The Season So Far
To absolutely no-one’s surprise, West Ham’s season has been a total train-wreck. Chronic mismanagement and laughable, reactionary decision-making by a board of charlatans and self-aggrandising stains on humanity has led to: a complete disintegration of the team on a footballing level; regular protests against said regime at home games; and civil war in the stands.
The nadir arrived at home to Burnley, as the Hammers collapsed 3-0 amid multiple pitch invasions, near-rioting in the home end and an ugly siege of the directors’ box. The scenes witnessed at the London Stadium that day will live long in the memory and, sadly for West Ham, will be what the club is known for around the world for the next few years. If that harrowing afternoon didn’t provide the wake-up call that Davids Gold and Sullivan needed, nothing will.
It’s hard to overstate just how needed that wake-up call is. The staggering lack of forward planning shown by the owners has led to a mind-boggling series of calamitous 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.
Worse still, the club is generating a massive profit following the stadium move, and the owners are simply not investing it as promised. This is one of the reasons that so much seething anger is felt by supporters – they know there’s far more money available than has been spent, and that savvier owners could have turned them into a genuine force by now had they had the chance to spend it.
Not for nothing are West Ham fans chanting “sack the board!” at every game at the moment. It’s a minor miracle that relegation has all-but certainly been avoided - the very least the Hammers deserve is to be sent down to the Championship, never to be seen again by a top-flight crowd.
The Season Ahead
Avoiding relegation is the only thing that matters at this point in time and no-one connected with West Ham will care a jot how they do it, just as long as they do it. Last week’s massive win over Southampton basically made the Hammers safe, but their remaining fixtures introduce an element of doubt nonetheless: they still have to play Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Leicester, and at the moment those are definitely four defeats from four. Their only real opportunities for points come against Stoke City, who will be fighting for their own Premier League survival, and Everton, who are basically on the beach and won’t care one way or the other. West Ham should be safe, but this is West Ham, and disaster is always around the corner.
Manager David Moyes, appointed in November, doesn’t even know whether he’ll still be West Ham boss next season, but he’s a man of principle and is already planning for the future regardless. It remains doubtful firstly that his plans will be accepted by the owners, who simply can’t resist calling the shots, and secondly that Moyes will be given an extended contract. At no point have the fans really been won over by him, and it’s obvious that an easier sell is a clean slate with a more PR-friendly, attacking coach.
Seemingly desperate to prove ahead of his next set of job interviews that an old dog can learn new tricks, Moyes has got West Ham playing a modern 3-4-2-1 system, with converted full-backs as centre-backs, a striker who’s not really a striker and two number tens floating around behind him. Almost everything comes down the left, given that Aaron Cresswell is a mobile centre-back and Arthur Masuaku can run, while on the other flank Declan Rice needs more protection and Pablo Zabaleta most definitely cannot run. The front three of Manuel Lanzini, João Mário and Marko Arnautović is pretty tasty, and Javier Hernández is about as effective a supersub as there is anywhere in the world.
It’s not quite a coherent team – frankly, it never could be – and it’s probably better on paper than it is in real life, but this is still a decent Premier League outfit.
Their big strength, as it has been for a few years now regardless of personnel, is finishing – West Ham are once again over-performing against Expected Goals and pinging in long distance drives everyone else sees fly into the stands, Pedro Obiang’s screamer against Tottenham being the pick of the bunch. Aside from that, they’re handy on the counter-attack – only three teams have scored more goals on the counter – and only five teams have made more chances by crossing the ball.
It’s worth underscoring the talent of the front three. While they’d arguably be even better if they had tactics or rehearsed plays or an improved understanding of each other’s games, Lanzini, Arnautović and João Mário are good enough to spend months winging it and win enough games to survive anyway.
The fact is they get dominated week-in, week-out, and only partly because they’re a counterattacking side. Only three teams take fewer shots and only five teams allow more shots on their goal, and in the modern age that’s not going to produce positive results in the long run. A wholesale rethink is needed in the summer and this time they’ve got to make sure Gold and Sullivan are as far away from that rethink as possible.
In case we hadn’t noticed, this is a team prone to meltdown: only four teams have recovered fewer points after going behind; no team has received more yellow cards; no team has had four pitch invasions in one game, nor seen their captain fighting a fan in the middle of the field of play. Score first and it’s basically game over.
We shouldn’t expect any surprises on either side.
Chelsea need a positive result and a good performance after last weekend’s dismal collapse. We should expect both here. 3-0 – Morata, Alonso and Hazard.