Be careful of Payet, Neil Humphreys warns Liverpool
West Ham winger proving to be signing of the season
LIVERPOOL v WEST HAM
(Tomorrow, 1.20am, Singtel TV Ch 109)
Galatasaray have been on the phone and other clubs are expected to call in the coming days.
Dimitri Payet is already the signing of the season, but now he wears a target on his back.
Like Thor's enemies, everyone wants to get their hands on the most powerful Hammer.
In a season of surprises, the West Ham winger is quietly emerging as the biggest of them all.
Rather than explode onto the scene like Leicester's Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, Payet's emergence has been more of a slow burn before dazzling against Manchester City last weekend.
The Frenchman tormented the title contenders with delicious contempt. It was anarchy out wide, with Payet tearing up the rulebook and spitting out fullbacks like unwanted chicken bones.
City didn't know what had hit them. Nor will Liverpool, if they do not prepare accordingly for their FA Cup fourth-round clash tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Payet fits the campaign's refreshing retro vibe, being a welcome throwback to those dribbling wizards of traditional 4-4-2 formations.
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic still favours a nominal 4-3-3, but the front three are not squeezed with all the subtlety of a malnourished supermodel sucking in her stomach.
Payet isn't a modern inverted winger in the conventional sense. He can drop his right shoulder and drift inside when he must, but he really loves to dribble.
When the 28-year-old takes possession on the left, there is an air of anticipation, a sense of the unexpected that was once commonplace in the days of Giggs, McManaman, Kanchelskis, Waddle and Pires.
As certain managers inexplicably emphasise pointless possession over attacking panache, spectators are denied one of the game's simplest, purest pleasures.
Nothing gets bums off seats faster than one footballer beating another.
Whether it's a burst of pace, a nutmeg, a backheel or an unexplained magic trick, mavericks make us smile.
But dribbling is a dying art, particularly in the Premier League, where insufferable possession is matched by a new wave of counter-pressing.
To watch Leicester move from midfield to attack in one fluid motion is to sit in a box of exploding fireworks, a truly exhilarating spectacle.
But there's rarely the time nor the inclination for a winger to collect the ball and charge against a jittery fullback.
Payet is proving to be an intoxicating exception.
His £10 million ($20.3m) fee already looked a bargain before the City game. But, as he pickpocketed Bacary Sagna, he looked like a steal.
Bilic labelled him priceless, which is never entirely true. Every footballer has his price.
But West Ham's manager was correct to state Payet's incalculable value to the club right now.
The Frenchman's recent return from injury resurrected the club's top-four aspirations and plugged a gaping hole.
Payet has scored six goals and created four others in just 16 league appearances at a time when West Ham lack a striker with more than four league goals to his name.
Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho are both out injured, forcing Bilic to peer into the transfer window for a last-minute bargain to alleviate Payet's burden.
If he's not quite a one-man band, then he holds the conductor's baton. The Hammers are off-key without him.
And their unexpected hero could make a villain of Juergen Klopp if the Liverpool boss doesn't satisfactorily address his risk management.
The German has promised to make several changes, a questionable decision in itself considering Liverpool's top-four chances are negligible and silverware acts as a terrific Band-Aid for old wounds.
Steven Caulker, a strange signing in the first place, might make his full Reds debut against West Ham. If the newcomer goes one on one with Payet, he loses.
Jon Flanagan is also tipped to make the first 11, which would be only his second start in 20 months.
Flanagan usually fills in at right back. Payet favours the left flank.
On current form, Flanagan's home jersey could prove a red rag to Payet's bull.
The Scouser is a popular figure among the Anfield faithful, a rare one of their own. He doesn't want to take on the appearance of a mauled matador.
Klopp's concerns with fatigue are understandable, with the West Ham game being Liverpool's fifth in 13 days, but the Reds' safe passage to the next round hinges on how they handle Payet.
If the inventive winger is allowed to dribble, he could leave quite a stain on Liverpool's season.
There is no money in the world that we would let him go for. The things he does on the pitch, he also does in training. He is great to have in the squad and at the club.
— Hammers boss Slaven Bilic, on Dimitri Payet