So football is back but not as we know it. There are no spectators, more substitutions and probably many more rules that I have allowed to pass me by. Personally I felt the season should have been voided. Perhaps to some degree that opinion is driven by a fear of relegation. I think like many of us, the season up until March had already been a write-off and the idea of pretending it never happened at all was rather appealing.
However, once the decision had been made to return and everything got back to what is the new normal, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we might be the surprise package. The seed of thought that consumes us every July was back, ‘maybe this is our season’. It’s like that seed that makes you think you might win the lottery this week. You know it’s not going to happen, but you can’t shift that fragment of hope. I remember thinking, what if…
What if we unexpectedly win our first three games against Wolves, Tottenham and Chelsea and can relax for the rest of the season? What if the underachievers we expected so much of, actually flourish without the pressure of a ‘reported 60,000’ fans in attendance? What if West Ham are the team we think they could and should be?
Well it didn’t take long for that dream to fade and die.
I am willing to accept this may be an overreaction to what was our first game in over three months against one of the best teams in the league currently. But what I saw yesterday is of great concern. We all probably thought a win would be a tough ask. I’m sure many of us would have taken a draw at kick off. But what I wanted to see more than anything else, was evolution and hunger.
I saw neither.
If anything, our playing style had regressed. Gonzo often talks of a dysfunctional midfield, but how bad does it have to be to try and bypass it altogether from minute one?
Now, I don’t like long ball tactics, but if they are successful and keep us up, I’ll take it for the rest of the season. But we don’t even look as if we’re any good at it. Long hopeful balls to an isolated Antonio with nobody up in support reminded me of how we used to often use Carlton Cole with minimal success. Perhaps Sebastien Haller’s injury severely hampered our game plan. I can only hope, because I saw a team with zero ideas going forward and it was clear that despite Wolves’ pedestrian approach, they would still create and finish at least one chance.
I still for the life of me can’t understand why we’ve never been able to look threatening in the box despite often relying on crosses to win us matches. We seem to either have one isolated figure standing in the middle of the box or multiple people in the area all standing in the exact same position getting in each others way. Believe me, I am no expert, but surely this is not how to play these tactics.
What was scary to witness yesterday afternoon, was a perceived lack of effort from several players and the main culprit was Felipe Anderson. A man I so want to like! A man I’ve been patient with all season and a man I had hoped would flourish in this new crazy Premier League. Yet in a game played at pre-season friendly pace, I saw no more commitment, if anything, he seemed less committed than ever.
I think as fans, we like to believe we are a bigger club than many mid table strugglers around us. We wont accept average joe plodders. We should be aspiring to more. We want the Felipe Anderson’s and Sebastien Haller’s to join our ranks, but how often are we going to keep running in to the same issues before we get real and accept who we are and are realistic in what we can achieve?
I am one of many who deep down think we should be knocking on the door of a top 6 place every season, but how often is that the reality? How often do we find ourselves regurgitating the same old lines. ‘On paper, we should be better than the teams around us’.
Why aren’t we?
I think the truth is that the players we buy are not winners. On paper, it looks like we’re signing players capable of far bigger things than West Ham, but why haven’t they been touched by the likes of Liverpool and Man City? They are just as skillful, they are capable of moments of undeniable quality. But I don’t think the will to win is there, and unfortunately we often find ourselves with a bunch of overpaid losers who may well look better than the squads around us, but in reality are nothing more than decoration around a core of mediocrity.
We have only eight games to keep ourselves in the Premier League at a time were relegation seems more disastrous than ever before. Perhaps its time to get real, kick the superstars to the curb and try and scrap our way to safety. I think its the Robert Snodgrass’s not the Felipe Anderson’s who will give us the best chance of Premier League survival.