Early Days & Late Fitness
These days any anger at a poor West Ham performance is fleeting; disappointment lingers a little longer whereas the glow of rip-roaring victory can keep me sustained through to the following Thursday. So far, this year it has been mainly disappointment (except on Twitter which has seen blistering rage) but we must remember that the season is young and that quirky results can occur all over the place at this stage. That is not to say there are not problems to address and weaknesses to resolve. Of these problems the most basic appears to be an issue with fitness levels. While some of the deficiencies could be put down to players coming back from injury (and the Euros) this obscures what appears to be an otherwise poor preparation for the new season; the pointless visit to North America and the halfhearted approach to the Europa League which certainly hasn’t seen us hit the ground running. In each of our league games this season we have been second best in terms of fitness and it is difficult to understand how there can be any excuse for this.
We have Improved the Squad but not the Team
There were plenty of arrivals at West Ham during the transfer window with only one senior first team player leaving in the shape of James Tomkins. Yesterday’s starting eleven only included two of the new boys (I am excluding Lanzini who is technically a new signing). Of the two, one (Masuaku) probably wouldn’t have been playing (or even at the club) had there not been the injury to Aaron Cresswell. Last season our problem was conceding goals rather than scoring them (which we did well enough provided that Payet was playing). The defensive side of the squad has not been improved and this includes introducing an effective defensive midfielder which I believe has been a significant gap in the squad fro some time. As we saw against Watford we are vulnerable when players run from midfield areas at us. I guess that is why Havard Nordtveit was signed and, on paper, an experienced international and Bundesliga player should be the perfect fit. So far though he has not impressed. The other assorted new midfield players don’t look to be a significant upgrade (or any upgrade at all) on what we already had. It would be foolish to write anyone off after a few games but some rapid improvement would be very welcome. For now, it seems like we have a deeper (rather than better) squad; ironically capable of coping with a competition that we have already been eliminated from.
Mark Noble, The Elephant in the Room
Wholehearted and committed players, especially if the are local, are very likely to become fans favourites at West Ham. It is part of the family/ community feel that, even now, surrounds the club. For many of us, there are far too few home grown players in and and around the first team. This is where the dilemma of “what do we want from our club?” comes in. Is it success or sentiment? Mark Noble ticks all the boxes for the romantic; from Canning Town and West Ham through and through. He has been a great servant (albeit a well payed one) to the club but I see him in the Steve Potts envelope rather than the Trevor Brooking or Billy Bonds one. His commitment is not matched by the necessary speed of thought or movement to be a regular at the heart of a team with ambitions of top 6 and beyond. I can understand why people love him but don’t believe he offers enough guile at the highest level particularly when his form drops as it has now. I see James Collins in a similar vein. If you want someone battling every aerial challenge and throwing his body in the way as a last gasp attempt to stop a goal bound shot then Ginge is your man. But, he makes too many mistakes, is vulnerable to runners and has terrible distribution. Angelo Ogbonna is streets ahead in terms of quality and would have been mightily upset at being overlooked for Ginge.
Dimitri Payet, I think we do understand…
For a long period during the 1970’s West Ham relied almost entirely on Trevor Brooking for any attacking endeavour. It was stop Brooking and you stopped West Ham; until Alan Devonshire came along. Now there is an over reliance on Dimitri Payet. He is a tremendous player and, of course, any team would miss him but we cannot expect him to carry the rest of the team through the season. Contributing tow assists for the goals against Watford, including the superb Rabona, he had a lively start but as he tired then so the attacking threat faded. The defensive implosion rightly grabbed the headlines but we need to be asking more questions in attack than leaving it all to Dimitri. We have an abundance of midfield parts and the coaching staff need to find a way of assembling them in a way that creates a beautiful, practical and efficient unit. Our inability to see off the teams we should beat will be a major problem if we are unlikely to repeat the heroics (and points haul) from the better teams.
Getting the first defeat out the way
A lot of teams would be thinking of coming to the London Stadium and being the first away team to win there in the league. Just like we remember being the last team to win at Highbury and the first to win at The Emirates. Well now that we have got that that defeat out the way early we can now set off on a barnstorming run of invincibility. So there!