It’s Werther’s Originals all round as Manuel Pellegrini celebrates his 65th birthday with a rare West Ham win at Goodison Park. What did we learn from the latest Hammers shape and improved performance?
A Win, Entertainment & Goals
Great relief at an unexpected victory that finally put some points on the board for West Ham and allowed them to climb to 16th place in the Premier League table. That’s one place higher than Avram Grant’s team managed during the entire 2010/11 season – the last time the Hammers lost the opening four games of a campaign. It was not just the win that was pleasing, however, but the manner in which it was achieved with some great all-round performances plus a spirit and tenacity that had been missing from previous games. What I had envisaged as being a scrappy Sunday afternoon affair turned out to be highly entertaining with plenty of incident at both ends and some excellent well-taken goals (and all from open play for a change).
We Were Good Or They Were Bad?
When any game is analysed these days there is invariably a binary debate as to whether the outcome was down to the superiority of the victors or the shortcomings of the defeated. Most (non-partisan) reports that I read look to have taken the position that the deciding factor yesterday was Everton’s deficiencies rather than West Ham’s performance. As a contrast, when Manchester City beat Fulham on Saturday, the consensus was this was due to City’s impeccability and flawlessness while Fulham’s suicidal tactics were largely ignored. In truth, most games are a mix of the two and we shouldn’t underestimate how, on the day, West Ham’s confident and energetic approach to the game served to rattle their opponents.
The Shape Of Things To Come
The number of changes announced in the West Ham starting eleven took most people by surprise and was seen by some as a sign of panic. It was a puzzle to see how they would eventually line up. Formations should, of course, be flexible but what we saw was something that looked like a 4-1-2-3 where Declan Rice was as close to being a third centre back as possible without becoming a back three. In the event it worked well and both Rice and Pedro Obiang had outstanding games in the centre of midfield and the front three were given an opportunity to flourish. Where the set-up didn’t work so well was in supporting the full-backs, an area where most of the Everton threat came from. Despite the Fabian Balbuena – Issa Diop partnership again being sound, Everton were still presented with three or four good chances from crosses into the box. With Obiang and Mark Noble playing narrow in midfield it looked as though the responsibility for tracking back rested with Andriy Armolenko and Felipe Anderson – a big ask if you also expect them to be the springboard for attacks. Most successful teams do not expect their most advanced players to defend deep (relying on them to press higher up the pitch). It is a problem that needs to be addressed as the next opponents may not be quite as profligate on crosses as Everton were.
It was a first chance this season to see Marko Arnautovic start a game supported by the two expensive summer recruits – Anderson and Yarmolenko. It was a pleasure to watch and to see passes being played into spaces that others were running into; rather than the static triangles that we have become used to. The first and third goals in particular were beautifully worked and featured the swift passing style that I love to see nestling in the back of the net – thirty yard thunderbolts are fine but team goals are football at its best. It was a dream full debut for Yarmolenko who can look somewhat ungainly but what a sweet left foot he has! It was a little worrying seeing Anderson stranded out wide on the left at the start but his influence grew as the game developed. Although not directly involved in any of the goals he showed excellent close control and an ability to retain possession that has eluded generations of West Ham players since Alan Devonshire (or maybe Yossi Benayoun). I am hoping we get to see some true Anderson end product soon rather than later but the prospect of these three having an extended run together is very exciting.
Having conceded late in the first half the initial reaction was that “West Ham’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away” – but in fact they managed the second half very well and the expected Everton onslaught never materialised. The timing of the Arnautovic goal was perfect and went some way to settle the nerves; but long time Hammers supporters will never be fully confident of victory until the game is finally over. My biggest worry was that at the rate Martin Atkinson was handing out yellow cards to our players (four of them for their only foul of the match) we would end up a man down. At least he didn’t show a straight red for Arthur Masuaku’s boot ending up on Walcott’s ducked head as the idiot Clattenburg has been suggesting in the media. Even substitutes Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass acquitted themselves well, although there were flashbacks to Selhurst Park whenever Antonio took the ball to the corner flag. Carlos Sanchez on the other hand ………..what was he doing?
A lethargic and lacklustre West Ham limp to a fourth consecutive Premier League defeat after a schoolboy error hands a last minute winner to a determined Wolves. What are the takeaways for the disgruntled Hammer’s fan?
You Don’t Know What You’re Doing
Someone, somewhere doesn’t know what they are doing – but I’m quite not yet sure whether it is the manager or the players. Accepting that change is difficult, and that a new manager, new ideas, new style and an almost completely new set of players would make a storming start to the season unlikely I had expected better than this. Leaving aside the time needed to create optimum cohesion and understanding it is surely not unrealistic that the basics of organisation and commitment should be in place by now in such an expensively assembled squad. Does the manager have a plan, do the players not know what that plan is, or do they know but are unable to put it into action? I think we all knew that champagne football might take a while to flow freely but the low energy, low tempo, low intensity fare being served up at the moment carries no promise of fizz tomorrow. A few games into the season and many of the players look ready for a holiday just to take the lead out of their boots.
Is There A Man With A Plan?
The way that West Ham have been set up with the players that are available is a massive concern. I am sure Manuel Pellegrini doesn’t believe he is back at Manchester City with players of superior class who can boss possession and pass their way to success. Very few teams can do that – even if some of our players stroll around as if they believe they can. For all the rest it is matter of hard work, organisation and application. Either you work like fury to regain possession once it is lost it, or else you employ a compact shape allowing quick retreat and denying space for the opposition to exploit. From the evidence to date, the new look West Ham are happy to concede both possession and space. It is not rocket science that teams need to attack and defend as a team but this hasn’t sunk in for Pellegrini’s West Ham yet. In yesterday’s game, there were four players who offered little or nothing defensively which allowed Wolves numerical advantage whenever they attacked. As with Arthur Masuaku before him, Aaron Cresswell was hung out to dry as time and again opposition runners were given the freedom to swarm forward unimpeded – what makes it even worse is that the full backs look to be under instruction to tuck in close to the central defenders. It makes no sense whatsoever to give opponents such a free pass to the wide areas. Contrast that with West Ham’s inability to create any space themselves down either flank – for either the wide midfielders or full-backs to run into. Overall the game demonstrated very poor tactical awareness both at outset and as events unfolded.
As the game looked to be petering out with both teams settled on a scoreless draw, it was ultimately an individual mistake that threw the game away and prevented the Hammers getting a first point on the board. Having demonstrated a lack of penetration during the previous ninety minutes, and having been unable to fashion much in the way of clear cut chances, why they thought a slow build up for a short free kick was a good idea is beyond me. Surely at that stage of the game, with time almost up, a percentage play knock down from the long ball would have been the sensible and safer option. Surely any manager would have gone along with that, regardless of footballing philosophy. If the initial decision was stupid then Carlos Sanchez giving away possession constituted diabolical schoolboy defending. It was a shame because Sanchez was far from the worst of the Hammers in a performance where few came out with any credit – with the honourable exception of Fabianski (again), Diop and maybe Balbuena (although his distribution was generally erratic). For me, Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass were particularly ineffective in their respective roles.
If West Ham had played and lost four games but had competed well then there would be reason to cut the team some slack; after all it is still early doors, as Big Ron would say. As things stand though there is little to be positive about and, having lost two winnable home games in a lethargic manner, the alarm bells should at least be tested even if it is not yet a full-on alert. If we get to the end of September still with ‘nil points’ on the board it will be interesting to see how the Board react. What started as a season of high expectations is now taking on the look of a typical slog where we are impatient for the season to end before the daffodils are out. The table makes grim reading (even at this early stage of the season) – not just for the absence of points but also for only two goals scored and ten conceded. I had predicted pre-season that Marko Arnautovic could become the first Hammer to score twenty in a Premier League season but now I wonder if the whole team can reach that milestone. It will not help Arnie’s cause if he keeps having to drop so deep in order to spot the ball. I wonder what the opposite of ‘The Invincibles’ is – ‘The Destructibles’ perhaps?
Feast and Famine
We have to hope that Pellegrini can manage, in the not too distant future, to create a functioning unit from the resources he has available. The worst case scenario is limping to the halfway stage of the season and having to parachute in another salvage operator such as Allardyce or Moyes. What the club needs is to be set on a path to improvement that blends hard work, organisation and a touch of flair. Alternating years of feast and famine will take us nowhere. For many years it was White Hart Lane that laid claim to the title of the players graveyard – where expensive players with big reputations came to do nothing more than pick up their pay cheques. There is a very big fear that this is what the future holds for West Ham. When Pellegrini was appointed at West Ham I read some criticism about how unfit the Manchester City players had become by the end of his reign. At the time I had dismissed it as a convenient re-writing of history but, right now, there is just a flicker of a concern that it might ring true.
What did we learn as slightly improved West Ham flatter to deceive at The Emirates leaving a disjointed Arsenal flattered by the final score?
That Was Just a Dream, Just A Dream.
If you had read my match preview you will have seen that in my dream West Ham lost 3-1 to Arsenal. As the other details of the dream – the order and nature of the goals – turned out to be wrong, I think we can put this down to a coincidence; or else, I have developed the psychic powers of Paul The Octopus. I’m not sure there is such a thing as luck in football but the score-line certainly flattered Arsenal, who themselves are struggling to come to terms with a new regime. At least they now have a confidence boost, something that continues to be elusive for Manuel Pellegrini’s side. It was particularly annoying to concede yet another Welbeck goal, just as we did a Sturridge one a few weeks back – these two strikers appear to be on standby just to play against West Ham. Three consecutive defeats means that we now sit proudly at the top of the most Premier League defeats (351) ever table alongside Everton – a feat that has been achieved from 150 fewer games than the Toffees.
Still Hasn’t Found What He’s Looking For.
Although the bar is fairly low, this was by far the best West Ham performance of the season. With a touch more composure the Hammers might have added several more to their solitary goal tally. There were signs of some understanding developing in certain areas of the pitch although much more work remains to be done – conceding an average of three goals per game is only going to result in one outcome. Strange then, that one of the successes of the season to date has been the performance of Lukasz Fabianski in goal, the last (and sometimes only) line of defence. He has looked assured both as a shot stopper and in the air and I have been impressed. Elsewhere, Felipe Anderson upped his game in a freer central role and provided a teaser of what he can bring to the party by injecting speed and wizardry into our counter-attacks. It was also a competent full debut by Carlos Sanchez who kept busy and was efficient with the ball. As Pellegrini searches for his best team and formation, he may have taken some small steps in the right direction – but he is still some way from finding what he is looking for.
In My Defence
It was a big surprise to see the selected central defensive partnership of Fabian Belbuena and Issa Diop as I had anticipated a Diop/ Angelo Ogbonna pairing. Not that I felt Ogbonna deserved to keep his place and his tendency to switch off, which gifted Bournemouth their winner a week previously, has always concerned me. It was just that throwing two inexperienced Premier League defenders into the mix seemed like a massive gamble. Diop’s debut will be forever associated with the second Arsenal goal where he can rightly claim both the score and the assist. It was unfortunate because he appeared to have brought some much needed athleticism to the task even if he looked somewhat raw. If Diop and Declan Rice are to develop they are going to need an older head supporting them at the back. I don’t know where this is going to come from unless we are banking on a rapid Winston Reid return. Going to three at the back still seems the sensible solution to me based on the resources that are available – and that applies to both the central defenders and the full/ wing backs.
Waiting In The Wings
None of us are completely objective when it comes to judging players and I will admit that I would love it (love it) were Arthur Masuaku to go on and become a Hammer’s legend. According to Whoscored, Masuaku was our top rated player yesterday and, although I am not sure that this is strictly true, he is always exciting when in possession – just not the greatest defender. In many ways he is a budget version of Benjamin Mendy at Manchester City but while City adapt to Mendy’s defensive deficiencies and create space for him to exploit, Masuaku is left exposed. Everyone knows that Bellerin can be a major threat for Arsenal but there seemed no plan to track his runs. The gap between Masuaku and Michail Antonio was often a big one and neither of the central midfielders were available to plug it – it was difficult to know whether Antonio was meant to have any defensive responsibilities. It was a similar story on the other flank where Ryan Fredericks’ strengths are his speed going forward and in providing assists. As yet, there have been few opportunities to demonstrate these.
I’m A One Man Band
Marko Arnautovic weighed in with another goal to make it two in three games in his mission to become the Hammer’s first ever Premier League twenty-goals a season striker. Maybe on another day he could have come away with a match-ball hat-trick, despite limping off injured just before the hour mark. It is generally accepted that a striker needs to be single minded and a little bit greedy but, once again, there were occasions where a pass to a colleague would have been the intelligent option. Keeping Arnautovic fit is going to be crucial as the season progresses as there is no obvious replacement at this point in time. West Ham’s threat as an attacking force was significantly diminished on his departure.
Different players same problems. A lack of pace, energy and penetration coupled with comedy defending sees West Ham deservedly beaten by Bournemouth in the London Stadium season opener.
In Search Of The Best Eleven
Manuel Pellegrini was quoted after match as saying that “we need to find what the best team is in this moment”. I think many of us could have told him before the game that the one he picked wasn’t it. Every manager deserves a honeymoon period while they instil new ideas and philosophy but, at the current trajectory, Pelligrini’s reign could rival that of Frank De Boer. I am all for a manager having a belief in and commitment to a style of play, and then bringing in players to fit that system, particularly if there is a willingness to entertain as part of that philosophy. Right now, though, it looks like some pragmatism might be required – he cannot re-create Manchester City with the players at his disposal any more than a Formula 1 team can build a new car from spare parts they picked up in Halfords. The optimism from an encouraging pre-season is currently looking sorely misplaced. It might take a while for players to really get to know each other but, in the meantime, they should still be working and fighting for a common cause. Fitness and energy levels appear well below what is required.
The Home Guard
By the end of the game yesterday, Jack Wilshere was the sole UK representative on the pitch for West Ham – compared to Bournemouth’s nine. OK, so we started with three but Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass would be nowhere near that starting eleven if I was picking it. Overseas players have brought bags full of flair to the English game and it is fair to say that the majority of the real stand-out players in the Premier League are foreigners. Overall, the foreign invasion has been a good thing but having so few British players in your team is a mistake, both for identity and for the grit, hunger and determination of what it takes to compete in this league. For such an international bunch of players it would be nice to see a little more ‘free movement’ out on the pitch. Perhaps it is no surprise, given the make up of the backroom staff, where the recruitment focus lies and that we have been unable to scout home grown talent from the lower leagues – such as David Brooks who was a thorn in the Hammer’s side all afternoon.
A Question of Trust
Another Pellegrini comment was that the players had a lack of trust and were too concerned with protecting their first half lead; as if it was the typical game of two halves. I didn’t really see it like that. Although West Ham bossed possession in the first period, they were far from convincing, and created little aside from the disputed penalty. Bournemouth still had the better chances and might easily have had a penalty of their own. As with many of our opponents over the past few seasons it was the visitors who upped their game after the break when it was clear that the game was there for the taking. I know it sounds like a broken record but central midfield was once again too weak and too open. Also, if you are going to play four at the back then the wide midfield men need to do a lot more tracking back. Unless Felipe Anderson can be shaken out of his jogging back mode he is going to end up as an expensive flop. Even going forward he hasn’t shown the pace to go past any competent defenders, and apart from a few good passes he was largely anonymous. I wonder what Pedro Obiang has done to piss off successive managers?
As much as you have to give Callum Wilson credit for the Bournemouth equaliser it was assisted generously by Keystone Cops defending at its best. Noble floundering, Fabian Balbuena’s powder puff challenge, Pablo Zabaleta needless dive-in and weetabix goalkeeping from Lukasz Fabianski. It was the type of goal you might see over the park on a Sunday morning when most of the players are nursing hangovers – it has no place at the top of the professional game.
Running Away From Danger, Angelo
For 95% of the time, Angelo Ogbonna has the air of our best defender when suddenly there is an operating system malfunction and he enters standby mode. For the second goal he should easily have dealt with the initial danger but instead ending up fouling his opponent; which he compounded by trying only to impede the scorer from the resulting kick rather than looking to clear the ball. I am of the firm belief that the manager needs to consider three at the back to create some degree of stability. There were so few positives once again. Fabianski made some smart saves; Wilshere looks like he could eventually bring a new dimension to our forward play; and Andriy Yarmolenko looked lively once again during his brief spell on the pitch (why didn’t he start?) Other than that it was much like any other typical slow, ponderous and predictable performance that we have come to expect over recent years.
Meet the new boss same as the old boss – or just a case of early teething problems for Manuel Pellegrini? What did we learn as West Ham’s new season fails to get off to plan against Liverpool?
Meet The New Boss Same As The Old Boss
OK, so we won’t be playing a team as good as Liverpool every week and it is only two months into Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure at the London Stadium. But yesterday could easily have been a West Ham performance from any of past few seasons as the team outclassed, out-passed, out-thought, out-fought and out-run by the opposition. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! The images of Pellegrini looking forlorn and perplexed in the dugout could just as easily have been Allardyce, Bilic or Moyes. It will be a test of his character and expertise to see the response he gets from the team over the coming weeks. Against Liverpool, the Hammers were second best in every department albeit to a team (love them or hate them) that will almost certainly be in with a shout at the title come the end of the season.
The Scoreline Didn’t Flatter Liverpool
Pellegrini was reported as saying that the scoreline flattered Liverpool. It didn’t – perhaps he was desperately scraping from the barrel of managerial excuses – and it must be extremely difficult to face the media in the immediate aftermath of such a hammering. True that the third goal was clearly offside but at least it had the effect of allowing Liverpool to take their foot off the pedal and start to rest some of their key players. I just knew that Sturridge would score when he came on – if he could play against West Ham every week the Golden Boot would be no contest.
The Core Of The Problem
As with many games in the Premier League, this one was won and lost in midfield. The criminally neglected defensive midfield was once again the primary source of our downfall; as it will be against all the other top clubs unless there is a return to the bus parking tactics of recent years. Yesterday was further confirmation that Mark Noble is too slow of foot and mind to compete at a top level these days and that Declan Rice is blatantly unsuited to the role – to the extent that it could well destroy his confidence. Liverpool were given the freedom of the park to waltz through at will. Defensive midfield responsibilities require discipline, strength, stamina, speed and mobility. They need to win and release the ball quickly and intelligently to the more creative players – particularly against teams that press in the way that Liverpool do. Where are our players that can do this and turn West Ham into a unit that is able to maintain possession?
Looking for Positives/ Rating The New Boys
It is always difficult to pick out positives off the back of a comprehensive defeat. Łukasz Fabiański comes away with some credit as he was not at fault for any of the goals and made several smart saves without which the score would be even less respectable. Of the other new boys I thought Andriy Yarmolenko gave the best account of himself; Felipe Anderson showed some flashes (although his going to ground so easily was worrying and he failed to track Milner for the crucially timed second goal); Jack Wilshere looked lively – a promise of more to come without really delivering a great deal; Fabian Balbuena did OK in very difficult circumstances; while Ryan Fredericks had a poor debut which spotlighted his defensive limitations. It is easy to point a finger at the defence when you have just shipped four goals but with players of the quality of Salah, Mane and Firmino sniffing around, it is the supply that has to shut off – otherwise goals are inevitable. The poorest performances of the afternoon were Rice, Noble, Fredericks and Michail Antonio.
The Only Way Is Up
Starting the season at the bottom of the table means that the only way is up. It is no surprise that we left Anfield pointless but the nature of the defeat and the overall performance must have been disappointing to all concerned. Did anyone feel that we competed (for more than the opening ten minutes) or posed any serious threat to the Liverpool goal? We are sure to do better as new ideas and players start to take shape and should expect incremental improvement. The success (or otherwise) of our season will be defined more on performances against the Premier League fodder rather than against its elite – but the minimum we should expect is that the latter know that they have been in a game. Our ability to dominate the also-rans will be put to the test against Bournemouth next week. Preventing goals, rather than scoring them, looks like it will continue to be the major problem and with the players available I am not convinced that a back four makes a lot of sense. Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku are both wing backs rather than full backs and three centre backs can go some way towards mitigating the defensive midfield weakness. I accept that Manuel is somewhat better qualified than I to sort this one out but it looks like a lot of hard work is going to be needed on the training ground over the coming weeks and months.
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.