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West Ham lack cutting edge without counter attack

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You’re only as good as your last game, the old saying in football goes, and the shine is starting to come off of West Ham’s start to the season after another 90 minutes in which they failed to control both sides of a game. 

David Moyes’ side huffed and puffed to a 0-0 draw at St. Mary’s against a dogged, energetic Southampton side, failing to really carve out a clear-cut chance from open play as more questions are asked of this West Ham side’s ability to break an opponent down when the onus is on them. 

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This was always likely to be a game in which West Ham bossed the ball in large periods, with Ralph Hasenhuttl’s philosophy predicated on making team’s suffer when they’re in possession in their narrow 4-4-2 defensive shape. 

West Ham failed to control proceedings in the first half as Southampton threatened with their energy at the top end of the pitch. In the second period they took control of the ball, but they were equally as toothless going forward. In truth, it was two halves in which West Ham looked uncomfortable, which raises questions about this side’s ability against lower-to-middle placed teams such as the Saints. 

It contrasts starkly with the conviction they showed on the opening weekend against Leicester. West Ham looked likely to score every time they poured forward against the Foxes that evening, with Michail Antonio backed up by the quality of Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma and Pablo Fornals. 

David Moyes, Pablo Fornals

Pablo Fornals struggled to influence the game / Steve Bardens/Getty Images

That same attacking quartet were on the pitch at St. Mary’s on Saturday, but the biggest difference was they were required to take command of the ball. Against Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester, they could afford to sit back and exploit the space afforded by the Foxes. 

A closer look at West Ham’s most memorable performances under Moyes and they all followed that familiar pattern of exploiting bigger sides on the counter-attack. Their 3-2 win over Chelsea following the resumption of the Premier League following last season’s lockdown was crafted on the break, spearheaded by the pacey Andriy Yarmolenko, as well defining victories over Wolves, Tottenham and Leicester en route to their European finish last term.

The overriding emotion for the Hammers faithful ought to be one of frustration considering the attacking stars at the club are perfectly suited to breaking down low defensive blocks. Bowen, Benrahma and Fornals are exceptionally gifted with the ball which lends itself to being effective in tight areas.

Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, meanwhile, provide a formidable base for the attacking players to play with freedom. Too often, however, those offensive players seem to run out of ideas when confronted by a block of defenders.

Moyes’ problems will now be exacerbated by the stoppage time dismissal of Michail Antonio for a late challenge. The tackle appeared to be born out of frustration as Southampton marshalled the Hammers’ talisman with ease for 94 minutes.

Michail Antonio

Antonio was given his marching orders in stoppage time / Alex Davidson/Getty Images

The challenge for Moyes and his coaching team will be to inject more guile into this West Ham side, or the glass ceiling on the Hammers’ ambitions will remain.

With Manchester United the visitors to the London Stadium next week, however, be prepared for the narrative to change around West Ham given they will be afforded the license to play their own game and hit the opposition on the break.

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