Many fans recognise West Ham more from a certain hooligan movie rather than as the club who has produced more English internationals than any other club. The Academy of Football is a crucial institution for England’s future, and West Ham’s future thus remains inevitably crucial to England.
West Ham United has suffered in recent years. Once a competitive mid-table team, the club rode a steady decline riddled with bad luck all the way down to the Championship. Irresponsible ownership and stints of poor management led to the downfall and reinvention of a club that is so vital to England.
Since their downfall in 2011, astute financial management by new English owners and experienced management under “Big Sam” Allardyce have led to promotion. Furthermore, the Club’s performance in the current season shows a respectable point tally of 33 points from 28 rounds of football. But just as all seems well, and safety in the Premier League all but guaranteed, the Irons have come to a juncture where some critical questions have to be confronted and questioned.
The Championship and the Premier League are different animals. What often functions so effectively in the second division tends to fail miserably in the first. Just ask Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Big Sam has continued his 4-2-3-1 from last season, where a rigid formation with two hardworking defensive midfielders, with a goal-scoring trequartista in Kevin Nolan served him respectably. Despite his claims that his methods are as updated as that of Arsene Wenger, he has shown limited tactical flexibility by continuing this formation against virtually every opponent this season.
The issue is that while this formation has achieved the objective of keeping West Ham up this season, the likelihood of its continued efficacy in the top flight is very low. Watching West Ham matches throughout the season have made for repeated feelings of precariousness.
Often, they can score directly and maintain leads, but the content of the games show a consistent vulnerability on counter attacks. This is largely due to the limited work rate of Captain Kevin Nolan, who maintains a long-standing relationship and trust with Big Sam. As he contributes little to nothing to the team defence, it is imperative that the industrious Mark Noble and the powerful Mohamed Diame have to play behind him for the team to be able to maintain its shape.
This kind of sacrifice by West Ham's workhorses is justified if the team is winning somewhat consistently. But this is not the case. West Ham finishing above the bottom three this year will suffice and justify any tactical decisions, but for the club to truly move forward, the formation must change, and Nolan must be dropped. No team in the Premier League can afford to have half-a-player in a squad simply because he is the likeliest to hit the second shots.
Every player needs to play both sides of the game for a team to be successful in the modern game and particularly in the Premier League, where the ability to challenge others physically is necessary. With his most recent injury, it is interesting to see what Big Sam will do to create a formation without his star man. What it is sure to do is force him to explore other options and build more mobile and agile attacks. A first game without him has already resulted in a win.
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