It was a tense afternoon at the London Stadium as Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton came to visit. A static protest prior to the game caused some concern that we may see a repeat of the scenes against Burnley in 2018. Fortunately fans were well-behaved and there would be no repeat. Tensions were also high on the pitch, with the hammers hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone, everybody was well aware that with a tough run of fixtures ahead, a loss simply wouldn’t do.
Starting with four at the back, Fabian Balbuena can count himself a little unlucky to have been dropped in place of a returning Issa Diop. Perhaps Balbuena’s role in the Sheffield United goal was a decisive factor although I felt that Martin was the man at fault. Despite that, Diop showed his undoubted quality alongside this seasons MVP Angelo Ogbonna who is having the best season of his West Ham career by some considerable margin.
Having now seen Moyes play three at the back twice and four at the back twice. I think the latter is working the better, however if you think about it a little more, it has been two away performances where Moyes has decided to go with a back three. I wonder whether he plans to play a back four in the remaining home games and a back three away. Should we get to grips with three at the back, it would definitely benefit us to be able to play both systems well.
Diop’s future has been much talked about during the January window and Aaron Cresswell starting ahead of him against Sheffield United didn’t bode well for the Frenchman’s West Ham career. Today’s return to action will delight a lot of West Ham fans who see Diop playing a pivotal role in our season and future seasons to come. He was disciplined, tidy and of course scored the goal that eventually would earned West Ham a point. Aside from Diop’s clear ability, It’s his character that impresses me. Seemingly from the moment he signed for West Ham, his next career move was being discussed, however at no point have I seen him fuel that speculation. Indeed he is often very blunt when dismissing the rumours.
Given how he has found himself on the bench over the past couple of months, it’s understandable to assume the 6,4ft defender would be agitating for a move, particularly with so many big clubs apparently interested. That doesn’t appear to be the case. He made his feelings pretty clear in a recent interview where he had this to say:
“I am not in negotiations, I don’t care to know which clubs are interested in me. So for me, nothing really changes.” he continued: “I am not at all concentrated on that. It doesn’t enter my thinking at all. ‘I leave people who are responsible to deal with that side. I just focus on football.”
Of course, I’m well aware that players many will dismiss media speculation, but in Issa’s case, I believe his words and should he move on at some point in the near future, I think it will be more a case of what the club and the agents decide rather than Issa trying to force the issue. From the first interview he gave after signing to his last one playing the friendship game with Arthur Masuaku, Diop strikes me as an honest, grounded soul with a great personality. Somebody who can grow with the club, if indeed we are in a position to match his ambitions.
Following Diop’s opener, it would take only four minutes before Everton hit back, an old-fashioned flick on at the near post from Mason Holgate saw in form Dominic Calvert-Lewin head in to a gaping net. ‘New’ signing Darren Randoph wouldn’t have a great deal to do throughout the game and he could only watch on as Calvert-Lewin adjusted his body well to turn the ball in and leave the home supporters on edge once again. On the balance of play, 1-1 at half time seemed harsh on David Moyes’ men who had been clearly the better side until that point.
The second half saw a role reversal. Everton came out swinging and it was West Ham who started to play much more passively. It was clear that players had eased off 5-10% in the press and that was enough for the away side to start to impose themselves. I noted a similar thing at Bramall Lane last week. An impressive first half display petered out in the second half. Questions will need to be asked, is this Moyes’ settling for a point or a sign that the players aren’t fit enough to keep up that level of intensity for 90 minutes? Today I saw a willingness to work from the players but perhaps not the conditioning to play a pressing game. I will give Moyes the benefit of the doubt at this point.
Something that has bothered me for a long time now is our lack of anticipation. I am fed up of seeing players stood around watching the game unfold around them. It’s as if they’ve never heard the term ‘pass and move’ preferring instead to ‘pass and observe’. At one point Declan Rice fizzed a lovely ball across the face of the Everton goal. It was just waiting for sombody charging in to the box, but nobody was there, everybody was on their heels watching on. It makes me wonder whether the players know each others games? Another example is Snodgrass zipping a ball down the line expecting Lanzini to run on to it when we all know Manu likes it to his feet. Do the players talk and study each other? How can you play together without an understanding of what your teammate is likely to do?
As the game drifted on, I’ll admit to being on edge for the last twenty minutes. I was convinced Everton would snatch an undeserved late winner and my overriding emotion as the full-time whistle blew was one of relief, particularly as we may have played the final few minutes a man short after Albian Ajeti foolishly appeared to headbutt Mason Holgate in the Everton box. Holgate made sure everybody knew what had happened drawing the hostility of the home crowd. Fortunately VAR decided there was no serious foul play to both my relief and surprise. Ajeti clearly threw his head back in irritation to Holgate’s presence. Affter seeing the replay, I was convinced he would see red. It was a silly and needless reaction from Ajeti which could have ultimately cost us and it was particularly disappointing because I felt it was his best performance in a West Ham shirt. Granted there haven’t been too many to choose from, but his hard work and battling qualities demonstrated that it may be a little early to give up on the guy. He hasn’t really had a chance.
Overall, the game was an enjoyable watch but perhaps lacked a bit of quality. West Ham may feel a little frustrated not to win having had the better chances. Jordan Pickford was certainly the busier of the two goalkeepers making one exceptional reaction save from Pablo Fornals, who for me offers bags more than Manuel Lanzini at the moment and the Spaniard will feel unlucky to be replaced so early in the second half. Pickford would make several more saves, one from Sebastien Haller from a tight angle and there was also a goal ruled out for offside, Robert Snodgrass straying slightly off before finishing smartly. While we had less possession, we did more with it and I have been satisfied with our attacking play so far under Moyes. We look far more dangerous currently with less possession than we did under Pellegrini, despite seeing more of the ball. Hopefully we can build on a solid start to Moyes’ second spell in charge and get some unexpected wins in the coming weeks. With those around us bar Bournemouth finding a bit of form, it’s important we keep our heads above water.
Darren Randolph – Had very little to do but instills more confidence already with his assured demeanor. 6
Pablo Zabaleta – Rolling back the years, his all round game was solid, the savvy old head defended well and offered plenty going forward. 7
Issa Diop – Strong and resolute, an impressive return to first team action and a goal to boot. 7.5
Angelo Ogbonna – Another assured performance, used his experience well. Positioning great, he was everywhere. 8
Aaron Cresswell – Continues to keep Masuaku out the team if indeed Masuaku is still considered in that role any longer. Solid. 6.5
Robert Snodgrass – A top performance from the experienced Scot, used his body well, bought fouls and made things happen. A couple of iffy deliveries. 7.5
Declan Rice – One of the stand outs. First half he seemed to play with freedom and boy he can play! Gave the ball away a couple of times but quickly won it back. 8 MOTM
Mark Noble – Always involved but still conceding possession too easily with some careless passes. 6
Pablo Fornals – We look better with him in the team, hard-working, tenacious and wants the ball. Some of his passing let him down but shouldn’t have been hooked. 6.5
Manuel Lanzini – For a player with such talent, his lack of impact is getting frustrating. He’s not bad, nor is he good. He’s just bang average and he shouldn’t be. 5
Sebastien Haller – His hold up play is great but he still needs to give an extra 10%. Had a good opportunity which Pickford saved but his touch was heavy. 6
Arthur Masuaku – Ran around a bit. Competent with the ball but his decision-making is poor, takes too many risks in dangerous areas. 5
Albian Ajeti – Looked up for it, battled hard, showed some ability but could have been sent off for a silly headbutt. 6