As much as anyone I have been loving the style of football played by West Ham this season and feel vindicated in the belief that if you play to win you will win more games. The likes of Enner Valencia, Diafra Sakho, Alex Song, Zarate, and Stewart Downing have all shown great attacking football this season and Andy Carroll has also been beastly at times; and this is why I was so disappointed to see a reversion to last year’s style in particular for the Boxing Day game at Stamford Bridge.
Everyone, including me, thinks back fondly on the 0-0 draw played against Chelsea last year and it is clear that the memory of that game stuck in Big Sam’s mind as well. But that was last year’s game and that was last year’s Chelsea. To think that we were going to play out a 0-0 draw the way they have been playing this year was foolish at best.
More than that though I think it hurts the team to stop them from playing their best football against the best team in the league. The message Big Sam sent to the fans and his players was “we’re not good enough.” While it is true that West Ham was thoroughly out classed by Chelsea I find myself wondering how much of that was down to confusion and discomfort with the style. Enner Valencia looked great at times. I am not saying we would have won had we played our normal style- I am saying that we would have had a better chance and losing while fighting for the game would have been better for the players involved.
This brings me to what must still be considered Big Sam’s most glaring weakness as a manager. I don’t know whether it is stubbornness or belligerence or what, but Big Sam seems constantly stuck in his own past and constantly set in his own ways. The return to his old style of play for the Chelsea game is just one example of that. The other is his constant reliance on Kevin Nolan.
I am as big a fan of our stalwart captain as one can find. I think he has been done poorly by the fans throughout his time at West Ham. That being said, it is simply insane for Nolan to be starting ahead of Zarate or Amalfitano; and while it won’t be a popular opinion here, at this point I would even start Morrison ahead of him now that he is back from Cardiff.
Part of me wonders if what we are seeing is an inferiority complex on the part of Sam. What I know in my heart though is this; no team that is sitting 4th on Christmas Day should accept that they cannot finish there, but to do so we have to take our chances against teams like Chelsea and Arsenal. Win, lose, or draw, our manager needs to show confidence that this team can play with any in the league. Otherwise doubt is going to creep in and a fall in form is going to come with it.
This has been a great half season for West Ham, but there is another half to play. We are in the hunt, and it would be a shame if fear and stubbornness kept Big Sam from keeping us there.