Don’t get me wrong, when their right back rounded Adrien in the 90th minute to grab victory I felt very sick. Partly because Eric Dier had somehow managed to end up one-on-one with our goalkeeper but most importantly, it felt like we deserved a lot more from the game and we were going to lose to Tottenham, a feeling that has become something of a rarity in recent memory.
Despite the numbing pain of defeat to one of our biggest rivals, there was plenty of evidence over the course of the 90 minutes to suggest that West Ham will be more than ok this season. By ok, I would say an 11th placed finish would neither excite nor disappoint our fans but finishing higher than 11th should be deemed a success after a rather turbulent pre-season.
Looking at individual performances, the new signings of Aaron Cresswell and Cheikou Kouyate were very impressive. Starting with the young left back, it looked like the former Ipswich defender was not afraid of going forward, showcasing an attacking awareness that has been needed over the past few seasons at Upton Park.
Cresswell also has a lot of pace so keeping up with some of the league’s best wingers should not be an issue. Big Sam mentioned that he needs to be more productive and wise with his dribbling and this will obviously develop once he becomes more accustomed to the jump from the Championship to the Premier League.
Kouyate already looks like the best buy of the summer for West Ham, his energy and composure on the ball was fantastic on Saturday and he looks very reliable already.
He slotted in comfortably at centre-back after Collins was dismissed, showing that he is capable of playing in defence if there happens to be an injury crisis. He is also very economical with the ball, boasting a pass success rate of 96.9% over the 90 minutes. The Senegalese international is also good in the air, winning three aerial duels against Tottenham, with only James Collins (4) winning more.
The midfielder said before the game that he wanted to emulate the Premier League career of Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira and I can see no reason why Kouyate cannot follow in the Frenchman’s footsteps. Although it is early days, Kouyate looks like he will be a fantastic, reliable performer for West Ham over the entirety of this season. A solid partnership with Mark Noble in the centre of midfield will provide maturity and composure with the ball, encouraging us to keep hold of possession for longer periods than last season.
Although West Ham did have a one man advantage for most of the game, we managed to keep the ball for long periods and create chances. Once again, Allardyce was left to rue missed opportunities that were all too familiar last season.
However, with the signings of Valencia and Sakho, West Ham fans may see an element of class and attacking quality in the final third this season, which will hopefully lead to more goals.
Allardyce has targeted at least 50 goals to achieve a top 10 finish and judging by the investment made in the attacking department, this sort of return should be expected by our front runners. In terms of the defence, West Ham looked very assured at the back until Collins’ clumsy second offence resulting in the big man being sent off.
Another signing at centre back would be ideal, with recent reports suggesting that Manchester City’s Micah Richards could be available on loan. Last season West Ham had an impressive defensive record so if a similar performance at the back is repeated this season, an improvement up front will lead to West Ham aiming for a higher finish this time round.
The biggest issue for all West Ham fans will be the style of play this season. Although it was not sensational on Saturday, there was certainly a massive improvement in the standard of football compared to last season. Realistically, the only long balls were accurate diagonals, rather than punted balls into the box.
The diagonals stretched Tottenham and allowed Downing to deliver crosses into very dangerous areas. Once again, the same problem keeps arising for West Ham over the past few seasons, there needs to be a prolific goal scorer in the box. Don’t get me wrong, Carlton Cole puts a shift in, giving his all week in, week out. However, he does not have the class to score 15 plus goals per season. Hopefully, Valencia will provide the quality we need to get the goals this time round. However, experimenting with 2 up front wouldn’t hurt either.
We will also learn a lot about Allardyce’s tactical stance away from home, will he remain naïve like last season or will there be some attacking intent? I can imagine Mauro Zarate would be able to cause a few problems away from home. Also, if Ravel Morrison is found not guilty, West Ham still have an extremely gifted player on their hands and we can’t forget what he did at White Hart Lane last summer. Both these players didn’t even feature against Tottenham so our squad has a greater depth to it compared to last season.
Although this may all sound very hopeful, I can’t imagine that the fans or the owners will put up with the painfully negative football that we all witnessed away from home last year if Sam does stick to what he knows best. On the other hand, if the manager mixes things up, we will have a relatively successful season. Whether Allardyce will actually pursue the attacking play that everyone has been crying out for is another story but there are the foundations in place for West Ham to actually achieve something this year.