‘West Ham crisis not over yet


Match of the Day 2 analysis

I was impressed by the way West Ham beat Everton on Sunday to pick up their first points of the season, but I would not say winning one game means any crisis is over for them.

Before the game, the Hammers were under massive pressure after losing their first four Premier League matches, and they were the only team in the top four divisions in England not to have a single point.

Another defeat would have made it their worst start to the season in the club’s 123-year history, and there was talk manager Manuel Pellegrini was facing the sack after spending £100m to revamp his squad over the summer.

Considering all of that, the result West Ham got at Goodison Park was huge, and the level of the performance they produced to get it will have given them massive encouragement.

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Everton 1-3 West Ham: Hammers win best birthday gift – Manuel Pellegrini

My only worry if I was in their dressing room would be to make sure that their players maintain it.

If I was West Ham captain Mark Noble, or another senior player, I would be looking around the room and saying: ‘You have shown me what you can do now, but that cannot be a one-off – you have to do that every single game.’

It is up to them to start delivering, because before Sunday they had been quite flaky this season.

Now they have shown the standard they can perform at over 90 minutes, they need to do that consistently.

‘Midfield unit key for hard-working Hammers’

West Ham starting line-up v Everton: Fabianski; Masuaku, Diop, Balbuena, Zabaleta; Obiang, Rice, Noble; Anderson, Arnautovic, Yarmolenko<!–

Pellegrini made six changes to the side that lost to Wolves in West Ham’s previous game, including a completely new-look midfield of Pedro Obiang, Declan Rice and Mark Noble

A solid base was the key for the Hammers against Everton, and it was their midfield that provided it.

Pellegrini has been struggling to find a system that suits his players and gives a balance to his team, making them defensively solid without compromising the attacking threat they have got.

Sunday was the first time he managed it, and his midfield three of Declan Rice, Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang played a crucial role.

There was no really attack-minded player in there – no number 10, or a floater. They were three grafters but what they did showed the difference between having three holding players, and three hard-workers.

Yes, Rice mainly sat in front of the back four but, although Noble and Obiang have both done that in the past, against Everton they worked tirelessly – hunting for the ball and getting into the opposition’s faces.

What made the difference is that, within that structure, the three of them stayed tight and were never too far away from each other.

‘Nobody in that West Ham team was hiding’

The last thing you want as a player in any position, but especially as a midfielder, is going to close someone down on your own and being beaten, then finding the rest of your team is miles away from you.

That was not a problem for West Ham, though. If Noble chased the ball and won a tackle then brilliant, but if someone skipped past him then Rice or Obiang were behind him.

Maybe they did not win that tackle either, and it took a third challenge, but the important thing was they were all within striking distance of each other.

Declan Rice challenges Gylfi Sigurdsson<!–

Declan Rice, shown here challenging Gylfi Sigurdsson, made more successful tackles (five) than any other West Ham player against Everton, and gained possession more times (11) than any other player on the pitch

By working together as a unit they effectively covered each other’s back – for example when they were defending deep and the two centre-halves got dragged wide, Rice dropped back to cover that space.

The team would have been in trouble if no-one had filled the gap he left behind, and I doubt an attack-minded player would have offered the same protection, but Noble and Obiang were both also capable of doing that job.

At the same time, when West Ham won possession back, all three were available for passes too.

They were all offering each other angles, and making forward runs, which is not something you always see in a struggling side.

Sometimes, when players are getting criticism, they do not really want the ball – but nobody in that West Ham team was hiding.

‘Anderson had his best game in a West Ham shirt’

West Ham’s midfield made their front three of Felipe Anderson, Marko Arnautovic and Andriy Yarmolenko look good – very good in fact. Any of them could have got the man of the match award.

It was Arnautovic who got it, probably as much for his assist for his side’s first goal as for the one he scored.

The opener came after 11 minutes, and Arnautovic’s part in it was exceptional, firstly to suck in Mason Holgate and steal a yard from him and then, when it looked like he would need an incredible finish, to set up Yarmolenko instead.

On the left, Anderson had his best game in a West Ham shirt. He played well in the first half against Arsenal in August, but this time he shone for the whole game.

Whether he was running with the ball or sucking players in and passing around them, Anderson was terrific and he battled back too.

He was not the only one. There was a moment where Arnautovic sprinted 60 yards to stop a counter-attack, which is not something we have seen much of from any West Ham player this season. They need to do more of the same if they are going to keep climbing the table.

Snapshot of bottom of Premier League table - 15th Fulham, 16th West Ham, 17th Cardiff, 18th Huddersfield, 19th Newcastle and 20th Burnley<!–

West Ham were bottom before kick-off at Goodison Park, but are now 16th

‘It was inevitable that Yarmolenko would cause Everton problems’

Speaking as a former Everton player, I think it was inevitable Yarmolenko was going to cause us a few problems on his first Premier League start given we tried to sign him twice.

I found out exactly how good he is when I played against him in the Europa League in 2015, when he scored one goal and made a couple more for Dynamo Kiev as we went down to a 5-2 defeat in Ukraine.

But everyone knows what a quality player he is now, which – from an Everton point of view – is probably the most disappointing thing about his first goal on Sunday.

If you have followed football at all in the past few years you will know that Yarmolenko is massively left-footed, so why did two Everton defenders allow him to cut in on to that side, rather than showing him away from goal and on to his right?

Andriy Yarmolenko scores West Ham's second goal<!–

Everton tried to sign Yarmolenko in 2015 and 2016 but he scored twice against them on his first Premier League start

That is not taking anything away from either of his finishes, though.

When I first came up against him, I was surprised by his trickery and guile on the ball for a guy of his size – usually someone of his stature is a centre-forward.

But he had a real winger’s ability, only at the size of a striker. That is what sets him apart, and it certainly makes him more noticeable when you face him on the field.

It has taken him a few weeks to get into the starting line-up, possibly while he adjusted to the Premier League and what his new manager wanted from him, but when he got his chance he took it.

You saw the whole team grow in confidence from the moment he put West Ham in front and it is important they build on that feeling, especially when you consider who they are playing next.

With Chelsea and Manchester United up next, if they had lost at Everton, West Ham were potentially looking at going seven games without a point, like Crystal Palace at the start of last season.

Instead they will come away from this weekend with a bit of belief and, if they play the way they can, I can see them causing the big teams a few problems.

Leon Osman was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/45543033

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