Fans' Opinion

Haller, Stranded on an Island

Author: . Published: at 7:44pm

Written by : Jonathan Lee

Sebastien Haller cannot be blamed if he was left wondering what on earth he has joined when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

Last season he was part of a front three for Eintracht Frankfurt who enjoyed unparalleled success, resulting in big money moves for all three. When we had won three out of six games, it was a half decent start to the season – but that has now slipped to three out of nine, and the performances in both the Palace and Everton matches have fallen well short of expectations. Many have compared Haller to a previous Hammers striker, Freddie Kanoute, and there is much to compare in terms of height, build, ability to hold up play and the knack of getting on the end of balls into the box.  The vital difference being though that Kanoute enjoyed the foil of one Paolo Di Canio alongside him.

At Everton, with the advantage of being there and not watching only what the TV shows, there was not a lot wrong with Haller’s efforts and attempts to hold up the ball, with one particularly decent burst into opposition territory in the second half. What must also be valued in his game is his ability to help out at defending corners; at least a couple of times at the weekend he was first to it, powering it away, but then with nobody outside of the box it immediately came back at us.

What Haller cannot do is be a superhero – he cannot hold up the ball, make the challenges, create his own chances or take on four defenders and a couple of holding midfielders on his own. On Saturday, from a stands viewpoint, he was our best player by a country mile. The tv may not have shown his work off the ball, but he was continually making runs into the channel – yet rarely receiving a completed pass, so much so that even after Ajeti came on he dropped deeper and deeper to try and get a touch of the ball and ultimately we never really got to play in a 4-4-2 formation.

As a target man, he looks a complete player in terms of touch and physique, plus we know he can convert chances (we’ll allow him some grace for that Palace strike straight at the keeper). But to be truly effective, Haller needs players both feeding him and getting round him, and at the moment that just isn’t happening with what can only be described as a toothless front guard action on Saturday from Lanzini Fornals and Anderson.

For Haller to be as effective as he was in Germany, he needs the midfield and full backs to be pushing up and supporting him when we are going forward (picture recent goals supplied by Arthur and Fredericks) and avoid playing too much ‘tippy tappy’ football which, against Everton, saw us play in triangles for a few seconds, and go no further forward before cheaply losing the ball.

If service is delivered to Haller, he will thrive. Even in a game in which we were as poor as we were at Goodison, you could see the man oozed class from the occasional passes he was able to receive.  But unfortunately when you play three attacking midfielders who have the touch (on their day) but not the battle, it’s very hard to do little but get very quickly isolated on a striker’s personal island paradise. Even when Ajeti came on, he too was trying to make the right runs but equally getting little to no service.

The goals Haller has scored this season have all resulted from us getting bodies forward and the big man making a nuisance of himself in the box. Early season talk of him getting 20 goals this season is sadly going to be wide of the mark based on the nine games we have seen so far, but if we can get him that service he will cause a lot of defenders a lot of headaches.

He must currently be scratching his head wondering why his agent pushed through this move as he has recently been doing what most of us in the stands do; watching as we fail to grab a game by the scruff of its neck. We are definitely missing the power of Antonio at the moment to complement the undoubted ball skills of our other midfield players, and Haller would benefit from the delivery he could provide down the wings.

One thing is for sure though, if we don’t start addressing the worrying form of the last two matches and getting  him into the game, then we might be in danger of not seeing Monsieur Haller for much longer come next summer.