With injuries to three very key players, one a season ending injury for arguably our player of the season Pedro Obiang, West Ham are entering a very crucial period which may well shape the short term future of our Club. Defeats to Bournemouth and Leicester have left us less than comfortably placed in the league table and points are still needed to ensure Premier League survival. With a defensive unit in crisis, we are conceding goals for fun, especially concerning given the investment we made in Jose Fonte in the January transfer window. In Fonte, we have a player who looks anything but a European Championship winning centre back and former captain of Southampton. With Ogbonna sidelined for the season and Reid now missing for 4–6 weeks our defensive crisis has deepened. We have no option to recall Oxford or Burke from their respective loans, leaving only Fonte and Collins as fit centre backs, with Collins lacking match fitness and neither player having formed a defensive partnership together.
Defensive fragility seems to have been at the heart of West Ham’s difficult season. With no settled back four, players have not been able to mould as a unit. We appear to lack any defensive strategy which is ironic given both our manager and 1st team coach were both recognised and well respected defenders at the Club. In his attempts to embrace the ‘West Ham way’ has Bilic sacrificed the principles upon which he based his game as a player? Do the collective minds of Bilic and Dicks not recognise that neither Kouyate or Antonio are capable right backs? Or is Sam Byram so poorly rated, despite his lack of first team opportunities.
With Cresswell’s form seemingly having deserted him, our defence really does lack a leader. A player who can lead by example, one in whom the keeper and remaining defenders can have absolute faith and belief. Confidence seems to have deserted with form and mistakes are commonplace. The Premier League is unforgiving and mistakes are all too often punished, as our recent display against Leicester would testify, being as we were two goals down inside seven minutes. Our defence is by no means short of experience and yet at times we look like a collection of very second rate, inexperienced players.
What is our game plan under Bilic? Under Allardyce we defended first and foremost and whilst this at times made for horribly unattractive football we at least gave ourselves a chance in games. Shipping two goals in the opening seven minutes makes the task of salvaging something from the game almost impossible, even for the most confident and in form teams and whilst at times we offered real spirit in our response we were always unlikely finish empty handed. There are no points awarded in football for showing fighting spirit.
The most successful teams have always had a solid spine, goal keeper, central defence, midfield and striker. A spine around which a team can be built. Should Bilic stay at the helm then this is what I believe he must build in the summer transfer window, with Obiang really being the only current player I would consider being capable of taking his place in this central core of a winning side.
In the main, we have bought badly and strengthened in positions that we didn’t need to. It is time for our owners to invest in players around which we can create a team to take us forward for the next 4 or 5 seasons. Short term loans and ageing players who’s best years are behind them are not a solution to long term prosperity at the Club. When announcing our move to the former Olympic Stadium, our owners made some very bold claims about the future for West Ham. So far, we have seen very little evidence that these claims have any credence, given that we are but a few poor results away from a relegation battle.
Lofty ambitions are all very well but so often in West Ham’s case, like my dreams…………………