Pre-season friendly matches are important to all football clubs and players because they are designed to get the players back into a game mentality.
It is also a chance for them to keep their fitness levels up. For the fans however, while the performances might matter, they know that the results don’t really mean anything once the competitive action begins. That said, the Hammers have not been playing their best so far during the summer break. The question to ask is; what’s going wrong at West Ham?
Two seasons ago, under the stewardship of Avram Grant, the Hammers won all of their pre-season games, but disaster was to strike at the end of the season when they finished bottom of the Premier League with the miserly total of only 23 points.
This record was almost replicated last campaign under Big Sam, as they only suffered one defeat in pre-season but then looked to be in danger when the season commenced. It was largely thanks to the team’s form in February that preserved Allardyce’s record of never being relegated from the top-flight.
This term, they have not won a pre-season match to date. When the schedule was announced and it was confirmed that the East Londoners along with Newcastle United would fly out to New Zealand for the Football United tour, it was hoped that the team could perhaps go on a similar run to that of last pre-season, but the results and performances against both Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC were not what the large contingent of Hammers’ fans from both home and abroad would have expected, especially given that the Hammers went all that way to promote the English game.
As they are currently struggling to win in pre-season, it doesn’t seem to bode well for the season to come.
At the end of the last campaign, Allardyce met with the co-owners to discuss how to take the team forward into the forthcoming nine months. David Sullivan and David Gold indicated to the manager that they would like to keep the club’s ethos going. This presumably involved continuing to give young players such as Ravel Morrison the chance.
Morrison was a regular in the West Ham starting line-up from September, but on Boxing Day, prior to the home London derby with Arsenal, Allardyce confirmed in his pre-match interview with BT Sport that the midfielder had picked up a groin injury. Thankfully he recovered quickly and was able to play again in the home clash with Newcastle on January 18.
Then he didn’t feature again for the remainder of the season and signed a three-month loan with promotion chasing Queens Park Rangers, despite Allardyce claiming a re-occurrence of the injury.
The player has since returned to Upton Park but has not featured in any of the pre-season matches, which has caused a bit of friction between the joint chairmen and the manager. Could this be the end of what has so far been a strong relationship? Sullivan and Gold are keen to offer the midfielder a new contract but Allardyce initially disagreed.
It was then claimed that the boss had a rethink and decided to back the hierarchy’s decision and is set to open talks with the player about a new deal. However it now looks like Big Sam has been vindicated in his decision not to offer Morrison an extension, as the player has got himself into further trouble this week, so whether the club now decide to continue with the negotiations has been plunged into some doubt.
Another reason why the pre-season campaign has not gone quite to plan as yet is that Big Sam has been told to employ a new attacking style of play to provide more entertainment for the fans. In his post match interview with West Ham TV after the 3-1 defeat to Sydney FC last weekend, Allardyce hinted that he was still trying out ways to play the new system.
To me, his explanation was a valid one, as he might as well use this period to do that because it is no good going into the season having not perfected it, because he will undoubtedly end up losing games and this will put him under more pressure.
Also, one of the major plans was to have Andy Carroll as the focal point of the team this season but once again the manager’s plans have gone up in smoke. It was confirmed last week that after suffering a sore ankle while training in New Zealand, the striker had actually damaged his ankle ligaments, meaning he has had to be sent for surgery and will be out for four months. Let’s hope the backup that they have employed over the summer will be able to step up to the plate and if not, there is still time for more reinforcements to be brought in.
For example, during the game against Sydney FC the BT Sport commentary team hinted that a deal had been finalised for Croatian defender Ivan Strinic, though this is still to be confirmed by the club.
It is not yet all doom and gloom, as there is still time for results to improve before Tottenham Hotspur travel across London. Big Sam’s men face a two-game trip to Germany this weekend to compete in the Schalke 04 Cup before facing their only home friendly when Sampdoria provide the opposition and even when the season commences, there is still time for Allardyce to bolster his squad.