Hammer Fan Blog: Duo the main players in West Ham revival
“It is impossible to overstate the impact that Thomas Hitzlsperger and Demba Ba have made on Avram Grant’s side.”
What a difference a couple of weeks, and more pointedly a couple of players, makes. Following excellent team performances against Liverpool and Stoke that have seen the Hammers move out of the bottom three it may seem unjust to single out individual players; but it is impossible to overstate the impact that Thomas Hitzlsperger and Demba Ba have made on Avram Grant’s side.
In short, Hitzlsperger is a wonderful footballer. Rarely wasting a pass, he is strong in the tackle and has an eye for goal. But if these are the more obvious qualities on view, it has been the air of composure and calm authority that he has brought to the side that has made the biggest difference, going about his business as he does with the sort of ruthless efficiency one always associates with his native Germany. So often outnumbered in the midfield this season,
Hitzlsperger’s introduction to the team has coincided with the Hammers dominating games in this area and making huge improvements at both ends of the pitch; for whilst the fact that Hammers have scored three goals in the last three league games has been headline-making, the dramatic improvement defensively - thanks in no small part to the increased insurance and assurance in front of the back four - has been pivotal to Hammers’ increased chances of survival.
A couple of years, a Savio Nsereko and any number of failed options later; in Demba Ba, West Ham seem to have finally discovered a striker capable of filling the gaping void that has existed since the days of Dean Ashton and Craig Bellamy. Carlton Cole has battled on manfully during this time and has improved his own game no end, but Ba has brought with him a whole set of different problems for opposition defences to contend with.
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Whilst Cole continues to occupy defenders with his sheer presence and strength; Ba can run in behind, drop deep to receive the ball, and also use the same attributes as Cole to hold the ball up and bring others into the game.
He almost always hits the target, and whilst his goal against Stoke at the weekend may have looked scrappy; it was a tribute to his workrate, tenacity and power; and it’s hard to venture that any of the other striking options at the club would have found themselves in that position to score.
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In amongst all the plaudits for the players’ performances, it would be easy to overlook the contribution of Avram Grant. The Israeli has his many critics, and his failure to find a winning formula in the absence of key players means that those critics will feel that their scepticism towards him is justified.
That as the case may be, now that Grant has ‘his’ team on the pitch, the improvement is tangible. It’s fairly clear that Grant requires intelligent, mobile footballers to carry out his instructions. The way in which the midfield has effortlessly switched from three to four to five and back again when the situation has demanded it, for example, has been a joy to behold - and with the left-footed Hitzlsperger providing the necessary balance it is only possible when players know their roles inside out, and the roles of their teammates as well.
It’s fair to say that in-game intelligence and mobility have been lacking to this point of the season. Credit too, for the selection of James Tomkins at right back and the re-introduction of Manuel Da Costa to counter Stoke’s aerial threat; all of a sudden Grant’s tactical decisions are paying off, and he no doubt feels that his grand design is taking shape nicely.
Hammers fans have been through enough to know that two swallows - or in this case back to back League wins for the first time this season - do not make a summer, but there is now a very real chance of survival. It’s well documented that the upcoming league fixtures are tough, but Hammers will go into those games brimming with confidence.
Perhaps more so than ever; in this league this year, no one looks unbeatable.