Disappointing days at the office have been few and far between for West Ham during the 2020/21 season.
Instead, every single Hammers supporter around the world has been on cloud nine more often than not, head over heels at another precious three points being picked up David Moyes and his side.
Sunday night’s defeat to Manchester United was one of those rare disappointing days. But while it’s always important to scrutinise, analyse and recognise where things went wrong for West Ham – because that’s the only way you can improve and do better – it’s also vitally important to retain some perspective.
West Ham weren’t great, no – they weren’t even close to being good for the first hour, truth be told.
Team selection was also questionable and in hindsight, probably wrong.
But the social media clamour to dig every possible claw into the Scot, deride him for having a lack of appetite to win, and question whether he should be in charge at all because of a narrow 1-0 defeat brought about by an own goal?
Give it a rest.
Moyes didn’t get his tactics right, that much we can all agree on. West Ham are a good side now and had no reason not to be positive from the off. Said Benrahma should have started the game, and Mark Noble, as great as he is, should have had a watching brief, rather than being the man to come in for the ineligible Jesse Lingard.
Moreover, United may be in the top two and have Bruno Fernandes among their ranks, but they are only a good side – they’re not a great side – and have shown during 2020/21 how vulnerable they can be at Old Trafford.
It would, however, be remiss to think it’s as simple as going for it in every game, and there is undoubted method behind Moyes’ perceived madness.
West Ham have a wafer thin squad talent wise, when you factor in the impact of injuries, and many of their positive results this season have stemmed from consistency in selection. Here, Lingard wasn’t available to play against his parent club, and Pablo Fornals, so important to West Ham’s cause off the ball, was not fit to play.
Moyes had two options – play it safe and bring in Ben Johnson and Noble for added stability, or be a bit more adventurous and play Benrahma and Manuel Lanzini in a more expansive 4-2-3-1 formation. He chose the former option.
West Ham 2020/21 factfile
– West Ham are currently fifth in the table, and have 48 points are on the board with ten games of the season remaining.
– The Hammers have the second best home record in the Premier League, only bettered by Manchester City.
– The club’s goal difference is +10 – only once has a positive goal difference been achieved in the top flight since the Premier League’s introduction (2015/16 under Slaven Bilic, +14).
– West Ham won the first six games of the 2021 calendar year – the first time that has ever been achieved in the club’s history.
In the back of his mind would have been West Ham’s fairly rotten record against the ‘big six’, but his main concern would have been combating United‘s strengths.
Time and time again during 2020/21, we’ve seen the Red Devils frustrated and bereft of ideas when teams invite them to pile the pressure on. United thrive on getting in behind and exploiting the pace of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and co, they don’t like teams to drop off and force them to create chances in front of two banks of four or five.
It made sense to try and force Fernandes’ creative hand, and force United to look to Luke Shaw, of all people, to try and get the better of Vladimir Coufal.
Moyes also would have looked at his own side and had concerns over work rate, particularly in the case of Lanzini. The Argentine can be occasionally be brilliant but putting in a real Fornals-like shift for 75-80 minutes when the Hammers are likely to see far less of the ball than normal? Hmm, not so sure.
Benrahma, conversely, is an exceptionally hard worker off the ball, but it’s been well documented that he’s yet to fully win Moyes’ trust. Can we really be too surprised that given his recent advisory comments to the Algerian, he opted to go in another direction for this game? Probably not.
Had West Ham have come away with a point, Moyes would likely have been hailed for a stellar defensive showing and the voices of discontent would have faded away into the background.
Inevitably because things didn’t work out, and West Ham looked brighter after making some changes, he’s under fire for not being adventurous enough.
Those concerns do have merit, but remaining grounded, realistic and appreciative of the strides made in the last 12 months far should far outweigh the negativity currently doing the rounds. West Ham will know they can do better, but defeats like this are part and parcel of football, particularly when you’re a team new to European qualification scraps.
If in another year we’re still having a conversation about a lack of ambition and learning, it’s worth digging deeper – but for now, please can we all calm down.