A quirk of human nature is that there is always far more material to write about, complain about and discuss when things are going badly than when they are doing well. The climactic joy of beating Liverpool that saw bubbles flying high has quickly faded and died following two defeats and a draw in the subsequent three matches. The feet are firmly back on the ground. Damn that international break!
It would be disappointing in any season to lose points at home to Brentford, Palace, and Brighton; but to drop five late on in games when you are looking to repeat or improve on the season before is doubly frustration. At least we are still fourth (and with three more points than at the same stage last season) but that will change at the weekend unless West Ham can pull a top drawer performance out of the hat.
Although the mood of supporters often swings erratically from week to week, the mood on the training ground is likely to be much more measured. David Moyes has done a tremendous job in getting more out of the team than the individual parts would suggest is possible. There are maybe only one or two Hammers that would interest any of the three teams above us and bumps in the road are to be expected. But just as success is infectious, so is defeat (and Covid).
I get the impression that the team has lost its sparkle in recent weeks. Whether this is down to the fatigue of the Thursday and Sunday routine, the impact of injuries or just a temporary dip in form is uncertain. It has certainly brought debate about the obvious and significant gaps that the squad has back into focus. With Michail Antonio looking out of sorts and Aaron Cresswell having hit the post, the lack of cover for both positions has caused alarm and indignation.
It is good fortune that West Ham haven’t suffered badly with injuries so far (touch wood) with Angelo Ogbonna the only long-term casualty. It has enabled Moyes to use only 19 players in Premier League to date – the lowest apart from Burnley and Wolves. The starting eleven has been remarkably consistent in personnel and, except for Kurt Zouma, is mostly the same as last season. Two of the other summers recruits (Alphonse Areola and Alex Kral) have yet to feature in the league while Nikola Vlasic has only played 129 minutes in five appearances. Of course, they have each made contributions in the Europa League and Carabao cup, but it does raise the question whether the money might not have been better spent on a backup striker and left back.
As ever it is a question of juggling the club’s resources, a problem that supporters don’t have to worry about when calling for new signings. I can understand why Moyes says the quality must be right when it comes to transfers, but the flip-side of that is too much caution. It is clear, though, that the less money you are given to spend the more important the buying decision becomes. It is particularly problematic when it comes to strikers. A quick scan through that list of failed strikers who have passed through the club in the last ten years is all the evidence needed.
But if a challenge for a top six place is to be maintained then the owners need to do some shopping in the January window. In an ideal world that would mean a striker, left back, attacking midfield and central defender (to cover Ogbonna’s absence). Not much chance of the complete set in what is typically a difficult time to find value.
On the pitch, much of West Ham’s success is founded on excellent team spirit and strong organisation. Offensively, we rely either on quick breakaways or set pieces for the bulk of our goals. Nothing wrong with that approach when it brings rewards, but opposition managers must now be getting wise to these strengths. An extra dimension is needed to mix things up but our passing and ball retention needs major improvement to make that happen. Maybe we don’t have the players capable of doing that, or are they simply under strict instruction is to move the ball forward as quickly as possible and play the percentages?
I’m not a fan of passing and possession just for the sake of it – a trap that Brighton seem to fall into whenever I have seen them – but greater controlled and creative use of the ball is necessary when the situation demands it. Part of the problem is that none of the attacking quartet are able to regularly escape markers, create space, pick the right pass, and weigh in with a fair share of goals. Just what Jesse Lingard was doing during his purple patch earlier in the year. We miss him or someone like him.
Saturday lunchtime’s visitors to the London Stadium are league leaders, Chelsea. Tuchel has fashioned an exceptionally efficient unit in west London. Nothing much has gone wrong for him since he arrived to replace Lampard Junior in January of this year. They have experienced a minor wobble of their own just lately drawing with Manchester United and Burnley and scraping past Watford in the week.
The Blues have several injury concerns for the weekend with Kovacic and Chilwell definitely out, and doubts over the fitness of Chalobah, Kante and James. The absence of both Chilwell and James would be a bonus, given our weakness with wing-back play, although Alonso and the loathsome Azpilicueta are not bad alternatives. There may also be a return to action for Lukaku, a perennial thorn in the Hammer’s side during his career in England.
Had it not been for a poor run of results, we may have regarded Saturday’s game as something of a free hit. It now takes on greater importance – for confidence, league position and pride. Chelsea’s resurgence has been built upon a miserly defensive foundation, having conceded just six league goals in their fourteen games. They have yet to concede more than one goal in any domestic or European fixture. The visitors will undoubtedly boss possession with the West Ham’s success or otherwise hinging on not surrendering the ball cheaply and taking whatever chances come their way.
It must be back to basics in defence with none of the horrifying passing between keeper and central defenders that scares the pants off me. Fabianski has to be one the worst distributors in the league – so the less he has of the ball, the better. Hopefully, Cresswell will be restored to the team at left back. Asking Ben Johnson to play full-back on his wrong foot just doesn’t work in today’s game – at least not from an attacking point of view.
With the gods on our side, a favourable wind, planetary alignment, and no nonsense from VAR, West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!