Sunday, 29 November 2009
West Ham Have Gone Goal Crazy - At Both Ends! Why? Zola explains!
One of the greatest admirers of this blog threw down a challenge yesterday when he posted, "Hammersfan also said at the start of the season that he fears we wont score enough goals, funny how you don't see him refer back to that great prediction dont you." (sic). If we can ignore the terrible tense confusions and failure to employ apostrophes for contractions, and focus on the point made, I must admit that it did set me thinking. I admit that I feared for our Premiership survival based more on our inability to score than on our defensive frailties, so how can I explain the avalanche of goals which accompanies virtually every West Ham game these days?
Well fortunately, the task does not fall solely to me because, being a fan of this blog and seeing the question, Gianfranco decided to step in and supply the answer for me, well went half way towards doing so anyway. According to Zola, it is not the fault of our defence that we are shipping so many goals, but of our midfield. On the eve of the Burnley game, Zola was quoted as saying: "We have to look at the midfielders who are not covering the defence very well. We know the problem and have been working the whole week to sort it out." Please note, that was BEFORE the Burnley game so presumably the training sessions did not prove terribly effective. It would also explain why Kovac was selected ahead of Noble or Jimenez in midfield!
So explaining why we are conceding so many goals is easy. First off, we do not have a quality right back because we failed to buy one. Secondly, we don't have an alternative left back and Ilunga has been injured and is playing poorly. Thirdly, we broke up a very successful centre back pairing when we sold Collins and were slow to see that Tomkins is not yet ready for the Premiership. Fourthly, our keeper hasn't been playing terribly well and is all over the shop at corners and other set pieces. But finally, and crucially, our midfield are no longer offering a defensive screen. Look at the two Fletcher goals yesterday, look how easy it was for Eagles to get in those crosses. Where was the protection for Spector? Collison just was not doing that part of his job. And for the Eagles goal, who tracked back with Mears? It should have been Stanislas presumably but the kid was nowhere to be seen because that's not his game is it?
So, the first part is explained and the explanation of the first goes some considerable way towards explaining the second, how it is that we are now scoring so many goals. This requires a bit of understanding of the mechanics of the game which is why it was beyond the wit and gumption of the anonymous poster who triggered this article.
To begin, before the season kicked off, I posted that we would be in terrible trouble IF we did not sign somebody to play up front with Cole and if Cole himself were to get injured. Well, so far, I have been proved spot on there. When Cole didn't play against Everton, we lost, scoring only once at home, whilst our "goal rush" has followed the arrival of Franco in the team. Before Franco started, we scored 9 in 9 Premiership games, exactly the return I was predicting before the season kicked off when I said that opponents knew they only had to score once to stop us winning. Since Franco has been starting, we have scored 15 in 6, or 10 in 5 if we take out the Burnley game, the return of two goals a game I said we needed to be aiming for.
Unless you have free scoring midfield players like Fabregas or Gerrard, you are heavily reliant on your forwards for goals, so if you play two up front, you double your chances of scoring, as Burnley showed when they brought on a second striker against us yesterday. That isn't rocket engineering is it? And it is exactly what I was saying until we started selecting Franco. My other complaint, that the signing of a striker or two should have been made before the season kicked off, rather than just before the window slammed closed, has been fully vindicated. The points we lost before Franco came into the team can never be retrieved and may yet lead to our relegation. Again not rocket engineering but beyond the power of understanding of many of my critics who kept saying the window hadn't yet closed and so "In Zola and Nani we trust".
Now we go back to that midfield. My critic might also like to check out exactly what I was saying before the season kicked off. My point was that our midfield last season was essentially defensively minded. With a quartet of Behrami, Parker, Noble and Collison, we lacked penetration and creativity in midfield. Parker and Noble for some reason do not compliment each other, Parker only scores a couple of goals each season and Behrami's goal return is, if anything, worse. That left Collison and Di Michele to score, and Di Michele had left to be replaced by Jimenez who was (and remains) unproven in the Premiership. Now that midfield offered a superb screen for the defence. Di Michele (and Bellamy when he played) did drop deep and fill up midfield, Noble and Parker themselves sat deep, and Behrami often looked like an auxiliary right back, protecting the slowing Lucas Neill.
But because of the defensive nature of our midfield, very little goal scoring threat was posed. So, if we needed to draw away from home, we could set up two banks of four, get Di Michele or Bellamy to help out defensively, and say to the opposition, score if you can. With no way down our flanks because of the cover for the fullbacks, or through our middle due to the sheer weight of numbers, opponents were reduced to pumping crosses into our box from deep which our centre backs gobbled up. Remember the Sunderland game last season when Collins must have headed out more crosses than a Brazilian centre back deals with in a whole career? But then when it came to stopping us scoring, how easy was it for opposing managers? There were not enough goals in the team because of the personnel involved - simples.
Well that personnel has now changed. Instead of Di Michele, we have Franco; Diamanti has offered an exciting new dimension when used; Stanislas is a goal scoring midfielder; and the offensively minded Collison, in the last two high scoring games, has effectively replaced Behrami, who was in Noble's role against Hull and absent against Burnley. And importantly, Parker has been released from the shackles of the defensive anchor role and is ranging forward. He has looked brilliant as a result, but when he surges forward and we lose possession, our defence is as exposed as a flasher on Clapham Common!
So why are we scoring more? Because we have more goals in the team! Why are we conceding more? Because we have less defensively minded players in the team. Not rocket engineering really is it? Why didn't I call it before the season kicked off? I did. Look at our goal return before Franco came into the team and the goal return since. Look at our goal return before Stanislas started and our goal return since he has. The problem is, the team is still imbalanced, but now in the opposite way. There is no point in stopping the opposition from scoring more than one if you struggle to score one yourselves; and there is no point in scoring two every game if the opposition are scoring two or three! It is the inability of Zola and Clarke to find a happy balance that is the problem! Zola's face at the end of the game yesterday said it all; it was the face of an angry man even though we had won, scoring five goals. He knows that if we play like that against Man Utd, we will be annihilated!
The big questions should now be:
1) Why didn't we move quicker to sign a couple of strikers? The points we lost as a result have consigned us to a relegation struggle rather than pushing for a top 8 finish.
2) Why didn't we sign a right back and somebody ready to cover Ilunga in the event of injury or loss of form?
3) What do we now do to sort out our defence? The last two games have been thrilling but 6 goals were conceded against two teams who will finish in the bottom 6. That is frightening!
4) What happens if Cole and Franco are injured? The last 30 minutes yesterday with Jimenez and Hines up front were terrifying. God help us if we are ever reduced to starting with these two. And please don't say Nouble. He is a raw kid who isn't even prolific in the reserves.
Posted by Hammersfan at 10:23