Lack of fight
When West Ham overwhelmed Manchester United in September, they were level on points with third-place Leicester – unbeaten in six games in all competitions, having not conceded in 433 minutes, and – as Declan Rice observed after their 3-0 thrashing at Burnley on Saturday – “there was a real buzz around the place.”
Now, the worrying aspect for the club’s fans is not simply that their form has tailspun so disastrously, but that the players seem loath to put in the kind of shift that might help them reverse the decline.
Sean Dyche inadvertently provided one of the most damning assessments of West Ham’s latest capitulation. “You have to be mentally and physically right for every minute of Premier League football. If you’re not, you get hurt,” said the Burnley manager. “Our body language, intent and belief were there.”
With the honourable exception of Robert Snodgrass, West Ham lacked each of the basic elements required to compete on a cold, wet day. As Rice admitted, they were “bullied”.
The absence of organisation and motivation brought back memories of manager Manuel Pellegrini’s last season at Manchester City. There is a sense of drift, with a passive manager looking powerless to halt a slide. He seemed insipid when West Ham needed inspiration.
Not so super Mario
Despite a run of one point from five games, Pellegrini’s position is not under immediate threat although derby defeats to Tottenham and Chelsea in their next two fixtures could alter that, especially if the fans turn on him.
But director of football Mario Husillos does not look so secure. West Ham have spent around £180million in his 17-month reign, but they lack options in the centre of midfield, where they have sold Pedro Obiang and Cheikhou Kouyate, given a three-year contract to the oft-injured Jack Wilshere and bought Carlos Sanchez, who has not started a league game for 14 months.
It was telling that, when Mark Noble went off injured on Saturday, Pellegrini instead moved the converted winger Snodgrass into a deeper position. Then there are the struggles of Pablo Fornals and Roberto, two former Malaga players.
Husillos, who was sacked by Malaga after overseeing their relegation from La Liga in 2018, ought to know them particularly well. The midfielder Fornals has been disappointing, the goalkeeper Roberto a disaster.
West Ham may be unfortunate that Lukasz Fabianski’s thigh injury will sideline him for at least another six weeks yet they had one of the best reserve goalkeepers in the division, in Adrian, who has since excelled for Liverpool, and now possess perhaps the worst, in Roberto.
He may have made a string of fine saves when this game was already lost, but his lack of conviction against crosses was apparent long before he punched Ashley Westwood’s corner into his own net to effectively kill his side’s chances.
The Spaniard has conceded 15 goals in his last six starts and five from set-pieces in two games alone. Until Fabianski returns, Pellegrini would be better off with the third choice, David Martin, son of the 1980s Hammers talisman Alvin.
West Ham compound the problem of having a poor goalkeeper by failing to protect him. They have conceded 35 shots on target in their last four games, a record made all the worse by the fact that those opponents – Everton, Sheffield United, Newcastle, and Burnley – rarely pose that kind of threat.
As Ryan Fredericks, Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop were all poor at Turf Moor, Burnley, who average 4.1 shots on target per game this season, had 12 against West Ham.
Newcastle, who average 3.4, had nine at the London Stadium last week. Everton’s average, meanwhile, is 4.5 but they had 10 against West Ham last month.
Nor is this anything new. While West Ham finished 10th last season, Fabianski made more saves than any other goalkeeper. Between them, he and Roberto have made more stops than any other club’s goalkeepers this season.
Lack of goals
In theory, West Ham are blessed with attacking talent but potential is not being realised on the pitch. The £24million signing Fornals has only created one ‘big chance’ and has mustered just two shots on target so far.
Between them, Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini, who now faces around two months out with a dislocated shoulder, have had 31 shots without scoring.
Pellegrini’s premier forward Sebastien Haller has at least managed four goals, but three of them came against teams in the drop zone. A £45million striker has been outscored this season by Burnley’s £450,000 buy Ashley Barnes.
It is West Ham in a nutshell – expensive underachievement.