Victory at home to Sunderland made it back-to-back wins and with seven points from our last three games, we look to have our solidity back.
Several commendable performances were underpinned by fluid, cohesive team play and confidence is beginning to manifest itself back in the minds of the players.
This was a game in which we showed flair, confidence, grit and determination. It was another performance to take encouragement from.
I want to address this first so we can focus on other areas. Those who have read my articles or comments know I am a fan of Zaza. From his time at Sassuolo and Juventus to breaking into the Italy national team, he has always been a striker with great potential.
I know on here he has his doubters, and also his followers. So for what it’s worth, I thought I’d share my opinion on his current situation.
He is a hard working, energetic forward with a professional attitude and solid work ethic. The kind of traits that West Ham fans cherish. Unfortunately, what we need from our starting striker is goals, and in this area, he has continued to struggle.
This isn’t to say that Zaza isn’t capable of becoming a top class striker. There are far too many factors in need of consideration before we write-off any top tier player – Forlan and Veron at Man Utd for example – but we are faced with a unique set of circumstances.
With an obligation to buy after 14 games, time is against Zaza and I feel this could lead to him not making the cut. Normally a player has a season or more to settle into a new league but Zaza hasn’t been afforded that luxury.
£25million is a sizeable investment and to justify such an investment the club has to be confident that the player has, or can develop, the skills required of them.
Sakho offers everything Zaza does, so for me, I don’t think we’ll see him beyond the next few games. It’s sad because he strikes me as a top professional and he’s clearly very talented. It’s just not worked out for him so far.
His performance against Sunderland was solid and energetic but offered little improvement compared to his display against Crystal Palace and chances again went begging. It’s a pity because his attitude and work rate have been excellent.
The irregular loan agreement we have must also add considerable pressure. I for one wish him all the best if he does leave and I’ll be the first to eat my words if he grabs a brace against Chelsea on Wednesday or against Everton at the weekend – wouldn’t that be something! Come on Zaza, give everyone something to think about.
It surprised me to read the number of reports claiming that Sunderland were unlucky to lose. I disagree wholeheartedly. Poor finishing and even worst officiating were the only factors preventing us from concluding the first half two or three goals up. Sunderland got back in the game after the first 35 minutes but threatened very little and Reid, Ogbonna and Kouyate dealt with Defoe and any other attacks very well. Obiang put in an excellent tackle on Defoe to halt the forward on the edge of the area, although Reid and Ogbonna were still between him and Adrian.
At no point were we on the back foot for any extended spells and we defended exceptionally as a team.
We created 17 chances to Sunderland’s seven. The image below shows the chances created by both teams and it’s clear to see who posed the greater threat.
We are creating numerous chances in each game and we will start capitalising on them. Even with our poor results at the start of the season we have not failed to create. With the defence looking more solid by the game, getting our strikers back from injury, or young Fletcher or Calleri stepping up, is the final piece of the puzzle.
Possession, passing, pressing and persistence
West ham enjoyed 65% possession, 87% pass completion, 18 dribbles and 20 shots. The only area in which the team struggled was with it’s finishing. Of our 20 attempts on goal only three were on target. 12 of the 20 shots came from inside the box, which again highlights our lack of clinical finishing in front of goal.
Some of this can be attributed to Sunderland’s well organised and packed defence, but it’s an area we need to improve. Personally I think Sakho, Carroll and Ayew will see to that!
Despite hitting the woodwork and having eight shots blocked, the team continued to press and persisted all the way to the end. A 94th minute Winston Reid collector’s item was their, and our, reward.
For anyone doubting the teams commitment or support for their manager, those fears should now be put to rest.
Of all the standout displays – Obiang, Kouyate and Reid to name a few – a special mention has to go to Edimilson Fernandes. A relatively unknown quantity signed for £5.5 million from Sion, this young man has come in to stake a claim and if he continues in this form, he’ll be very hard to leave off the team sheet.
His display would be worthy of note even if he had been playing in his natural position – centre midfield – let alone out of position. Considering he is a right-footed central midfielder, making his home debut in front of 56,000+ and has only been with the club a short time, his performance at left wing back – yes LEFT WINGBACK – was nothing short of sensational.
Playing to that standard in the Premier League with so many factors against you is nothing short of remarkable and we should all be very excited by his potential.
Fernandes had a 93% pass completion rate for the game, making over 40 passes. He had four shots, made three tackles, completed three take-on’s, created one chance, one interception and four defensive clearance; a truly remarkable display.
Playing with and without the ball
There is no formula for correlation between possession and scoring goals. Manchester City and Arsenal were just two examples of this at the weekend.
Even with some of the world’s most technically proficient players, it is very difficult to create space at the highest level and this is where we, and any team, can struggle.
One of the key components is a clinical forward with terrifying movement such as Aguero, Suarez, Tevez et al. These forwards unsettle defenders and don’t allow them to venture forward, therefore restricting a team’s movement and ability to create space. This is something Sakho does well, as did Ayew when playing up front for Swansea – I’m sure we all remember his goal against us last season when he ghosted our entire defence to slip in with a powerful finish.
These factors, as well as others, make it very difficult to play possession football in the Premier League and even a team of Manchester City’s calibre can find it challenging.
Struggling with possession is not a sign of a weak or poor team, far from it. Just look at Athletico Madrid under Diego Simeone, they thrive without the ball and their entire philosophy is based on counter attacking football. However, they too can struggle when afforded too much possession and must have a plan B should they need it.
Bilic is a shrewd tactician and one that obsesses over detail. Rarely have we been let down by our tactics and this is testimony to his ability to outthink his opposite number. However, sometimes teams lack the players to impose themselves on an opposition that is set up to defend deep and in numbers. Fortunately, we have players like Payet, Lanzini, Antonio and Ayew who are all capable game changers and are able to play with or without possession.
When Ayew is fit and we have a more potent threat leading the line, I think we will give any manager in the league nightmares when it comes to planning how to play us. Far from an Arsenal type team, we are adaptable and capable of playing counter attacking, possession or even defensive football should we need to. This is a huge asset and one we haven’t been able to enjoy fully so far this season.
The returning players offer more options for Bilic and we shouldn’t forget some of the tactical masterstrokes he played last season against Spurs, Arsenal, City and many others. Soon he will have a fully stocked armoury and a team back to it’s confident best.
Also, just like last season, I think we are set up better to play the bigger clubs. The teams that will come to attack us and try to impose their game on us. This is where we thrive. This is where our engine room can close the space and win the ball back, catching our opponent open and out of position. This is where our magicians like Payet and Lanzini can find pockets of space that allow them to conduct the intricate counter attacks that devastated some of the best defences in the league.
Wednesday, against Chelsea, is our time to shine.