Bilic Plays 19th Century Football… And I Am Worried

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Bilic Plays 19th Century Football… And I Am Worried

In the late 19th Century when West Ham United was but a twinkling in Arnold Hills’ eye, football was a very different game.  In essence, you picked up the ball, you dribbled towards goal until you either scored or got tackled.  Then the next player picked up the ball and dribbled towards goal until he scored or was tackled.  Midfielders and defenders came later.  At the start, if you had to name a formation in modern parlance it would 0-0-10.

One of the key factors in West Ham’s England’s World Cup win in 1966 was that they let loose upon the world, 4-4-2, Alf Ramsey’s ‘Wingless Wonders’.  Everybody else at the time was playing 4-2-4.  This trend towards more defensive rather than offensive players culminated in Spain’s recent dominance and their ‘False Number 9’.  Look at the Euros just completed France with two of the best attackers in the tournament could not break down a team that defended, well, as a team.

Jose Mourhino was wrong.  Allardici was not playing 19th Century Football.  He was playing the ultimate 21st Century  game.

I loved watching West Ham last season.  I can’t remember a single team in the history of the Premier League that had as many goal scoring threats as we did.    We could potentially have 8 outfield players with a genuine goal threat of one kind or another.  Starting from the back, Cresswell, Antonio, Noble, Kouyate, Lanzini, Payet and whichever of the two strikers that were picked.

But that causes problems.  To defend you have to do so as a team.  This modern game takes a hell of a lot of concentration and unfortunately, our attacking players by their nature as attacking players do not have it sufficiently.  On the flip side, it is all well and good encouraging our fullbacks to maraud, but they need to defend first.  Cresswell spent most of last season in the opposite half.  Tomkins, bless him got all confused every time he approached the half way line.  However, I haven’t checked the stats, but I bet we were much more solid at the back with him in defence rather than Antonio.

This isn’t to knock Antonio who was one of my favourite players of last season.  But he isn’t a defender, he lacks the positional sense and the nous, knowing when to tackle and when to stand up and shepherd  the attacker outside.

You may be wondering why I am bringing this up now.  For all their faults and lack of killer instincts, we were lucky last season that our strikers would put a shift in. They would close down defenders, they would help out at corners and harass the opposition midfielders even if it was clumsy and got themselves booked!

99% of the transfer rumours this season have been for this magical (some would say mythical) 20-goal-a-season striker.    20 goal strikers as a rule, don’t put a shift in and don’t get their hands dirty as it were.  Once we get this striker, my fear is that it will imbalance the team.  We are already carrying Payet and to a degree Lanzini defensively.  We didn’t put teams to the sword last season and towards the end it started to come back and bite us.

I’m worried that we don’t have a back up left back. We only have one recognisable right back and he is unproven at the top level.  We’ve had consistent centre-back injuries over the last few years and now we’re relying on two kids (yes with huge potential) to be back up in that key position.

Our expansive, free-flowing footy was a joy last season.  But if they didn’t understand about Payet and Lanzini, but you can bet they do now.

Will Bilic adapt successfully?  I’m worried that our transfer policy is going to leave us short on the defensive side.  Bilic has hugely impressed me on many levels.  Not least his recognition of the need to change tactics after our indifferent home start last season.

I’m not worried about his ability as a manager, I’m worried that he will not have the options to be able to change tactics half way through next season if we get found out.  That could seriously undermine all the good work that has been done to this point.  Defensive mistakes cost us too many home points.  Bournemouth, Leicester, Norwich, Watford and Swansea spring to mind.  Have we forgotten? Nobody else seems to be worried!

19th century football isn’t an option, and neither for West Ham and our newfound way is to be ultra-pragmatic.  Attacking wise next season we are going to be spoilt for choice.  But we can’t forget how important the defensive side is and that is what I am worried has happened this summer.

If you disagree, let me know @apuvyas or pop into Planet Leasing in Loughton and have a chat.

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  • hammer4life
    21st July 2016 at 11:49 pm

    You make some very good points and I agree with many of your observations but Slav is a top drawer manager with an exemplary track record. We all fancy ourselves (myself included) as PL managers and that we know better but really we don’t. If Slav popped his head in my office every week for an hour an a half and then started telling me he knew how to do my job better, I’d laugh in his face. What we do is the same thing. I have complete confidence that Slav knows what he’s doing and that if things go awry he will fix it. It’s his job. Let’s all let him get on with it and see what happens.

  • Andy Hebert
    22nd July 2016 at 5:26 am

    Interesting but didn’t we beat Watford at home?

  • Ian
    22nd July 2016 at 6:51 am

    Agree.

  • Chris
    22nd July 2016 at 10:34 am

    Good piece and we are certainly vunerable pushing on our full backs leaving space behind but probably more likley to score too. In terms of the strikers defending I wouldnt underestimate Carolls defending abilities particularly at corners etc and Sakho always puts in a shift. I get the concerns but last season i was worried we wouldnt score enough goals!
    The good thing with Slav hwoever is that it is never dull and we always look slightly more likely to score than concede. The West Ham way…

  • Eoin Lennon
    22nd July 2016 at 10:47 am

    I thought of this problem too, but there are too many must have players in our team at the minute we have:

    Noble: May not be the most talented but has the drive and compassion that is incomparable and when you combine it with his consistency and fitness. He is the unquestionable captain and must play.

    Payet: … Enough said must play.

    Lanzini: his attacking contribution was over shadowed by Payets great season but at such a young age I believe him to be a legend in the making and so I believe he deserves game time.

    Kouyate: One of our only defensive type mid (Proven) who can when need burst through defensives and knock one in and seen as he would get into quite a lot of bigger times than us I would not reduce his game time to even let it cross his mind.

    Antonio: I know what Bilic is doing here he wants Antonio on the pitch but also wants to allow for game time for other wingers such as Feghouli and Tore. But none the less a must start.

    There are obvious others such as Cresswell but I’ll focus on them five for now. My big problem here is the incoming Tore, Feghouli and Harvard. 2/3 of these look destined to be starting players so who gets sacrificed? What happens to Obiang who is another upcoming gifted player? And if we sacrifice Antonio to Full back are we strong enough defensively? How will Byram ever grow?

    My starting would be:

    Randolph
    (Contraversial but my opinion) ,

    Cresswell , Reid , Ogbonna, Antonio

    Noble Kouyate

    Payet Lanzini. Feghouli/Tore

    Calleri

    And I believe we who be better focusing on Calleri to make him a 20 goal striker than wasting time with Bacca who seems to be not bothered Calleri will have more of a drive

  • prof
    22nd July 2016 at 11:17 am

    I argued this way when our summer transfer policy became completely focused on a 20-a-season man. Had we scored the goals we did last season but conceded 10 fewer, where would we have finished?
    The recent additions to attacking midfield are great, especially bearing in mind the number of games we have to play this season, but we can’t afford to neglect the current lack of depth at full back.

  • West Ham Fan No 32
    22nd July 2016 at 1:33 pm

    I would disagree that 20 goal strikers don’t put a shift in, many of them especially that play through the middle close opposing defenders and goalkeepers down creating chances for themselves and others in the process. I do agree that we are carrying Lanzini and in terms of defending I think Antonio is great at helping a right back out but is not and for me never will be an effective right back, in my opinion if we play Kouyate as a dm then you need another that is willing to sit in because he is going to bomb forward and that leaves space in behind him that good teams have and will always exploit, Noble is not great defensively statistically he gets bypassed more often than most midfielders, due to the now known reason of why Song was dropped and never played for us again we became a much weaker team as a result. For me one of the best signings we could make is Joe Allen who plays in a similar fashion to Alex Song slightly weaker defensively but more mobile and a much better passer for me he is a perfect Bilic signing as he can play the Modric / Pirlo way but it doesn’t seem as though we are likely to sign him and if he does sign for Stoke I think they will be a real threat to us next season. Bilic has to sort out the defence the moment he moved Antonio to right back and Reid to right centre back we started shipping goals, there comes a point where as a manager you have to look at the facts wishing something to be right doesn’t make it so and the statistics are borne out by what we all could see i.e. holes through the middle and right side of defence. We already have a very promising right back in Byram and by allowing Collins and Byram to become mainstays in those positions alongside Ogbonna and Cresswell you become defensively stronger without investing anything in the transfer market. I hope when we play our first Europa league game Bilic sees sense and play square pegs in square holes instead of playing players out of position.

  • COYI69
    23rd July 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Agree 100% with the article despite being 4th highest scorers in the league we had the 2nd worse defence of the Top 10 teams. Our centre backs are OK nothing more and I feel we need to score at least two goals every game to win a match. Instead of looking for this striker (yes we need one or two) let’s look at least one Top CB. Henry from Walsall would be great cover at LB and an experienced RB. We could also swap Sakho for Berhanio and some cash and get Ben Yedder who would cost probably £15 million that we could recoup easily, we will have two youngish strikers together with Carroll and Calleri.