The Blind Hammer Column
Blind Hammer looks again at Pellegrini’s wide defensive options.
Whilst nobody should panic after the Liverpool thumping, there are equally no grounds for complacency. Hard lessons require fast learning.
Analysts have focused on the lack of nouse and organisation Liverpool exposed between West Ham’s midfield and, for us, an unusually high defensive line. Liverpool exploited our disorganisation and tactical weakness with ruthless affect. By the time Liverpool registered their opening goal we could have already conceded twice.
Few would have been surprised by a defeat at Anfield. More were disappointed by the manner of this defeat. Thumping’s can affect morale moving forward. Leicester was beaten by Manchester United but garnered praise for their determined resistance. There were fewer positives for West Ham.
Pellegrini would have known from last season that West Ham’s biggest strategic weakness was their appalling defence. No team, even amongst those relegated, conceded more. Pellegrini strategized his summer recruitment accordingly. Defensive reinforcements, Fabianski, Fredericks, Balbuena and Diop were identified at an early stage.
The challenge is of course to mould these recruits into well drilled effective solidity. Not just defensive recruitment but defensive organisation is required. On Saturday it appears that organisation was lacking. Given the quality of the opposition and our opening day rustiness it was not that unexpected that flaws were exposed. The problem is that we are weighed down by the experience of the last 2 seasons. West Ham’s previous attempts to play a back 4 have resulted in shambles. Both Bilic and Moyes had to eventually resort to a back 3.
Yet a back 3 does not appear the Pellegrini way. Creating a solid back 4 will require extensive coaching and discipline. All players will need to learn familiarity with the new formation against the harshest competitive test in World football. .
This is why I was so surprised by Zabaleta’s omission. There is no doubt that the future lies with Ryan Fredericks. The priority now though is to establish defensive organisation and understanding. Surprisingly Pellegrini opted for a fight fire with fire approach with the attacking selection of both Fredericks and Masuaku.Pellegrini could adopt another approach in these early games. He has the opportunity to deploy Zabaleta as his on field coach. In this role he could marshal the entire defence. Zabaleta is best positioned to utilise their shared experience at Manchester City.
Similarly I think there are few West Ham fans who will disagree that Cresswell is a more secure option at left back than Masuaku. There may have been some lingering concerns about Cresswell’s fitness for the Liverpool game but we need him back as soon as possible.
A month ago, I argued in this column, that Zabaleta and Cresswell should start against Liverpool. This should be the default for the next few matches at least. Starting from a more secure defensive base I am sure we have attacking talents to challenge any other PL team. For the time being though the priority is to stop conceding 2-3-4 goals a game routinely. It is a new defensive tradition and organisation that we must build.