You may already have read the excellent 20 Questions article inspired by Sunday’s defeat at Goodison Park. For good measure here are some additional takeaways from the game following a little more quiet reflection.
Early Dominance but No Reward
Going into the game with a shot of confidence most of us were probably reasonably happy with the display in the first 20 minutes or so. We had plenty of the ball, passed and moved well and Lukaku hardly got a kick. Payet and Lanzini were bossing matters as far as creativity was concerned and it seemed that the momentum was with the Hammers against an opposition suffering a longish winless streak. Koeman spoke about having words at half time but in fact Everton had sorted it out on the pitch before then. The inability to turn good possession into at least one goal appeared to dispirit the team and the early intensity fizzled out. As in a few games last year the Payet/ Lanzini combination faded as the game went on; whether it is because they lack the stamina to maintain that intensity level or whether it was due to Everton closing them down more quickly I cannot decide. Antonio worked hard with good movement and, as suggested by Jim Beglin, is likely the best forward we have available at the moment. He created space for others but is not the natural goalscorer that is so badly missing from our ranks.
The Return of the Injured Strikers
It is true that injuries have yet again been unkind and losing Ayew to the treatment room alongside Carroll and Sakho was extremely unfortunate. Ayew is now back and hopefully can show us what he can do but I doubt he is lone striker material. It would take a very optimistic fan to imagine a lasting return to full fitness for the other two invalids. Both would seem to have conditions that will continue to plague them. With Sakho there is the additional question of his temperament (and whether he has burnt his bridges with Bilic) and with Carroll I still have reservations about his all-round game. On occasions (Arsenal at home last season) he did indeed look ‘unplayable’ but I would disagree that he is “brilliant outside of the box” as suggested by Bilic last week. He does not have the technique nor mobility to play the effective lone striker role in the modern game. Could we play two up front? Unlikely without getting overrun in the midfield. The striker conundrum remains with us even with a fully fit squad.
Three at the Back and Cresswell
One of the disappointing aspects of Sunday’s game was that Cresswell didn’t seem to get as far forward to link up with Payet as he usual does. Despite being a full-back he is one of our most potent attacking threats and far more competent at crossing the ball than other players that we employ specifically for that purpose. The three at the formation should theoretically allow him more freedom to get forward but the impression I took away from the game was that he had been instructed not to venture too far forward. This was possibly to counter the threat of Bolasie and if that was the case it raises the question of whether the 3 man backline was the best option in the circumstances. Despite Everton being the better team I thought Reid and Ogbonna could have done much more the prevent the two goals. Reid was both slow to react and lightweight in his challenge for the first and Ogbonna looked like he was on a training jog when tailing Lukaku for the second; that he might have anticipated an offside call is no excuse.
Those Crazy Substitutions
The substitutions were puzzling particularly from the perspective of the players taken off. By that stage of the game the most under-performing players were Noble and Payet who were both giving away possession and offering little creatively. Maybe there was a notion that Payet could grab something from a set piece but on the evidence of the day this seemed unlikely. It was confusing that the two most effective midfield players (Obiang and Fernandes) were the first to be sacrificed. I can understand the imperative to make changes and ‘give it a go’ but keeping some degree of shape is important and the changes contributed more to the second goal that they did to any greater attacking threat. It was expected that Ayew would be given a further 20 to 30 minutes but he was unable to create much impact. The introduction of Zaza was akin to throwing in the towel and Feghouli, who I do have lingering hopes for, only provided a masterclass in how not to cross the ball. Antonio may have claimed the record for number of positions played in a single match. This certainly did not help in creating cohesion.
League and Cup Form
At the end we were unable to build on the momentum from the excellent performance in the EFL Cup against Chelsea to improve our league position and end this round of matches just outside the relegation places. In the This Week in Hammer’s History post we highlighted two seasons where West Ham reached League Cup semi-finals and FA Cup 6th Rounds in 1988/89 and 2010/11. Now we all love a cup run but in both those seasons we were relegated. Thankfully, I do not believe in omens (………….or do I?).