Another Very Poor Game
Based on the last published information available, West Ham and Swansea have a combined annual wage bill in excess of £160 million paid to players considered worthy of featuring in the world’s elite football league. It would be difficult to imagine a more uninspiring, dull and turgid ninety minutes of football than what these highly paid superstars served up. In fact, you would need to go as far back as two weeks ago to find a game that was anywhere near as poor; when West Ham visited West Bromwich Albion. The money that has attracted managers and players from all around the world to the Premier League has also ensured that the game, in its lower reaches, is characterised by the fear of failure and relegation; any pretence at entertainment has seemingly disappeared . Barring one or two touches of quality there was nothing to justify the lofty admission prices. The first half was poor and the second even worse, with only the relief of a last gasp winner providing a moment to remember. If this were any other business very few would bother to turn up next time around.
The Circle of Strife
It is quite clear that this season is unfolding as a replay of the last one: a run of poor, disjointed, dispirited performances; the manager under increasing pressure; a must win game against a fellow struggler; a lucky sneaked victory; brave talk of taking confidence from the win; rinse then repeat. For most of the game yesterday West Ham were the inferior of two bad sides. Thankfully, Swansea, for all their neat midfield possession, carried even less of a goal threat than West Ham. The win will temporarily ease the pressure and give the board an excuse to take no action as we muddle through to the next game, at Burnley, after the international break. Slaven Bilic had the look of a haunted man as he stood forlornly on the touch line watching his misshapen team attempt to make sense of what they were supposed to be doing. Even he must know that his days are numbered. It can’t be in anyone’s interest to extend the agony any longer.
What’s In A Formation?
Just a few weeks after claiming that a Carroll – Hernandez partnership was impossible, Bilic decided to give it a try anyway. Swansea manager, Paul Clement, sensing perhaps that this was a game his team could win also opted for two up front. If anyone thought that such adventurism would open the floodgates to a pulsating attacking master-class then they were sadly mistaken. I had previously suggested that Bilic would stick with a back three until we lost a game and then immediately revert to a back four. Even so, I was surprised by his decision to do so for this game but assume it was the only way to shoehorn in the two strikers. Defensively West Ham were sound enough and apart from one Bony drive, that Hart parried, and an Olsson shot just past the post, our goal was rarely threatened. In attack, however, there were few ideas on show. A central midfield duo of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate has rarely clicked and offers nothing creatively; Michail Antonio either had a very bad day or, more likely, wasn’t really fit; and Andre Ayew was as astonishingly ineffective as ever. Whatever it was that had been hoped for from a front two failed to materialise as once again, regardless of formation, the assembled eleven gave the impression of a group of strangers.
That Genius Substitution
The late goal probably saved Bilic his job (for now) and he also received heaps of praise for his inspired, genius and game changing substitutions, when Arthur Masuaku set up Diafra Sakho for the only goal of the game in the final minute. Yet that one moment barely made up for what had gone on in the previous ninety minutes with his selected eleven. I am no fan of the Carroll style of player but, if that is what you are starting with, then you have to give him the service he needs. Even when there were opportunities from set pieces to aim for Carroll’s head we chose to go short and backwards instead. There were a few crosses by Aaron Cresswell in the first half but all from positions that favoured the defenders. I don’t remember any West Ham player getting behind the Swansea defence in a wide position prior to the goal. There was no width in midfield and no support for the full-backs when they endeavoured to get forward. For those few minutes when Cresswell and Masuaku were able to double up on the left hand side it led, not only to the goal, but also to Carroll striking the woodwork. Starting with Masuaku rather than Ayew would have made far more sense and Sakho must surely be, despite his recent problems, the most complete striker on our books. The substitution did reap benefits but maybe they both should have been in the field from the start. I cannot recall any dangerous crosses coming in from the right even though Pablo Zabaleta put in another spirited display; I wonder what he makes of it all after his time at Manchester City?
Is There a Bright Side?
It was great to see Manuel Lanzini back on the pitch. We should make the most of him as I can’t believe he will stick around too much longer; gone in the summer if not before. In the meantime it is difficult to know how he fits into Slaven’s master plan (if there were one!) The squad has clearly been assembled with no system or design in mind. As long as we stick with Bilic (or any unimaginative replacement that may happen along) then I don’t see anything other than plenty more of the same. We probably have enough talent to finish lower mid-table but no better than that; certainly under-performing for the seventh largest revenue generator in the league. Of the recent much lauded arrivals: Zabaleta has been the stand-out performer; Hernandez will score goals in the right system; Arnautovic has yet to impress; and loanee Hart has done no better or worse than Adrian would have done. I really wish I could feel more positive.