You Don’t Know What You’re Doing
Someone, somewhere doesn’t know what they are doing – but I’m quite not yet sure whether it is the manager or the players. Accepting that change is difficult, and that a new manager, new ideas, new style and an almost completely new set of players would make a storming start to the season unlikely I had expected better than this. Leaving aside the time needed to create optimum cohesion and understanding it is surely not unrealistic that the basics of organisation and commitment should be in place by now in such an expensively assembled squad. Does the manager have a plan, do the players not know what that plan is, or do they know but are unable to put it into action? I think we all knew that champagne football might take a while to flow freely but the low energy, low tempo, low intensity fare being served up at the moment carries no promise of fizz tomorrow. A few games into the season and many of the players look ready for a holiday just to take the lead out of their boots.
Is There A Man With A Plan?
The way that West Ham have been set up with the players that are available is a massive concern. I am sure Manuel Pellegrini doesn’t believe he is back at Manchester City with players of superior class who can boss possession and pass their way to success. Very few teams can do that – even if some of our players stroll around as if they believe they can. For all the rest it is matter of hard work, organisation and application. Either you work like fury to regain possession once it is lost it, or else you employ a compact shape allowing quick retreat and denying space for the opposition to exploit. From the evidence to date, the new look West Ham are happy to concede both possession and space. It is not rocket science that teams need to attack and defend as a team but this hasn’t sunk in for Pellegrini’s West Ham yet. In yesterday’s game, there were four players who offered little or nothing defensively which allowed Wolves numerical advantage whenever they attacked. As with Arthur Masuaku before him, Aaron Cresswell was hung out to dry as time and again opposition runners were given the freedom to swarm forward unimpeded – what makes it even worse is that the full backs look to be under instruction to tuck in close to the central defenders. It makes no sense whatsoever to give opponents such a free pass to the wide areas. Contrast that with West Ham’s inability to create any space themselves down either flank – for either the wide midfielders or full-backs to run into. Overall the game demonstrated very poor tactical awareness both at outset and as events unfolded.
As the game looked to be petering out with both teams settled on a scoreless draw, it was ultimately an individual mistake that threw the game away and prevented the Hammers getting a first point on the board. Having demonstrated a lack of penetration during the previous ninety minutes, and having been unable to fashion much in the way of clear cut chances, why they thought a slow build up for a short free kick was a good idea is beyond me. Surely at that stage of the game, with time almost up, a percentage play knock down from the long ball would have been the sensible and safer option. Surely any manager would have gone along with that, regardless of footballing philosophy. If the initial decision was stupid then Carlos Sanchez giving away possession constituted diabolical schoolboy defending. It was a shame because Sanchez was far from the worst of the Hammers in a performance where few came out with any credit – with the honourable exception of Fabianski (again), Diop and maybe Balbuena (although his distribution was generally erratic). For me, Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass were particularly ineffective in their respective roles.
If West Ham had played and lost four games but had competed well then there would be reason to cut the team some slack; after all it is still early doors, as Big Ron would say. As things stand though there is little to be positive about and, having lost two winnable home games in a lethargic manner, the alarm bells should at least be tested even if it is not yet a full-on alert. If we get to the end of September still with ‘nil points’ on the board it will be interesting to see how the Board react. What started as a season of high expectations is now taking on the look of a typical slog where we are impatient for the season to end before the daffodils are out. The table makes grim reading (even at this early stage of the season) – not just for the absence of points but also for only two goals scored and ten conceded. I had predicted pre-season that Marko Arnautovic could become the first Hammer to score twenty in a Premier League season but now I wonder if the whole team can reach that milestone. It will not help Arnie’s cause if he keeps having to drop so deep in order to spot the ball. I wonder what the opposite of ‘The Invincibles’ is – ‘The Destructibles’ perhaps?
Feast and Famine
We have to hope that Pellegrini can manage, in the not too distant future, to create a functioning unit from the resources he has available. The worst case scenario is limping to the halfway stage of the season and having to parachute in another salvage operator such as Allardyce or Moyes. What the club needs is to be set on a path to improvement that blends hard work, organisation and a touch of flair. Alternating years of feast and famine will take us nowhere. For many years it was White Hart Lane that laid claim to the title of the players graveyard – where expensive players with big reputations came to do nothing more than pick up their pay cheques. There is a very big fear that this is what the future holds for West Ham. When Pellegrini was appointed at West Ham I read some criticism about how unfit the Manchester City players had become by the end of his reign. At the time I had dismissed it as a convenient re-writing of history but, right now, there is just a flicker of a concern that it might ring true.