There are plenty of reasons being thrown around as to why West Ham United have been so poor the past two seasons. Many, are angry at the board for lack of investment and vision in the squad. That and the stadium, which I won’t get into here.
As for the West Ham squad, if you look at it, they’re a strong squad on paper with plenty of talent. Javier Hernandez, Marko Arnautovic, Manuel Lanzini, Pedro Obiang, Joao Mario, Winston Reid, Aaron Cresswell, Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart and others all have talent and have performed well internationally and in some of the biggest leagues in the world. So why has a squad with so much talent on paper produced such miserable results? I can tell you it is not the fault of David Sullivan or David Gold, or even Karen Brady.
Part of the fault of the poor performances are down to the players not performing as well as they should. That cannot be forgotten, however, I place a bigger blame on both Slaven Bilic and David Moyes for being stubborn in their tactics and failing to play to their players strengths.
Every manager has their “system” their preferred way to play the beautiful game. Some prefer a free flowing pass heavy game, others lob the ball long to a target man, while others seemingly just throw a bunch of players on the pitch and hope for the best.
However, despite having a preferred way to playing a good manager is able to identify their players strengths and tweak their systems to use those strengths. That is what Bilic and Moyes have failed to realize. They keep trying to fit square pegs into round holes to fit their rigid system of play.
For years fans have screamed to have a big name striker that can consistently score goals. This season we finally go what we wanted with Chicharito. Yet, for whatever reason Bilic and Moyes want to play our diminutive Mexican striker as a hold-up target man. Sorry boys but that’s Andy Carroll’s position and he’s on the injury table for the next six centuries.
Chicharito is best when he has a strike partner, but can also do well as a lone striker that poaches goals off of good passing and knockdowns by the wingers. The big/little partnership with Carroll should in theory work with enough practice together but Andy’s off downing pints as he rehabs his hundredth injury. The closest strike partner we had was the equally injury prone Diafra Sakho who’s rightly been shipped back to France after numerous dust-ups with Bilic and Moyes.
Michail Antonio while exceptionally talented is not a main striker, fullback, or really even a wing-back, he’s an out and out winger. His size, pace, and athleticism are a lethal combination on the right wing. Yet Bilic and Moyes both want him to track back and defend for the entire game. Something while somewhat capable of doing he doesn’t excel at like Aaron Cresswell.
Marko Arnautovic has found a way to be productive leading the line while that not being a natural or preferred position for him. He should be out on the left wing feeding in crosses for Antonio to head down to Chicharito. Or making driving runs in to the box and getting shots on goal. He has done a decent job as a striker but again it’s not his best position.
While I’m no management expert it would seem to me that West Ham can play Moyes’ and Bilic’s preferred formation of one striker up front but neither has realized that they don’t have their preferred target man. They’ve tried to put Antonio and Arnautovic in that role but neither is that kind of player.
The biggest mistake West Ham have made since coming back to the Premier League has been the signing of Andy Carroll. Yes, you heard that right, it’s not moving stadiums, it’s not keeping Bilic a season too long, it’s not signing a defender or striker in January.
Ever since Andy Carroll signed in 2012, every manager has used the lone target-man striker setup. It’s hard to fault Allardyce because Carroll is truly the perfect player for him, but both Bilic and Moyes built their teams around the idea of a healthy Andy Carroll, something I doubt either will see in their lifetime.
Andy is a world class player on his day. It’s too bad that day is only once every six months because he’s rehabbing injuries. Even when he’s strung together more than three consecutive starts his form has been inconsistent. The days of Andy Carroll being a starter need to be done and over with. He’s an expensive impact sub and that’s all.
Yet, because a team is built around Andy doesn’t mean the system can’t be flexible and change to fit the best personnel you have available. You can still build a lone striker team around a poacher like Chicharito and be successful.
West Ham have an enormous amount of creativity in the center of the park that can help feed Chicharito through the middle. Manuel Lanzini as our No. 10 can work into tight spaces and feed Chicha in front of goal, he can also get a shot off that deflects into the Mexican’s path.
Mark Noble and Joao Mario as our two defensive midfielders provide a great partnership opportunity. Noble plays as the true holding midfielder linking the defense up with Mario who’s further forward and to Lanzini. Super Mario has as much creativity as Lanzini and can play in the more advanced holding midfielder role that Kouyate typically fills but with much better ball control and passing.
Noble, Mario, and Lanzini can also play it wide to Arnautovic and Antonio who can make a charging run into the box and cut the ball back. Arnie could also cross to Michail who could head on goal or down to Chicha in the box. Antonio can do the same for Arnie.
It’s really a very simple system but Bilic and Moyes continue to want to play the ball to a non existent hold-up front man.
David Moyes is a better manager than Slaven Bilic is. The discipline he has instilled has been much needed and the team is fitter than it’s been in years. However, he falls into the same trap that Moyes and Allardyce fell into. The idea that Andy Carroll will ever be fit and able to play consistently.
Managers want to have players that fit their system, that is understandable. However, managers also need to adapt their system to the squad they have, something Moyes has not done. If we stay up I wouldn’t mind Moyes staying on, but he needs to stop being so rigid with his tactics and realize that there are exceptional talents on this team, they’re just being misused.