There’s no doubting that yesterday’s results didn’t go the way we would have liked. Wins for Southampton, Bournemouth, and Everton and Nottingham Forest’s unexpected point against Manchester City were not what was needed. The table has become compressed at the bottom, no team has yet been left stranded, and West Ham now occupy one of the relegation places ahead of today’s trip across London to Tottenham.
At this stage of the season, West Ham’s ultimate fortunes will still depend on their own endeavours rather than the fate of others. We are not yet relying on snookers with 16 games to go and 48 points to play for. But where will the 20 or so points required to survive come from? Can a team that has only won five of its 22 games – and won only two of the last ten – manage to scramble another five or six wins from what is left? If, as usual, games against the ‘Big 6’ are written off, then that focuses the wins target to a 50% success from 11 matches.
The general mood among fans has largely turned to one of pessimism. But strangely, pundits and bookmakers continue to see the Hammers as one of least likely casualties among the relegation possibles. The rationale is lost on me – although we should remember pundits pay only superficial attention to any clubs outside the Champions League elite.
Perhaps, they are seduced by selected stats that suggest the Hammers have the 5th best defences in the Premier League. Or show a respectable 8th in the list of clubs with the highest number of shots. And a pass success rate consistent with Newcastle and better than Fulham or Brentford. But stats can’t pull the wool over the evidence of our own eyes. Defensive competence is earned at the expense of nine or ten men behind the ball. A high proportion of shots are long range hopeful efforts when no creative options remain. Too many passes are made where it doesn’t matter, and where no opposition pressure is being applied.
From a distance, West Ham’s form gives the impression of improvement, with three wins, three draws, and just the one defeat since the start of 2023. But form and performances aren’t always the same thing. Take away the FA Cup games, and it is less spectacular, just a marginal improvement on what had gone before. A win in the death throes of Lampard’s Everton career and two draws against sides who for different reasons had gone off the boil.
Any difference in approach or style has been negligible. Perhaps a tad more pressing further up the pitch at certain times. Maybe the three/ five at the back releasing Jarrod Bowen from onerous defensive duties and allowing him to play closer to Michail Antonio. Nothing fundamental – caution remains the overriding watchword. When Danny Ings comes on, it is to replace Antonio, not to play alongside him in a more enterprising shape. Ings has a decent scoring record at this level, but not while playing as an isolated striker chasing hopeful long balls.
David Moyes has become increasingly implausible in his media comments – like a hapless government minister trying to explain how everything that has gone wrong is outside of his control. Something about over-achieving in the past two seasons and the cyclic nature of success for clubs like West Ham meaning we would be foolish to expect too much. Claiming that draws are not enough but routinely setting up with the sole purpose of protecting the point. When Leicester beat Tottenham 4-1 last weekend, they didn’t shut up shop after going ahead, but that will always be the Moyes mindset. Caution always trumping ambition. His team may rarely be on the end of a thumping, but equally they are never allowed to press home an advantage.
The formula Moyes hit upon worked for a while, but stubbornness and intransigence prevent him from adapting to changed circumstances. A lot of money has been splashed without addressing obvious deficiencies in the squad or developing greater fluidity in the style of play. I can think of no other side in the top division so lacking in genuine pace.
With Moyes unable or unwilling to change, what hope is there that he can turn things around? The club is on a collision course with the icy waters of relegation. The manager unable to plot a course to safety and the Board asleep at the wheel. You would think the owners have been in football long enough to know a lost cause when they see one.
Today’s game at Tottenham may be the latest in a long sequence of Moyes last chances. A defeat could well be terminal. A draw granting a stay of execution until the Forest game. But is there any confidence that a contingency plan is in place should the axe fall? How damaging will not taking action during the World Cup break turn out to be? I’m sure the players would welcome the opportunity to be released from the straightjacket of the manager’s cloying negativity.
Injuries will again influence West Ham team selection. Lucas Paqueta joins Gianluca Scamacca, Kurt Zouma and Maxwell Cornet in the sick bay. Nayef Aguerd will supposedly have a late fitness test but it feels risky to rush him back into action so soon. Expect two changes from the Chelsea game with Tomas Soucek in for Paqueta and Ben Johnson replacing Aguerd.
Despite their own inconsistencies, Tottenham are having a decent season as far as results are concerned. A win today would put them up into fourth spot. These days they are not a team you would go out of your way to watch, although, as we know, winning games can put a gloss on the lack of entertainment. In some ways they are rather like West Ham in style, but with far, far better attacking options. As always, Kane will be the main danger, especially when dropping deep to dictate play. Declan Rice’s attacking intent will no doubt be sacrificed to keep an eye on that. Apart from Kane, I will also be concerned for the potential mayhem that Perisic’s crosses can cause from the flank.
Despite the talk of playing for the win, there will be no surprise to see a repeat of the Chelsea performance. A passive low block, sub 30% possession, and set pieces being the main goal threat. We are all well aware of Moyes depressing big six record. Surely, we deserve better than this. COYI!