Funny Old Game
Never has the phrase “it’s a funny old game” been more appropriate than for yesterday’s defeat at the London Stadium by Tottenham. West Ham didn’t play well nor did they play badly – and the same can be said for the opposition. Neither team had the upper hand and any of the three possible outcomes would have been difficult to argue against. Once again the Hammers were slow out of the traps – lacking any real intensity against what was a makeshift Tottenham lineup as the visitors had one eye firmly on the challenge of salvaging their upcoming European campaign. The Hammers appeared to show Tottenham far too much respect with an approach that lacked bite or an appetite to knock the visitors out of their stride. The game was raised in the second period but not enough to prevent the North Londoners from running down the clock with some ease.
Dreaming Of The Half Time Orange
Not much happened in the opening forty minutes. Even though West Ham demonstrated little threat they remained well organised, working hard to keep their defensive shape. There was little action of note at either end. That all changed in the final frantic minutes of the half. It started with what looks likely to be a very serious injury to Andriy Yarmolenko and was quickly followed by the only goal of the game, courtesy of Lamela’s head. Once again it was vulnerability down the flanks that led to the goal – and it was not too dissimilar to that conceded at Brighton. This time it was Aaron Cresswell who had gone AWOL; Felipe Anderson’s defending wasn’t even close to half-hearted; the two centre backs raced out looking for offside; leaving Pablo Zabaleta floundering in Lamela’s wake. It was Tottenham’s first attempt on target in the game but there was still time for the Hammers to attempt a repeat performance; on this occasion, however, they were rescued by a fine Lukasz Fabianski double save. Although West Ham were far brighter after the break (and with a noisy crowd urging them on) there were only a few real chances created – unfortunately Lloris was equal to challenge and made smart saves to deny Marko Arnautovic on two occasions.
I don’t know what the Brazilian equivalent of green kryptonite is but someone had clearly been lacing Anderson’s coffee with it during the international break- so weak was his performance. In his previous two outings at the London Stadium, West Ham’s record signing had started to show glimpses of what he might bring to the table – even if he had yet to deliver the full forty million quid’s worth. Yesterday, though, he was atrocious. It was not just his feeble defending but also the inability to reach the goal from the corner flag and his general all-round sluggishness. Touch wood this was just a bad day at the office but he has yet to have any outstanding ones to give him a free pass. In modern football it is impossible to carry a player who blows hot and cold. He needs to do much more or be played in a position that suits him better.
Highlights and Lowlights
The injury to Yarmolenko could potentially be a big blow. Although we don’t yet know the full extent of the damage it looked very bad. For any player it would mean a long lay-off but with West Ham’s track record that is probably his lot for this season. Wishing him a speedy recovery. It was encouraging that Manuel Pellegrini opted for Grady Diangana as his replacement rather than Michail Antonio. The youngster looked lively – and not in a Zavon Hines sort of way that involved running very fast but without any control of the ball. Diangana has the look of a real prospect and, although it may be too soon to throw him in as a regular starter, surely we are going to see a lot more of him. I am not the greatest fan of Robert Snodgrass but the energy, effort and appetite in his latest incarnation cannot be faulted – Chicharito and Antonio, please take note! Any game where Kane does not score against West Ham has to be a positive. Both Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena had excellent games once again, as did Declan Rice, and you could easily have forgotten that Kane was on the pitch.
Having enjoyed initial success with his 4-3-3 (or is it 4-1-4-1) formation, it is starting to show some structural weaknesses. In particular the vulnerability to attacks down the flanks and the lack of flair and variety from the midfield. Of the four senior full-backs only Zabaleta is primarily a defender. The others (Fredericks, Cresswell and Masuaku) are more suited to a role where they provide attacking width and give defending a go when needed (not unlike Trippier, Rose et al). I am not yet sure what Pellegrini is expecting from his full backs (they rarely get forward in the way that their Tottenham counterparts do) and who is meant to be providing backup support to them? It is a lot to ask attacking players to do this consistently over the entire course of a match. For example, Chelsea would not expect Hazard and Willian to track back except in an emergency – but then they have a very energetic midfield three to do the hard yards for them. That balance is still missing from the West Ham lineup. With a run of ‘easier’ games on the horizon how capable will that midfield be in unlocking more defensively minded teams? As a final thought, it would be dangerous to rely solely on Arnautovic to score goals. He is a real handful for opposing defenders but there needs to be other options and with Yarmolenko likely to be needing a lengthy lay-off it is difficult to see who can provide them. Perhaps the hot-shot striker currently leading the line for La Liga table toppers, Alaves (at least they were top until Barcelona won yesterday), is worth having a look at – goes by the name of Jonathan Calleri!