Disconcerting, to say the least . . .

The promise of a blank slate, and new beginnings, mark the start of every season.  Optimism runs rampant through the fans- every new player signed is the one to finally lift the team to new heights, the grass is greener, the skies are bluer, your food tastes better.  Then you sit through a thoroughly despairing opening game and reality smacks you in the face, laughing at your naivety for thinking things would be radically different.

I could only catch the first half of the Aston Villa match, but frankly that was more than enough for me to see how much work West Ham truly have left to do before we reach respectability.  With Villa manager Martin O’Neill resigning his post just days before their opening game, you could see two probable outcomes from such a decision.  A team can either lose focus and confidence and play like shambles, or as in the case on Saturday, they can solidify as a group and play with freedom and passion.  Reports came from the Villa camp that after hearing the news regarding their gaffer, the players were sending each other texts with pictures of champagne bottles. So really there was only one way this game was going to go.

The game started poorly and never let up from there.  Aston Villa held control of the ball, and mercilessly hounded the West Ham players when the visitors were in possession.  West Ham was barely able to string more than two passes together in succession, with Radoslav Kovac particularly at fault for numerous turnovers leading out of defense.  Winston Reid had an unconvincing Premiere League debut, and had a difficult team containing the lightning-quick Ashley Young.  James Tomkins had an absolute nightmare of a match, first gifting John Carew a one-on-one with Robert Green and then getting beat by pace the rest of the game.  After a performance such as his, you have to wonder if Manuel DaCosta will be manning the middle with Matty Upson next game.  Particularly worrying has been the lack of development by Tomkins after such a bright start to his career.  Would it be more beneficial for him to go out on loan to a lower league club just to try and regain some confidence and let him develop without so much pressure?  With alternatives like DaCosta and Tal Ben-Haim, you would think that Tomkins’ leash is going to be particularly short.

Carlton Cole was isolated by himself up top, and even with 5 midfielders, West Ham were unable to control the middle, or really any part of the field.  The defense dropped off way too far, allowing the Aston Villa players eons of time on the ball, with little pressure to cause any bad mistakes or turnovers.  Another consequence of the deep positions was that none of the midfielders were able to make it up the field in time to reach Cole when a ball was cleared from the defense, even though at times Cole himself did a poor job of holding the ball and waiting for help.  Mark Noble was the only player who seemed to even want the ball, but even then he had trouble making connections to his teammates.  What seemed a little odd was that Scott Parker seemed particularly subdued when compared to his performances last year.  He did not seem to play with the same gusto, or have nearly the effect in the middle of the pitch that he normally does.  Seeing as it’s just one game, the tepid performance by the team in general can for now be chalked up to an off day, plus running into the inspired buzz saw that was Aston Villa.  Hopefully this will not be indicative of the upcoming season, or else we’ll quickly find ourselves in a relegation dogfight again.

Some positives can still be taken from this match though.  It was heartening to see that Avram Grant came out of halftime with meaningful substitutions and a change in formation from a 4-5-1 to more of a 4-3-3 look.  One of the knocks on Gianfranco Zola was that he never seemed to know when changes were necessary, so at least Grant has shown the technical nous to adapt when the need arises.  The introductions of Piquionne and Barrera kick-started the offense for at least a bit, so there is room for hope there as well.  West Ham need to be able to keep the ball better and defend more resolutely, or else we’re going to be heading down the same path as last year.  However, it’s only one game, so keep the faith and don’t start ringing those alarm bells just yet.

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~ by ar_sage on August 17, 2010.

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