Baffled, bemused, bewildered, mystified, confused, confounded, perplexed, flummoxed – just a few of the words listed in Moyset’s Thesaurus to describe reaction to his team selection on Sunday to face Brighton.
Faced with a run of three games in five days, the manager apparently chose to approach the most winnable of them, by fielding a flair-free side at home to relegation threatened Brighton. What was he thinking?
Granted his is not a squad overflowing with an abundant depth of talent, but that was a side even Stockport would fancy their chances against in the upcoming FA Cup tie.
I did see the rationale of bringing in Ben Johnson as left wing back. After all, Brighton are decent enough going forward and Aaron Cresswell is a much safer bet as part of a back three. But Johnson is an out and out defender (a right footed one at that) and was never going to be marauding down the flank, providing width with menacing crosses. If Johnson was going to be play, then creativity was required elsewhere, in the form of either Manual Lanzini or Said Benrahma. Not the one paced Mark Noble.
The supposed intention was to have Jarrod Bowen playing close to Sebastien Haller with Noble in the creator role, but it didn’t even get close to working out in that way. Hadn’t they given this setup a try on the training ground during the week, to spot its obvious flaws?
What we got was Noble dropping too deep, disrupting the normally effective Declan Rice/ Tomas Soucek partnership, and Bowen playing too far forward, removing his pace from midfield and eliminating the only option of an out-ball.
As for Haller, even the most mild-mannered and patient of supporters will have lost all hope by now. A more impotent performance would be impossible to imagine. If ever a centre back wanted a worry free ninety minutes, even with a Christmas hangover, then coming up against Haller would be perfect.
At least Moyes has admitted his mistake and the occasional blooper can be acceptable in a mostly over-achieving season. The long term mismanagement of the club is down to the dreadful owners, not the manager. I’m confident Moyes would have got far better value from the £80 million odd that has been wasted on the vanity signings of Haller and Felipe Anderson.
Still onwards and upwards. Today is another day and there’s another game in a festive programme dominated, so far, by drawn games.
How the Hammers will line-up at Southampton will be governed by the usual dilemma. Who will play upfront in the likely continued absence of Michail Antonio? As poor as Haller has been (and it is like playing with ten men for much of the time) who is available to do a better job? Can Andriy Yarmolenko play through the middle? He looked bright enough against Brighton, but he is not known either for his pace, physicality or hard work. Equally, I don’t see Bowen as an effective alternative for the striker role. Do you think Ian Pearce still available? What a way to run a football club!
In midfield, Lanzini, Benrahma or Pablo Fornals should always start in preference to Noble. It is painful to watch the club captain trying to keep up with play nowadays. It’s no way for the sun to go down on such a distinguished career.
The Benrahma situation is beyond reason. Did Moyes want him in the first place? Is he another Sullivan special? Are there some other hidden agendas at work? We’ve not yet seen what he can bring to the team, but it can’t be worse than some of the other options. He deserves an opportunity to prove his worth, or otherwise.
Southampton’s storming start to the season has stalled a little in recent weeks, as they have struggled to cope with the absence of Danny Ings. The ability to call on a competent and reliable goal scorer sets the Saints apart from the Hammers. It looks like he will again be missing today and, although that is a bonus, the Hammers must be keep alert to the threat of the lively Che Adams and the set pieces of James Ward-Prowse. Jannik Vestergaard will also be an absentee from the Saint’s defence.
Seven of the twelve holiday matches played to date have ended in draws. Adding one more to that list might be the best we can hope for if the Hammers cannot find new reserves of energy and enterprise on their trip to the south coast. The optimism and swagger of a few weeks back has gone as flat as last years champagne. A fresh injection of bubbles is badly needed. I will take a 1-1. COYI!