The result on Saturday against Everton would have come as no real surprise to many West Ham fans, especially after the mother of all injury setbacks that occurred during the week, ruling out almost every player that has made an excellent impact this season.
Without Stewart Downing, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia, Cheikhou Kouyate and Alex Song, the chances of us going to Goodison Park and getting something was always going to be difficult. Although Allardyce’s men did suffer a 2-1 defeat, on another day it could have been a different story.
Their first goal was a clear two yards offside, if not more, and they probably should have had a man sent off during the game at some point — McCarthy and Mirallas the leading candidates in this particular instance. If Barkley escapes punishment for managing to make both him and Mark Clattenburg look like complete idiots then there is clearly something wrong with the way cheating is handled in the game today. The same applies to James Tomkins who should be ashamed of the ‘gouge-that-never-was’ incident.
Although there were moments of controversy that may have altered the way the game went for West Ham, there were clear tactical faults in the game that made it almost impossible for us to get anything. The biggest concern was the midfield, losing players of that calibre all at the same time was always going to be difficult to cope with, and that was the main reason behind our downfall on Saturday.
The Hammers produced a staggering 45 crosses throughout the game with Everton only registering six. The player who played the most attacking passes for West Ham was James Tomkins (20), which shows exactly what West Ham were missing – there was no dominant figure in midfield. Mark Noble has been fantastic in a deep-lying midfield role this season that has allowed the likes of Song, Kouyate and particularly Downing the freedom to get forward.
The problem on Saturday was that Kevin Nolan was the midfielder who had to command the central midfield position as Mark Noble naturally played in his preferred deeper position. Although Kevin Nolan has been a good servant to West Ham over the past few seasons, he looked absent on Saturday. Sqwuaka.com gave Nolan a rating of two-and-a-half stars, highlighting the fact that he was West Ham’s weakest midfielder. He also didn’t register a single shot on goal, which shows that playing Nolan out of his preferred attacking role almost diminishes any impact he could hope to make in a game.
Nolan and Noble only exchanged passes five times, which shows just how reliant West Ham were on making an impact on the wings. The graphic below highlights the effect Nolan had on the game when compared to Mauro Zarate, with the Argentine playing 50 fewer minutes than the captain…
This is where the loss of Alex Song and the introduction of Mauro Zarate will provide serious food for thought for Allardyce. When West Ham play their strongest midfield, there is the added option to try and play through the middle. When the threat through the middle is strong, space on the wings will naturally free up and West Ham become more of an attacking force.
However, on Saturday, West Ham were too keen to give the ball to either Jenkinson or Cresswell on the wings, making us very predictable and easy to defend against. When Song produces such dominant displays in midfield, he adds that extra direct threat. For example, Morgan Amalfitano’s goal against Man City was the result of direct midfield play from Song. Another Amalfitano goal against Liverpool was the result of Downing’s creativity in the middle of the park.
For Sam Allarydce, alarm bells would have been ringing on Saturday as his midfield lacked any creative spark whatsoever. Alex Song also reads the game incredibly well and having a player like of his ilk in the team makes us more adapted to handling the threat of the counter attack, something that took us apart for the second goal.
He can also keep the ball, allowing the pressure to ease off West Ham rather than surrendering the ball mercilessly to the opponent. Therefore, it is imperative that Song and the rest of the midfield returns as quickly as possible, they are probably more important to the team than either Sakho or Valencia at the moment.
The shining light for West Ham against Everton was Mauro Zarate. If he does not get the opportunity to start against Newcastle it will be a big loss to West Ham’s attacking threat. When he came on, he immediately looked lively in the attacking third and would pop up all over the pitch. The Everton defence couldn’t really deal with him as he completed 3/5 take ons.
The goal was also something that summed up West Ham’s tactical naivety beforehand. Instead of producing constant crossing into the box, Zarate added a quick threat through the middle and this is how he got his goal. He also linked up with Andy Carroll surprisingly well, reading his flick-ons far more successfully than Carlton Cole did earlier in the game. Zarate’s agent has recently suggested that the player may be unhappy about playing out of position and that he is naturally a striker.
If he links up with Andy Carroll across 90 minutes against Newcastle, Alan Pardew’s side will find it very difficult to contain the combination of the two opposites. Zarate hasn’t really had a fair crack of the whip in terms of playing up front so logically – Big Sam should give him a chance against the high flying Magpies.
The only issue could be his fitness as he seems to lack the full effect over 90 minutes, resorting to quick bursts of brilliance in 10 minute spells. Having said that, he should be given the opportunity to prove his match fitness and offer a threat that simply wasn’t there in the majority of the Everton match.