The Ambulance and the Dry Desert Run Published 06/03/18 on Irons United
“It has been quite an experience. All against the desert. The greater enemy. I’ve learnt a lot about the English. So different from all I’ve been taught. Auf wiedersehen” – Captain van der Pole – Ice Cold in Alex
The Saturday defeat away at Swansea was probably one of the lowest points in the season so far and it may yet get worse…if you can believe that? West Ham have been lost for so long that it appears any hope of recovery seems futile…Are We Doomed?
As the referee blew his trombone I thought that there was an air of expectation around the stadium and certainly amongst the Hammers faithful, all around the world that three points were there for the taking. For all of about 45 seconds I thought that the players could make this dream turn to reality but then I was made to face truth…and it was ugly, distasteful and demoralising.
From Adrian in goal and across the back line to the wingless wing backs, muggles in midfield and the strangling strikers…we were awful for most of the match. There is no sugar coating this, as much as I would love to! The players seemed two steps behind any Swansea player and they appeared to be devoid of any ability to stop the rot.
Moyes looked pale…more than usual, on the touchline! Possibly the looming relegation implications of this performance and result were beginning to haunt him and he looked ragged and unable to fix the leak in our burst pipes after being frozen out of the game for so long.
Of course we could trace this back to club ownership and transfer apathy and a lethargic will to spend any money of note that would not only strengthen our squad to bring a quality in depth, but also bring in players that we actually wanted and desperately needed to fill in key positions. However, that is then and this is now. Moyes has to pick from what he has available…so two main defensive absentees prior to the game should have been the red warning flag to us all. When Reid got injured and without Fonte whom we had just inexplicably sold (apparently because he was being greedy and wanted more money elsewhere…nothing to do with being publicly criticised by Sullivan of course) then our fate was all but sealed.
When we conceded the first goal I was resigned to the fact that those who are impotent will become virile against us. Ki Sung-yueng hadn’t really had much success in netting goals over the last year but somehow he found our net with ease. Then as the game progressed it became evident that we could not defend even on a basic level against any of Swansea’s set plays. First half, second half and 4-0 down…this was just an absolute horror show and this frightful encounter was being dictated by a team who were no better than us…in fact on paper they were quite a bit worse.
The whole team seemed like dehydrated invalids who were stuck in a clapped out ambulance in the middle of the parched desert…lost, delirious and running on empty. It was painful to watch and frustrating to see our warriors shrink to also rans. The coaches could not do anything in the first half to prevent the bashing and in the second half it was pretty much the same…especially after the third goal was conceded.
It would be remiss of me to single out one individual player to carry the weight of blame because in truth they were all culpable. They knew it, the manager saw it and admitted as much…and the fans certainly had their fill of it too. A large contingent had braved the arduous weather conditions, giving battle to the ‘Beast from the East’ and had come out victorious through sheer conviction…if only our players had shown such purpose?
Our whole squad lacks pace to recover possession and to put fear into the minds of our opponents. Evra and Zabaleta had poor games but were also exposed too. Their age and pace does not lend them kindly to the wingback roles. Kouyate returned to his lumbering ways and seemed disinterested whilst Noble had one of those games where everything seemed out of place and going wrong.
Lanzini didn’t contribute much, as didn’t Hernandez or Arnautovic…albeit he showed some spit and vinegar but never came close to causing any real damage…even when he had a clear chance he fired it straight at the keeper. Antonio came on in the second half and gave us some pace and scored again but overall he was the clumsy oath who broke all the crockery at the tea party and tripped over the cat on more than a solitary occasion.
So where is it all going wrong? Well, we could all look to the players confidence, ability and application but we also need to look at the formation and the player selections. For the squad as it now stands, this formation with the current players simply isn’t working anymore and our forward play is lacking any cohesive structure. Anytime we get the ball in defence and wish to clear the lines, we invariably give the ball away.
Most teams can look upon us as easy prey now…all they have to do is press high up the field, attack our flanks and wing back positions, close down early…and the likelihood is that we will come unstuck very quickly. This is less to do with our opponents overall superiority but more to do with the number of errors we are prone to and the lack of intensity at which we are playing.
Moyes has to get the lads together and give them a darn good talking to, look at his formations and select the best players for those roles. The best team may not necessarily include the best players! He needs to reevaluate the back three or back five set up as it is cumbersome and lacks direction and pace. A reversion to a back four may suit us best with Cresswell out to the left back role and Evra as understudy.
Zabaleta on the right back slot with Byram as backup. A middle pairing of any combination of Collins, Ogbonna, Rice or even Kouyate if needs must. A flat four midfield, with Arnautovc on the right, Lanzini on the left, with Mario and Noble in the centre with Antonio and Hernandez as a strike force. If and when Masuaku returns then he can be employed in the left midfield slot, enabling Lazini to move more central.
Of course this is merely for illustration and the positions could be filled by other players too, but it is a formation that would enable us to pack out the midfield and protect our wings but also enable us to work the ball through midfield and support the forwards too. We need to play higher up the field, press and close down early. Generate our own chances and force teams into errors. We must play with greater passion and resilience in defence but also show greater composure and determination to move forward…and most importantly…never, never, never give up the fight when we lost the ball.
I may be delusional, however I often feel that the players are in need of a pre match pep talk from myself. I would tell them what formation to set up as, I would tell them what their individual roles are and I would show them how to pass and move the ball forwards to create opportunities. However my fiercest advice would be for them to all increase their passion, drive and intensity, to not let the opponents have any room to play, to take the game to them and show the fans what is really means to be a West Ham player. In this, our respect would be restored after a shambolic season and woeful performances.
We cannot afford anymore results like this. We must do better, pick up points and dig out results otherwise we could be those infirm bouncing around in an ambulance on a dry desert road all but dying but still dreaming of a victory dance and a saving cold beer to quench our thirsts.