Opportunity Knocked – The Five Takeaways As West Ham Once Again Let Points Slip From Their Grasp

The inability to hold on to points continues to hamper the Hammer’s relegation battle. And the unintended consequences of VAR.

Varalysis By Analysis

Varalysis  noun  the loss of the ability to move (or to feel anything) when a goal is scored, due to an uneasy fear of the outcome from the VAR review.

Even when VAR doesn’t throw up anything controversial in a game (unless you include the Ajeti headbutt in the dying minutes) it has made a lasting impact on the match-day experience. When Issa Diop headed the West Ham opener (apparently the Hammer’s first headed goal of the season) just before half-time could we celebrate or not? Had Angelo Ogbonna’s offside stud touched the ball on the way through? Was there a handball incident in the lead up to the free-kick? Celebrations are starting to show signs of the yips, as they do in golf or darts. Not that this mundane game couldn’t have done with something more to liven it up.

A Tale Of Two Footballing Cities

It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves. Having been much the better team in the first period, it was disappointing to concede a soft equaliser before the break before offering little in the second half. We have become poor at defending corners – and an apparent zonal marking system and stay-on-the-line keeper didn’t help matters. It allowed what had been a poor Everton team back into the game. There are many parallels between West Ham and Everton – a sense of misplaced grandeur, a belief that winning games should be an entitlement from the fact that they have big-name signings and are based in big footballing cities. Hard work, effort and application are for the lower classes. Both managers have their work cut out in shaking things up. This was certainly a game that West Ham would have been targeting to win – so it must go down as two precious points conceded.

Encouraging Signs?

Credit where it is due, there have been some encouraging signs on the pitch since the appointment of David Moyes – at least in the context of a team needing to steer clear of relegation. There has been a noticeable increase in intensity and energy levels even if they cannot yet be sustained for a full 90 minutes. Shape and organisation have improved; players are less isolated or exposed with the result that individual errors are less costly – with backup usually available. There is still some way to go and only so much can be achieved from a squad that is short on numbers, deficient in key positions and showing signs of age. Going into the closing stages of the season without quality recruits would represent a huge risk.

Precious Little Creativity

The conundrum with the current side is that those players who put in the most effort are among the least limited; either because of age, technical ability or both. I was pleasantly surprised how well Pablo Zabaleta performed and you can never fault the effort put in by Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass – at least until they start to tire. But it is not always what a player does that is important, but what they don’t. In fact, looking at each of our midfielders on Saturday they all recorded commendable pass completion statistics on paper – and yet there were very few clear cut chances created. Aside from set pieces there is not much threat – if you could bring on a player just to take free kicks and corners then Snodgrass would be invaluable. Sebastien Haller struggles to justify his price tag continue but he still needs better support and service. Manuel Lanzini has completely lost his mojo since his recent injury woes. He had a reasonable amount of the ball but was mostly too deep and did absolutely nothing of note. Why it was Pablo Fornals and not Lanzini who was the first to be replaced is puzzling. The returns of Michail Antonio and Felipe Anderson will be eagerly awaited.

Solid Defence or Poor Opposition Attack?

Defensively, it was a solid performance – but part of that may be down to how lacklustre the opposition in attcking areas. Maybe it would have been a different story had Richarlison been playing. Still Ogbonna and Diop were accomplished, Declan Rice provided excellent defensive cover and both Aaron Cresswell and Zabaleta put in generally competent defensive displays, despite getting caught out on occasion. The two full backs also recorded the most individual touches among the West Ham players – both getting forward frequently to provide a semblance of width that was otherwise missing.

Ratings: Randolph (5), Zabaleta (7), Diop (7), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (7), Rice (7), Noble (6), Snodgrass (6), Fornals (6), Lanzini (4), Haller (5) Subs: Masuaku (5), Ajeti (5)