Meet The New Boss Same As The Old Boss
OK, so we won’t be playing a team as good as Liverpool every week and it is only two months into Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure at the London Stadium. But yesterday could easily have been a West Ham performance from any of past few seasons as the team outclassed, out-passed, out-thought, out-fought and out-run by the opposition. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! The images of Pellegrini looking forlorn and perplexed in the dugout could just as easily have been Allardyce, Bilic or Moyes. It will be a test of his character and expertise to see the response he gets from the team over the coming weeks. Against Liverpool, the Hammers were second best in every department albeit to a team (love them or hate them) that will almost certainly be in with a shout at the title come the end of the season.
The Scoreline Didn’t Flatter Liverpool
Pellegrini was reported as saying that the scoreline flattered Liverpool. It didn’t – perhaps he was desperately scraping from the barrel of managerial excuses – and it must be extremely difficult to face the media in the immediate aftermath of such a hammering. True that the third goal was clearly offside but at least it had the effect of allowing Liverpool to take their foot off the pedal and start to rest some of their key players. I just knew that Sturridge would score when he came on – if he could play against West Ham every week the Golden Boot would be no contest.
The Core Of The Problem
As with many games in the Premier League, this one was won and lost in midfield. The criminally neglected defensive midfield was once again the primary source of our downfall; as it will be against all the other top clubs unless there is a return to the bus parking tactics of recent years. Yesterday was further confirmation that Mark Noble is too slow of foot and mind to compete at a top level these days and that Declan Rice is blatantly unsuited to the role – to the extent that it could well destroy his confidence. Liverpool were given the freedom of the park to waltz through at will. Defensive midfield responsibilities require discipline, strength, stamina, speed and mobility. They need to win and release the ball quickly and intelligently to the more creative players – particularly against teams that press in the way that Liverpool do. Where are our players that can do this and turn West Ham into a unit that is able to maintain possession?
Looking for Positives/ Rating The New Boys
It is always difficult to pick out positives off the back of a comprehensive defeat. Łukasz Fabiański comes away with some credit as he was not at fault for any of the goals and made several smart saves without which the score would be even less respectable. Of the other new boys I thought Andriy Yarmolenko gave the best account of himself; Felipe Anderson showed some flashes (although his going to ground so easily was worrying and he failed to track Milner for the crucially timed second goal); Jack Wilshere looked lively – a promise of more to come without really delivering a great deal; Fabian Balbuena did OK in very difficult circumstances; while Ryan Fredericks had a poor debut which spotlighted his defensive limitations. It is easy to point a finger at the defence when you have just shipped four goals but with players of the quality of Salah, Mane and Firmino sniffing around, it is the supply that has to shut off – otherwise goals are inevitable. The poorest performances of the afternoon were Rice, Noble, Fredericks and Michail Antonio.
The Only Way Is Up
Starting the season at the bottom of the table means that the only way is up. It is no surprise that we left Anfield pointless but the nature of the defeat and the overall performance must have been disappointing to all concerned. Did anyone feel that we competed (for more than the opening ten minutes) or posed any serious threat to the Liverpool goal? We are sure to do better as new ideas and players start to take shape and should expect incremental improvement. The success (or otherwise) of our season will be defined more on performances against the Premier League fodder rather than against its elite – but the minimum we should expect is that the latter know that they have been in a game. Our ability to dominate the also-rans will be put to the test against Bournemouth next week. Preventing goals, rather than scoring them, looks like it will continue to be the major problem and with the players available I am not convinced that a back four makes a lot of sense. Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku are both wing backs rather than full backs and three centre backs can go some way towards mitigating the defensive midfield weakness. I accept that Manuel is somewhat better qualified than I to sort this one out but it looks like a lot of hard work is going to be needed on the training ground over the coming weeks and months.