After an embarrassing loss to Leicester City at the London Stadium, West Ham United fans are pretty restless. Of course, when fans get restless, the first person to get blamed after a bad loss at home is the manager. Slaven Bilic has even had the owners of the club take shots at him, with a very thinly-veiled threat about his job security and leaks about the status of his contract. While it seems most fans still approve of Bilić, a large number of fans are starting to want a change. And also, as much as people are focusing that this is the first away win for Leicester City all season, this same team won the league last year and just made the quarterfinals of the Champions League, beating La Liga title contenders Sevilla. They’re a good team, and many of us saw this result coming.
A lot of mixed opinions after today's loss, although he chose the right XI, is Slav's time as manager coming to a sour end?— Hammers Chat (@hammers_chat) March 18, 2017
But is this all his fault?
The injury bug at West Ham predates Bilić. Andy Carroll hasn’t been 100% fit for an entire season since transferring over to West Ham. And the strikers that the board has purchased to come in and play with Carroll is a well-documented display of terrible transfers. The dodgy loan deals, the buying of untested foreign players, the constant links in the press with players that will likely never wear Claret and Blue is not something that Bilić has created, it is something that Bilić has had to live with. The lack of striking options behind Carroll is not something that Bilić has been able to control, the lack of a proper director of football or a scouting department that can help the team buy quality players is the reason there is no depth at key positions.
If you can fault Bilić for anything this season, it’s not trusting his younger players. However, with the pressure on the board for a top 10 finish, the choice between going all out to win today versus getting younger players valuable first team experience isn’t a hard one. It also doesn’t help when the board makes its views and opinions on Twitter.
It's the managers responsibility to pick the best team to win the game irrespective of his age. it's not a training session. https://t.co/V8ZphQiVN2— David Gold (@davidgold) January 23, 2017
The manager wants to finish as high up the table as he can. We owe it to our fans to win as many games as we can. dg https://t.co/XcbqUFU2uT— David Gold (@davidgold) January 25, 2017
West Ham have had an awful defensive record this season, and with Angelo Ogbonna playing through injury, it seemed like bringing in Jose Fonte would help to solve this problem. It has not. So what is to blame? The injury bug? The lack of CB depth? Bringing in Jose Fonte instead of going after a different player? Buying a 33 year-old CB for £8 million pounds is not good business and it shows a reactionary transfer policy, rather than having a clear plan for how to recruit talent to the team. As it is right now, not having a right back other than Sam Byram has been a problem, because he’s either been injured or not trusted by Bilić, meaning that Cheikhou Kouyaté is played out of position to provide extra defensive cover. A right back who could attack and still be able to cover defensively is something that the team has needed for years, and yet there is still no one on the team to play that role.
Buying Robert Snodgrass in the transfer window also was a reactionary move. With the team losing a world-class winger in Dimitri Payet, the team went out and got a player who was good at free-kicks and crosses, but without regards to the composition of the team. The team now has four “wingers” that fight for two spots, meaning that at least one of them is played out of position, usually Michail Antonio, and one is usually dropped. André Ayew has been unable to get a starting position because of Sofiane Feghouli, and Snodgrass is the other winger. Against Leicester, Antonio still played out of position while Manuel Lanzini, who isn’t really a winger, played on the wing with Snodgrass and Feghouli starting on the bench. A lack of fit striking options has hurt the club, as Carroll has looked like a shell of himself the past few games, and is obviously not fit.
Slaven Bilić is not to blame for the transfer policy, as the problems that are popping up predate him coming to the club. The board chose to loan Carl Jenkinson from Arsenal twice rather than buy a right back. The team brought Carlton Cole back after releasing him. The manager cannot make chicken salad out of the chicken, um, parts that have been given to him. Bilić has been making the best decisions with the players he’s been given. To blame him entirely for the poor results on the pitch is forgetting the fantastic season that occurred last year. Slaven Bilić didn't create the injury issues or the Payet situation, so it’s not fair to blame all the problems on him.