A Bounce-back-ability Failure
Any hope that the disappointing opening day defeat to Manchester City would be consigned to history by a storming performance at Brighton was firmly laid to rest on Saturday afternoon. This was another dismal showing by West Ham, even though they managed to both salvage (steal) a point and prevent Glen Murray from scoring. Following a similar pattern from the previous week, the Hammer’s started brightly but could only keep it up for less than 20 minutes; by which time they either ran out of puff, ideas or interest. Despite bossing possession during that period they didn’t get anywhere close to threatening the Brighton goal. West Ham have no divine right to beat teams such as Brighton but we should at least expect a better effort. It was fortunate that the hosts were not as clinical as their win at Watford the previous weekend had suggested, otherwise another heavy defeat would have been on the cards.
Wot No Tactics!
Attempting to describe the West Ham tactics for this game would challenge the most creative spin doctor. Admittedly, the absence of the clubs two most expensive acquisitions, Sebastien Haller and Felipe Anderson, were a major blow but five changes to the starting eleven came as a huge surprise. It was revealed after the game that Haller and Anderson were never in contention for selection – but that this fact had been kept a secret to prevent Brighton planning accordingly. The idea that opponents might understand the West Ham tactics when our own players seem to have no idea is an interesting one. It is likley repetitive to labour the point about lack of options/ weaknesses in central midfield, but these are fundamental to the problems of poor organisation, defensive frailty and maintaining possession. Whereas most teams endeavour to create space and switch play across the park, the Hammers appear set on heading into congested cul-de-sacs. Apart from the occasional foray down the left wing there was little success in getting beyond and behind the Brighton defence. For reasons unknown, Ryan Fredericks looks to be scared to leave his own half. All in all, a very lucky point from a below par performance.
Oggy, Oggy, Oggy, Out, Out, Out
My heart sank when I heard the lineup an hour before kick-off. It is bad enough when Angelo Ogbonna has to play as an emergency stand-in but for him to be selected as a conscious decision when there are other options available is an abomination. It’s a shame because he always comes across as a really nice guy – just not a very good footballer. Granted, The General has not looked at his best since the summer and his participation in the Copa America but he doesn’t need to be firing on cylinders to better Ogbonna. The goal that was eventually disallowed thanks to the intervention of VAR was a typical Ogbonna moment. Having been beaten in the air, his attempt at retrieving the situation involved ambling in the general direction of the Brighton player chasing the ball and allowing him all the time in the world to cross. He was also implicated, if not solely responsible, for the Brighton equaliser. Issa Diop looked to have won the initial tussle with Murray but failed to put the ball away to safety. One again, Ogbonna made only a token attempt to close down the scorer, Trossard as the ball ran free. It’s enough to make one nostalgic for those James Collins last ditch, body on the line, blocks of old.
You’ve Been VARred.
We have long believed that West Ham were champions of the bad refereeing decision and the early days of VAR have gone some way to vindicating this view. Two games and two goals against disallowed. Perhaps teams with the shakiest defences are certain to be major beneficiaries, simply as a consequence of the volume of opposition attacks involved. The goal checking process is having a weird effect on games as goal celebrations and preparation to re-start have all taken place before decision comes through – particularly confusing for those inside the ground. The disallowed added-time Manchester City goal against Tottenham was perhaps the perfect example of VAR’s detrimental impact on the spontaneity of the game. However, rather than have VAR take all the blame, it is the decision to introduce a new rule that disallows any goal that might have involved ball to hand contact, regardless of intention, that needs to be looked at. If a corner hit a defender’s arm, then an attackers, before a third person slotted home, what would the decision be – goal, no-goal or penalty? Back to our own game and there were some claims of a possible penalty for a foul on Antonio but apparently this was not deemed worthy of review – even though such incidents were originally the driver for VAR introduction.
Old Dogs And New Tricks
If someone had taken a survey, I would have ticked the Mostly Satisfied box when assessing Manuel Pellegrini’s first season at West Ham – as I had been with Slaven Bilic’s first season a few years prior. There was a breath of fresh air on the pitch after the dour fare offered by David Moyes, and it felt like a new, more professional and considered approach to player recruitment might be on the horizon. There was still work to be done of course: weaknesses to be addressed; errors to be eradicated; and missing pieces of the jigsaw to be discovered. From what we have seen to date, however, there are serious question-marks as to the actual direction of travel and the likely extent of any progress. It is very early in the season for drastic changes but it is disturbing that fitness, shape and organisation continue to look well below average for a team who believe they are on the up. There is a new breed of manager in the Premier League now where the emphasis is on high energy levels, compact shape and fluidity of formation. What worked in the olden days for Pellegrini (and Hodgson maybe) may no longer be appropriate or relevant? It is not a problem of age but an apparent reluctance to adapt to changing circumstances. Failure to address his side’s poor all-round defensive performance will prove pivotal to the way the season unfolds.
Supporters often like to cherry-pick stats from sources such Whoscored to support whatever particular point they are attempting to prove. It is interesting that, according to that website’s rating algorithm, our top performers on Saturday were (in order): Lanzini, Snodgrass, Masuaku, Diop, Ogbonna and Hernandez. Would you agree? Probably not!
I was struck though by one statistic on Whoscored and that was a Lukasz Fabianski’s pass success rate of 18% (compare this to Alissons 80% for Liverpool over the course of last season). I don’t see this as the fault of Fabianski who continues to perform miracles between the sticks. It is rather a reflection of the collective failure of the team to take individual responsibility and to provide the movement which creates opportunities to pass into . Too many hurried back passes and too few options to build from the back remain an ongoing feature of our game.
Aside from Fabianski, Manuel Lanzini and Declan Rice both had encouraging games but there were few others who earned their corn this week. These are my ratings:
Fabianski (7), Fredericks (5), Diop (5), Ogbonna (4), Masuaku (6), Rice (7), Wilshere (4), Snodgrass (6), Lanzini (7), Fornals (5), Hernandez (5) Subs: Antonio (6), Yarmolenko (5), Sanchez (5)