Blind Hammer examines Slaven Bilic’s post match analysis of the Bournemouth defeat
Losing a game of football is not necessarily a disaster or a definer of a team’s ability. Arsene Wenger often declares that how Arsenal are playing is more important than any single Premiership result. Leicester City is a good example of a team which, building upon confidence from promotion, retained belief in their manager, even whilst rock bottom, and eventually came good. All the time Leicester were losing reports appeared which pointed out how close matches were and that they were often unlucky.
Having said that, the worrying thing about the last two West Ham home games is that we were not unlucky in either game. In both games we were beaten by two teams who were better set up and played superior football. Yesterday at West Ham it appeared that there were some Bournemouth players no West Ham player matched. For example, Wilson, Francis and Ritchie. A similar list could have been produced after the Leicester game.
Whilst this should not be a cause for panic it is clearly a cause for concern. In two home games we have now conceded six goals and had two of our key defenders sent off with straight red cards. This follows a similar trend in our European games where our defence leaked goals against moderate opposition. In these games two more of our defenders, Collins and Tomkins also received straight red cards. Sackho of course joined this particular club at an early stage. It is still August but we have had five players sent off already this season, four of them in defence.
Against Bournemouth Creswell and Jenkinson had their worst games in a West Ham shirt. In Jenkinson’s case this is the second poor game in a row.
By any sober analysis this is a defence in disarray. It clearly needs to be sorted. The most difficult thing to do in the Premier League is score goals. A team playing with the handicap of a leaky defence is a sure-fire way to court relegation.
In his post-match interview Bilic focussed on the attitude of his players and their lack of aggression. In particular he described them as needing a better mentality.
This is a worrying analysis as he has some clear responsibilities here. Given the player skill sets available to a manager in any game there are three inter-related areas in which a manager can influence play. The first is by team selection before and, via substitutions, during the game. The second is strategy and tactics including team formation, and finally by providing motivational/inspirational abilities to enable players to play, despite adversity, to the best of their ability.
Bilic’s post-match comments places some doubt on his leadership abilities. The team on the pitch should mirror his personality, including aspects of discipline and concentration.
What can we make of Bilic in the other key areas of management? He has only some limited influence over the composition of his squad. Nevertheless it is a concern that one of his signings, Obonna, who was to be our key defensive lynch-pin this season, was tactically substituted before half time.
Where Bilic has complete responsibility is in team formation, tactics and for want of a better word morale. Can we really explain Cresswell’s and Jenkinson’s errors as being simply caused by “mentality”? Cresswell in particular had no such problems with mentality last season. My suspicion is whilst we obviously need a stronger squad the problems are also deeply rooted in team setup. We are no longer playing a long ball game. Instead we are playing a passing game with a back four supported by a holding midfielder, with three in a diamond supporting an up top and deep lying striker.
However the switch from the long ball, whilst pleasing on the eye, has also placed more pressures on the defensive sector of the team. We are becoming vulnerable on the flanks. Jenkinson and Cresswell are not only becoming exposed in defensive situations but are also under game pressure to provide the attacking width as well. Whilst this was spectacularly successful against Arsenal who failed to provide hardly any pressure on the flanks by playing a narrow midfield, it has not impressed in either of our own two home games or the European adventure.
West Ham is far too feeble defensively at the moment and too much is being expected of Jenkinson and Cresswell. This pressure lays, to my mind behind the fragilities these once dependable players are now exhibiting.
I believe Bilic needs to sort this out. My amateur advice is that if he wants Jenkinson and Cresswell to act as wing backs to provide support up and down the pitch, he needs to have a more cautious defensive setup. Specifically we need three defenders nominated to support rather than the current two. Reid Tomkins and Obonna should provide the insurance which could release Cresswell and Jenkinson into more familiar marauding roles with greater safety. The casualty in this setup would be either the second striker which would make life much tougher for players like Maiga, or potentially abandon the diamond to revert to a 5-3 -2. Of course 4-4-2 is also an option with wide players helping to cover the flanks with Jenkinson and Cresswell.
For the moment I really hope that this is simply a question of Bilic getting to know the Premier League and adapting formations to suit the players he has rather than persisting with ideal formations for which he currently does not have the talent.
What is undeniably true is that if he does not sort this out then problems with mentality, attitude and confidence will not improve. He now needs to show the practical leadership which can re-inspire a team.