Hammer Fan Blog: West Ham boss Grant’s tactics continue to confuse
“Has anyone at the club actually bothered to watch opposition teams and how they set up?”
A fifth defeat on the spin, a return of one point from a possible 18, and West Ham United find themselves teetering ominously on the edge of the Premier League abyss.
If Avram Grant’s early tenure at the club was questionable (at best), he’s chosen an horrendous stage of the season to go into complete meltdown with a dumbfounding selection policy that has, at the most critical stage, resulted in him more often than not selecting a team and formation that has opened up the game for the opposition rather than his own side.
Once again following Sunday’s defeat at Eastlands, the question bears repeating, has anyone at the club actually bothered to watch opposition teams and how they set up?
If they have, and ventured that 4-4-2 was a good idea against Manchester City then they have no place at a Premier League football club.
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At present rate of progress West Ham will not be a Premier League football club for very long, and it seems certain that Avram Grant will not be a Premier League manager for very long, regardless of the outcome of the next three games.
Handing a two goal start to a top four side sounds crazy in the position Hammers find themselves, but that’s exactly what Grant did by choosing a formation that allowed Manchester City’s most influential player - David Silva - the freedom to play where he wished, operating as he did in the vast spaces between Hammers’ two banks of four.
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Combined with a makeshift left back in Danny Gabbidon, a hopelessly outnumbered midfield and a lack of willingness to close down players for the first goal; after 20 minutes the east London side found themselves two goals down.
To this point, the midfield had barely had a touch of the ball. Outnumbered, outclassed and outworked, a cricket score seemed likely.
From nowhere, Grant awoke from his slumber and - in spite of the fact it took Sky’s ‘experts’ 35 minutes playing time to notice - switched Luis Boa Morte into the centre, moving Demba Ba to the left to bolster the midfield area; thus creating the formation, if not the personnel, that should have started the game.
Lo and behold, Hammers enjoyed a prolonged period of possession, were competitive in the middle of the pitch and ultimately grabbed a goal before half time.
If Robbie Keane was anywhere near as good as he thinks he is, the scores may even have been level at the break.
Whatever positives can be taken from the resilience of the performance and the fact that Hammers could perhaps have stolen a point are surely offset that it was the manager’s selections that, not for the first time, were the deciding factor in the contest.
However winnable the next three games look on paper, selection blunders of such a basic nature are likely to lead to defeats or draws in those as well.
Perhaps the most interesting lesson from Sunday’s game, and it’s one that should have been learned some time ago, was in Hammers’ use of the long ball. With only the diminutive Keane up front for a long spell after Grant finally got his formation right, West Ham were forced to play the ball on the floor. They did so, and they dominated for much of the time against an expensively assembled and well-drilled outfit. With 20 minutes remaining, Grant threw on Carlton Cole.
Immediately on Cole’s arrival, Hammers defence were hitting long, hopeful balls up the field that were almost invariably returned with interest.
West Ham were lucky not to concede a third. It’s very easy to be critical of Cole when he doesn’t hold the ball up (especially since he demanded that the team play this way earlier in the season) but one wonders what goes through the minds of players who have seen their side dominate the game by playing one way, only to return instantly to a way of playing that has seen them win 15 of their last 73 Premier League fixtures simply through the introduction of one man.
For all Grant’s faults, the players must take their share of responsibility for this, and other, monumentally stupid errors.
As a side note, none of that is to reflect positively on the performance of Keane - he was dire - it simply serves to highlight that the necessity of keeping the ball on the floor made this West Ham side look a much better outfit. How many supporters hold out hope that these lessons have been learned? Not many, I suspect.
As hope dwindles, we move into the territory of three ‘cup finals’. Grant’s record in cup competitions is much better so there’s a straw to cling to for Hammers supporters, but let’s say nothing of his record in the latter stages of those cup competitions.