Statistics alone can never fully explain a game. For example, passion, commitment and confidence are difficult to quantify. They can be interpreted, with the help of visual evidence, but they cannot capture the full essence of a match.
In my opinion, confidence is currently our biggest problem. Our lack of confidence is evident and no player is beyond criticism.
Many books have been written on the psychology of mastering confidence and the world’s most iconic sporting institutions invest heavily in the pursuit of psychological control.
This is probably the most important area that we need to address, and it is incredibly difficult to do so.
I want to start by summarising the key passages of play. Every West Ham fan that I have spoken with, or have read comments or articles from, has explained their concerns, anger and displeasure at our performance against Southampton.
I was equally upset and perplexed by the result, but for the sake of variety, and maybe a little devil’s advocate, I thought I’d look at both the good and bad sides of the defeat. Below summarises some of the key moments in the game (leaning slightly on the optimistic side):
*Zaza should have been awarded a penalty after being taken down by Cedric Soares
*Zaza provided a good flick on from Payet’s corner and Antonio was inches away from connecting with what would have almost certainly been a goal; making it 1-0
*Zaza later had another opportunity with a poorly connected close range shot that was cleared off the line
*Until Austin scored, Southampton had no chances on goal and we kept a solid shape and looked better defensively. After the goal, we lost shape, confidence and discipline
*Adrian could have done better with Austin’s scuffed shot but it was certainly no routine save
*Antonio was at fault for the first goal and his poor defending almost lead to a second if not for a great save from Adrian. Antonio failed to track back on both occasions
*Kouyate was at fault for the second goal, giving the ball away cheaply on the edge of the final third. This was poor and costly
*Tadic’s goal was executed with precision. The one-touch pass from Austin was delivered expertly but was still a low percentage pass. Perhaps it’s clutching at straws a little, but there is no denying that Southampton – along with most teams – would fail a move like that more often than they would succeed. The gap between the defenders, in which the ball was threaded, was very tight
*Arbeloa was a little slow getting back in line and this played Tadic onside for the goal. These are the small, yet costly, errors that are currently plaguing our season
*Adrian also missed the ball when rushing out, allowing it to run past him for Tadic to score. It is hard to be too critical here but a keeper would want to connect with the ball in a situation like that when rushing off his line
*Feghouli cross finds it’s way through to Payet who hesitates with his first shot but still crafts an effort on goal that gets blocked. Feghouli’s follow up shot is then blocked by Bertrand’s hand. This was missed by Moss and should have been a penalty, our second of the game. With the right set of circumstances, it could well have been 2-2 at this point
*West Ham overloaded Southampton’s final third with Antonio’s best moment of the game. He tore down the right flank and pulled the ball back to Payet who looked certain to score. Payet, unfortunately, drags his shot wide. How many times did we watch him bury those last season? He will again
*Goal three was poor from Reid who allows his man to get past him in the box. A fortunate deflection followed from Adrian’s save which to fall to Ward-Prowse. 3-0
*It should be noted that Adrian made two excellent saves in the match, which lesser keepers may not have
There were three areas in which Southampton were superior throughout the match.
Southampton tackled us off the park winning 19 to our seven. Noble and Kouyate were shadows of their combative selves contributing one tackle between them. In contrast, Southampton’s central midfielders Oriol Romeu, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Steven Davis won 10 tackles.
Southampton started with a 4-3-1-2 formation, which changed to a 4-1-2-1-2. With both formations, three players are tasked with holding central midfield, but also dictating the tempo of the game. We allowed them to do this too easily by exerting too little pressure on them. Kouyate, Noble and Lanzini – who contributed 0 tackles (so we can match up three for three) – were poor in this department.
Passes in the opposition penalty box
Southampton were allowed too much time on the ball, a sign of nerves and lack of confidence from our defence and midfield. Not for the first time this season, our players have backed away from the oncoming attackers and allowed them time to pass or shoot. The image below shows our seven successful passes to their 19.
Both teams attempted 25 passes inside the opponents penalty box, highlighting how our hesitancy and inability to find a pass when it counts.
Another area of dominance from Southampton was the number of chances created. West Ham managed eight to their 15.
11 of Southampton’s 15 chances were created from the edge, or within, our box. Six of our eight chances came from long passes or crosses and corners, with only two coming from the edge of their box – one just inside and one outside.
We struggled to penetrate with the ball on the floor and our crosses were failing to find their target, with Southampton’s defence performing their duties well. We connected with eight of our 28 crosses but couldn’t impose ourselves aerially. In contrast to previous games, we struggled creatively with Payet, Lanzini and Antonio all off-form.
A lack of confidence has the team playing with no fluidity or instinct. They seem to be questioning every decision they make, leading to hesitancy and restricting the tempo of the game. This, in turn, caused errors and so far we have been made to pay dearly for most.
Bilic mentioned in his post-match press conference that the team had been focussing on fixing the fundamental problems faced in previous games. He, nor Noble, could bring themselves to show anything other than utter defeat and deflation, recognising that the problems of previous games were far from remedied. This, combined with a makeshift defence consisting of Arbeloa – a right back – playing left back, and Nordtveit – a defensive midfielder – playing right back, lead to more defensive inconsistency and errors.
In my opinion, there is little Bilic can do about the performance of the players when on the pitch. We do not see them in training every day and I’m certain they perform well when secluded from the eyes of the world and the pressure of the stadium, fans and cameras, so he must believe in the team he selects. No manager willingly sets out to lose a match.
When those players are on the pitch it is their job to perform their duties. Currently, they are not doing that well enough. Lack of confidence, as well as other contributing factors, have combined to create the situation we are in.
Where Bilic has to be held accountable is in his tactical decisions, as well as the aforementioned team selection.
In our current form, it is difficult to accommodate three attacking midfielders. Payet, Lanzini and Antonio are all excellent attackers, but they offer little defensively. Dropping one to bring in a more defensive midfielder like Obiang or Oxford – in a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 – would allow the team to defend in numbers and compress the space on the pitch while at the same time afford the front three more freedom. They will need to defend from the front, but the extra man behind covers the space left exposed when attacking.
Middlesborough has become a big game and I’d be surprised if Bilic didn’t shake things up a little. There is a wealth of talent in this squad (regardless of when/if the new signings come up to standard) and Bilic will find a way to get them winning again.
Confidence is a funny thing; when it’s not with you it’s almost impossible to build momentum and stay positive. But when it’s with you, the momentum and positivity it brings can lead to great things.