West Ham United launched a brilliant start to their campaign with a decisive win against Arsenal at the Emirates (2-0). Then three games later they crushed Liverpool at Anfield (3-0). They also picked up four more goals totaling 8 goals for in four games. That would be a good statistic if it were not for the fact that they allowed six goals against for losses against Leicester (1-2) and Bournemouth (3-4). After a decisive win at Newcastle, their goal difference stands at 4. That’s not such a great statistic.
What is happening at West Ham where they can rise up against the big clubs and win on the road yet fall to the small clubs at their home Boleyn Ground? Remember, last season Leicester sat in 20th place for weeks before rising, phoenix like, out of the relegation zone to play in the Premier League again this season. For Bournemouth, this is their first time ever in the Premier League. They did beat Newcastle this week but remember, Newcastle was in free fall last season and relegation was on everyone’s mind.
Could this be a reverse case of Tony Pulis’ former Stoke City? Then, the Potters were giant killers at the Britannia beating big names like Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and more yet consistently failed on the road. Currently West Ham is great on the road against the big clubs but very poor at home.
Looking at the two home matches the failure there is clear: defense. Leicester picked up their first goal in the 26th minute via an excellent link up down the left wing. Could that have been defended better when there were three defensemen back with a fourth chasing? Possibly, but credit must surely go to Leicester’s Okazaki for a brilliant effort. The second goal however was clearly the result of ball watching without a single defensive player within yards of Mahrez who scored all too easily 38th minute. It’s tough to come back from a 2 goal deficit in the first half and this is doubly true when a team is losing to one they should beat easily.
Things got worse against Bournemouth the next time out. Aaron Creswell is certainly the villain here. After failing to clear his lines he allowed Francis to bully him off the ball setting up an early goal for Wilson in the 10th minute. In the 27th minute, Creswell gave the ball away in a shockingly poor back pass giving Wilson another easy goal. The Hammers managed to claw their way back just after halftime only to see Leicester’s Pugh expose a static back line where Carl Jenkinson was yards away. Pugh easily slipped past Jenkinson’s desperate slide to make the game 3-2. 13 minutes later it was Jenkinson again who failed to clear his line allowing Wilson to break into the box. Jenkinson’s desperate clip brought a quick red card and a Wilson hat trick. Fair enough, credit needs to go the Hammers for picking up a 3 goal to see a 3-4 loss and Creswell didn’t end up the only villain.
Next up was Newcastle. A quick goal in the 9th minute added to their confidence and they saw Newcastle out fairly easily. Perhaps, with some tinkering their inconsistency can indeed be turned around. The lack of drive and determination from the previous games was absent, although one should be a little cautious here. It’s early days clearly.
If West Ham are to best last season’s 12th place finish they are going to have to tighten up the backline and seek support from the midfield. Manager, Slaven Bilic, appears to be experimenting with various lineups favoring an attacking style of play with classic defensive overlapping play but this is allowing their backline to get stretched. Switching to a more conventional 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 from the 4-3-2-1, 4-3-3 or even 4-1-2-1-2 against Arsenal, may be boring but consistency will keep them in mid table. That 4-4-1-1 lineup isn’t the prettiest and it leaves the striker exposed but it can be effective, especially when defensive weaknesses are at play.
It’s only 5 games in and a lot can and does happen throughout the season but with demonstrations like this it is unlikely that West Ham can break through the middle of the table. Fans may have complained about the staid playing style preferred by big Sam Allardyce but big wins and big losses are a gamblers’ life. You can decide whether you’d rather have consistency or a little flash and flair.