Played four, lost four and conceded twelve. This does not just represent West Ham’s worst start to a Premier League season but their worst start to a league campaign ever. Defensive frailties were in evidence again as the Hammers succumbed to the might of a Chelsea side which did not leave second gear, losing 3-1 at home. In the match day programme David Sullivan revealed the scale of the club’s debts in case anyone had forgotten. On the touchline, Avram Grant appeared forlorn and weary in what has already become an onerous campaign. But the Israeli said, “If you saw the level we played, it’s not a team for relegation.” Is Grant accurate in his analysis and what can be gleamed from this defeat?
Chelsea took the lead within two minutes as Michael Essien scored with an unmarked header from Didier Drogba’s corner. Poor marking was to blame but Robert Green was at fault for their second goal. Drogba struck a low free-kick straight at Green but the former Norwich keeper fumbled and Matthew Upson pounced on the loose ball. Rather than kicking the ball out for a throw-in, the England defender struck it against Salomon Kalou and the rebound looped into West Ham’s net. Upson should have reacted better but the focus was on Green’s ineffective handling. On Radio FiveLive the summariser, Pat Nevin said many teams will be looking to fire low shots at Green which awkwardly bounce at the last second. This will plausibly form the basis of many opposition team talks whilst his erratic form continues.
Scott Parker is worth every penny
The talismanic midfielder signed a new contract last week, keeping him at Upton Park until 2014. His wages have been enhanced and are believed to be somewhere in the region of £65,000 and £70,000 per week. This does not seem to tally with Sullivan’s talk of financial austerity. However, considering the relatively high wages of Benni McCarthy and Frederic Piquionne it is difficult to begrudge Parker of his increased pay packet. He scored a sumptuous volley from the edge of the box as the ball fell to him from Petr Cech’s punched clearance. He shaped to leather the ball but intelligently opted to carefully lift it over the traffic and into the far corner. It was a moment of exceptional quality from the former Newcastle captain who will be looking to boost his goal haul this season.
Obinna will be Cole’s striking partner
Victor Obinna made his debut on loan from Inter Milan against Chelsea, playing alongside Carlton Cole. Intermittently the two combined well as the Nigerian gave an impressive performance, regularly finding space in the opposition penalty area. He had two excellent opportunities in the first half, firstly receiving a chipped pass from Cole and volleying wide. The pacy forward then cut into the box from the left wing and unleashed a powerful right footed shot which curled narrowly beyond the far post. Considering the strength of the opponents, who had not conceded a league goal since April, it was an impressive performance. He showed elusive movement, strength, energy and speed. These characteristics will surely see him prosper in the PL.
Two more players had league debuts for West Ham on Saturday, Lars Jacobson and the former Chelsea centre-back Tal Ben Haim. The side’s captain is a mainstay in central defence but has been paired with James Tomkins, Danny Gabbidon and Winston Reid this season with Manuel da Costa yet to return. These frequent changes are not breeding defensive meanness or effective relationships. The marking for the first goal was woeful and a driving run from Essien allowed him to score his second and Chelsea’s third as he met Paulo Ferreira’s cross under no pressure. The Israeli defender did seem comfortable at times and made a few impressive forward runs. Jacobson impressed in segments but arguably afforded too much room for Kalou and the rampaging Ashley Cole. Upon signing for the Hammers, the Danish international said he would relish their style of play and managed to get forward, make over-lapping runs and deliver teasing crosses.
West Ham have their strongest squad in recent years
This was a claim made by Upson during their unbeaten pre-season campaign. A miserable start to the season should not obscure this view which carries some weight. Kieron Dyer came off the bench while other wide players, Pablo Barrera and Julien Faubert were unused substitutes. Junior Stanislas and Benni McCarthy did not even make the bench, displaying the range of options available to Grant. The quality of these players can be debated but it is critical that a manager has choices which have been lacking at the Boleyn in past years. With Jack Collison and Zavon Hines still to return from knee injuries, expect the team to get stronger as the season progresses.