We traveled to Anfield more in hope than real anticipation. We left it in shambles, putting on what was an absolutely dire performance and perhaps the worst of the season.
You’d be hard pressed to find very many West Ham supporters who seriously considered a win in the offing on Saturday. Having not made a successful trip to Anfield in over four decades, victory was always going to be a long shot.
With that being taken in to consideration, the time was ripe for an impressive performance that could breath hope into a season that looks to be deflating fast. The frustrations of supporters have been outlined, analyzed and then analyzed again with regularity as of late. We won’t bother going over them once again. But we needed a performance we could believe in.
It didn’t come. If anything, it made most supporters even more skeptical in regards to Sam Allardyce’s ability to right a sinking ship. As the final whistle blew, “Big Sam Out” was a statement which was being parroted far and wide on social media networks, in the pubs and amongst the Irons traveling support.
We outlined earlier in the week that we were fast losing confidence in Big Sam, something that seemed a far fetched idea for much of his reign. This past Saturday didn’t do much for that confidence. But with no viable alternative at the ready, one would have to be foolish to think getting rid of Allardyce serves as some magical solution.
When Avram Grant stuck around for the entire course of a season, the wrong choice was obviously made. There was real, exciting candidates to take over his position. We aren’t in that place with Sam.
What further complicates the situation is that over the course of Sam’s tenure, the squad has been tailored to his liking. It’s a squad, for better or for worse, that screams Big Sam. It’s a tall order for anyone to come in and change everything in a day. For now we must, head down, persist and get behind Allardyce.
Why you ask? Because there was a glimmer of hope on Saturday. You must be thinking we’re mad, surely. How does one take ANYTHING positive out of that sort of performance? Easy. It came in Kevin Nolan’s lack of judgement, which resulted in a red card.
For many teams losing their captain at such a crucial part of the season would be worrying days. Not for us. Instead this loss could turn into the moment when our fortunes turn around.
Ravel Morrison. He’s not only the brightest prospect at West Ham, he’s one of the brightest prospects in world football. His position has been marginalized throughout the season due to Kevin Nolan’s involvement in the squad. They both play in the same position, behind a striker, but their games could not be more different.
Whereas Nolan thrives, as has been so painfully evident this season, working off a big striker who can knock down balls and allow him to create havoc in the box, Ravel thrives as a playmaker. It simply could not be more obvious that’s exactly what we need.
Last season Mo Diame served as playmaker much of the time, charging from the center of the park to link together with wingers and feed our strikers. This allowed the wingers to whip balls into the box, where Andy Carroll could knock them down or Kevin Nolan could latch onto them. Without Andy, we’ve faltered on this plan.
This season we’ve spent much of our time playing the same style while missing one of the main pieces of the puzzle. So much of our success revolved around Andy that Allardyce simply cannot afford to continue playing in this style with him out. Nolan’s abscence over the next three matches gives him the opportunity to try something new.
Nolan was never going to be dropped, as Allardyce has an undying loyalty to the man. Knowing this, Allardyce was obviously quite comfortable standing by old tactics. Now he has to adjust to life without the big central striker he prefers, or the poacher he prefers behind him. He simply has to play Ravel in Nolan’s role.
Playing Ravel in this role completely changes the dynamic of the team. With Nolan, you didn’t have him to rely on for link up play. The tactics so often revolved around pushing it out to the wingers and whipping it into the box. Morrison opens up the possibilities of playing in the center of the park, a tactic that will surely dumbfound opponents use to our previous tactics.
Playing a less predictable style, with two creative sparks in Morrison and Diame, opens a whole new world of options for Sam. Both have an eye for a pass and see things most footballers don’t. Obviously Ravel is different class to Diame, but relying on the two of them to unlock defenses is something we haven’t had all year.
The system might also benefit a player like Modibo Maiga, who simply isn’t physical enough to get on the end of crosses and win challenges in the air. The ball being played along the floor is obviously preferred to him, and he could very well find his form over the next three matches.
And our wingers are still in the equation now, without so much of the game being dependent on their crosses. Having several different attacking options is obviously preferable to the one we’ve had thus far, regardless of effectiveness. What the squad desperately needed was a change, a change Allardyce was reluctant too.
This change might end up saving his job. He was unlikely to change tactics by choice and that much has been obvious as we continued to do the same thing and expect a different result. It’s not hard to imagine he was willing to stick it out until Carroll came back and hope he proved the solution.
No supporters feel we have that long. Sam was perhaps lacking the judgement to realize it. Fate, as it so often does, has pushed him into having to face this conundrum head on. He might come out the other end better for it. One often learns the most in the most difficult circumstances.
We all know Ravel is a star. He’s never had a better chance to prove it than he will over these next three matches. Whether Allardyce will let’s him shine or not could decide Big Sam’s fate once and for all.