The Premier League season may only be four games in, but after yet another below-par performance against Wolves, things are certainly starting to get a bit worrying for West Ham.
Following the defeat to Bournemouth, I blamed the defence for the result – but this week Manuel Pellegrini has to shoulder most of the blame. There seems to be no character, no spirit, and no identity within the squad at the moment – and the manager has to take the rap for that.
A quick note on the starting lineup. Once again, the teamsheet didn’t fill me with any joy. There are better players sitting on the bench than some of the names making the first eleven. For example, while Snodgrass puts in a lot of effort, he is not good enough to be playing Premier League football. It’s as simple as that. It was nice to see Cresswell finally regain his spot in the side, though, even if it was four games overdue.
Anyway, now to the first half or, alternatively, the Joao Moutinho show. While Wolves showed how you should set up on the huge pitch at the London Stadium, West Ham struggled to string two passes together. At every possible opportunity, Moutinho and Ruben Neves whipped the ball out to the wing, stretching the Hammers and causing them real problems. With Anderson and Snodgrass both cutting inside regularly, this meant that Fredericks and Cresswell were isolated every time. Luckily none of those attacks led to anything, but they easily could do in the future.
Apart from a few snap-shots that didn’t really trouble Rui Patricio, the Irons created very little. In Pellegrini’s system, you would expect the players to have the freedom to express themselves on the ball, but the likes of Anderson and Arnautovic appear to be shackled by something. It was quite the opposite for the Wanderers, as they oozed confidence. If Nuno’s side had a top striker leading the line, then they would have been ahead at the break.
Pellegrini rightly acknowledged that he needed to change something at half-time, opting to withdraw Snodgrass and replace him with Yarmolenko. To be fair, the start of the second half was much better. It’s like the Hammers actually realised that they are professional footballers and they can be pretty good if they work together. Wilshere was getting more of the ball, Anderson started probing and looking dangerous, while Arnautovic had Yarmolenko alongside him meaning he wasn’t so isolated. It really was a lot more like West Ham fans expect. But it didn’t last, of course.
Around 15 minutes into the second half, the game changed again. Wolves picked themselves up after the brief Hammers onslaught and began to do things well again – like they had been doing before the break. Then when Wilshere left the field just a few minutes later, West Ham went completely flat as all the creativity had been wiped out of the midfield. Obiang came on to replace him, joining sidewards Sanchez in central midfield – and it wasn’t pretty. The pair are simply too defensive-minded to play together, at home against a newly-promoted side, especially when the naturally offensive players are struggling to manufacture any clear-cut chances.
The game just seemed to be going through the motions after that, with neither team really threatening too much – it looked destined to end 0-0. But, within a matter of minutes, the two sides each had massive chances. Neves played the ball out to Doherty, who squared a lovely ball across the box to Jimenez and he somehow kicked fresh air. The defending was shambolic, as Balbuena let the striker go and then there wasn’t another West Ham player in sight. Again, clearly showing that if Wanderers had a top striker, they would have been in front.
Then, West Ham went straight up the field and Arnautovic, with about his only real opportunity of the game, did superbly well to work himself some space in the box – but Patricio made himself big and smartly blocked his effort away. That was the Hammers’ big chance, you just knew nothing was going to go in after that. The fitness of the Irons’ main man started to show following that as well, he was clearly struggling but Pellegrini had made all three subs. I am not sure he was ever really fit enough to be playing.
So, as we went into extra time, a draw seemed inevitable and West Ham fans probably would have taken it after such a poor performance. But, then it happened. Sanchez was picked off by Neves in midfield and Wolves sprang a quick counter-attack, resulting in Adama Traore’s deserved winning goal. The boos rang out around the ground and the fans started to pour out of the stadium. The crowd had stayed with the team throughout the majority of the game – but enough was enough.
In fairness to Wolves, they probably should have won the game more comfortably. They did impress me. Nuno has got them set up very well and the players all know their roles – quite the opposite of what we are currently seeing from the Hammers. Neves and Moutinho, while being exceptionally good players, are also workers – and that is what is missing from West Ham. A desire and hunger to win.
The setup Pellegrini is employing is clearly not working. The rigid 4-2-3-1 is leaving huge gaps out wide and the midfielders are being exploited at just about every opportunity. Arnautovic is starved of support up front and Anderson doesn’t look comfortable playing out on the left or in the middle – which is probably why his natural position is on the right. This upcoming international break is going to be crucial for Pellegrini and West Ham, they need to somehow strike a bond throughout the squad and get the team playing together. They can do it, they have shown it in very small glimpses.
It has to be said, though, that with four games gone and no points on the board, the situation is growing increasingly worrying. Everton away and Manchester United and Chelsea at home are the next three fixtures. The joys. It is fair to say, that if the mediocre displays carry on, then West Ham could easily find themselves winless going into October. Yikes.