An international break can be a long time in football. Go into it on the back of a good run of results and the feelgood factor carries you through the doldrums in no time at all. Go into it on the back of a massively disappointing home defeat and performance against Crystal Palace, then it leaves too much time to dwell on your team’s shortcomings.
As a reasonably typical and longstanding West Ham supporter I know full well that disappointment is always lurking just around the corner, but that doesn’t make it any easier to handle. The emotional roller coaster has entered a a steep dive and we need to know whether there is enough energy to get back up again.
The official media stance regarding the Hammers season to date is that they have had a bright start. If you are comparing it to last season then that is a reasonable assessment. However, there have now been a number of occasions this season (against not too difficult opposition) where it has looked like we were not trying to win the game. Arguably that could be seen as a prudent approach for many Premier League awaydays, but to cautiously sit back at home to Palace is not excusable. Even if the current style of football is nowhere near Big Sam tedious, it still lacks the verve and adventure that we crave.
Tomorrow’s early kick-off at Goodison Park is an opportunity to put things right and prove to doubters like me that the season can deliver more than mid-table stability. Trips to the north-west are traditionally difficult for the Hammers although, who can forget, a run of four successive defeats at the start of last season was ended at Everton with a surprising 3-1 win just over twelve months ago. This time the tables have turned, and it is Everton who are the crisis team embroiled in an equally unprofitable run. Everton’s form has been so bad that they have opened up a four game gap over the Hammers at the top of the Premier League all-time losses table – 370 plays 366.
It may be stuff of legends but if you are lacking goals, points, confidence and are without a number of key players then what better could a manager or supporter hope for than a a visit from docile opponents with a history of bearing gifts.
It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, Manuel Pellegrini makes for the game. Will he put the Palace failure down as a bad day at the office or to his own poor tactical decisions? Change looks necessary in terms of different personnel the options are quite limited.
It is difficult to put your finger on the Pellegrini style of football at West Ham right now. It tends towards the patient build-up but without the explosive element required to turn that suddenly into goal-scoring opportunities. Quick counter-attacks are rare, although ironically it was a rare one that was the catalyst for Sebastien Haller’s goal two weeks ago.
In fact, overall there are too few players able or willing to play progressively at pace – either through passing or running with the ball. I have mentioned previously that two of the team’s most creative players (Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko) send too long hugging the touchline, on their wrong foot – this leads to predictability (they will invariably cut inside) while at the same time they deny space for the full backs to run into.
It was a feature of old-style (Greenwood and Lyall) West Ham sides that they played football on their toes – something that the better teams today also demonstrate – in chess terms, it is thinking a few moves ahead. Too often our players are stationery/ flat footed when they receive the ball – get it first before deciding what to do next. This is perfectly illustrated by Ryan Fredericks – a player who has had a good season and possesses blistering pace – yet his is an asset that is rarely used constructively. Openings are simply not being created for him to exploit. It results in crosses put in from very safe areas, twenty-five yards or so from goal, rather than being whipped back from the touchline.
Up front, Haller seems increasingly isolated. He is a useful target man but nobody is close enough to pick up the lay-offs and knock-downs. I guess that is meant to be Manuel Lanzini’s role but he is usually too far away. Someone needs to be playing close to and just behind Haller – a better role for Anderson or one for Wilshere?
Collectively, the side lack cohesion and have a tendency to bunch. That absence of cohesion is also true when possession is lost. The intent to win the ball back quickly or close down space has improved a little this season but needs to be much better.
Perhaps that two week break has left my glass even more than half empty than usual. Perhaps a thrilling performance and victory will have it overflowing once again. I just don’t see it somehow. But they are more than welcome to prove me wrong.
Everton have spent a lot of money over recent years to assemble a very expensive squad. Unfortunately (for them), they have followed the Manchester United play book by splashing the cash on a string of individuals without any clear idea how they might fit together into a unit. There is much speculation that defeat today will lead to Marco Silva’s dismissal from the Goodison hotseat – he is the clear favourite in the Premier League sack-race stakes. Lucky for him to have the silver lining of today’s usually amenable visitors.
Paul Tierney (whistle) and Michael Oliver (technology) are the dynamic matchday duo for tomorrow’s game. Lucky for Tierney that, with it being an early kick-off, he doesn’t have far to travel from his Lancashire home. No doubt VAR will highlight once more the stupidity of the offside rule. It really is time that assistant referee’s were instructed not to flag for any offside decisions. When Yarmolenko was incorrectly flagged offside in open play during the Palace game (a clear and obvious error) where was the get out of jail card?
BBC and Sky pundits (Lawro and Charlie Nicholas) both have this down as a 2-1 but with different winners. Lawro says home win, Nicholas says away. Deep down I think we will lose (as I did last season) but can’t bring myself to predict defeat. Therefore, I will go get up there on the fence and go for a 1-1 draw. COYI!