After a surprising home collapse to Watford, an away trip to West Bromwich Albion was a welcomed fixture. After winning comfortably last season, travelling Hammers fans were hopeful of a similar result. With Bilic having highlighted in his pre match interview that ‘extended meetings’ had taken place, it was only natural for the West Ham faithful to assume that we had learnt from our mistakes, and last week’s horror show was a minor blip in our hopes of improving on last year. We were, of course, absolutely wrong. Again. West Brom started the brighter side from kick off, and were unrelenting in their attacking intent. Individual mistakes cost us dearly last week, and it seemed nothing would be changing this week. If Masuaka’s first handball to give away the free kick wasn’t bad enough, his second handball seconds later inside the box was utterly embarrassing in front of the home support. With no challenge in sight, the former Olympiakos left back managed to totally miss the clearing header, allowing his flailing arm to collide with the ball, gifting a penalty to West Brom within 8 minutes. Chadli cooly slotted home. 1-0. Many fans, including myself, were delighted with the return of Ogbonna to the starting line up, however, his horrendous clearance fell straight into the path of Chadli, passing it straight back to Rondon, who buried it into the bottom corner. Once again questions will be asked of James Collins, who should have closed down Rondon far quicker, shutting down any hope of getting a shot away. Any hope travelling fans had of getting a result was quickly dealt it’s final blow, when 7 minutes later, a corner kick shockingly cleared by Collins fell into the path of Chadli, who’s controlled effort was drilled low, ricocheting of James McClean and giving West Brom a surprising but fully deserved 3-0 lead going into half time.
For a man who is known for his collected nature and lack of rash decisions, Bilic was in need of a desperate reshape. Breaking the mould of his conventional approach, he decided to remove captain Mark Noble and ‘marquee’ signing Zaza in favour of the unproven Calleri and Premier league new boy Sofiane Feghouli. For the most part, it seemed to be working. West Ham’s dominant possession was starting to pay off, and confident runs from Feghouli, were allowing the likes of Lanzini and Payet to link up, creating gaps in the West Brom defence, giving West Ham an increasing chance of scoring. However, this desperation to score quickly saw our entire defence press too high up the field, only to allow a terrible Masuaka cross to find Chadli, setting up an clear runway for Rondon to roam unchallenged between the half way line and Adrian’s goal. It was a good finish from the big man, but once again individual mistakes cost West Ham dearly. However, this imminent defeat did not stop the magician that is Dimitri Payet trying to upset the party. After having another free kick rattle of the bar, his patience paid off, when an inch perfect cross found the head of Antonio, who thumped the ball into the back of the net for a consolation goal. Feghouli once again was making things happen down the right hand side, and another cute piece of link up play with Payet, allowed him to cut inside, clearly being fouled along the way by James McClean and winning the penalty for West Ham. With Mark Noble being substituted, Lanzini took over the responsibility, calmly slotting the ball into the keeper’s right hand corner bringing the score to 4-2 on 65 minutes. Sadly though, it seemed little too late for the players. Other opportunities came, the best of the bunch coming from James Collins who latched on to a fantastic Antonio cross, but Ben Foster was equal to it. If that had gone in, it would have been a very interesting last 10 minutes but sadly it wasn’t to be, and West Brom saw out the game comfortably despite West Ham having 70% possession in the game, and 23 shots on goal. It is very much back to the drawing board for Slaven Bilic and his players, but the fans will no doubt continue to question the players’ intent after that performance, with the biggest query being: Where has it all gone wrong?
For me, these were the key talking points after the game:
- Individual defensive errors cost us again: Last week Bilic was incredibly critical of our defence and this week was no different. In his post match interview, he used words like ’embarrassing’ and ‘amateur’ to describe his side’s defending and I 100% agree with him. Masuaka no doubt had his worst game in a Hammers shirt by a mile, and I have no clue what he was doing for the first or fourth goal. Ogbonna, although certainly our best defender, should have put the ball into row z but instead gifted West Brom their second goal. I never enjoy criticising him, but James Collins looks a shadow of the player he was last season, and it really does beg the question that he can still cut it at this level. For a defence that looked so organised and determined last season, you can’t help but feel complacency or lack of preparation has caused this incredibly frustrating start. I hope they wake up and put the work in soon before it’s too late.
- Feghouli must start: There is no question that after a fantastic game against Domzale, everyone was keen to see how he would adapt the Premier League, and he did not disappoint. Full of pace, skill and desire to run at defenders he showed exactly what he is capable of, and a front three of Antonio, Payet and Feghouli could be a devastating prospect for opposition defences. I don’t know who Bilic would drop, but he has definitely done enough to highlight his value to the team and I hope he continues to impress. One of the very few positives from the game.
- Nordveit still not up to it: After being tested at both Centre Back and Defensive Midfield, a late injury to Byram meant Nordveit was asked to slot in at Right Back and do a job. At first, I was incredibly worried, but after reading that he had covered that position in Germany I was keen to see how he would get on. The conclusion however, is that you would never have guessed he’d covered it before. Constantly out of position, nervous on the ball and lacking any form of ability to pass seem constant descriptions of his performances since joining, and I’m starting to feel that he just does not have the ability to cut it in English football. I really hope I am wrong, but the other worrying thing is that Bilic’s desire to keep experimenting with his position can only show that he was brought in as a cheap option to cover all of those positions and he hasn’t succeeded in any of them.
- Zaza signs are worrying: Despite a nice bit of hold up play here and there, Zaza has looked almost invisible during both games. Despite being totally isolated at times, which I know isn’t always his fault, I definitely felt that Calleri, (who I haven’t rated since he signed), gave a much better account of himself in this game and really got stuck in and worked hard. I know it is early days, and people have been saying to get off his back, but let’s not forget that if we continue to play him for 13 more games we’re going to have to buy him and for a substantial amount of money. Therefore, he needs to start showing something to give justification to his price tag. It’s all well and good showing some very decent finishes in training videos, but if he can’t produce it on the field when it matters then we are in big trouble. I hope he can turn it around for the next game.
- Dominating possession does not equal a win: With 70% possession many would be forgiven for thinking it was a typo. But no, we dominated the possession. Yes, there were a lot of cautious balls being held by the back four, but equally, with 23 shots on goal, you’d expect us to win this comfortably. However, it is the 5 shots on target that is the concerning statistic. Especially when comparing that to West Brom’s 8 shots on goal with 6 being on target, scoring 4 of them. Quite simply, there is a distinct lack of clinical finishing from our side and it needs to addressed immediately. Last season, we played an expansive and open game and it worked, especially when hitting teams on the counter, however this year we look lazy, and lacking any hunger or desire to start the game on the front foot. I’d even goes as far as saying that we have started second best in all of our games this season, and the majority we have been trying to play catch up from the moment the second half kicks off. If we’d of started how we ended this game, we’d have won it, comfortably.
So, where do we go from here? This morning I read an interview on West Ham’s official website with Michail Antonio saying ‘Our season starts against Southampton.’ But I have definitely heard this sentence regurgitated over the last 2-3 games. Yes, it is early days, but there is no ignoring the fact that we cannot keep delaying the ‘start of our season’ when it suits us. It sounds like that friend you have who; half way through a game of FIFA, suddenly decides he’s “going to start playing properly now.” It’s ludicrous, because like we all know with our ignorant friend on FIFA, they don’t improve, they just say they do. Ignoring this season’s previous mistakes is denying our ability to move forward as a football club. Ignoring the lack of discipline at the back, and the lack of creativity when going forwards on the training ground is not going to help us get better. We need to accept it, correct it and then move forward.
Speaking of accepting mistakes, I could not help but applaud yet grimace at Tomkins scoring yesterday. Despite accepting that Bilic didn’t see him as a first choice, there is no doubt that in hindsight, it was a terrible decision to sell him on. Not only a solid centre back but also a very versatile right back when needed, and my god could we have used him this season. But even when we did sell him, for what I would consider a very decent amount of money at £12 million, we didn’t even reinvest. With much of our attention being focused on the attacking side of the market, we completely missed opportunities for players such as Ashley Williams and Daryl Janmaat. Despite lacklustre bids they slipped through our fingers and it is a real shame. With some players deemed as too much money or others being considered not up to Bilic’s standards, we will soon see how well our use of the loan market and foreign investments will shape up, but for now it is not looking great.
With a 3rd round tie in the League Cup against Stanley tomorrow, I hope Bilic experiments with the likes of Arbeloa, Oxford and Fletcher, and if proven, could see them slot into the team for the home game against Southampton.
We are in desperate need of a mix up, motivation and drive to see this team back to winning ways. If our season starts now lads, then bloody get a move on.
Thanks for reading. COYI.