Fredericks and Coufal may be right backs by trade. But both can play on the left if needed just like Johnson.
That would allow West Ham to keep Declan Rice in midfield where he is so important.
2: Back five with Vladimir Coufal and Pablo Fornals
Another realistic option would be to play either Johnson or Coufal at RCB – both have played there for the Hammers before – and the other at right wingback.
Cresswell again would be used at LCB on the other side of Dawson.
But this alternative would see energetic and hardworking Spanish midfield star Fornals play as a left wingback.
Fornals has fulfilled this role before with some success. And Moyes trialled it on a number of occasions in pre-season too.
3: Back four with Rice dropping in
The least desirable of the options but one Moyes has admitted may be unavoidable. Rice started life as a centre-back and would undoubtedly be the best option defensively.
He may also be able to burst out of defence and start attacks on occasion.
There is no hiding the fact, though, that West Ham would lose so much from central midfield as a result.
Fornals, Manuel Lanzini or Mark Noble could in the deeper lying midfield role. And both Fornals and Lanzini have the legs and ability to get forward too.
But would Moyes be cutting off his nose to spite his face by using Rice as a CB? Conversely, would West Ham be strong enough defensively if using the first two alternatives?
Chelsea have their own injury problems ahead of the game.
And a comment from Blues boss Thomas Tuchel will have Hammers striker Michail Antonio licking his lips.