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West Ham’s defense is a disgrace and everyone is to blame

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Finger pointing won’t fix this mess

Sunderland v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

West Ham has often been their own worst enemy all season. With a shocking defensive record of 59 goals allowed, only Hull City, Swansea City, and AFC Bournemouth have allowed more goals this season than the Hammers. While the team is tied with Crystal Palace for the 9th best goals scoring record in the Premier League with 44 goals, scoring only four goals fewer than Manchester United, the defense has been embarrassing all season, leaving the Hammers with the 5th worse goal differential in the league.

Last season, the Hammers allowed only 51 goals, giving them a 1.34 goals against average. So far this season, West Ham has a 1.79 goals against average, with the top two goal scoring teams, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, still remaining on the schedule. It is not unimaginable that West Ham could end up with a GAA of over two goals a game. By comparison, the West Ham team that went down in the 2010-11 season had a GAA of 1.84 and the infamous 2002-03 team only allowed 59 goals all season, with a GAA of 1.55.

As much as fans like to complain about the lack of a striker that is of Premier League quality behind Andy Carroll, who’s fitness seems to always be a gamble, the real focus should be on the absolute nightmare that is West Ham’s defensive record this season. Not only has the team seemed to crumble and allow teams such as Manchester City and Arsenal run riot, but the team has also surrendered three goals to Bournemouth after the Cherries had missed two penalties and allowed Sunderland to score two goals after the Black Cats went two months without scoring a single goal in a match.

So who is to blame? The players, the manager, or the board? Injuries surely have played a part, with Winston Reid, the club’s best defender, currently out with an injury and Angelo Ogbonna, the other first-choice CB for the Hammers, having been sidelined since January after having season-ending surgery, but even before those two went down, the team was giving up four goals to teams such as Watford FC and West Bromwich Albion. The team attempted to address the lack of cover for Ogbonna during the January transfer window by buying Southampton’s captain Jose Fonte, but the European Championship winning CB seems to have left his ability to be a Premier League defender on the south coast. James Collins has spent most of the season on the bench, with a few spot starts and appearances, but the Wales defender’s goal notwithstanding, his displays the past few weeks have reminded fans why he isn’t a full-time Premier League player at this point in his career.

The Hammers do have three good young CBs in the system, with Reece Burke on loan at Wigan, Reece Oxford on loan at Reading FC, and Declan Rice captaining the PL2 team, but none of them are ready to be full-time Premier League defenders at this point in their careers, and throwing them into the bonfire of the current season would have been not seasoning them with a “trial-by-fire”, but instead allowing them to be burnt to a crisp.

The goalkeeping has been subpar this season, with Darren Randolph and Adrian not inspiring very much confidence, leading the team to be linked to a number of keepers in the press. At this point, the team needs to move on from at least one of them, if not both, and invest in a quality keeper. Good keepers are worth their weight in gold, and a team that allows as many quality scoring chances as the Hammers do need someone in net that is above average.

The fullbacks have been a revolving door of mediocrity this season, with Aaron Cresswell never regaining the form he had last year that saw him earn an England call-up, and Sam Byram spending most of the season either injured or in the manager’s doghouse. Arthur Masuaku has been playing better as of late, but early in the season his form was questionable as he adjusted to life in the Premier League. Michail Antonio was used as a wingback in the early part of the season, but the lack of fit attacking options necessitated Antonio’s move up top. And the less said about Alvaro Arbeloa, the better.

So while the midfielders this season have largely been the best performers this season, with Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini both taking huge strides forward, along with promising play from young Edmilson Fernandes, their ability to cover for the defensive miscues has not been a strong point. Cheikhou Kouyate and Havard Nordtveit have both filled in at right back, with limited success, but neither has partnered very well with Mark Noble in the middle of the pitch this season.

The team needs to have better options for central defenders behind the first-team, with teams exposing the lack of mobility all too often. With the team’s fullbacks often charging forward, the central defenders have been left on islands with strikers that are far too quick for them to handle. If the team is going to press forward with the fullbacks attacking in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the central defenders need to be quick enough to not get exposed. Bringing in someone like Fonte, who runs like he’s stuck in quicksand, was not a wise move, no matter who ultimately called the shot on bringing him in.

Rather than spend the next few days spreading rumors about who is responsible for the bad January transfers and the underwhelming signings from last summer, the board and the manager and everyone involved in the football operations of the club need to sit down and figure out what kind of formation the team is going to use going next season, and what kind of defender the team needs to target. Because right now, what ever the team is doing isn’t working. The defensively responsible, and boring, team that Sam Allardyce built is gone. But instead of an attacking team that leaves the other team in the dust, the team ships goals and cannot hold a lead.

The players that the team currently has on the roster are not being put in positions to succeed, and the options to replace them are virtually non-existent. Slaven Bilic needs to figure out how to get the best out of his players, or he will be coaching somewhere else next season. The board needs to decide, along with the manager, what kinds of players they need to play the style that the manager wants.

Most importantly, the players need to play up to their potential. Right now, the players seem to forget simple, basic assignments and all too often seem to be confused and allow easy, simple goals that any 1st division club should be able to stop with ease. Hiding behind the uncertainty surrounding Bilic or the malaise that occurs when a team is more-or-less safe and has no hope of European qualification is no excuse for poor play. The players need to show just how much they like playing for Bilic the rest of the way down the stretch, or they will either be playing elsewhere or for a new manager.