The Season So Far
Predictably, West Ham’s season has been an absolute disaster. The total lack of forward planning shown by the owners has led to a series of catastrophic acquisitions across several haphazard transfer windows, and the Hammers now have a hideously uneven and ageing squad, incapable of playing as a coherent unit and producing the kinds of performances expected at this level. They are 19th in the table with no obvious escape route, and, to crown things off, David Moyes has just taken over. It’s difficult to imagine how things could get any worse.
This is a mess entirely of West Ham’s own making. In an age in which organisation, information-harvesting and informed decision-making are key at top-level clubs, the Irons are notable for their impulsiveness, disjointedness and brainless hunch-calls based on received wisdom. While other clubs are planning their ins and outs months in advance, obscure targets being constantly evaluated and re-evaluated according to a series of statistical metrics, personalities studied to see whether players will fit into their squad as people as well as footballers, West Ham are simply paying big money for famous players their chairmen think fans will be excited by.
Since losing Dimitri Payet in January 2017, West Ham have:
- signed Robert Snodgrass for £10m, and then loaned him out to Aston Villa after five months and fifteen games
- signed Marko Arnautović for £20m (goals: 0, red cards: 1)
- signed Pablo Zabaleta (33 in January) to play the most athletic position on the pitch, immediately after Manchester City let him go because he can’t run anymore
- loaned in Joe Hart from Manchester City, fresh from Hart’s disastrous spell in Serie A and at least two years after he was last good
- signed renowned poacher Javier Hernández for £16m despite A) West Ham having no obvious supply line for him to score goals and B) Hernández offering nothing as a team player and contributing nothing if he’s not tapping the ball over the line
- sacked Slaven Bilić a year too late
- hired David Moyes instead of a manager who can actually lift their spirits and make sense out of this team
Not for nothing are West Ham fans chanting “sack the board!” at every game at the moment. Crystal Palace, who lost their first seven games without scoring a goal, are now above the Irons. Davids Gold and Sullivan, (un)ably assisted by Karren Brady, could not possibly have messed this up more.
The Season Ahead
It’s all about avoiding relegation and what would be a potentially fatal drop to the Championship. Every home game is a must-win and the likes of Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio, Andy Carroll and Hernández are under immense pressure to start producing the goods in attack while Moyes fixes the defence on the training ground. As previously mentioned, Moyes is hardly the most inspirational hire in these circumstances, and he’s hardly filling fans with confidence with quotes such as “Things will go wrong, there is no doubt about that” and “If it works, great. If it doesn’t, then I’ll see the East End of London for seven months, then I’ll go elsewhere.”
At the moment, Moyes is focusing on improving West Ham’s defensive record and making them hard to beat. Of course, this is blunting them somewhat at the other end, but first things first, they have to stop shipping goals. Last week, off the back of an embarrassing 4-0 shellacking against the least threatening Everton side in recent memory, they played a 5-4-1 that became a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 in attack and we should expect the same system here. Chelsea will face a flattish, narrow back five and a tight, compact midfield, narrowing the channels into which Eden Hazard and Álvaro Morata like to make their runs.
Their attacking transitions won’t be too imaginative as they try to maintain their shape and prevent Chelsea’s counter-attacking threat from coming to the fore, and their threat will be carried mostly by the skilful Manuel Lanzini, forced to improvise at will, and the directness of Michail Antonio. Diafra Sakho may play up front and give the side more shape and a route up the pitch.
While they don’t seem to pack too much punch in attack – only five teams have shot less often than West Ham this season – they generally shoot quite well, with only seven teams having hit the target more often, and with only Spurs having hit the post more. It’s fair to say that they’re both somewhat clinical and unlucky.
Their aerial threat is obvious, with Andy Carroll, Javier Hernández, Marko Arnautović and Jose Fonte all registering five or more headed attempts on goal this season and Diafra Sakho on four despite having very few minutes under his belt. Only Burnley have produced more headers on goal this season than West Ham and Chelsea must be aware of their power in the air and the quality of the deliveries of Aaron Cresswell and Lanzini, who between them have created 22 chances with crosses this season.
Aside from a total lack of footballing identity, contradictory individual strengths and styles of play within the same team, a lack of pace at the back, a lack of quality and dynamism in midfield, a gaping hole up front where a striker should be, a toxic manager who turns everything he touches to dust and a fanbase that seems to actively hate the team, West Ham have no significant weaknesses.
West Ham will make late decisions over Winston Reid and Mark Noble and Diafra Sakho is a possible starter up front should David Moyes consider starting a tense London derby with attacking ambitions.
Chelsea may bring Danny Drinkwater back into midfield in place of Tiémoué Bakayoko and Davide Zappacosta may come in for Victor Moses. Otherwise as expected.
If Chelsea score early, they’ll score plentifully. If West Ham make a fight of it, it could go the distance but we’d expect the Blues to win anyway. 2-1 Chelsea, Hazard’s quality the difference.