After an incredibly bright start to the season, it’s safe to say we’ve gone off the boil.
Fourth place at Christmas seems like a distant memory. Now with only one win in 11 and a tricky run of games ahead, the dreams of a European conquest next season look to be slowly fading, replaced with the familiarity of a mid table finish. But compared to last season, how far have we come?
We’re all aware of the criticism Sam Allardyce has come under in recent seasons from certain fans for championing a wholly unattractive style of football. I think at times the criticism has been justifiable – last seasons ‘19th Century tactics’ come to mind – but to blame our current run of poor form on him alone is too easy, and ridiculous. It’s far too easy in the modern game to place all the blame on the managers head.
The first half of the season proves that, when playing well, we’re a team that has to be taken seriously. The addition of players such as Diafra Sakho, Cheikhou Kouyate and Alex Song during the summer transfer window, along with an almost re-born Stewart Downing playing through the middle, have allowed for a completely ‘new look’ West Ham side. One full of pace, power and a serious threat going forward. In comparison to last year, we’re a very different team to watch.
Last season our top scorer and most influential player was Kevin Nolan. There was a lot of added pressure on his shoulders with the lack of a consistent out and out striker, so he became our main threat going forward. He did have a fantastic year, but for me Nolan is the epitome of the rather boring style football we have been playing in recent years. So it’s refreshing to see him effectively forced out of a regular first team position by the likes of Kouyate and Downing, another prime example of the transition the squad is undergoing.
The biggest change within the team has to be the way we now look when carrying the ball forward. Enner Valencia has pace to spare but also a phenomenal right foot that’s more than capable of testing the keeper from 30-yards out. Diafra Sakho, who has had a fantastic season with nine league goals so far, possesses that real strikers instinct within the 18-yard box that we’ve been missing in recent seasons. Pair that with a midfield now capable of playing the killer pass and we have a strike force that could cause problems for any defence.
So why the poor run of form?
I think one of the main issues in recent months has been our inability to close out a game. We proved in the first half of the season that we are more than capable of holding onto the lead against some of the most threatening teams in the league – no one expected the fantastic home results against Liverpool and Man City.
But since New Year’s Day, we have dropped points from winning positions against Tottenham, Man United, Swansea and West Brom. Last year we might have been happy with a point against Spurs and United, but with the quality we now have within the squad, it feels acceptable to expect more from the players. Recent results have been well below par and we have fallen off of the pace somewhat, but before the season started you’d have been laughed at for suggesting we’d be in serious contention for a place in Europe at any point.
The 1-0 loss to Chelsea was a real return to the form we had prior to Christmas, despite the result. It was thoroughly enjoyable to watch the team play to the level we now know they can. Jose Mourinho’s post match interview just shows how far we pushed the number one team in the league. He said: “The way they play, nobody is better than them.”
We more than gave Chelsea a run for their money and on another day, with a more capable linesman, we would have taken points from the game. It was like watching the team that gave us such a brilliant start to the season, with bags of pace, lightning quick on the break and a significant number of chances created. Could this be the sign of a potential return to form?
In regards to Allardyce’s future, for his sake, we need a strong end to the season. With the move to the Olympic stadium scheduled for August 2016, David Gold and David Sullivan’s main focus seems to be expansion. The creation of a more marketable club would be fantastic financially, however you get the feeling that the facelift the club is undergoing, will inevitably extend from the squad to the management.
So does Big Sam deserve more time?
For me, yes. Managers in the modern game have close to no time if results start to go against the club, so surely a poor run of form couldn’t justify his departure after hands down the best start to any West Ham season in recent memory? This is the first time since becoming West Ham manager that he has real weapons at his disposal, but more importantly he now has options and flexibility within the squad.
It would be fantastic to see the club, players and fans give him the long term backing he deserves