Were they great or were we terrible?
Whenever I see such an uneven game as happened last night (and indeed the cup tie a few weeks ago) I wonder how much of it was due to the opposition playing really well and how much was down to our own incompetence. Generally commentators like to take a polarised view but usually it is a combination of the two. There are many similarities in the style of play of Manchester City and Arsenal and it is telling that both have thumped us on our own turf. For many years we have been vulnerable against teams that run at our defence at pace. We seem able to competently nod away crosses until the cows come home but incisive passing and movement rips through the heart of our defences at will and with ease. My sense is that even our players recognise this collective fragility and once the first goal goes in then, as far as they are concerned, it is just of case of how many will follow – as if it is a fate that no-one has the wit or strength to resist.
Where have all the tactics gone?
Manchester City are a very wealthy club who probably have far better players that don’t even make the bench than West Ham do as regular starters. This is the way of modern cash rich football and it will be impossible for West Ham to get close to the top teams without major external investment, which will probably happen just before the next financial crisis. In the meantime it is still 11 versus 11 and last year we enjoyed notable success against several top clubs by tactically stifling their major threats. Tactics appeared to be patently absent yesterday with no particularly plan to either offset the attacking threat of a quick breaking opposition or in putting their inconsistent back-line under any form of pressure. It was if all that was written on the dressing room white board was “Hope for the Best”. With the array of attacking talent at their disposal you need to frustrate and press City and not give them acres of space to play as they please. Whenever I have seen them as casual observer it is obvious how important de Bruyne is to them offensively and yet we were happy to give him a free access all areas pass. Not for the first time we were completely over-run in midfield. We may still have lost regardless but the speed with which heads dropped and spirit evaporated shows a disappointing absence of leadership and character.
All things must pass
In his post-match comments Slaven Bilic bemoaned the fact that we gave the ball away cheaply for two of the first three goals. It would be difficult to disagree with the manager on that one but the fact is that it has been a problem all season, just that we were punished for that sloppiness by a clinical City side on this occasion. I believe that we are one of the worst teams for maintaining possession where it matters in the Premier League and it makes me wonder whether anything is done in training in order to improve matters. As I have written previously good passing teams do not only rely solely on successful execution of the pass but also on having more than one player making themselves available at any one time. Obiang’s pass that led to the third goal was an example of poor execution but quite what Cresswell was thinking for the all-important opening goal is anyone’s guess, there was no West Ham player anywhere near where he played the ball. Far too often when our players do not have the ball they stand about static and flat footed.
No place for sentiment
Football is a very different game from when I first started watching, a time when players stayed at clubs for years and many were local lads made good. It is unfortunate that much of the sense of community and belonging has been lost but most of football has faced reality and moved with the times. I often feel that West Ham are stuck in a time warp with a sentimentality that is at odds with the multi-million pound industry that football has become. It is not enough for a player or manager to be West Ham through and through or for someone to keep his place in the team because he did alright last time out. A team needs to be selected that can get the best from any particular fixture. There are still many unanswered questions on Slaven Bilic’s managerial credentials at Premier League level. The recent run of wins bought him some time but he does not convince. I am sure he is a nice guy but football is full of nice failures. I would imagine that his performance during the remainder of the season will be under extreme scrutiny and that it will require noticeable improvement if he is to keep his job. His record on player recruitment, tactics, preparation, fitness and selection leaves much to be desired as far as I am concerned. It would be great to see him succeed but I am not hopeful.
What about the positives?
The most significant positive is that we do not have to play Manchester City again this season and our only remaining heavy defeat should be away at Arsenal. Other than that Michail Antonio worked hard and new signing Robert Snodgrass looked sharp when he finally came on. I was wrong in my pre-match prediction that we would be 2 goals down when Snodgrass came off the bench. The other debutant Jose Fonte had a bit of a nightmare and worryingly looked very slow, let’s hope he has a couple more gears in the mythical locker.
Ratings: Randolph (6), Byram (4), Reid (6), Fonte (4), Cresswell (4), Obiang (5), Noble (5), Feghouli (3), Lanzini (5), Antonio (7), Carroll (6) Subs: Snodgrass (6), Fernandes (5), Fletcher (5)