Three defeats in four league games. Exit from the Europa League before even reaching the group stage. Home defeat to a predicted struggler having been 2-0 up. Home supporters fighting between themselves, with the club threatening all involved with life bans. Someone wake Slaven Bilic up when September ends.
Watford manager Walter Mazzarri may have predicted “great things” for his Watford side after their 4-2 victory at the London Stadium (that name will always make me smile), but the Italian must concede that he won’t be fortunate enough to face West Ham’s kamikaze brand of defending every week.
His opposite number could not hide his frustration at what he had just witnessed. “We are disappointed and angry,” Bilic said. “The second one, there were two individual mistakes, two very cheap goals from our point of view. We still had 45 minutes, but then in the second half we did not play like we did in the first half. In the second half we just continued to defend badly. We gave them too much space in too many dangerous areas and it looked too easy for them from where I was standing. And of course the confidence of some players then dropped enormously.”
When a manager says he didn’t see fans fighting because they were so many filing out the stadium before the final whistle, it paints a sorry picture of West Ham’s current mood. Supporters are far from enamored with certain aspects of their shiny new (and free) home, while the club’s transfer activity can be generously labelled as ‘eclectic’ – 11 players of different nationalities sourced from nine different leagues. From the euphoria of last season’s unexpected success, reality is biting. Fans and signings will both take time to settle, but that’s a precious commodity in the Premier League.
If anything, Bilic’s assessment underplayed just how badly his team defended. Sam Byram offered an inadvertent defence of his manager picking Michail Antonio as a right-back, while the mix-up between James Collins and Adrian for Troy Deeney’s equaliser is being cropped and formatted ready for Danny Baker’s next VHS. Adrian will feel he should have saved both Etienne Capoue’s third and Jose Holebas’ fourth, but more generally West Ham’s defenders were far too guilty of standing off their opponents and inviting danger.
While Bilic was quick to blame the individuals in question, the performance does raise pertinent questions about West Ham’s summer transfer activity. Only three Premier League teams scored more goals than the Hammers last season, yet they had the worst defence in the top eight; Watford and West Brom conceded fewer goals. Given these issues, and given that Enner Valencia was the only first-team forward who departed, why were eight of West Ham’s summer signings attacking players? And why, when James Tomkins was allowed to leave for Crystal Palace, did the club only sign a left-back and right-back?
It’s worth pointing out that Bilic has been subject to a good deal of misfortune in the early weeks of this season, with enforced absences to Andy Carroll, Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini, Aaron Cresswell, Andre Ayew and Diafra Sakho. The manager can reasonably claim that any non-elite Premier League squad would struggle given those injuries.
Now is not the time for all-out panic. Dimitri Payet’s two assists offered glimpses of what could still be, and West Ham will surely soon begin to settle in their new surroundings. Yet, for now, nothing quite feels like home, and West Ham’s defending is an unwelcome housewarming gift. When you’re new to the area, the last thing you want to do is leave the doors wide open at night.