Damp, dreary, dismal, and I’m not talking about the blessed weather, either. Following our deflating 4-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester United, a reinvigorated reaction was desperately required against an in-form West Ham United, but what we were cursed with, sodden through to the bone on a blustery Saturday evening, a vastly uninspired Fulham that are completely devoid of confidence, spirit and leadership.
Huddled into our scarfs, Bovril in hand, the Whites literally froze in near arctic conditions down by the Thames, but that’s utterly inexcusable. People braved torrid downpours to witness what was one of our most toilsome performances to date, and as we all begrudgingly know, these top-flight tickets certainly aren’t cheap. There was no reward for our fanaticism, and washed up, halfhearted post-match apologies are excruciatingly tedious and cliched. Spare us the grovelling.
The festive period is a time for generosity, compassion, and above all, giving lavish gifts to people you barely bother with for the rest of the year. Profound, that, because as the weeks trundle onward, our connection and relationship with the club as ardent fans is slowly whittling away. We invest our hearts, souls and pay packets into following our team far and wide, but what’s really demeaning is the dawning realisation that we’re getting absolutely nothing, not even a defeatist whimper, in return for our ardent allegiance.
Rued Missed Opportunities
The initial stages of the tie were actually fairly promising for the Whites, who pressed and probed the Hammers from the off. Claudio Ranieri’s men converged on the Irons swiftly and held the lion’s share of possession whilst limiting the visitors, and as our offensive armoury advanced, it seemed as though we could have drawn blood with sharp, incisive phases.
A speculative effort it was, but our hazardous opportunities were indeed at a premium, Andre Schurrle’s fizzing 35-yard projectile whistled over the crossbar in the 8th minute. Weaving his way into, well, nowhere, the German could have offloaded to aid his team’s progression in the final third, but being the tunnel visioned individual that he is, he opted to replicate his stunning strike against Cardiff City, although his bearings were grossly misjudged.
Collecting the ball unopposed, Aleksandar Mitrovic pivoted and slipped Aboubakar Kamara into an imposing position, with just Lukas Fabianski between the marauding Frenchman and a third goal in three outings. The target was at AK47’s mercy and the crowd sprung to their feet, and as the bustling attacker wielded his boot our hands flung skywards in anticipation. Perish Kamara’s tepid dab at the ball, that was buffeted away from danger by West Ham’s primed Polish stopper. If that had rippled the net, the whole complexion of the encounter would have drastically altered in our favour.
Fabianski’s goalmouth was peppered in the opening 45, but from the sixteen shots that we dispatched towards the former Swansea City keeper throughout the encounter, only four were registered on target. In essence, it was imperative that Kamara diverted his golden opportunity, but that signalled our downfall. West Ham forged two key chances and were ruthless in their execution. That is what it takes to survive at this level. Manuel Pellegrini’s men were clinical, whereas we were torridly reckless.
Odoi Is Not a Right-Back
It’s that simple. Denis Odoi is not a right-back and he never will be. That’s a solid, unmovable statement but it’s forcefully verified, especially after picking apart his limp, substandard outing against the Hammers along the channels. Arthur Masuaku and Felipe Anderson roamed and constructed freely, and for all of the Belgian utility option’s devotion, he was well and truly out of his depth. Though he tirelessly battled, he’s prone to making detrimental gaffs and blunders.
Anderson’s an illusive weapon and is capable of effortlessly dissecting defences, and in the build up to Robert Snodgrass’ opening goal, the nimble Brazilian spread Odoi across the turf like melted butter. Odoi was scrambling to catch Anderson and launched himself into his path. Sprawling under Anderson’s legs having failed to prise possession, the auxiliary defender was left for dead as the 25-year-old winger darted towards our penalty area. Rule number one of defensive basics: do not go to ground if you’re not completely committed to the challenge. Odoi obviously hasn’t revised his responsibilities.
Even for West Ham’s second, Odoi allowed Anderson to angle an inviting ball into the penalty area, and simply wasn’t tight enough to stunt the cross. Yes, Joe Bryan was virtually in another postcode as Michael Antonio crashed past Sergio Rico, but further bloopers could have been prevented if Odoi was sturdy, diligent and assured in his duties.
Run ragged, Odoi was deployed in his usual centre-half capacity in the second-half – at Tim Ream’s expense – and was a lot more comfortable alongside Alfie Mawson. Cyrus Christie entered the fray at the break and dealt with Anderson and company with an air of assertion. Christie, like us, would have been miffed by Ranieri’s baffling decision to field Odoi in the starting line up. Moving forward, Claudio, please heed our cries. We may not be established managers, but it doesn’t take a Pep Guardiola to recognise the 30-year-old’s fragility.
Smoke and Mirrors Schurrle
I’ve not been Andre Schurrle’s biggest fan of late but I believe that there’s valid justification in my reasoning. As pinpointed before, the German shirks his conservative obligations and is a hindrance to our core shape whilst we’re trying to blockade and contain the opposition. Schurrle is arguably our most experienced, superior figurehead, but he genuinely isn’t prepared to fight tooth and nail for the cause.
Schurrle will drift into profitable zones in the final third as that’s an innate trait of his, but when his head has to lift to locate a teammate, his focus if fixed firmly on the ball and he only had one intention against the Hammers; shoot on sight. Now, that’s a desirable philosophy, but let’s be sensible, it doesn’t have to be every single instance where he glides past the halfway line.
The bejewelled attacker’s intentions were warped, and one occasion springs to mind immediately. Before the interval, Schurrle could have pulled the trigger in a prime position. It was undoubtedly the only plausible moment where he should have unleashed havoc, however with Mitro’ in close contention, he opted to thread the Serbian into a fruitless gully. I want to see him incorporate his teammates more often, but Schurrle’s exploits were utterly futile.
Odoi, in fairness, was left exposed by a unified defensive ineptitude and felt the brunt of West Ham’s devastating combinations as a result. On the break, it’s mesmerising to see the 28-year-old jink and slalom through his opponents, but when we needed every member to retreat, the Borussia Dortmund loanee rarely busted a gut to refortify our structure. Partnerships and understandings are integral, but Schurrle, the resident poltergeist, is not pulling his weight.
Usual Suspect Seri
Another name on the bad list is Jean-Micheal Seri. Welcome back. For a playmaker that’s meant to be one of the Premier League’s most constructive distributors, he couldn’t stamp his dexterity upon proceedings. Truth be told, the Ivorian has not been an influential craftsman for a very, very long time now, and within the pressures of the English top-flight, he’s outfought, lackadaisical and predictable.
I understand that the conditions hampered our fluency as an element of care had to be observed, but Seri’s first touch was particularity heavy, his passing was erratic, and he seriously faltered in 50/50 challenges, once again. A nullified component of Ranieri’s double pivot in the engine room, Calum Chambers had the daunting task of soaking up the Hammers’ advancements, whilst his ineffective partner gazed on through the floodlights.
Seri was a liability in the centre of the park. Defend and attack as a pack, that’s primary, but the 27-year-old seemed to float between each department with nothing more than a gentle jog to highlight his disinterest. We expect dynamism and invention, although Seri’s a mere shell of his former self. Last season at OGC Nice, he had a lofty 89% pass completion rate. This season, in a far superior division, his drawbacks and deficiencies are the only predominant factors being broadcast to the masses.
According to various statisticians, before he rightfully was hauled off on the hour mark, Seri had attempted 55 passes, a record that certainly contradicts my critique, although those noteworthy figures genuinely fail to gloss or ameliorate his insipid performance. Seri needs a stint on the bench in all honesty, his reputation has taken a severe beating and his limp, yielding demeanour is detrimental. The game’s best protagonists are supposed to lead by example in adversity, not evaporate in the heat of the moment. His stature as an ingenious visionary and purveyor of excellence has vanished.
Fading Under the Floodlights
Much like it was at Old Trafford, the game was gone at half-time against the Irons. Pellegrini’s efficient set-up landed their sucker punches and sailed through the remainder without being hounded, pestered or stretched by the Whites in the slightest. Ranieri branded the loss as one of our better performances since taking the reins from Slavisa Jokanovic… I’ll have whatever he’s smoking.
Passive and vacant, we allowed West Ham to bully and intimidate in each department and in the second-half it was evident that they’d thumped the stuffing out of us. Knowing that our wings were clipped, the visitors brandished a calculative game plan and coasted with their sumptuous two goal cushion. Disjointed and feeble, the Whites staggered after the ball and couldn’t capitalise on the break. It was the definition of a routine victory.
The Hammers remained calm, composed and showcased an unwavering telepathy, with each member of the fold poised to retain possession at all costs. Fulham warranted 56% of the ball, but there was a purposeless, banal approach to our strategy – what on earth were we trying to achieve in the final 45? Even staple mainstays like Tom Cairney, who was one of our better representatives, lacked direction, ambition and flair.
I will never knock the fans that left ten minutes before time on Saturday, because the whole affair was outrageously deplorable. I’ll harp on about the weather relentlessly, but it was the shoddy excuse of a ‘performance’ that had the hoards dashing for the exits. It was flat, it was ugly, it was shambolic. Is this current collective worse than the ragtag 2013-14 relegation brigade? Perhaps the jury’s still out, but damn, we are in deep, boiling, unforgiving waters. Wait a second, weren’t we languishing in the Championship at this point last term? Someone tell me to get a grip. Newcastle United, let’s be having you, pet.