This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
West Ham United have to sort out their defence.
The Hammers enjoyed a great deal of success with Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena in the same team last season, losing just six of the 18 games in which they played together, but the club have been a farce defensively throughout pre-season.
They have, thus far, kept one clean sheet and that came against recently relegated Fulham.
A game against SCR Altach, an Austrian team, saw them concede twice, starting with a back two of Diop and Angelo Ogbonna, and going into the second-half with Diop and Winston Reid at the back.
Diop and Ogbonna started the 4-1 thumping at the hands of Manchester City in the Asia Trophy too, though Reid came on after the hour-mark.
Versus Newcastle United, in a 1-0 loss, Reid and Ogbonna started and Carlos Sanchez came on for the former at half-time. That’s Carlos Sanchez, the defensive midfielder.
Balbuena got his first start against Fulham, playing alongside Diop and though both were substituted, they appeared comfortable against a team that struggled in the top-flight last season; the Irons won 1-0.
But against Hertha Berlin, it was another shambles. A 5-3 win was a classic, really, for fans, but Balbuena and Diop struggled, with Ogbonna coming on at the hour.
This does not bode well.
Across five games, they have conceded 10 goals, and they have just one pre-season friendly left, a home clash against Athletic Bilbao.
That is precious little time for boss Manuel Pellegrini to sort this out.
It does not appear that Ogbonna or Reid should be starting matches regularly; the Italian does not appear to be up to speed yet, while Reid has not played in a competitive game since the 2017/18 season due to injury.
That leaves Diop and Balbuena but even that pairing, so solid last season, looked shaky against German opposition.
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It is a difficult scenario for Pellegrini, whose side will welcome Manchester City to the London Stadium for the first game of the season.
City, of course, were an irrepressible goalscoring machine last season, and they put five past the Irons in two games in 2018/19.
That was when the defence was settled and match-fit and the omens are not good ahead of this season’s curtain-raiser.
Diop and Balbuena, if they are to be the first-choice pairing, will have to play together against Bilbao this weekend and the Irons will have to hope that their rustiness dissipates against the Spanish side.
Otherwise, one feels that the Hammers may play the role of lambs to the slaughter against the champions.