There Are No Easy Games?
Observers like to say that there are no easy games in the Premier League and, in fact, Slaven Bilic said exactly the same in the build up to the visit of Chelsea on Monday night. Yet from Chelsea’s point of view this was much of a stroll in the Olympic Park. Sit back and absorb the expected early pressure, do what you’re good at and hit on the break, once in front take the foot off the gas, give your best players a rest and coast to a comfortable victory. In the record books the result will have the look of a closely contested game but in reality it was far from that; there was only going to be one winner the minute Eden Hazard tucked away the opener. Of course, money plays a big part and Chelsea’s squad strength bears no relation to our ramshackle collection once you get past a competent dozen or so. But what Chelsea have under Conte this season is remorseless organisation that allows flair players opportunity to flourish; something that had been lost under Mourinho. Organisation, preparation and motivation are as important managerial attributes as are tactics and selection, and remain part of the reason that I continue to have reservations about our own manager.
Oh So Predictable!
It is true that the absence of Michail Antonio left few viable attacking options and it was a case of a return for a rusty Andy Carroll whether he was ready or not. In the more recent games where Carroll has played with Antonio just behind we have been able to mix play up a little but on this occasion, particularly in the first half, we were back to the agricultural tactic of lumping long hopeful high balls into the area. If we felt that this ploy would come as a surprise to Chelsea then we were sadly mistaken. Space on the flanks was effectively kept to a minimum and wide players rarely got behind the defence into those areas where crosses are more difficult to defend. As it was Chelsea’s central defenders were able to deal with the threat with ease and probably had enough time to send the odd tweet in the meantime if they really wanted to. The game was effectively all over early in the second half and although, to the player’s credit, no-one gave up Chelsea rarely needed to get out of low gear.
Square Pegs and Round Holes Again.
Once again team selection has the look of choose the favourite available eleven players and then decide how to fit them in to some semblance of a formation. The need for specialist full-backs has long been a West Ham blind spot and the current management appear to have the same blinkers. It is a scenario that you might expect in Sunday morning park football but this is supposed to be the world’s elite league competition. Is there any evidence to suggest that either Kouyate (or Antonio before him) were effective in this position? I know some supporters don’t rate Byram but I would think, injuries permitting, he should be given a run in the side to prove himself or otherwise, there is not now much to lose. He looks as capable a defender as Cresswell to me even if he hasn’t demonstrated too much going forward yet. I can view the selection as putting off the difficult decision in central midfield now that Pedro Obiang has cemented his starting position. One of Noble and Kouyate has to be benched (Noble in my opinion) although Slav may have a ‘get out of jail card’ with the injury to Winston Reid.
Ambre Solaire Time
I have already sensed an end of season unwinding feel in recent matches and my fear is that it will only go one way from here. We do not look the fittest or most motivated of teams at the best of times and it would come as a surprise to me now if we ended the season in the top half. Despite West Brom’s defeat at the weekend they are still some way clear and I reckon that both Stoke and Southampton will finish ahead of us. A 7th or 8th place finish is a reasonable benchmark for a club of our size and so anything less looks like underachievement. There have been some positives for the season but overall it has been disappointing and if the club wants fewer white seats to turn up to games next year they need to address the disjointed team issues as a matter of urgency.
In an after match interview David Sullivan was quoted as saying that ‘we are a few players short of a very, very good side’ or words to that effect. I can only hope that he was either misquoted and purposelessly putting out misinformation. You could argue that, in the unlikely circumstances of everyone being fit, we could field a decent starting eleven but after that it the squad has the familiar bare-bones look to it. After the failings of the summer transfer window (and the gap-filling nature of the January one) the squad needs a major overhaul rather than a few tweaks if we are serious about challenging for greater things. The squad lacks quality, depth and pace. It would be comforting to think that we had a style of play in mind and recruited players to fit that style but I don’t see that. Our approach appears to be an opportunist one that recruits players in isolation rather than considering how they are going to fit into a system. Not everything is the fault of the manager and the lack of a longer term vision is worrying. The reported new one year rolling contract for Bilic feels like a hedge play. He is either the right man (not just a good enough one) for the job or he isn’t.
Ratings: Randolph (6), Kouyate (5), Reid (6), Fonte (5), Cresswell (5), Noble (5), Obiang (6), Feghouli (5), Lanzini (7), Snodgrass (6), Carroll (5) Subs: Byram (6), Ayew (6), Fernandes (5)