Tony Hanna's Musings
I am going to try and take out as many positives from our 4-0 defeat as possible before I state some alarming stats. Whilst no player was anywhere near their best it was not hard to look at this side and wonder what the addition of Lanzini, Antonio, Kouyate and hopefully Carvalho would make to it? Slaven Bilic has a really good squad of players this season and it his job to get the best out of it, but can anyone actually remember the last time he could pick our strongest team for a match? Iain made a comment on Sunday that Obiang, Noble and Fernandes is not a midfield that will ever play again. I am not so sure about that but I would bet that we would never win a Premier League game against a top 6 side playing that trio in a midfield triangle.
Now I watch a lot of football, not just West Ham, and I watched every preseason game that both Manchester clubs played. City were seriously under done in their first friendly against United, but one thing was very evident. United already in preseason had a real edge to them despite being outclassed against Real Madrid last week. They have come into the start of the Premier League season with a squad that is already firing on all cylinders. Whether they can keep that up for an entire season is unknown, but when any team playing them in this mood is not totally at the races it is not going to be pretty. I don’t think I have ever seen Matic play so well but he also took his turn in the relay of punishment that was sent Chico’s way. This is one thing that United and Spurs in particular do so well against teams they are dominating possession wise. Once any counter is on against them the professional foul is at a budget price, especially if you can rotate it around. The price of a warning or a yellow card is worth it if you can allow your team to reset defensively.
So, despite our lack of possession, it was us who got caught on the break with a four on three after that man Matic broke up play intervening on an attempted pass from an idling Obiang. Not sure who’s idea it was for Masuaku to be marking Lukaku at set pieces, pure genius that one, but that was number two. However, I would be more concerned if we had been 4-0 down with half an hour to go and the opposition took the foot of the gas, rather than conceding two goals in the last 3 minutes of normal time when we were actually trying to get something out of the game.
For me, Arnie looks a really decent player and he didn’t shirk his work in his defensive duties. I am sure he will be working on his set pieces this week though! Chico was brave and despite the score line Zabaleta had a fair enough game despite his rash challenge that gave away the free kick that led to the second goal. Obiang, probably understandably looked very rusty coming back from a lengthy injury and Masuaku disappointed. I am still not convinced Cresswell is the better option but time will tell. Mas had a pretty poor game as did some others, but if Cresswell had been marking Lukaku for goal number two the result would have been the same. Many on the blog complained about the level of commitment but I didn’t see that. We had four players making their debut against a quality team that is already primed and at times we were really getting stuck in – well as much as you can in the modern game.
The one thing that I don’t understand though is why did we revert back to four at the back? Whilst the Moaners have quality all over the pitch surely their main threat was always going to be Lukaku? Collins, Reid and Fonte did the job on him last time he played against us and at the end of last season we looked a much better side playing with three centre backs? I can appreciate the desire to play four at the back at home against equivalent or lesser opposition, but three centre backs away from home against top six clubs is surely our best option? Another tactic that is becoming very prevalent from sides playing against us is the extreme desire for the high press, especially when our keeper has the ball. Teams have sussed out our weakness in playing out from the back and with the way we are set up, tactically and personnel wise, the long ball is just handing back possession to them. Not sure if Carvalho will make a difference here but I hope so as it is a problem.
Whatever our tactical problems are, and I know many of you reading this will have your own opinions, the managers and coaches of the top 6 clubs have certainly known how to target them over the past year. Since the beginning of last season we have played 15 times against top 6 sides in the Premier League and Cups. In those matches we have scored eleven goals and conceded forty four. Six times we have conceded four or more and on nine occasions we have conceded three plus goals. Only once have we stopped the opposition scoring and that was in our 1-0 win at home to Spurs. That win against Tottenham provided three of just five points gained from an available thirty nine against top six sides.
Back to the positives. The first few weeks always throw up an array of results as all the teams are at different levels of fitness and cohesion. My view, based on over 50 years of watching football is that everything starts to take shape after about eight games. So, no need to panic just yet. City won their first five games in a breeze last season and looked unbeatable yet they finished fifteen points behind eventual winners Chelsea. After four games Hull and Boro were 7th and 9th respectively. After eight games last season the top eight clubs were the same top eight at the end of the season and the relegated clubs lay in 16th, 17th and 20th. It is not an exact science but it is a good guide of where the lay of the ground is. Our eighth game of the season is at home to Swansea on the 30th September.
A quick bookies update; The odds on Carvalho coming to West Ham are now 1-6 (about 85%). There has been good money for Adrian to stay and he is now even money (50%) to remain a Hammer. Robert Snodgrass is now odds on (4-9 or 69% chance) to move to Villa and there has been more money (5-2) for Lanzini to go to Liverpool (28% chance)
Please check back after the match for the results.