Lucas Paqueta poised to show Man City what they’re missing in West Ham showdown

It would hardly have taken too vigorous a flapping of a butterfly’s wings for Lucas Paqueta to be returning to the London Stadium on Saturday as a Manchester City player.

After losing Kevin De Bruyne to injury, the Premier League champions made a low-ball offer of around £60million for the Brazilian in early August, hoping he could fill the creative void.

West Ham, having already cashed in on Declan Rice, were in a position to drive the bargain hard, but there was reluctant acceptance that losing Paqueta would be inevitable were Pep Guardiola to get the chequebook out and his claws in.

But then, of course, everything went quiet, until it emerged that Paqueta was — and still is — the subject of an FA investigation into possible betting breaches related to a number of suspicious bets placed in Brazil on the midfielder to pick up yellow cards.

Outstanding response: Lucas Paqueta has continued to thrive despite an FA investigation (REUTERS)
Outstanding response: Lucas Paqueta has continued to thrive despite an FA investigation (REUTERS)

City’s interest ended there and moved on to Wolves’s Matheus Nunes, a player who, incidentally, rejected a move to east London last summer before Paqueta was brought in from Lyon. City’s loss is, for now at least, West Ham’s gain.

Paqueta’s on-field response to a situation that must be deeply distressing — either because he knows he is innocent and is seeing his name tarnished, or knows he is guilty and fears the punishment to come — has been outstanding, the playmaker central to the superb start that sees West Ham, like City, heading into Saturday afternoon’s meeting still unbeaten this term.

“Never any doubt,” manager David Moyes said, after picking Paqueta to face Chelsea last month, less than 48 hours after the FA’s investigation became public and watching him score a stoppage-time clincher from the spot. “He’s a solid and tough character. No problems.”

Paqueta’s attacking talents are obvious, but he has also excelled off the ball for West Ham

In an interview with Standard Sport this week, Moyes talked up the signing of Paqueta last summer, as well as Mohammed Kudus from Ajax this, as proof he is looking to make his side a more expansive one, while insisting that must not come at the expense of what has, bar last season’s dip, been the defining characteristics of his second stint in charge.

“Last season, we didn’t score enough goals and we want to improve on that,” he added. “But still ensuring we are hard to beat.”

Few players have figured out the blend this season as swiftly as Paqueta, whose attacking talents are obvious, but who has also excelled off the ball. No player in the Premier League has made more tackles than his 18.

According to Opta, no player in Europe’s top seven leagues has won the ball back more times than his 43. It is those tenacious traits that will be called upon when Moyes’s men see their early-season form put to its sternest test on Saturday.

The superb counter-attacking victory at Brighton last month, when the Hammers ran out 3-1 winners despite having only 22 per cent of the ball, will surely be the blueprint, Moyes packing his midfield and relying on the outlets of Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen, both of whom have made excellent starts.

Paqueta has done likewise, and Hammers fans can be thankful for now that it has come in claret and blue.