5 Reflections from West Ham @ Old Trafford

Trying to make sense of the encouraging improvement at Old Trafford.

5 Things WHUPerformance & Selection

Taking everything into account the performance on Sunday was a pleasing one. Manchester United may not be the greatest team at the moment but they have a squad of very talented (and expensive) players. Whether Mourinho can mould them into a great team remains to be seen. West Ham gave a good account of themselves and were ahead before a Manchester player had taken a meaningful touch of the ball. The fatalist in me felt that we had scored too early and when Ibrahimović was allowed a soft equaliser it was easy to imagine the floodgates opening. But we stuck to the task and despite their dominance of possession were restricted to a few cut and dried goal-scoring opportunities. Some fine performances where my standout players were Randolph, Kouyate, Obiang, Payet and Sakho. Yet again Obiang was excellent and the delay in him being given the chance to secure a regular start leaves me scratching my head.

A Deserved Result

Football reporting is largely presented in black and white terms with a narrative that big club should beat little club and if they don’t it is because of big club’s shortcomings rather than the small club’s skill, resilience or determination. Allied to this there is the concept of the ‘deserved result’ which has been debated on social media in the aftermath of our game. MOTD pundits Martin Keown and Trevor Sinclair had declared the result a fair one while Twittering Robbie Savage disagreed stating that the outcome was due solely to Manchester’s wastefulness in front of goal. The Mourinho spin for Manchester United’s mid table position is that they are the unluckiest team in the history of the game. There could be a case to argue if incorrect refereeing decisions kept going against you (as they did with West Ham last season) that you have been the victim of misfortune; but if it is simply your players not being able to do there job effectively (e.g. by converting goal-scoring opportunities) then this is a reflection of ability or coaching rather than luck. As Mourinho seems to believe that every decision given against his team is an incorrect one then he will never be able to accept that he gets what he deserves.

A Passing Conundrum

Leicester won the league last year in a manner where they invariably had less possession than the opposition during games. A misinterpretation of this statistic might lead the foolish coach to instruct his side to lose possession as soon as possible in order to improve the chances of winning the game. It would be a comical tactic and yet our attempts at keeping the ball frequently appear as if this is something we strive for. It is difficult to decide if this sorry state is due to poor technique and decision making by the passer or insufficient movement in providing options by potential receivers. Perhaps I view West Ham through a more critical lens but I don’t believe any other Premier League side has such difficulty in ball retention or ends up playing it back to the keeper so often. It is one thing to use the keeper under pressure but not because you have run out of ideas. Experience tells us that it is rare for a punt up field from the keeper, or even a central defender for that matter, leading to anything constructive.  If we are going to pick up the points we need from games against the less glamorous clubs (an issue both this and last season) then we have to greatly improve ball retention.

One Up Front

It had been an encouraging return for Diafra Sakho up until his latest injury setback and he finally provided an opportunity to celebrate a goal from a striker when he headed home Dimitri Payet’s free kick. The striker situation at West Ham has been a perplexing one where the supposed no-stone-unturned search for a goal scoring forward has been confounded by not having a clear profile of the type of player sought. Our current style of play is based upon one up front and in the modern game that ‘one’ needs to have pace, energy, strength and mobility. Sakho is by far our best option for this role at the moment. If we are really on the lookout for reinforcement up front it needs someone with his attributes but with a more reliable fitness and goal scoring record. It is difficult to see how an Andy Carroll fits into such a system; it brings with it a far more predictable style of play and for optimum effectiveness requires the presence of a second striker to pick up the pieces. This is precisely the reason why Benteke was seen as surplus to requirements at Liverpool given the fluid style now being successfully employed by Klopp; and it was very worrying to hear Bilic say that he was an admirer of the Belgian.

As for Sakho it was impossible to tell from his demeanour if fences have been mended and he is now back committed to the West Ham cause or whether his efforts were an advertisement to potential suitors.

Good is the Enemy of Great

There is a saying that ‘good is the enemy of great’. It alludes to the fact that people are often prepared to accept competence rather than always working harder and striving for better. We are good, we are not the worst, what is there to worry about? It is a state of mind long associated with West Ham particularly as the self-styled family club more at home with ex-players in the dugout and local lads on the pitch. A number of times in our history we have been on the verge of great but decided to stick. In some ways it is admirable to display loyalty but is not a good fit with success in the modern game where sentiment is a thing of the past. This is how I view the Mark Noble situation. He is a good player but could never be great due to several significant limitations. I don’t dislike him in any way (and have always loved his passion and commitment) but those limitations are becoming more apparent the more intense the game becomes. I would love him to prove me wrong but, on current form, he is very fortunate to get a starting berth; local lad or not.