Football has long been a game of binary emotions. A run of victories and it’s euphoria. Consecutive losses and it’s a disaster with calls for heads to roll. Our view of individual players lurches from world-class to rubbish over the course of a few weeks. Managers are either buzzing or fuming and supporters can swing effortlessly from ecstasy or outrage in the time it takes to post on Twitter.
There’s no doubt that West Ham are having a major wobble right now. On cloud nine after defeating Liverpool, the team has never really recovered from the international break that followed it. The sparkle and swagger that was shaped during a four-game winning run mysteriously disappeared, even if there was a win over Chelsea in the interim.
The Boxing Day game was arguably the worst West Ham performance for many months, particularly in the first half. It was an odd team selection by David Moyes although his decisions not to name Ben Johnson and Michail Antonio in the starting line-up may have been due to fitness concerns. I think many of us were stunned that Arthur Masuaku had kept his place at left back. But the Hammers recent woes are not all down to Arthur’s erratic interpretation of full-back play. We have seen equally poor performances from Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma. Even the usually reliable Vladimir Coufal has been well below par.
There have read various online theories about the Hammer’s downturn. From doom merchants proclaiming that Moyes has lost the dressing room as opponents have rumbled his dinosaur tactics. To pundits suggesting it has been a Europa League inspired burn-out. Personally, I think it is almost entirely down to the successive injuries suffered by Angelo Ogbonna, Kurt Zouma and Aaron Cresswell. That and the inadequate depth in the squad, other than as emergency cover, that has shattered the confidence and created indecision in our play. Any team that relies on Andriy Yarmolenko as its impact substitution is going to be found wanting.
Which direction the season goes from here will be dictated by how quickly the wounded recover, and what reinforcements (if any) arrive during the transfer window. If I were the manager, I would be banging on the boardroom door for an additional centre back, left back, attacking midfielder and striker. I would want players ready to hit the ground running and I would want them as soon as the window opens, not in the final hours before it closes. It is a strange idea that a player might spend the first year of a three-year contract just to settle in.
As we reach the final game of the calendar year, we should not forget that 2021 has been a very positive period for the Hammers. In 40 Premier League games, there have been 21 wins and seven draws earning a total of 70 points with a goal difference of 19. It is a tremendous achievement given the relatively modest resources. Maybe the return can be improved further after the Watford fixture.
The added dilemma for Moyes today is the one match ban picked up by Declan Rice following a clumsy and unnecessary challenge against Southampton. I believe Moyes will opt for Mark Noble as Rice’s replacement given that Alex Kral has yet to experience a single Premier league minute. He may well get the final 15 or 20 today, though. Johnson must replace Masuaku as the only probable change at the back. In the midfield attacking positions I imagine we will see Jarrod Bowen, Manuel Lanzini and Said Benrahma. While Nikoli Vlasic was no worse than Fornals or Benrahma on Sunday it is still difficult to see what his game is all about. He did look fitter and stronger this time, but I have yet to see what attributes he has to justify the large transfer fee?
Watford have not played since losing at Brentford on December 10 – West Ham have played four games since then. They have several players still missing through injuries and Covid including the potentially dangerous Sarr. The Hornet’s most impressive player this season has been Dennis with seven goals and a handful of assists to his name in the Premier League. There is also King who can potentially be just as irritating to West Ham as a Hornet as he was during his earlier career. The makeshift Hammer’s defence will need to remain on full alert.
Until recently, my opinion was that VAR was having a far better season. Though it now seems not to have been happy with its much lower profile. I still don’t get how the Dawson foul was a penalty against Southampton. Dermot Gallagher says it was a good call as the foul continued into the box. That’s a new interpretation on me and I look forward to seeing similar and consistent awards in the future. Would it have been given to an away side at Anfield, for example? Added to the other Dawson incident at Molineux and the Coufal penalty against Arsenal, and we see that VAR has done us few favours.
West Ham need a win, any sort of win, to begin rebuilding confidence. On paper a visit to an injury hit Watford is as good a time as any to turn the corner. Watford have looked a poor side and have lost their last four league games. There is little likelihood of Ranieri qualifying for a long service award at Vicarage Road – although he will see this as a winnable game. West Ham of old were the ideal opponents to put an end your winless streak against – as Southampton did on Sunday. Hopefully, we won’t fall back into those bad old ways.
A scrappy 2-0 win will do for me. COYI!