Filed: Monday, 20th March 2017
By: Adam Smith
Another loss, another defensive disaster, and another three goals scored. And sure, there is no time to be fickle for West Ham United and their supporters when it comes to the elephant in the room, but is there justification for wanting Slaven Bilic out?
The case against Bilic is loudly shouted on social media. Belief that he is a tactical dinosaur and refuses to play players at their positions, effectively trying to ram square pegs in round holes, seem to be the loudest and post commonly agreed too opinions. And while they aren’t eloquently worded the social media pundits do have plenty of proof to point to.
The game just passed against Leicester can be looked at as a microcosm of the Bilic case. It can also be broken down into three cliché categories that surely oversimplify the depth of the game and of the Bilic situation at large: The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Lets begins with the good, and despite the outcome there was some (if you look really hard, and cover one eye).
A late knock on Noble and weeks of complaining from the fans paid off and the starting eleven looked like how many supports believed it should. Most notably, Kouyate returned to his place in central midfield along side Obiang, and Sam Byram, an actual right back, started at right back. Revelation! There surely has not ever been as much anxiety leading up to the reveal of the starting line up, however Slav appeared to get this right this time.
Andre Ayew again impressed in attack for the team. He managed to score the second goal and did his best to drag the Hammers back into the match with sneaky runs into the box as often as he could. Most notably on a run in on a ball from Antonio where he skyed an unchallenged attempt. He needed to bury that goal, however his nose for the net cannot be overlooked. He surely has cemented his position in the starting eleven, if not, another nail in the Bilic coffin will have been struck.
A weekly positive story for West Ham is the play of Manuel Lanzini. The Argentinian jewel has been nothing short of a revelation for the Hammers and he is filling the gap left behind by Payet. His goal on a free kick just outside the box froze Casper Schmeichel as it was slotted perfectly in the top corner, over the wall of defenders.
Lanzini gave his team and stadium a pulse in this game and is developing into a guaranteed goal scorer for the Claret and Blue. Pure class on the goal, and always quick and poised on his feet, Lanzini needs to be the focal point of the team in the off season. Bilic played him correctly this week and if he still is in control of the team in the summer window Bilic needs to bring in players to maximise his creativity and his goal scoring ability.
Honorable mentions: Antonio was as dangerous as ever playing in an attacking position. He appears to trust the likes of Ayew, Carroll and Lanzini as his attacking mates, which takes pressure off him to solely be ‘The Man’. He does need to be more poised on the ball out of the attacking area, and not let laziness lead to dispossession. Also, Kouyate looked great in the game, especially having to fill in at centre back for Winston Reid. Centre back is much more natural for Kouyate to fill in at, as it allows him to use his
height to defend, and keeps him reigned in from running up the pitch and leaving his defensive responsibilities behind. Sam Byram also got the time he needed at right back. He is still developing as a wing back but has had flashes of brilliance and there was no lack of love, or teamwork between him and Snodgrass on the right side of the pitch. He should be starting every week at right back for the rest of the season.
Onto the Bad:
I’ll reserve this slot for injuries, of which there were three. Two of the injuries sustained removed key role-players from our game. Winston Reid and Pedro Obiang both left with serious looking injuries from the match, while Michail Antonio seems to have felt something during the game in his hamstring, although he managed to play the full match. The thought is that Antonio will now withdraw from the England squad to nurse this injury back to health.
Reid was seen leaving the London Stadium on crutches after what has been called a “conductor problem” by Bilic. The signing of Jose Fonte seems fitting now, despite his efforts of late, as it minimised the blow to the Hammers who would have been down to just Jamie Collins, who did not see the pitch, at central defender.
The Injury to Obiang could be most damning for the squad. On a tackle he missed, Obiang pulled his leg back and under him, rolling his ankle under his weight. He was in noticeable pain on the pitch and the stretcher was brought out to take him off the field.
A stalwart defender, near perfect tackler, and passing visionary, Obiang has been the Hammer of the year for most and his injury could be felt the most for West Ham if he is slated to miss any serious time. With a full two weeks off some of the injury damage sustained can be mitigated.
And now the ugly:
This section is to be reserved to two main points, Darren Randolph and set piece defending.
Firstly, Randolph needs to be addressed in this game. The goal by Mahrez is simply unacceptable and it should be pinned on Randolph entirely. Aaron Cresswell was manning the Algerian international on the goal, and limited him to a shot that needs to, and should be stopped every time. Whether Randolph believed the ball was going to be touched on net, or was caught sleeping, it is entirely unacceptable.
Goalkeeping in any sport, and in any league has a universal rule: don’t get caught cheating, and that is exactly what appears to have happened here.
Seeking and preparing for the heroic save, Randolph awaited the ball he assumed would be flicked on net by the Leicester player, but was cleanly beat when it went untouched. If he believed it would be touched he should have left his line and caught or punched away the danger, instead he waited and was beat at a crucial minute, deflating his team.
The second goal can be slated on Fonte and the rest of the team as they sat on their hands and watched Leicester change the angle on a free kick, leaving Albrighton open to pick out Huth who was unmarked. And the third falls on horrible set piece defending, leaving Randolph out to dry.
Set pieces are an interesting thing when it comes to West Ham. Lanzini’s classy strike was another effort to bolster the opinion that no one scores off set pieces like the Hammers, but there are certainly two sides to this story.
West Ham constantly pull as many players forward to attack as possible from corner kicks or close free kicks. This is seemingly to add numbers to score, however when the delivery is poor, as many of Snodgrass’ corners were, the defenders are in full sprint to get back in cover.
It is not a new story as Chelsea had preyed upon this faulty tactic in their win over the Hammers. And the counter-attacking Foxes certainly did the same. Too many times were long balls booted downfield off failed set pieces to the likes of Vardy and company, who either worked a scoring chance out of the effort or managed to create a corner kick.
The defending of set pieces against West Ham also brings up issues. Randolph certainly needs to make his decisions early and stick to them. On multiple occasions Randolph has been in no-man's-land stuck between making a play in the air and staying at home. As well, Randolph has had to face far too many shots that comes from breakdowns and unmarked men.
Diego Costa’s goal against Chelsea saw him slip passed Reid simply because he was ball watching. Defensive responsibility needs to be upped along with urgency on balls dropping within the box, both noticeably absent when four men were marking no one on Vardy’s goal off of a corner, a goal reminiscent of Costa’s.
Also, the luxury of players with the height of Andy Carroll are intangibles when it comes to defending, however there needs to be a tactical decision made when Carroll must stay near the net to flick balls away or over the net. Examining the Huth goal against, Carroll is invaluable if the ball is in the air as there are few who can beat him to it.
But a simple roll instead of shot and centring to the top of the box allowed Albrighton to pull Carroll who felt the defensive responsibility as striker to cover the top man as well. With Carroll pulled the ball went through the air and ended up in the back of the net. Whether someone did not mark him, or there was no plan in place, Carroll cannot be in two places at once and there needs to be someone marking the man up top.
With the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly explained from the 3-2 loss, can anything be drawn about Bilic and his future at West Ham?
Well if I were making the decisions for the club the only way he would be gone within this season would be if West Ham were dropping to the relegation discussion. I understand they are not by any means above that now, but I mean real, serious, danger. The rest of this season would simply be a try out for Bilic.
Stipulations and benchmarks would have to be created and reached within this period, essentially expectations for him as the leader of the team. That would fall on the board to have open communication with him in order to establish such a chartered future. But the stipulations of him staying would be: new training regiment, tactical revision, and playing the players to maximise their skill sets.
The likes of Enner Valencia and now Reece Oxford have commented on West Ham training under Slaven Bilic and its lackadaisical nature. While training intensity and style will change from manager to manager, West Ham’s training was not described as different, it was described as lacking intensity.
As mentioned above, the set pieces need work and I needn’t slam my head on my keyboard to point out to obvious again. However, playing players in their natural positions is something that needs to be stated. Swiss-Army-Knifing players like Antonio and Kouyate with viable bench options able to fill the void naturally does not make sense, even when the best players on paper are on the pitch.
That being said, it is fine to lean on players’ flexibility in times of need, but relying on it cannot be explained away week after week. As well, Bilic had previously limited Lanzini in a wing role, when he needs to have the middle of the pitch to create and utilise his shot to its maximum potential, as he was afforded against Leicester.
Bilic by no means is OUT of West Ham, but if he is it is no one fault but his own. He needs to remember that managers are significant because each one brings a different, new approach than the one next to them. Bilic needs to realise his identity and start stamping it on the team before he has run out of opportunities.
Payet, a new stadium, injuries, and great second halves are all story lines supports are tired of hearing because they are excuses leaned on all too much. West Ham wants a manager who will stand up for its players not because he is paid to, but because his reputation and job rest on their ability to be well trained, and execute his game plan. The try out begins now, do not waste it.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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