The vacuum created by a blank weekend of perfunctory international fixtures was firmly filled, as far as the mood at the London Stadium was concerned, by a steady stream of increasingly glum negativity . As was explained with the sharp fall in the pound, momentum started to take over and then accelerated away. Not only to lambast David Moyes for the dithering and lack of adventure that has blighted the start to the season, but also to pillory the individual performances of each West Ham player turning out for their national teams. For example, according to one headline, Lucas Paqueta was ‘hooked off’ at half time for Brazil against Tunisia, rather than ‘being one of several players rotated’ when his side were leading comfortably.
Of course, a brief glance at the league table is all that is required to understand the obvious disquiet circulating among Hammer’s fans. Having invested heavily during the summer, nobody expected to see the team floundering in the relegation places with seven games played. Even if the points tally might have been higher had it not been for dubious refereeing decisions, the performances have generally been well below par, both individually and collectively.
Losing to a poor, tentaive and ineffective Everton side at Goodison Park two weeks ago was particularly galling. If an example of Moyes excessive caution were needed, then this was it. It took falling behind to Maupay’s fortunate mis-control and strike before any serious attempt to pressure the opposition goal was made. Any team who had gone into that game with a sense of adventure would have had it easily won well before the end.
It is quite surprising how quickly David Moyes stock has fallen among supporters. There have always been doubters, never convinced by his dour persona, waiting in the wings ready to pounce when things turned bad. But two fine seasons will have earned him plenty of credit with the owners – or at least with Gold and Sullivan, who have never been inclined towards trigger happiness in the past. Will Kretinsky see things differently? He might expect more for his money, whether that is success or entertainment.
A run of poor results is a long-time in modern football and Moyes will come under increasing pressure to improve matters between now and the break for the World Cup. If the Hammers are still in the bottom six by then, his job will surely be seen as high risk.
A huge part of that improvement must be to jettison the blind loyalty to long-term under-performing players such as Pablo Fornals, Tomas Soucek, Vladimir Coufal and Aaron Cresswell. A lot of money has been paid to bring new players into the club (even more now if the instalments are due in Euros) and they must be central to the evolution of style that involves better ball retention, greater passing sucess and enhanced mobility. West Ham need to take back control of the ball. Continuing to rely solely on counter attacks and set pieces has no future. It’s all very well wanting to ease new players in gently, but it makes no sense when the old alternatives have been well below average for many, many months.
As things stand, we are second last to Bournemouth on average percentage possession (41.3%) for the season to date. Add in only three goals scored, and none in the first half then it suggests it is major changes that are needed, not minor tweaks. Is the manager up to it? Can he still turn things around or are we already past the point of no return? Many have speculated on the degree of unity within the camp but who knows what to believe.
In my preview of the Everton match I offered the following suggested line-up: Areola – Kehrer, Zouma, Dawson, Emerson – Rice, Paqueta, Downes – Bowen, Scamacca, Antonio. Equally, I would be happy to consider Said Benrahma and/ or Maxwell Comet as alternatives to Jarrod Bowen or Michail Antonio. Indeed, any three from those five up front would provide options and a level of goal threat that has been missing for some time. More is needed than just different players in the same tired 4-2-3-1 format.
Today’s visitors are Portuguese giants, Futebol Clube Andarilhos de Wolverhampton. Os Lobos have made a similarly unimpressive start to the new season, joining West Ham as the league’s lowest scorers. In direct contrast to the Hammers, all Wolves goals have come in the first half.
Wolves manager Bruno Lage will point to the continued absence of Raul Jimenez for his team’s woes and has recently recruited free agent rent-a-thug, Diego Costa to boost his attacking options. Costa will most probably start on the bench today. Of the other Wolves players, Neto and Podence, would be capable of mayhem if they are paired up against the sluggish Coufal and Cresswell. I also like the look of Max Kilman at the back – a real shame the Hammers were not in for him, given that he was playing for Alan Devonshire at Maidenhead before moving to Molineux.
So what is likely to happen when a team who can’t score in the first half comes up against one that can’t score in the second? From what I have seen of Wolves they enjoy much better possession (52.1%) than West Ham (as do rock bottom Leicester with 53.9%) but have little cutting edge. Unless we see a change of style from Moyes it may well be another case of erring towards caution, rather than starting on the front foot. The manager must know something radical needs to change in his approach. If he feels our league possession is more down to bad luck than poor form, then the club may well be about to enter a doom spiral.
Trying to be the optimist, I hope for Moyes to see the light on team selection and will predict a 2-1 win. In the circumstances this will require the Hammers to recover from a half-time deficit to claim all three points. COYI!