An Expected Result
Getting a score prediction correct is rare for me but I was spot on with this one although, in part, that was thanks to Manchester City for taking it easy and playing at half pace. The outcome was pretty much as expected and so probably changes very little in the scheme of things except making the Hammer’s goal difference even more desperate than it was before. Right from the start there was a general air of resignation around the ground that West Ham were sure to lose this one. The players did their best to reinforce this belief by only putting up a token effort of resistance, as if they had mentally written off the game. The only brief period of optimism was that short spell before half time when Aaron Cresswell pulled a goal back to make it 2-1, but the half time pep talks quickly restored equilibrium; the Hammers not even having a sniff at the City goal in the second period.
Manchester City already have or are about to break all sorts of Premier League records this season as far as wins, points and goals scored are concerned. Not to be left out, West Ham themselves have managed to snatch the baton for worst defence in the league by allowing the goals against tally to rocket to a whopping 67. Having leaked three goals or more six times in the last ten games does not bode well for the remainder of the relegation threatened season. The Hammers are also closing in on the record for all time Premier League defeats and currently sit just two behind Everton (350 to 348). Ironically, if they manage to claim top spot it is likely to mean relegation and an inability to retain the title next season!
Once again the Hammers find themselves with a situation of limited competition for places which so often leads to complacency. Strangely the exception is with strikers where the strategy of playing none is really keeping them on their toes. In truth the problem is that the team is so poor defensively and in midfield that playing with more than one striker is regarded as a huge risk. That each of the recognised strikers are ill-equipped to play a lone role means that Marko Arnautovic (brought to the club as a midfielder) has become the obvious choice to play up front. Arnautovic is in a one-horse race in the Hammer of The Year stakes and it would be no surprise if he wanted out in the summer. Despite these selection limitations why anyone would believe that Patrice Evra would be the answer to the defensive frailties against the runaway champions is beyond me. The recruitment of Evra and Jordan Hugill in the winter transfer window was the icing on the shambolic, muddled, ill-judged and short term cake of boardroom thinking.
Lazy and Unacceptable Performance
In last week’s defeat to Arsenal there was at least an attempt to make a game of it until the late capitulation intervened. This week the players offered nothing! David Moyes would not have been my choice as manager but I was prepared to give him a chance because I believed he would get the team fitter and better organised. For a while it looked to be working but now we are back to where Slaven Bilic left off. How can a side still battling for Premier League survival put in that type of disinterested performance even if they were outclassed? Where is the leadership both on and off the field? What is the downside for simply going through the motions as opposed to earning those huge pay packets? Out of yesterday’s game maybe Arnautovic and Angelo Ogbonna were close to adequate but the rest were dreadful; with special mention for dreadfulness going to the woeful central midfield pairing of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate.
A Sorry Squad
Moyes cannot take full responsibility for all of the weaknesses in the squad. I have no insight to what attempts were made to strengthen in January but my guess is that the Board thought they could muddle through without having to dig into their pockets – a survival at minimum cost strategy. It was already known that Obiang would be out for the season and the failure to bring in a replacement was mindbogglingly negligent. Further, why the two Reece’s and Fonte were allowed to leave when numbers were already short is a major puzzle. I am sure Declan Rice will go on to have a great career in football but he could be severely damaged by the recent experience of too many games too soon in such a difficult and high pressure position. The running of the club (at least on the football side) remains completely amateurish. West Ham are going backwards without any pretence of a strategy for progress. Filling the squad with past their best, ageing players is penny pinching short-termism posing as a policy of acquiring Premier League experience. Putting up with an under-performing academy and sub-standard training facilities will do nothing to attract and retain the type of players who have other offers on the table. From the current squad I see Arnautovic, Rice and Manual Lanzini as the only real assets and each of these could easily leave in the summer. Of the remainder I wouldn’t lose any sleep if the lot were shipped out – they are either too old, too fragile or don’t care.