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What's up with the new guys?

Filed: Tuesday, 28th March 2017
By: Adam Smith

A promising set-piece master and a staunch centre back, two players West Ham desperately needed to plug holes in their team.

Robert Snodgrass and Jose Fonte were both prominent and leading players in their clubs, situated lower that West Ham in the table, and were plucked to help the Hammers straighten their course for the remainder of the season. But why has their transition been challenged when joining West Ham in the January transfer window?

It should be noted, this article has nothing to do with the future of Slaven Bilic as manager, or of the transfer window success but is just a directed look at performance of Jose Fonte and Robert Snodgrass after joining West Ham United.

Starting with Jose Fonte, the rumours of the Southampton defender and skipper joining West Ham divided the fan base. Many believed our third centre back was and should remain fan-favourite and Welsh international James Collins. A tough, physical defender who excels at defending set pieces, Collins, affectionately referred to as ‘Ginger Pele’ had endeared fans to him after his dedication and general attitude towards the club in his two lengthy spells with the team.

The critics who wished to look internally towards Collins also saw Fonte as a 33-year-old defender, the same as Collins. With football following suit with most every other sport, the pinnacle age for players is lowering drastically. This came as perhaps an unfair knock against Fonte, however it still is valid point in understanding why a club who had a functional central defender on the bench would bring in another at an increased age.

With a seemingly triumphant 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough, it emerged that Angelo Ogbonna had been playing through a knee injury and would now require season-ending surgery. The Fonte signing seemed to make sense now as he has taken up the centre back position with Winston Reid at his side. The transition for Fonte was anything but smooth in the squad as his play in West Ham’s back line has not been up to his own quality.

While Fonte’s resume is impressive, it has not translated to quick success at West Ham. Coming off a Euro Cup win with Portugal, Fonte appeared to be the veteran centre back that Reid could rely on and that the like of Reece Oxford could learn from. However, Fonte has been lacklustre and appears a step behind when defending for West Ham.

Flashes of brilliance are certainly there, however Fonte has not been able to string together much success in recent weeks, outside of intermittent classy tackles.

Fonte’s debut for West Ham was a home match against Manchester City in which the Hammers produced an uninspired performance and lost 4-0. Fonte was far from to blame for the match, however he did bring down Raheem Sterling, resulting in a Yaya Toure penalty. In a season now in shambles, Fonte was expected to be a calming influence in defence, a mission maybe determined to fail from the outset.

Robert Snodgrass is similar to Fonte, but perhaps more disappointing. Scoring seven goals in the Premier League for an abysmal Hull City side, Snodgrass was involved in most attacking play prior to the move to West Ham. The scoring touch has been elusive for Snodgrass at West Ham as he is yet to find the net and has been passed by the likes of Andre Ayew on the goals scored chart.

The gap Snodgrass was brought in to fill was very apparent. With Dimitri Payet gone, Snodgrass was to be the new set -piece taker and the playmaking midfielder to find Michail Antonio and Andy Carroll who would supply the goals. This has not been the case.

Manuel Lanzini has appeared to step into the Payet hole and done so magnificently in recent weeks, freezing Kasper Schmeichel in his place on a near perfect free kick in West Ham’s 3-2 loss to Leicester City. So where does that leave Snodgrass?

As mentioned, Ayew appears to have leapt above him in the battle to play on the right wing. This position would have been tailor-made for Snodgrass to whip
crosses in, and cut inside making space for his world class shot that he had shown off at Hull earlier this year. Lack of immediate success has seen him lose this spot.

Drawing in on injury in the Leicester game saw him return to his natural position, leaning on Sam Byram to make plays down the wing. Snodgrass surely should be the choice over Sofiane Feghouli in the upcoming weeks, however he may need to rely on injury to find a spot in the starting eleven.

So what is to blame for the recent performances of Fonte and Snodgrass? One reason could be the early defensive lapses that seem to ruin most games for the Hammers. Fonte has been under immense pressure from attacking opposition due to horrible team and individual defence. Snodgrass has played into this, as Fonte has, but this could be a result of poor training intensity, or unwillingness to address the glaring problems that have torn West Ham apart in recent matches denying the team the ability to start with pace.

On a related note, the revolving door at right back that has featured Cheikhou Kouyate more than it has natural right back Sam Byram could also be to blame for West Ham's current style of play. Kouyate is accustomed to playing higher up the pitch but he seems to miss assignments on the defensive end, forcing Fonte to cover both right and centre back.

Early goals have been a result of indecision in the West Ham defence, including a ridiculously high amount of penalties conceded by the mishmash of defenders. Falling behind early has forced the players to abandon the game plan in the infancy of matches, and ramp up the attacking intensity at the detriment of team defending in order to drag themselves back into games.

Without touching on the most recent social media witch-hunt surrounding West Ham, tactics seems to be something that need addressing for West Ham’s attack, in particular for Snodgrass. The middle of the attacking midfield where Snodgrass has success at Hull now belongs to Lanzini. But there has been no effort to accommodate Snodgrass’ play style regardless of Lanzini’s slotting in.

The management team had targeted Snodgrass as an effective, offensive force but are not fully utilising his presence on the pitch. West Ham have not had success this season yet there seems to be an unreasonable attachment to the formation and attack that Bilic & Co. have employed all year.

What could remedy the woes of both Fonte and Snodgrass could be the current World Cup Qualification break. Fonte gets to return to reigning Euro Cup champions Portugal and train with and against Ronaldo. Fonte recently kept a clean sheet against Hungary in a 3-0 win which saw him play the full match at centre back. By all accounts he defended well and even managed a shot in the match.

Snodgrass also represented Scotland this week. On a different level than Portugal, the Scots must embrace grit and determination to fuel their team to attainable success. These are traits that define Snodgrass, as I have examined in a previous article. Snodgrass gets to be ‘The Man’ at Scotland much like he was at Hull, and have the attack flow through him, rather than have him act as a role player at West Ham.

Scotland beat Slovenia 1-0, scoring in the 88th minute after Snodgrass had left the match, however the Scots statistically dominated the match. Snodgrass accumulated two shots, eight crosses, and seven corners in 75 minutes of play.

The next step for the new guys has to be stepping up and pushing excuses away to perform for their new club. Both Fonte and Snodgrass can benefit from the three injuries that West Ham suffered against Leicester and they need to embrace the opportunity. For their sake, the hope must be that the management team can adapt the stagnant tactics to maximise their skills and fulfill their potential.

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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