Defeat to runaway champions may have been predictable but the manner of West Ham’s capitulation once again causes frustration, concern and disappointment.
An Expected Result
Getting a score prediction correct is rare for me but I was spot on with this one although, in part, that was thanks to Manchester City for taking it easy and playing at half pace. The outcome was pretty much as expected and so probably changes very little in the scheme of things except making the Hammer’s goal difference even more desperate than it was before. Right from the start there was a general air of resignation around the ground that West Ham were sure to lose this one. The players did their best to reinforce this belief by only putting up a token effort of resistance, as if they had mentally written off the game. The only brief period of optimism was that short spell before half time when Aaron Cresswell pulled a goal back to make it 2-1, but the half time pep talks quickly restored equilibrium; the Hammers not even having a sniff at the City goal in the second period.
Manchester City already have or are about to break all sorts of Premier League records this season as far as wins, points and goals scored are concerned. Not to be left out, West Ham themselves have managed to snatch the baton for worst defence in the league by allowing the goals against tally to rocket to a whopping 67. Having leaked three goals or more six times in the last ten games does not bode well for the remainder of the relegation threatened season. The Hammers are also closing in on the record for all time Premier League defeats and currently sit just two behind Everton (350 to 348). Ironically, if they manage to claim top spot it is likely to mean relegation and an inability to retain the title next season!
Once again the Hammers find themselves with a situation of limited competition for places which so often leads to complacency. Strangely the exception is with strikers where the strategy of playing none is really keeping them on their toes. In truth the problem is that the team is so poor defensively and in midfield that playing with more than one striker is regarded as a huge risk. That each of the recognised strikers are ill-equipped to play a lone role means that Marko Arnautovic (brought to the club as a midfielder) has become the obvious choice to play up front. Arnautovic is in a one-horse race in the Hammer of The Year stakes and it would be no surprise if he wanted out in the summer. Despite these selection limitations why anyone would believe that Patrice Evra would be the answer to the defensive frailties against the runaway champions is beyond me. The recruitment of Evra and Jordan Hugill in the winter transfer window was the icing on the shambolic, muddled, ill-judged and short term cake of boardroom thinking.
Lazy and Unacceptable Performance
In last week’s defeat to Arsenal there was at least an attempt to make a game of it until the late capitulation intervened. This week the players offered nothing! David Moyes would not have been my choice as manager but I was prepared to give him a chance because I believed he would get the team fitter and better organised. For a while it looked to be working but now we are back to where Slaven Bilic left off. How can a side still battling for Premier League survival put in that type of disinterested performance even if they were outclassed? Where is the leadership both on and off the field? What is the downside for simply going through the motions as opposed to earning those huge pay packets? Out of yesterday’s game maybe Arnautovic and Angelo Ogbonna were close to adequate but the rest were dreadful; with special mention for dreadfulness going to the woeful central midfield pairing of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate.
A Sorry Squad
Moyes cannot take full responsibility for all of the weaknesses in the squad. I have no insight to what attempts were made to strengthen in January but my guess is that the Board thought they could muddle through without having to dig into their pockets – a survival at minimum cost strategy. It was already known that Obiang would be out for the season and the failure to bring in a replacement was mindbogglingly negligent. Further, why the two Reece’s and Fonte were allowed to leave when numbers were already short is a major puzzle. I am sure Declan Rice will go on to have a great career in football but he could be severely damaged by the recent experience of too many games too soon in such a difficult and high pressure position. The running of the club (at least on the football side) remains completely amateurish. West Ham are going backwards without any pretence of a strategy for progress. Filling the squad with past their best, ageing players is penny pinching short-termism posing as a policy of acquiring Premier League experience. Putting up with an under-performing academy and sub-standard training facilities will do nothing to attract and retain the type of players who have other offers on the table. From the current squad I see Arnautovic, Rice and Manual Lanzini as the only real assets and each of these could easily leave in the summer. Of the remainder I wouldn’t lose any sleep if the lot were shipped out – they are either too old, too fragile or don’t care.
West Ham snaffle what looked like being an unlikely draw at Stamford Bridge. As well as earning another valuable point in the quest for Premier League survival what else did we learn?
A Fortunate Bonus Point
I am not going to lie, this was a very fortunate but hugely valuable bonus point in West Ham’s survival struggle. For most of the first half, and large parts of the second, the Hammers were second best in all areas. There is no doubt that Chelsea have some fine players but allowing those players full and free rein to express those talents was a reckless strategy and served again to highlight the fragility of the West Ham squad. If you are wanting to stop Chelsea play then you don’t allow the likes of Hazard and Willian as much of the ball as they like, and give them all the room in the world to use it. West Ham have the second poorest defensive record in the Premier League but defending is a team responsibility. Until there is effective protection from midfield and an ability to retain possession for more than a couple of passes then the defence will always be under pressure. At the end it was a very welcome point but it owed more to the host’s shortcomings than our own efforts. On another day Chelsea could easily have been out of sight well before the hour mark.
A Return to Average Performances
Following on from the encouraging win against Southampton the previous week, only a handful of players could be satisfied with their afternoon’s work. Edmilson Fernandes, Cheikhou Kouyate and Mark Noble were all poor in the roles asked of them in midfield while Joao Mario and Arthur Masuaku did not live up to the promise shown a week before. On the plus side both Angelo Ogbonna and Declan Rice performed admirably in defence showing a level of concentration and commitment that is not always obvious in our rearguard. Joe Hart had an excellent afternoon demonstrating an agility that has been largely lacking during his time in London. My issue with Hart remains that having a loan player (that you have no intention (I assume) of buying) as your Number 1 is a flawed strategy. Star man once again was Marko Arnautovic who has become more skilful and more of a handful as each week goes by – even if he should have done more to prevent the Chelsea goal. I hate to think where we would be this season without him. There really is no need to hold a Hammer of the Year poll.
Llamar A Un Amigo
West Ham were totally on the ropes from the start of the second half and it looked to be only a matter of time before Chelsea extended their lead. A lifeline was badly need but it took David Moyes a long time to ‘phone his friend’, Javier Hernandez. It was no surprise that it was Fernandes that was sacrificed, a player with good technique but no position; wherever he was meant to be playing yesterday was not it. Pundits scratch their heads as to why Hernandez does not get more game time at West Ham but he remains an enigma. Undoubtedly he is the best goal scorer at the club but how to accommodate him (other than as substitute) remains problematic. Conceding goals has been more of an issue this season than scoring them and playing two forward players could make matters worse. Arnautovic has blossomed once freed from tracking back duties and this could be compromised if he is played in a more withdrawn role. Having said that it was superb combination play between the two to score a finely struck equaliser.
Great Tackle or Penalty?
The game certainly livened up once the scores were level. The closest West Ham went to nicking a winner was when Arnautovic breezed past the Chelsea defence only to be thwarted by Kante as he bore down on goal. While Kante was lightning fast in getting back (probably no other player could have even got close) it still looked to me as if the he played Arnie’s boot rather than the ball. Personally I was pointing to the spot straight away but the referee thought otherwise. This is not the type of decision that you get playing away at a top six side but would have had a high probability of being given if it had happened at the other end.
Fighting For Survival
The weekend turned out to be a good one for West Ham in the battle for survival. The point earned took our total to 34 from 32 games played. My best guess is that neither Southampton nor Stoke will get more than 35 points meaning that one more win or a couple of draws should be enough. Games at this time of the season have the added complication of teams starting to switch off or with their focus elsewhere. Several of the relegation threatened clubs still have to face Everton who are clearly going through the motions under Fat Sam; Leicester also have nothing to play for. Southampton made a better fist of things against Arsenal but still came away with nothing from a half empty Emirates, where the hosts are pinning all of their hopes on the Europa League. West Ham may already have done enough to limp over the line but it is evident that major surgery is required on the squad if this season’s woes are not to be repeated; preferably by someone who knows how to build a team rather than simply buying players offered up by agents without any understanding of how they will complement one another on the pitch. You can’t complete a jigsaw with odd shaped pieces taken from many different puzzles.
An unexpected demonstration of flair, commitment, pace and invention allows West Ham to steamroller a poor Southampton side at the weekend. What did we learn from the experience?
The Good, The Bad And The Game Of Two Halves
Whenever a match ends in an emphatic win for one side or the other, the reporting tends towards the extremes of whether the victors being excellent or the defeated very poor. What we witnessed at the weekend was a combination of both in what could be described as a typical ‘game of two halves’. Arguably the Hammers played some of their best and most fluent football of the season in the first period, almost reaching rampant on the domination scale. It is a shame that it was decided to declare at half time, in what has been described as a show of game management, because I was really hoping for a hat-full of goals. I have enough West Ham games under my belt to know that sitting back can be, and has been, a dangerous tactic. A team rarely comes back from three goals down but if it is going to happen then it is going to happen against the Hammers. In the circumstances Southampton had nothing to offer and gave the impression of not being too bothered about making a game of it. The second half lacked any real incident and it seems that Mark Hughes is well on his way to relegating two teams in a single season.
For once, the starts were aligned and there were excellent performances throughout the team. At the back, Declan Rice didn’t put a foot wrong and Angelo Ogbonna had a fine game showing what a good defender he can be when he stays alert for the entire ninety minutes. It was interesting to read that David Moyes had intended to play Rice in midfield if James Collins had been fit as the much criticised (particularly by me) partnership of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate exceeded all expectations in securing central midfield. Noble threw off his recent sluggishness adding intensity to his usual graft while Kouyate was surging forward to great effect. Arthur Masuaku made a welcome return on the left and immediately provided balance providing an outlet for his colleagues (Alan Devonshire style) as someone able to maintain possession for more than one or two touches. When Michail Antonio limped off early in the game I feared the worst as without his physical presence goal scoring options looked to have narrowed even further. Little did I know that Joao Mario would step up to the plate for his best game yet in claret and blue or that the returning Edmilson Fernandes would be so energetic and effective after a long lay-off? The icing on the cake was another superb Marko Arnautovic performance which embraced pace, power, flair and enterprise. His spat with Hughes was priceless!
The Bare Bones Formation
On the face of it Southampton went into the game with the more attacking line-up. But there is no point having two strikers (neither of whom are particularly mobile) if you don’t give them any service and, at the same time, you blunt your most dangerous weapon by playing the wing backs in a flat back four. There were no doubt some eyebrows raised at the Hammers starting eleven but a look at the bench shows how few options there are available at the moment – the bare bones can be partly put down to bad luck with injuries but it is mostly the result of haphazard and arbitrary player recruitment practices. Arnautovic has been a revelation since being moved to a more central role and has a style (pace, invention and mobility) that none of the more recognised strikers possess. Even if the others were fit they really are no more than impact players in my mind. There won’t be many easier opponents than Southampton and my jury is still out over the central midfield pairing until they prove it can work without reasonable doubt. There are also questions as to whether Manuel Lanzini and Mario can play effectively in the same team or what the best role is for Fernandes.
Beautiful Team Goals
The beauty of Saturday’s win were three excellent team goals which, to me, are more satisfying than the spectacular pile-drivers that routinely make the goal of the season running. Each of the goals featured a speed and aggression that is all too often missing from West Ham’s play. For the first, there was pressure by Mario and Noble to win possession following a Saint’s corner and when Kouyate embarked on a typical powerful run it was, for once, topped off with an insightful pass rather than a hopeful punt. Mario’s three touches (including a cheeky one with his knee) ended with a satisfying ripple of the net. The second was also the result of sustained pressing before Mario’s measured cross was met by a powerful Arnautovic header that the keeper couldn’t hold allowing Marko to react first to slot home. The third currently stands as my favourite West Ham goal for some time. Like the first it was excellent, rapid counter attacking football culminating with Masuaku’s raking cross expertly stroked home by Arnautovic. It reminded me of a goal of the season scored by Martin Peters past Peter Shilton at Upton Park in 1968. Had Aaron Cresswell’s late effort snuck in under the bar then perhaps there would have been even more competition for favourite goal.
The Relegation Stakes
It was a good day all-round for West Ham in the relegation stakes. Three points gained while most of the relegation rivals lost has put some daylight between the Hammers and the bottom three. The survival threshold now looks as if it will be around 36 or 37 points and if Saturday’s level of performance and commitment can be repeated then this should be comfortably achieved. However, if there is a return to the performances witnessed in the previous three games then all bets are still on. It is difficult to understand why our players need to specially psyche themselves up to put in this level of effort. Surely it should be the norm. The fragility of the squad depth is still a concern and we are possibly just another injury or two away from yet more anxiety. Had we not been so generous to Brighton and Newcastle or seen out the game properly at Selhurst Park then the players could already be preparing to splash on the Ambre Solaire on a beach of their choice.
Some People Are on the Pitch They Think It’s All Over It Could Well Be Now! The chances of Championship football rattling around the London Stadium next season increase significantly after a disastrous afternoon in Stratford.
Some people are on the pitch…..
Probably it is no surprise that events unfolded as they did. It started with a show of unity in memory of Bobby Moore and ended with a shambolic descent into chaos both on and off the pitch. I would defend the right of any paying customer to make their feelings known but there is a time, a place and a way of doing it. Perhaps the board do not have the interests of the club at heart (beyond the value of their own investment) but then neither do those who ran onto the pitch – their only objective was personal attention seeking. In typical West Ham fashion the response was slow and late and there are sure to be consequences; how serious we will have to wait and see. Disgraceful scenes were beamed around the world. For a while, it looked as though the players might be taken off the pitch and the director’s box was more or less emptied for the safety of its occupants. By the end a forlorn Trevor Brooking sat alone as the baying crowd sang ‘he’s one of our own’. I doubt that a respectable man like Sir Trevor was sharing the same sentiment.
A Darkest Hour
It is difficult to see how there could be any positive outcome or acceptable way back from yesterday’s debacle – at least during the short term that remains of the 2017/18 season. There will be action by the FA for sure – perhaps it will be just a fine but games played behind closed doors or away from London are other options they will be considering. We are a club to make an example of, after all. The pitch invaders will undoubtedly be banned from the stadium but how does the club with Board, players and fans at each other’s throats navigate the rest of the season while at the same time battling a desperate relegation fight. For me, this now puts West Ham as one of the strongest of favourites for the drop – just behind West Bromwich Albion. Perhaps some will see that as a price worth paying if it means farewell to Gold and Sullivan but I would view it as a disaster from which recovery will be slow and painful.
Shuffling The Bare Bones
Moyes decided to shake things up after heavy defeats at Liverpool and Swansea. But with a third three goal defeat on the trot and the disappearance of what was once a slight goal difference advantage the changes badly backfired. The Hammers have conceded more goals than any other team in the division and now boast the fourth worst goal difference as they sleepwalk towards relegation. Rather than strengthening the squad in January it was weakened by more leavers than joiners. Further injuries mean that few to no options are available in an ageing and lopsided squad; while potential youthful reinforcements were allowed to go out on pointless loans. I predicted that Moyes would reinstate Joe Hart but this was a mistaken gamble as demonstrated with the third goal. Michail Anntonio made a welcome return to the side but he is wasted on the left where good positions created are undone by an inability to deliver from his weaker side. Declan Rice did not deserve to be left out and could have done a job either in central defence or midfield. Once again, the defensive midfield resistance was as flimsy as a David Sullivan promise.
Another Self Inflicted Defeat
West Ham bossed the first half without being able to turn better chances into anything tangible. Marko Arnautovic should have done better when through on goal and Manuel Lanzini really should have scored. By the time the half was coming to a close it was clear that Burnley had realised that the Hammers were ripe for the taking. In the second half the visitors were by far the more composed side from the start and when Dyche introduced the second striker things started to look very ominous. The breakthrough goal was a typical piece of lackadaisical Angelo Ogbonna defending. We have seen him do this so many times in the past where he switches off and enters standby sauntering mode. He should never have allowed Woods to outpace him and then give him all the time in the world to pick out Barnes. After that the spirit visibly drained from West Ham and with further goals following swiftly it was the cue for the disgraceful crowd scenes to unfold. There was not even time for the consolation goal of previous weeks.
I Think It’s All Over
There is no game for three weeks now and it seems that the players are off on holiday to Miami. We know how well these warm weather breaks have worked in the past and so expectations are low. West Ham could well be in the bottom three by the time the next game comes around; wherever that will be played. Suddenly the relegation battle looks to be narrowing down to a five horse race – or four teams competing for the remaining two places on the assumption that West Bromwich are already certainties. Present form suggests that one of those unfortunate two may well be the Hammers.
West Ham’s Dad’s Army put up plucky resistance but eventually succumb to Klopp’s superior firepower. What did we learn?
An Expected Result
In the scheme of things the outcome of this match doesn’t really change anything as far as West Ham’s battle for survival is concerned. I doubt that anyone working out their predictions and permutations for the remainder of the system, from the team of analysts with a supercomputer to man with a pencil and the back of a fag packet, expected West Ham to take anything out of yesterday’s game. If there was disappointment it was the size of the defeat and it’s resultant hit on goal difference, which at -15 is now worse that two of the teams below us. Mark Noble claimed that the scoreline was harsh on West Ham but it could easily have been worse if Liverpool had been more clinical. At what point a routine defeat turns into a thumping is debatable but the Hammers were well and truly beaten by a talented and in-form Liverpool side. The Merseysiders were allowed to dictate the game and took full advantage and although the West Ham players put in a decent amount of effort the impression was that there little belief to go alongside it.
The Strangest Selection
The team selection surprised me. I had doubted that we would see Joao Mario and Manuel Lanzini on the pitch at the same time and yet David Moyes was happy to give the combination a try. The result was a narrow formation that lacked width without solving the usual inability to provide an outlet for besieged defenders or to keep the ball once in possession. I thought Mario was poor throughout and although he was not alone in that it was his most ineffective game since coming to England. Starting with one of Mario and Lanzini along with Michail Antonio would have made more sense and, for a brief period after his introduction, the presence of Antonio appeared to unsettle Liverpool’s defence. This wasn’t a game where West Ham lacked effort but effort alone is not enough at this level. Players giving 100% should be a given and what West Ham need are skillful players giving everything; not players who make up for lack of techniques with effort. An honourable exception to the lack of quality on show in claret and blue yesterday was Marko Arnaoutovic who once again demonstrated what an exceptional player he can be.
Dad’s Army Defenders
When the referee called Mark Noble over following the yellow card shown to James Collins I imagined the conversation going: Referee – “what’s his name?”; Nobes – “don’t tell him Ginge”. With the introduction of Patrice Evra into the Hammers rearguard we now have a defence worthy of the veterans league. Looking at all of the outfield players with mainly defensive responsibilities (i.e. everyone except Mario, Lanzini and Arnie) they are characterised by an overall lack of pace throughout. Once again the central midfield pairing of Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate failed to get even close to impressing and allowed Liverpool to attack the backline with impunity. Evra and Pablo Zabaleta might have shown admirable commitment but with the best will in the world they are never going to be able to bomb forward to provide width in support of their forwards. What a contrast to Alexander-Arnold and Robertson for the Reds.
Assists For The Opposition Goals
Despite Liverpool’s dominance the Hammers once again contributed to their own downfall in the goals conceded. The opener by Can was just the type of goal I had not expected to concede; a simple header from a corner. It did appear to me that Adrian was badly impeded but this seems one of those rules that is now considered optional by referees. The second goal was the killer coming so soon after half-time and some blame must go first to Kouyate for a series of powder puff challenges and then to Aaron Cresswell for not getting close enough to Salah. The third was a result of Mario giving possession away cheaply and compounded by Adrian’s poorly judged rush from the area (but please no recall for Joe Hart) and by the fourth the players were just hoping for the game to end as quickly as possible. Giving a team like Liverpool so much of the ball was always going to be a huge risk. The weakness in central midfield, a lack of belief in being able to keep the ball and players bunching rather than spreading play all served to surrender the initiative to the opposition. Conceding was only a matter of time.
The Table Doesn’t Lie
West Ham slip to 13th position just three points (four if you count goal difference) out of the relegation places. Assuming that Palace do not beat Tottenham today by two goals or more the standings will be unchanged before the crunch game next weekend away at Swansea. At least Swansea also experienced their own thumping yesterday meaning that both teams will need to demonstrate ‘bouncebackability’. With the bottom of the table so compressed and so many teams in relegation danger there are few yet in a position to start thinking about the summer holidays. Leicester had the look of going through the motions about them yesterday and maybe Burnley and Everton do as well. Some consolation in that these are three teams we have yet to play.
As David Sullivan calls for unity and the need to pull together, a Marko Arnautovic inspired West Ham bounce back from their recent doldrums to record a much needed win over Watford. What did we learn from the game?
We All Pull Together
The team performance against Watford was a perfect reaction to the disappointment of half-hearted effort on show at Brighton last week. In David Sullivan’s attempt at a damage limitation video (that was posted on the official West Ham website) he repeated, in a style reminiscent of Theresa May’s much ridiculed strong and stable slogan, the mantra as to how we all needed to pull together to drag the club out of its current plight. I am all for unity but for it to be achieved everyone has to see that striving for it is to their advantage. Donating my time, effort and money simply to line someone else’s pocket is just not tempting enough to earn my unquestioning support unfortunately. Still the players responded well and they ably demonstrated the spirit, determination and togetherness required to earn a valuable three points from what looked to be a troublesome fixture against a confident Watford side.
Arnie Is Back
In my match preview I predicted a point at best and that we would be lucky to see Marko Arnautovic on the bench. The inaccuracy of that latter expectation had a direct impact on the imprecision and negativity of the former. While I am in confession mode, I will admit to having been ambivalent about the signing of Arnautovic. Not that I was a huge Stoke City watcher but the impression I had was of an inconsistent, fair-weather, sun-on-his-back type of player who would pick and choose which matches he would contribute to at the best of his ability. His early outings in claret and blue did little to dispel that assessment. He looked moody and disinterested and added an early blot to his copybook with a needless sending off at Southampton. Then suddenly, after thirteen goalless outings, he was given a more attacking role by David Moyes, free from tracking back along the wing, and goes on to score seven times in the next eleven games. And it is not only in goals that he is contributing to the cause as his overall effort, strength and impressive close control have made him into a defender’s nightmare. It is difficult for me to remember ever being so completely wrong about a player in the past. When the new golden age of player recruitment, as promised by the Board, becomes a reality let’s hope there are a few more Arnies up their sleeves.
The Legendary Game Of Two Halves
In many ways it was an unusual game. The first half West Ham were very much on the front foot with great movement and invention on show. Cheikhou Kouyate was a midfield driving force demonstrating a power and energy that has largely been missing from his game in recent times, and with the ball at their feet the combination of Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, Joao Mario and Javier Hernandez always looked threatening and capable of opening up the Watford defence. A goal disallowed for the thinnest of offside margins, a denied penalty appeal and a spurned Arnautovic chance all preceded the opening goal. When Hernandez headed home after a fine Antonio run and cross it felt like we were on a roll. The second half was a very different animal and it was difficult to tell whether this was because Watford had upped their game or whether West Ham had decided the best tactic was to defend deep and deny the visitors any chance of a quick counter attack. The inability of West Ham to keep the ball for more than a few touches and the tendency to go for the long ball was a concern but for all of Watford’s possession they created little. Watching live it seemed a very long second half that was all Watford, but watching the highlights later it was apparent that, apart from a free kick well saved by Adrian, it was West Ham who enjoyed the clear cut chances. Ultimately it was the Hammers who secured a further (rather scrappy) goal to seal the match and claim the points.
Initially the starting line-up puzzled me when it was first announced. I was sure it was going to be a back four and when it was apparent that this was not the case I was concerned about how well the Angelo Ogbonna, James Collins, Aaron Cresswell threesome would deal with Watford’s creative players. Cresswell has performed adequately in his new role but I am yet to be convinced that his lack of height will not be exploited by more astute opponents. For all of Collins limitations against more mobile adversaries there are few better when the opposition decide to rely on the lofted cross as their main form of attack. Similarly the aerial assault plays to one of Ogbonna’s main strengths; the other being wrestling with opponents at corners. Much was made of Watford’s 64% possession but it should be obvious to most by now that possession does not equate to dominance.
Canny Jock Or Dour Scot?
It remains tight at the bottom end of the Premier League table but the thirty point milestone is a good one to have crossed with still more than ten games to go. When Moyes took control of the team, West Ham had recorded nine points from eleven games and were sitting in eighteenth place. In the sixteen matches since he took charge his team have amassed twenty one points and now sit in twelfth place. It is a decent achievement and current trajectory should ensure a safe end to the season and even eyes on a top ten finish. The likelihood that at least six out of the eight teams sitting below West Ham in the table outperform them by a sufficient margin in the remaining eleven games is a slim one. What happens at the end of the season though is anyone’s guess. Personally, I think Moyes should be given the opportunity to show what he can do (both in terms of success and style) after a sensibly planned transfer window. Whether he wants to, or will be allowed to, depends very much on what the new strategy of pulling together actually means in reality.
Five Takeaways As West Ham Inflict a Heavy Home Defeat on Huddersfield Town
Current Form Resurgence
At the risk of cherry picking statistics in order to prove a particular point, West Ham’s form over the past nine games gives every reason for supporters to breathe a little easier right now. Disregarding David Moyes’ first three games in charge, as an opportunity to get his feet under the table, the Hammers have since taken fifteen points from nine games; a return that if repeated for the remainder of the season would deliver a comfortable fifty-five points. At the same time, the goal difference (although still in debit) is starting to look much more reasonable in comparison with the rest of the relegation threatened pack. Three points are welcome at any time but on Saturday there was something of a recent rarity where victory was backed up with a fine dominant performance that demonstrated some of the most enterprising football witnessed for some time.
Team Selection Vindicated
It would be preposterous to question team selection following such an emphatic win but there was plenty of online negativity when the lineup was first announced; mainly centred on a defensive looking midfield and the absence of a recognised striker. The central midfield continues to be a problem area for West Ham and putting three bodies in it was a belt and braces solution for the respective shortcomings of the three individuals involved. In the context of the game it worked very well with Mark Noble getting more freedom and Cheikhou Kouyate being able to make himself a nuisance (Fellaini style without the elbows) in more forward positions. The one player who was unlucky to miss out was Declan Rice but I suspect that the management are keen to manage the youngster’s game time. I do not really see Rice as a midfield alternative and, for me, it would have been a toss-up between him and Aaron Cresswell for the final back three berth. Cresswell is doing OK but his lack of stature is a vulnerability that more wily opponents than Huddersfield will seek to exploit.
There has been a lot of talk about West Ham’s strikers and their respective attributes with the probability that none of the existing crop is a good fit to the way that Moyes wants to play. Despite stating at his press conference that he didn’t want to lose any of his four main strikers (and that he wasn’t looking for any new ones) it was interesting that he plumped for Marko Arnautovic in the striking role for Saturday’s game, just as he had previously shown a preference to use Michail Antonio for that task in earlier games. Arnautovic revelled in his new found freedom and gave the Huddersfield defence a torrid time. It was a match winning performance and his transformation over recent weeks has been a revelation. He has a reputation for being moody and we must hope that he can continue to be motivated to show was a superb player he can be. The link up play between himself and Manuel Lanzini was a joy and particularly effective when the team is looking to break quickly. How this might translate against a team coming to the London Stadium to defend is another question altogether.
Understandably it was Arnautovic and Lanzini who received the plaudits following the weekend’s game but this was truly a tremendous all-round team effort. I don’t think any player let the side down although one or two could have done better before Lolley popped up to net with his excellent equaliser. It has become fashionable in recent weeks to target the performances of Kouyate and Pedro Obiang for any deficiencies in West Ham’s play; and although neither of them has been at the top of their game they haven’t played as consistently poorly as some have claimed. One of the many player ratings I saw over the weekend (I think it was from Claret & Hugh) singled out Kouyate as the worst performing Hammer, this despite his telling involvement in three of the Hammer’s four goals. It is probably time to get off the bandwagon when you can no longer be objective.
The West Ham Enigma
As West Ham fans our long experience of false dawns make us suspicious and ensures that we do not get carried away too easily by a few good results. However, we can be quietly encouraged by the improved performances that Moyes and the coaching team have managed to get from the players in a relatively short space of time. Naysayers will still point to cup performances as a reason to criticise but as much as we all love a cup run the club will see preserving Premier League status as the much bigger (if not exclusive) priority. Do you think that if West Ham won the FA Cup but were relegated the manager would still be in a job come the summer? So despite the recent turnaround in form the official stance from all concerned or associated with the club is to emphasise that there is still much work to be done before we can think of ourselves as safe. I am certain, however, that the more agreeable league position will put a different complexion on transfer window dealings, where signings can be made not just through panic but with longer term improvement in mind.