Manuel Pellegrini is still awaiting his first league win at West Ham since taking over in the summer. Where has it gone wrong and how can the Chilean turn it around? Charlie Eccleshare looks at the key issues.
Tweak the midfield to tighten up the defence
The most glaring weakness – and there are many – of this West Ham United team is the slipshod defence, which has shipped 10 goals in four Premier League matches.
Wolves’ winner on Saturday came from Carlos Sanchez giving the ball away in his own half, but throughout the match they looked vulnerable to the counter-attack – just as they did against Bournemouth and Arsenal respectively.
Left-back Aaron Cresswell was hopelessly exposed by Adama Traore for Wolves’ winner, and he admitted afterwards: “The way we conceded in the last minute wasn’t good enough – you can’t make these mistakes, you get punished.”
Manager Manuel Pellegrini needs to change the balance of his central midfield to offer the back four more protection. Jack Wilshere looks unsuited to playing as a central midfield two – he is more effective in front of a double pivot – so Pellegrini must consider bringing back Mark Noble and switching to a 4-3-3. West Ham look too open playing a 4-2-3-1 system at present.
Offer more support to Marko Arnautovic
There was a moment in the first half on Saturday that summarised why West Ham have scored just two goals in their four matches. Cresswell swung in a dangerous cross from the left only to look up and see that there was no West Ham player in the box or even within 25 yards of goal.
This is the issue with playing Marko Arnautovic as a centre-forward: his natural instinct is to drift wide and take up deeper positions.
If none of his supporting midfielders enter the box when he drifts, West Ham look painfully blunt. As Pellegrini admitted afterwards: “Today the first 45 minutes did not look like a team that was playing the game at home.”
West Ham were more dangerous when Javier Hernandez came on in the second half, and the majority of supporters would like to see him start more regularly.
Up the intensity
One of the most noticeable aspects of West Ham’s performance against Wolves was the lethargy and lack of intensity. Wilshere and Sanchez were often strolling around the pitch and, too often, players were pointing at others to do the work, rather than taking responsibility themselves. The fact that seven of the 10 goals West Ham have conceded have come after half-time also underlines their lack of fitness and concentration. Recalling Noble would help in this regard, but others need to step up as well.
Cresswell insisted after the Wolves defeat: “There is enough character [in the team]”, but there has been precious little evidence of it so far this season.
Balance old and new
On Saturday, West Ham started with seven summer signings, and one player in Robert Snodgrass who had spent last season out on loan. That has been a huge turnover of players which has left the side looking disjointed and incoherent.
“They’ve not gelled as a team yet,” said Wolves defender Matt Doherty.
“They’ve obviously got a lot of good individuals, but it’s down to the coaches to try and get them going. It’s hard to do it when you bring in a lot of players, especially in the Premier League.”
Pellegrini is not flush with options, but he may consider recalling the likes of Noble and Pedro Obiang to try and find some continuity from last season.
Get the supporters onside
The problem Pellegrini has with trying to find continuity from last season is that the previous couple of years at West Ham have been so traumatic that he has tried to move on as quickly as possible – perhaps too quickly.
Alluding to the general mood of discontentment at the London Stadium, Pellegrini said on Saturday that: “The fans have last season in their minds. They see we are continuing with the same problem of last season. This team play not to be relegated during the whole season.”
As simple as it sounds, the only way Pellegrini can get the supporters onside is by winning matches. Given how unpredictable West Ham have been over the past few years, the forthcoming home games against Chelsea and Manchester United could be exactly what is needed to lift the gloom.