A Good Game for the Neutral
All in all an entertaining game with plenty to satisfy the neutral spectator if any were inclined to watch this game featuring two of the worst defences in the Premier League this season. For those with a more emotional investment in the outcome Leicester supporters will have been satisfied with three points and a clean sheet; West Ham fans will be disappointed at the absence of any return for territorial dominance and seeing our winning streak monitor reset to zero. Despite the entertainment the standard of football could easily have passed for a division or two lower; the game plagued by mistakes, little real quality and littered with examples of agricultural tackling that wouldn’t have been out of place on Hackney Marshes.
The one real moment of quality was the Leicester goal. The hosts had started with the wind in their sails and there were a number of near misses before Slimani struck with the only goal of the game. The goal was quick, clinical and effective; an excellent cross from the right by Albrighton and great movement by Slimani to lose his markers and head home. The postmortem suggested a lack of tracking back by Dimitri Payet was partly to blame but should we really be expecting our main creative force to be doing that? It is the unfortunate consequence of stationing him wide on the left that it will always leave Cresswell with little cover. The argument is that playing Payet wide allows him to cut in and provide the angles where he can weave his magic; I question whether that trade off is necessarily profitable? After the goal the concern was that many more could follow but taking the lead seemed to panic Leicester and the Hammers were able to get back into the game. Our own best moment was the move where Payet fed Cresswell whose cross was thumped onto the crossbar by Michail Antonio with the ball rebounding to safety.
Never Mind the Quality Where’s the Width?
During the summer transfer window one could be forgiven for assuming that top of Slaven’s shopping list was “Must Buy Some Wingers” as Feghouli, Tore and Ayew all signed on to compete for a vacant wide berth with Antonio. The cunning plan was that send in enough quality crosses and Big Andy would be nodding them in for fun. Strange then that, yet again, we failed to provide any real width yesterday, rarely got behind the Leicester defence and managed to put only one on Andy’s head in a threatening position during the whole game (at least that’s my memory of events). With Payet on one flank and mainly cutting in, Antonio unable to get the better of Chilwell and Feghouli also reluctant to go down the line little service was provided to the big man. According to the stats West Ham had 25 shots (5 on target) but most of these were free kicks and speculative long shots. Bilic said “We were just missing that final touch” but in reality we created next to nothing despite having the lion’s share of possession. I never had the opportunity to watch Andre Ayew at Swansea so was unsure what type of player to expect; having now watched him in several games I am still bemused by his attributes other than getting in the way, falling over and trying to play first time passes of any part of his body as often as possible.
Playing to our Weaknesses
When I saw the lineups I was staggered that Pedro Obiang was on the bench and even more baffled that he didn’t get on at any time during the match. He has been our best player by far this season and I do not go along with the ‘it was good management’ mantra that Bilic was right to start with the same team that played at Swansea simply because we had secured an unconvincing victory against a very poor side in that game. The Noble – Kouyate partnership has rarely impressed and playing Kouyate in the holding role (that Obiang has been performing so brilliantly) inhibits the surging runs that Cheikhou can offer in midfield. For a team that is so poor at passing it is puzzling that our game-plan is predicated on a slow, patient build-up with its ponderous sideways and backwards momentum. The introduction of Lanzini did inject some pace but attacks continued to flounder due to a lack of ideas. The West Ham get out of jail card is often the set piece but although there were plenty of opportunities during the course of the game delivery was poor with Cresswell’s deflected free-kick (yes, he was allowed to take one) the nearest we came to scoring.
The Twelfth Man
It is said that a passionate crowd can be the twelfth man for a team and that this was one of Leicester’s secret weapons in last year’s successful championship winning season. The King Power crowd is a mix of seasoned supporters supplemented with clapper (the modern day football rattle?) wielding newbies. Together they generate a lot of noise and are collectively convinced that every refereeing decision should go in their favour. Now maybe I can be accused of watching games through claret and blue spectacles but I thought Anthony Taylor did a decent job overall even if he was rather little lenient in not showing straight red cards to Amartey of Leicester and Nordtveit for over enthusiastic tackling and later for not issuing a second yellow to Ogbonna. The most laughable moment with the crowd was their booing of Mark Noble for getting injured as a result of Amartey’s reckless studs high assault on his knee. Fingers crossed that Noble’s injury is not too serious at a time that others are away at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Ratings: Randolph (7), Nordtveit (5), Reid (6), Ogbonna (5), Cresswell (7), Antonio (5), Kouyate (4), Noble (4), Payet (5), Ayew (3), Carroll (6). Subs: Lanzini (7), Feghouli (5), Fernandes (5)