As things stand, it would be fair to say that West Ham are falling apart in disappointing fashion under Slaven Bilic. Currently as low as 18th in the Premier League with just three points in the bag from five games, West Ham’s plans to start the season on a high have already been blown up in smoke, especially after being knocked out of the Europa League by Astra Giurgiu in the first knockout round of the tournament and following the pathetic start to the new campaign.
And its rather unexpected really, considering the quality the Hammers had promised of and had showed last season, with the likes of Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini and the likes firing on all cylinders, but it has all dissolved into the forlorn figure that West Ham are currently cutting. Before the season had kicked off, expectations were seemingly high for the Hammers, who have moved into the Olympic Stadium from the Boleyn Ground and they gave the look of being a side capable of challenging for the Europa League spots again this season. But, the Premier League isn’t that easy, is it? And reality, it seems, has hit Slaven Bilic hard.
And the Croatian, who is arguably facing his first ever barren spell in charge at the London based club, has some big problems with the club vying to get a foothold amidst the mad race among clubs to make in-roads to the top half of the table. But, what exactly has gone wrong for West Ham?
Leaky defence letting them down
West Ham have always known to be a side that is defensively sound and the organized nature of the back four has always made them a tough-to-breakdown defensive unit. Last season, the Hammers had conceded only five goals in the opening five outings, contributing to a satisfactory start to the season, that saw the duo of Liverpool and Arsenal succumb to 3-0 and 2-0 defeats respectively.
This time around, the gulf in the quality of defending has been a massive one. Bilic’s side has conceded 13 goals already, letting in as many as 11 in the last three games. The consecutive 4-2 losses to Watford, who came back from 2-0 down to stun West Ham, and the second one to West Brom, have brought to the fore the underlying defensive woes that are proving to be torturous for the Irons.
“We will go over it again – we can’t concede so many goals. It is fundamentally defending as a team and if you add individual mistakes, it becomes too much. I mean, we’ve conceded 13 goals from the start of the season and that’s simply too many.” said Bilic after the loss to West Brom, as Nacer Chadli and his mates tore through the Hammers’ defense on Saturday evening at the Hawthorns.
Sam Byram has started the season poorly, which forced Bilic into fielding Havard Nordtveit at right back against West Brom and the former Borussia Monchengladbach man too endured a rough game, while the pairing of James Collins and Winston Reid has been far from convincing. Angelo Ogbonna was called in to replace the New Zealand skipper and he too, failed to improve the defence.
And its a factor that Bilic is completely aware, when it comes to making amends.
The absence of the daunting Boleyn Ground
Last season, West Ham lost just three home games throughout the campaign, successfully remaining unbeaten against the traditional top six, but conceding losses to Leicester, Bournemouth and Swansea. This season, they’ve lost one already.
But its only about how much they’ve won and lost but also about the aura that is now lost from the club’s home pitch. The Boleyn was known to be the most toughest away ground to play at, where it was really tough to beat West Ham, who used to be in full swing. The placement of the stands, which were close to the pitch, made it all the more tough for the opposition to play their own way and impose themselves on the game. And the boisterous crowd, which was always on the Hammers’ side, had the knack for being one of the most noisiest crowds in the Premier League.
And the Olympic Stadium, in which the stands are placed away from the pitch, has failed to muster a similar amount of fascination. It doesn’t seem like West Ham’s home, despite being a 60,000 seater stadium. The atmosphere isn’t that familiar, hostile one and muffled, stifled chants go around the place, unlike the frightening ones at the Boleyn. And much like Spurs, who seemed over awed by playing at Wembley against Monaco in the Champions League, West Ham are still coming to terms with their new stadium.
When nothing’s going right, injuries mostly are a contributing factor for bad performances on the pitch. And West Ham’s case presents a similar argument. And its due to this that Slaven Bilic hasn’t been offered the opportunity to field a full strength line up till date.
The injury that ruled out Winston Reid was something that put the defensive line in jeopardy instantly. The centre-half’s presence at the back brings in added organization and hunger to defend, without which the backline has looked frail and easy to breakdown, as compared to when it exists in his presence.
Andre Ayew, who was acquired from Swansea this past summer, has failed to make a single appearance and is said to be back in action in mid-November after he sustained a thigh muscle strain early on. And judging by the impact that the forward had at Liberty last season, he would only bring in something positive at West Ham.
Aaron Cresswell, who had been one of West Ham’s best players over the past two seasons, too is out with West Ham fielding new signing Arthur Masuaku at left back for him. The Englishman’s defensive positioning and attacking runs forward are found wanting as West Ham seem to lack the penetration to break defenses down and strengthen one’s own.
If that’s not enough, Diafra Sakho’s exclusion from action till early October has worsened the situation further, with a paucity of goals clear in the current run of form. And without the flamboyant Andy Carroll, who has always chipped in with crucial goals for the club ever since joining, West Ham have lacked focal point in attack, even in the presence of the impressive Dimitri Payet.
Questionable summer signings
Slaven Bilic shelled out over 40 million in snapping players such as Simone Zaza, Andre Ayew, Jonathan Calleri, Arthur Masuaku, while Manuel Lanzini’s loan deal was made permanent. Young Edimilson Fernandes was captured from Swiss outfit Sion for 5.44 million fee.
And unlike last season, that saw the Irons signing players like Payet, Michail Antonio, Angelo Ogbonna, Sam Byram and Pedro Obiang, there hasn’t quite been a rise in the standards of the side that Bilic is looking to elevate to the European level. The number of substantial signings have increased, but that failed to increase the quality of the side that has moved into a 60,000 capacity stadium and desires to transform itself into a heavyweight club.
Zaza’s capture, which came after repeated attempts to sign quality forwards such as Carlos Bacca and even Mario Gomez, isn’t working out at the moment. The Juventus man has evidently struggled to get to grips with the frenetic and physical nature of the Premier League as he has shown glimpses of poor hold-up and tends to get shrugged off the ball quite easily by defenders with his back to goal. And this is major reason for West Ham lacking a focal point in attack, as their attempts to get close to the goal break down as soon as the ball reaches the Italian.
Masuaku, who has arrived from Olympiacos, is yet to show that he is good enough to play regular football for West Ham, with Cresswell currently out. His inconsistency in certain aspects of the game such as crossing and tracking back suggests that maybe, he’s fit enough to be a second choice to the Englishman.
And the strategy of strengthening their bench rather than doing the same for the first team is one of the few reasons due to which West Ham are enduring a torrid time right now.