Written by : Corey Kemp
It was a crash down to earth for West Ham fans after the lofty heights of beating long-time London rivals Chelsea on Saturday.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men lost 2-0 away at Molineux in mid-week, showing a lack of creativity in movement in the final third. It was going to be a tough fixture. Wolves sit with five in defence and break quickly. For a counter-attacking side like West Ham’s, Wolves are their kryptonite.
The Chilean kept with mostly the same team that won against Chelsea. Angelo Ogbonna and Fabian Balbuena didn’t put a foot wrong. They were dogged but not rash in their defensive duties. Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell did well in the game but they couldn’t get forward enough to support Sebastian Haller. It was a shame given their attacking influence against Chelsea but we’ve come to expect this from West Ham.
Declan Rice was magnificent on Saturday. He covers an extraordinary amount of ground and gives his defenders a break. Against Chelsea, he soaked up the pressure from Pulisic and Co. and had the space to break into on the counter. Against Wolves, the midfield foil of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves sit deep, giving little opportunity to break. Consequently, he found himself spreading the ball wide but he didn’t have the full-backs to find this evening.
Mark Noble was also disappointing tonight. In these games, the midfield has to be resourceful with the ball. Wolves will absorb pressure and hit you when you give the ball away. When looking for an equaliser, he gave the ball away on multiple occasions and broke down the counter-attack. West Ham can’t afford to be as languid as they were on the attack and it isn’t just Noble that is at fault.
Felipe Anderson was slow in his attack. He does look more involved in the central role and it does allow him to keep the ball but he doesn’t press the issue enough. He actually looked better as a holding midfielder when Mark Noble came off and that should tell you what you need to know. He isn’t directly contributing enough in the way of goals or assists. He is valuable in the build-up but Pellegrini has to get him involved more.
The clear difference between Saturday’s and Wednesday’s performance is Michail Antonio. He is a workhouse in the centre-forward position. He can stretch defenders or he can hold the ball up. Sebastian Haller unfortunately did neither tonight. He has become a shadow of the player that scored a brace against Watford and the team has not focal point to work from.
In addition, there is blinding change from West Ham pre and post the Chelsea fixture – the goalkeeper. For the criticism we have of individuals, the introduction of David Martin for Roberto means the Hammers are at least competitive in football matches. Roberto was the catalyst for the poor form but the underlying problems were masked by his terrible performances.
On a positive note, the team have shown they can defend. In open play, they are organised and communicate really well, hence why Ryan Fredericks is able to cover his centre-backs if they lose the ball. By no means are the defence exceptional but there is a level of fight that wasn’t there with Roberto in goal.
Manuel Pellegrini has almost been fortunate that Roberto has been in goal over the past few games because his poor decision-making has been forgotten. The side is devoid of pace and the use of pace when on the counter. When they have the space to run into, there is a conservative approach to keeping the ball. West Ham don’t have the luxury of breaking teams down with passing because there isn’t the quality there.
Fans also don’t think the Chilean has been helped by the absence of balanced midfield. When you look at the top sides like Liverpool and Leicester, they have the balance of a holding midfielder, box-to-box and a number 10. Look at how Jordan Henderson works to win the ball, Wijnaldum drives through the midfield and Bobby Firmino collects it. West Ham don’t have this. They have two very good sitting midfielders but Robert Snodgrass can’t be creative and a workhouse. Pellegrini has to use his resources but also work on the balance of the midfield.
It is great to see a passion for the club again. At one stage, we weren’t sure the team would recover their heart to win games and win for the fans. But Hammers fans are back to square one with Manuel Pellegrini. He has to act and change the personnel in January. If he can’t, maybe it is time to bring someone in who can get the best from the players.