Crumbs From The Table
Just as a starving man might regard a stale crust of bread as a fine feast, there is a temptation to seek comfort from this marginally improved performance that ended a losing run and put one more point in the bank. A game where the Hammers dominated possession and, but for the spurning of several chances, would have ended as a deserved victory? At least, that is how Manuel Pellegrini saw it – a spot of bad luck rather than the continuation of the previous poor run of performances. From where I was sitting, however, it looked like the same uninspiring fare, but served up with slightly more enthusiasm. Sure, we might have scored one or two more on a better day but then so could the opposition. Had Sheffield been more adventurous in the first half, then who knows what might have happened? Once their confidence grew, an equaliser was always on the cards – even if, when it came, Roberto’s attempt to save Mousset’s Barnes-Wallis volley reflected his preference for the spectacular over the functional. West Ham still have the look of a team in need of overhaul rather than fine tuning.
Nothing Ever Changes
Learning from Marko Silva’s recipe for success from the previous weekend, Pellegrini decided that the road to victory lie in making five changes to the starting eleven. It was close to all change at the back where Angelo Ogbonna and Ryan Fredericks would have been mightily miffed at their exclusion. The rationale, I guess, is that the underlying problems are defensive personnel rather than an inability to compete in midfield, which to me is more apparent. Naturally there was no change to formation where old-dog Pellegrini will have no truck with trying new tricks such a back three. No matter what happens, we are stuck with his 4-1-4-1/ 4-2-3-1 (or whatever it is) for the foreseeable future. Of the players who came in, Robert Snodgrass was the pick of the bunch and made a whole-hearted contribution capped with a smartly taken goal. His level of effort compensating for an overall lack of creativity – even if his best work was as an auxiliary winger and not in the central areas expected from the team sheet. It was a huge surprise when he taken off, as Andriy Yarmolenko was clearly struggling by that point. Equally baffling was the substitution of Felipe Anderson who, frustrating as he is, remains the best outlet and only player capable of breaking forward at speed – although admittedly his final delivery was wayward throughout. Manuel Lanzini seems to have finally perfected the art of hiding in plain sight – I saw him come on but then he simply disappeared.
Five Guys Named Slow
Pace is not necessarily the ‘be all and end all’ for a modern Premier League footballer but it has become increasingly important over the years. If a player does not have pace then there has to be other very special qualities to make them standout. The starting eleven contained at least five players unfortunately blessed with below average pace for their positions: Pablo Zabaleta, Mark Noble, Snodgrass, Yarmolenko and Sebastien Haller. The same could be directed at substitute Pablo Fornals. That is far too many for any one team. To be fair to Zabaleta (and his ageing legs) he did cover a lot of ground and was always willing to get forward. Yarmolenko showed some lovely touches – his pass for the goal, the through ball to Anderson and the cross to Cresswell – being arguably the most incisive moments of the match. I do believe that Haller possesses great attributes but he is no Jamie Vardy and expecting him to chase long balls is pointless. Unless someone is playing close to him (which didn’t happen all afternoon) he is not going to deliver on his transfer fee. The skipper again had a poor game but the sad truth is that there are no known alternatives in the squad.
Rice With Everything
Snodgrass may well have made a valuable contribution but Declan Rice was my West Ham man of the match by some distance. He is a special player who, as well as his energy and defensive capabilities, has a good eye for a pass – always looking to switch play and preferring to use the ball progressively. Not for him the instinct to go backwards before going forwards that has come to characterise Noble’s game and was later imitated by Fornals after his introduction. Rice is carrying the team right now and we need to make the most of him. With the club not making any progress and his international exposure he will soon become frustrated and open to offers. Difficult to see him still being a Hammer next summer.
At the current run rate (13 points from 10 games) this would result in a total of 49 come the season end. Slightly below last year and a total that would suggest a top of the bottom half finish – typical West Ham territory and not the kind of progress that we were hoping for. Perhaps the manager can turn it around but he doesn’t have the look of someone able to make the best of limited resources through motivation, organisation and technical nous. That is surely what he is paid big bucks for. The situation is surprising in the light of his track record from earlier in his career. Maybe the game has moved on and he hasn’t kept pace. Time to prove us wrong, Manuel.
Ratings: Roberto (5), Zabaleta (5), Diop (6), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (5), Rice (8), Noble (4), Yarmolenko (6), Snodgrass (7), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (4), Fornals (5), Ajeti (5)