ON the evidence of the home defeat to Newcastle, West Ham are less a side claiming to have top six pretensions than one staring at a relegation battle – and with a set up ill-equipped to face that challenge. There have long been whispers emanating from the club that in all areas the Hammers are arrogant and yesterday all those chickens came home to roost. Forget the late rally, this was a team humiliated by a club so poorly run they appointed the woeful Steve Bruce as manager to replace Rafa Benitez.
To be fair to the Magpies, at least they didn’t settle for Manuel Pellegrini in the hotseat, a man whose entire operation appears to be characterised by arrogance. In that respect, if no other, he is a perfect fit for the Hammers.
First the bare facts: West Ham have won just three games from 11 in what has been a relatively easy start to the campaign. Worse, they’ve picked up just two points from the last fifteen including just a single point from consecutive home matches against Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Newcastle. The side are currently an alarming nine points down on comparative fixtures from last season.
Expected goals come in at a reasonable seventh place at 15.79. But it is at the other end of the pitch the worries lie. A defensive xG of 21.45 is worse than Southampton, who a week ago let in nine at home. The only side with a worse metric are Norwich. A combined xG of 11.27 puts the club in the bottom three along with the Canaries and, you guessed it, Newcastle. Statistics strongly suggest the Hammers are overperforming!
A measure of the manager’s arrogance is he describes his club’s current form as a “lapse” and claimed “It’s difficult to explain why we played the way we did in the first 45 minutes. I do not understand why we played so bad”. What a shame he eschews analytics? None of us are on Pellegrini’s reported wage of £10million per annum (quite likely a good proportion of which buys an acceptance to accede to the wishes of Chairman David Sullivan – more on that later) but might offer one or two suggestions:
Just a thought, but if you are playing a Bruce-managed Toon, who have by far the worst attacking xG in the division and hadn’t scored away from home in 400 minutes but do possess pace by the bucketload, it might not be the greatest idea in the world to match 85-year-old right back Pablo Zabaleta (who has all the pace of a sloth who wishes to give up the hurly burly of sloth life and kick back a little) against the lightning quick French winger Allan Saint-Maximin. Neither was it the pinnacle of tactical awareness to play a 4-1-4-1 system that allowed Newcastle to merely lump the ball down the field upon receiving possession safe in the knowledge they had the numbers and legs to chase it.
Two of the goals conceded came directly from dead balls. Yet for all our highly acclaimed “big team mentality” (what does that even mean?) there is nothing to suggest training involves set plays at either end of the pitch despite the clear benefits from so doing. For their crucial first goal 6ft 1in central defender Ciaran Clark was being marked by 5ft 7in left-back Aaron Cresswell. And while on goals conceded it’s impossible not to comment on Roberto Jimenez, a goalkeeper whose only claim to competence would appear to be his vague physical resemblance to Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon.
Would it be too much of a stretch to think that, should first choice stopper Lukasz Fabianski be injured, we might need a replacement a little more accomplished than somebody who managed just four appearances for Espanyol in three la Liga seasons? Yesterday he came and missed a cross by yards to present an easy headed goal for Federico Fernandez before a lack of footwork led to him getting both hands to a Jonjo Shelvey free kick but merely pushing it into the net. So rancid was his display the stench could even be smelt as far away as the distant upper tier of the London Stadium.
On pitch we have a captain who has bought into his manager’s hubris. Prior to the Palace game on the 5th October Mark Noble mused: “We never think we can lose”. Reader, we did. In fact, we haven’t won a game since. The skipper then went onto claim he is part of “The strongest Hammers squad” in his decade-and-a-half in claret and blue despite it containing no strength in depth at goalkeeper, full back, central midfield or up top. “Pranks” pre-recorded for sponsors should not be part of a Premier League captain’s repertoire; the optics are poor when the team is losing, they lack class and appear unprofessional.
Andriy Yarmolenko was weaved, it would appear, from the same cloth. He is nowhere near as good as he thinks he is and offers little off the ball. Just as a park footballer wearing Predator boots needs to be pretty nifty to avoid a good shoeing, so Yarmolenko is not of the class, or physique, required to cut holes in his socks – this year’s nasal strip. Felipe Anderson needs to start justifying his £34m price tag too. Yesterday he looked like Matt Jarvis as he didn’t beat anybody, didn’t provide killer passes and wandered around giving the ball away. Still, at least he does all this to a Samba beat, so that probably makes it ok. (Hint: It doesn’t).
An honourable exception was Robert Snodgrass. Chasing and harrying as though his life depended on it, the Scotsman scored with a quality finish and gave the impression he was playing for his place. The midfielder offered the post match view that: “We need to be solid and resolute”. Amen. The club surely need more players with his ability either side of the ball. Expect him to be dropped for an attacker next week against Burnley.
Among the backroom staff the arrogance not only continues but is encouraged. Vice Chair Karren Brady (does anybody know what her role involves?) refuses point blank to give up her vapid and often offensive Sun column despite it doing harm to the club’s reputation. She also ignores UEFA, Premier League and Government regulation that insists clubs speak meaningfully with independent supporters’ groups.
Brady’s hand-picked “supporters” group the OSB act as an arm of the commercial department and do nothing to help fans while their Chair’s main role appears to be antagonising fans via social media. Likewise, Ben Campbell nominally “Head of Media Relations” is known to be at once dim, confrontational and a constant hurdle to journalistic access.
To get to the root of the unwarranted pride that characterises the club it is necessary to go to the top. Owner David Sullivan likes to insist any responsibility he bears for results ended when he bought a club in financial distress nine years ago. Despite personally doing very well from the deal he will routinely answer any criticism with a flurry of nonsense about how much money he has “put in” to the club.
He believes he knows at least as much as the managers he employs, refuses to engage anybody who questions his desire to meddle in the transfer market and will brief against those who do via his favourite websites. We note a piece last week on one such site decrying a recent non-Sullivan signing. In the same place a poll on Pellegrini appeared less than an hour after the full-time whistle yesterday.
The result is a club where sycophancy and chutzpah flourish while intellect dies a lonely death. We are fully prepared to accept our observations on this subject may be considered arrogant in themselves. Just don’t coming running to us when Steve Bruce is appointed manager.