West Ham are Consistently Inconsistent

Last night’s 3-1 win over Cardiff was the first time the Hammers had bagged back-to-back victories in the Premier League since January 2017 – 682 days ago. 

That statistic alone probably tells you everything you need to know about the team since the move to Stratford from Upton Park in the summer of 2016.

But for the first time in a while the latest incarnation of inconsistency doesn’t appear fraught with chaos or dreariness.

For once – through the mish-mash of results – there appears to be an end game and a goal.

That is largely down to one man. Alasdair Hooper explores West Ham’s inconsistency in the Premier League and the importance Manuel Pellegrini is playing.

Believe in Manuel Pellegrini 

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During last season’s struggles, tensions were high amongst the fanbase – the day of protests at the London Stadium in a 3-0 defeat to Burnley is a particular flashpoint.

What West Ham needed more than anything was a calm head and this summer they managed to recruit one of the classiest operators around in Manuel Pellegrini.

The Chilean is obviously highly thought of in the Premier League, not just for his title victory at Manchester City, but for the gentlemanly nature he goes about his business.

Enticing him back to the Premier League as West Ham manager from China was an absolute masterstroke.

His offensive philosophy will – and has – undergone some teething problems but when everything comes together as it has in the last two games against Cardiff and Newcastle the fans are left happy.

All they ask is to be entertained and for maximum effort, but when things don’t go to plan there is something about Pellegrini’s demeanour and conduct in a post-match interview that makes you feel ok again.

Recruiting the talent 

The most recent summer transfer window was a huge success compared to the previous efforts to entice talent to Stratford.

We’ll never know the answer, but you have to ask how many of the players who arrived at West Ham would have come had David Moyes remained as manager.

Don’t underestimate Pellegrini’s attraction as a man to play for.

This time around, the weaknesses in the team were identified and – bar one area of the pitch – addressed.

The arrivals of Issa Diop, Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko – before his injury – are standouts but let’s not forget the arrivals who didn’t come with huge price tags.

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Fabian Balbuena was a £3.5million arrival from Corinthians and Lucas Perez is a more than capable understudy up front for just £4million.

But arguably the pick of the bunch is Lukasz Fabianski, a £7million arrival from Swansea who has made the goalkeeping position his own after two years of flip-flopping between Adrian, Joe Hart and Darren Randolph.

To put the success of the recruitment into perspective we have spent the majority of this season playing without the likes of Winston Reid, Manuel Lanzini or Andy Carroll available for selection.

Twelve months ago that would have been a major issue – not now.

Reducing the burden on Marko Arnautovic 

The Austrian winger-turned-striker singlehandedly saved West Ham last year – if anything you have to give David Moyes immense credit for how he transformed the player’s form.

While much of the play still goes through the forward there are now other options to reduce the burden on him.

A recent switch in formation has seen Javier Hernandez play alongside him, while much of the creative play goes through to Felipe Anderson.

But now that Arnautovic is out for most of the Christmas period with a hamstring injury it really is time for others to stand up and be counted.

That includes Lucas Perez, following his two-goal haul against Cardiff, and Michail Antonio who says he feels like he is back to his best following his injury-plagued last two years.

The ‘Robert Snodgrass’ effect

While much of the talk about West Ham surrounds their recruitment in the summer let’s not forget the work Pellegrini has put in with the players already at the club.

I’m calling it the ‘Robert Snodgrass’ effect purely because the Scotsman exemplifies how much of a turnaround has been made by some this season.

Last year he was cast out on loan to Championship side Aston Villa and club Vice-chairman Karren Brady used her column in The Sun to criticise the signing of Snodgrass from Hull.

While the atmosphere between Snodgrass and the board at the club’s Christmas party is unlikely to be congenial, his efforts on the pitch highlight an incredible turnaround by the player.

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Whatever Pellegrini has done the midfielder is now one of the key men in this side, earning himself regular starts and contributing with his delivery and passing.

But it’s not just Snodgrass where we are seeing noticeable improvements.

Declan Rice’s transformation into an Eric Dier-esque holding midfielder is going unfathomably well (he’s still just 19 remember) and let’s not forget the emergence from the youth system of 20-year-old attacking midfielder Grady Diangana.

All this sends a positive message to the rest of the squad – work hard and you’ll be given a chance.

How to solve the midfield problem 

As I mentioned earlier not every area of the pitch was addressed in the transfer window as central midfield still remains the largest question mark from a footballing perspective.

While Mark Noble is still much-loved and capable of turning in the odd stellar performance his consistency is dropping.

Jack Wilshere has spent most of the season injured (perhaps predictably) while selling Cheikhou Kouyate to Crystal Palace in favour of signing Carlos Sanchez – who is now suffering from a long-term injury – wasn’t the best piece of business.

That has left the team incredibly short in that area but it’s also an area that lacks energy and buzz – something that’s essential in the modern day.

While addressing the consistency is obviously an overriding aim for the club, so is creating a dynamic central midfield.

On that note perhaps signing Samir Nasri in January wouldn’t be the best move – as the sports editor at work put it that would be ‘peak West Ham’.

Follow Alasdair on Twitter at @adjhooper1992

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