Sky’s Saturday evening football saw Slaven Bilic’s West Ham take on Manchester City, who until midweek, hadn’t conceded a goal all season, and still hadn’t in the league.
Despite West Ham’s impressive away wins at the Emirates on the opening day of the season, and at Anfield three weeks ago, their home form left cause for concern after losing to in-form Leicester, but more alarmingly to newly-promoted Bournemouth, who defeated the Hammers 4-3 at the Boleyn Ground.
So why is it that Bilic is getting results in his biggest tests while in fixtures that seem to be in his team’s favour, the scoreline makes for sorry reading for the Croat?
The only explanation can be complacency, both on behalf of the team and the manager himself. Despite being a seasoned veteran of management, Bilic is still learning his his way around Premier League management after a lengthy spell managing the Croatian National Team, as well as taking charge of Lokomotiv Moscow and Turkish side Besiktas.
Bilic’s summer recruits have sent several other Premier League clubs a message – that fantastic players can be found in the deep dark depths of no where as opposed to blowing big cash on a household name. While the stand out signing is Dimitri Payet for a fee in the region of £10.7m, permanent signings Pedro Obiang and Angelo Ogbonna have given West Ham yet more options in an already well rounded team.
But also the securing of Carl Jenkinson and Alex Song, who is yet to feature for the London team this season, on loan following their spells at the club last year is a huge boost. But there is a signing that has come in under the radar, and since his performance against Newcastle last Monday, has highlighted the power of a thorough scouting system.
Manuel Lanzini, the Argentine attacking midfielder formerly of River Plate and Fluminese, has joined the club on loan from Arabic club Al-Jazira. In the 3-0 win at Anfield in August, Lanzini announced himself to football fans across the country putting his side ahead after just two minutes. Monday’s game against a struggling Newcastle gave Lanzini the chance to shine, and although Dimitri Payet stole the show, Lanzini put in a stellar performance almost behind-the-scenes.
The key to West Ham’s away wins this seasons has been their energy, determination and tenacity. Lanzini, along with others, has epitomised this ethic. Away to Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, they’ve conceded just one goal, which saw Kevin de Bruyne get his first Premier League goal after signing for the Manchester Club for a fee of £55m.
After beating Liverpool 3-0, Bilic described his team’s performance by saying “we parked the bus but we did not leave the handbrake on, it is not bad if you keep the bus moving,” and he’s employed the same tactics in the other big challenges he’s faced.
In yesterday’s performance against the two-time Premier League Champions, the side from East London picked the pockets of Manuel Pellegrini’s side on 18 occasions, and in their 3-0 win at Anfield, they managed a whopping 20 interceptions and 26 successful tackles. Their animosity and desire to win the ball back has been crucial to their success this season.
The way Bilic has them playing, the Irons could easily be pressing the likes of Tottenham, Everton and Southampton for Europa League places and bring the next level of competition to London’s Olympic Stadium when they move next season. West Ham fans suffered months and months of failed expectations under Sam Allardyce, and the decision to bring in Slaven Bilic has improved their prospects beyond belief.
So where do they go from here? The most important step for Slaven Bilic’s men is to find a way to play at the highest level possible when facing lesser opponents. His mindset for the bigger games works well, but it’s a huge ask for his players to play with such high intensity week in, week out, without injuries and fatigue halting their progress.
Once their medical room is empty and Bilic has a full squad to select from, his side demonstrates impressive depth and choice after that impressive summer of signings. Diafra Sakho and Chiekhou Kouyate started the season well, while £15m signing and ex-Liverpool striker Andy Carroll is making his way back from a lengthy spell out of action with an ankle injury.
The Croatian manager may soon be faced with a selection headache, but it’s not a bad situation to be in when your team are producing the results. Can West Ham keep up this impressive run of form away from home, as well as picking up points at Upton Park? Or are they likely to start strong before faltering later in the campaign?