The Fixture List of Death
The point at Anfield was an unexpected, welcome and hard earned one that brought with it some relief. If the match commentator was correct West Ham are one of only two teams to avoid defeat at Liverpool so far this season. The run of games of death is now behind us and a two point return is maybe more than many expected; but for the last few minutes at White Hart Lane it could have been even healthier. With the exception of last weekend’s rout by Arsenal the performances against Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool have been generally acceptable and, in many ways, were similar (but with less successful outcomes) to games against the ‘top’ sides last year. At Anfield the team worked hard, provided some degree of collective organisation, and were able to frustrate Liverpool and limit the number of clear cut goal-scoring opportunities. The Achilles heel last term, however, was not winning the ‘winnable’ games and so the next three matches are going to be a serious test of that characteristic and will go a very long way in defining the remainder of the season.
Fitness, Passing and Movement
Although very happy with the point there are some common basic shortcomings with our play and it was highlighted in the differences between the two teams yesterday. A number of our players do not look to be at acceptable fitness levels and some visually look to be carrying too much weight (notably Ayew and Payet). Liverpool played most of the game on their toes, were constantly on the move and there were always several passing options available to the man on the ball. Passing was quick and slick and it was fortunate for West Ham that, on the day, the leagues freest scoring side lacked a cutting edge in front of goal. In contrast we are routinely flat footed with players waiting for the ball to arrive before deciding the next move; there are often few passing options available through lack of movement which, in my view, is more of an issue for conceding possession than poor pass execution itself. Exceptions yesterday (and for the majority of the season) were Obiang, Reid and Antonio who all had excellent games.
Once again West Ham have been front runners in the injury table at The Physio Room. Whether this is simply bad luck or a consequence of deeper seated problems is a mystery. The situation is not helped by a lopsided squad which resulted in a recall for Havard Nordtveit to defensive duties on Sunday. I was surprised that he was at right back as, when I saw the team sheet, I expected he was going to be part of the dreaded back three formation that does not suit our players and leaves us wide open down the flanks. The other surprise was that Antonio was the main striker but once he had demonstrated that he is one player who knows where the goal is he was quickly switched around; first to right wing back (when Carroll replaced Ayew and Nordtveit did become one of three centre backs) and then subsequently to a more advanced right midfield position (when Fernandes replaced Lanzini). Possibly Slaven Bilic has a yearning for a retro 1970’s totaalvoetbal style of play but it just seems to confuse the hell out of our tactically limited players.
Dead Wood United
Over the years the West Ham squad has been littered with its fair share of dead wood. With the departure of Fat Sam much of what was left over from the sojourn in the Championship was steadily cleared away leaving ample room to assemble a new pile. Fortunately we have only borrowed some of this excess baggage and hopefully they will be on their way back to their parent clubs straight after the Xmas party. Unfortunately the club are stuck paying the wages of Havard Nordtveit and Sofiane Feghouli for the time being though. Feghouli was nowhere near the squad this week but Nordtveit made his 7th Premier League appearance. Accepting that he has been played in a few different positions it is still difficult to put your finger on exactly what his qualities are that allowed him to establish a career in the Bundesliga and at international level. He may not be a right back but you would think he’d understand what one is supposed to do. Is it naive to assume that he would have prepared for it most of the week; but that didn’t stop his going walkabout and he fully deserved his rollicking by Reid? Another player I have become disillusioned with is Angelo Ogbonna. A steady defender at times but tends to switch off too often and appears to shirk the most basic defensive responsibilities. Once again slack play by Ogbonna was the precursor to the first Liverpool goal which could so easily have scuppered the whole game plan. It make me nostalgic for the Reid – Tomkins partnership.
Where Have All The Young-stars Gone?
In the build up to the game I read some interesting comments by Jurgen Klopp to the effect that he prefers to keep promising young players at the club rather than sending them out on loan. This enables them to train with the first team squad and assimilate better into the team’s style of play. West Ham have half a dozen or so youngsters out on loan, the majority of whom rarely get game time. The exception is Reece Burke who, injuries apart, has been a regular starter at both centre back and emergency full-back at struggling Wigan. Given our own travails at right back why is he not back with the squad and plugging that gap. Come to that, although he is injured now, why have we not seen anything of Reece Oxford this season despite the defensive frailties experienced? It was good to see a few youngsters on the bench at Anfield but I am concerned about how reluctant Bilic has become to blood youngsters. The Academy of Football is currently far behind the likes of Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham in giving young talent an opportunity.