Where does it go from hereHaircut 100 – Love Plus One
Is it down to the lake I fear?
WEST HAM manager Manuel Pellegrini won the game he required to stay in a job. The rules are less than clear but presumably the Hammers’ next fixture, away to Crystal Palace on Boxing Day is also a “must win” game for the boss. If so, the club Board have merely pushed the day of reckoning forward a week or so and have most likely narrowed the pool of available replacements.
The problem with ultimatums of this type are that although the Hammers were victorious at St Mary’s all the win proved was how badly the Chilean has been managing the club the rest of the season. To get a result yesterday he pretty much tore up all the tenets of the “Pelle-ball” he has been arrogantly insisting upon – and demonstrated very clearly his method is not suitable for a club of our mid-table standing.
Even after the team were humiliated at home by the poorest Arsenal side many have seen, Pellegrini insisted the fault was with the players’ lack of “big team mentality”, code for attacking the opposition all game. Yet against the Saints that fiction was scrapped in favour of vigorously defending a lead by shutting down midfield and insisting on wingers having a role protecting the back four.
The Irons boss was helped in his endeavours by some real luck with injuries; Aaron Cresswell returned from a knock to replace the useless Arthur Masuaku at left-back. Perhaps of greater fortune was a tweak sustained by wide-man Felipe Anderson in training on Friday. This blog was highly critical of the Brazilian’s defensive commitment against the Gunners and a resurgent Pablo Fornals (now starting to look like the £24million player signed over the summer) showed far greater acumen without the ball.
It may well be the manager was going to drop Anderson anyway but credit must be given for altering the formation to face up to Southampton’s terrible home record (won two, scored just nine times in eight games and conceded 24). For all the romantics may wish to believe Pelle reverted to a favoured 4-2-2-2 formation, the reality is against the Saints he opted for a bog standard 4-4-2. A warning ahead of time: The set up will not be suitable for many other occasions and will never allow for the selection of either Anderson or Andriy Yarmolenko (a reported combined £54m worth of talent) due to their laissez-faire attitude towards defending.
The formation meant the Hammers were forced into moving the ball forward much more quickly than is customary as well as promoting crosses into the opposition penalty area. The fruitless tippy-tappy football 25 yards from goal was gone as Michail Antonio set about terrorising Saints’ backline with his pace and power. The England international also proved the perfect foil for striker Sebastien Haller, whose lack of a strike partner has been accommodated with all the joy of an unannounced visit from the Trump family.
The French international is said to want away from the claret and blue because of his disgust with the manager. Yet he saved the latter’s bacon with the same attached irony of Diafra Sakho scoring a late winner against Swansea to rescue Slaven Bilic’s career. Telling was Haller’s dash to celebrate with Issa Diop on the substitutes bench. There is said to be a group of players including, but not limited to, the non-English/Spanish-speaking players at West Ham who want the manager gone – something the big striker’s embrace of his compatriot further emphasised. Pellegrini stood watching much as Unite the Union leader Len McCluskey would have greeted Thursday night’s exit poll – there was a party going on – but he wasn’t part of it.
Two things remain to be said: The performance from referee Martin Atkinson and his back up VAR team under Jonathan Moss were well below par. Even if Antonio’s disallowed goal did look a clear handball, the man in, er, yellow consistently penalised the Hammers man merely for being stronger than his opponents. A first-half incident when both Antonio and Haller appeared to be impeded by Southampton defenders following Cresswell’s cross was first bottled by Atkinson, then the officials at Stockley Park. This seemed exactly the sort of decision VAR was brought in to adjudicate upon. Unless and until refs have pitch-side monitors this evasion of responsibility by all parties will continue.
Having finally taken a pragmatic approach to team selection Pellegrini’s substitutions were worse than puzzling. Yarmolenko for Robert Snodgrass and the woeful Carlos Sanchez for Haller were misjudged and gave an initiative to Southampton they very nearly grasped. Diop for the fading Mark Noble only emphasised how the skipper can barely manage 90 minutes these days.
So here we are, another game gone and nothing resolved. Pellegrini hangs on, the players mistrustful and fans underwhelmed. Quite what does it need for our wretched Board of Directors to take accountability for the mess the club is in?