West Ham inept and toothless in loss against Southampton
Just before kickoff at Upton Park in the match against Southampton, the stadium announcer excitedly released the news that Alex Song had been signed on a yearlong loan from Barcelona. As Song ran onto the pitch to accept the plaudits from a surprised Boleyn crowd, it was revealed that the former Arsenal midfielder had signed at lunchtime.
It's a shame the signature came too late to allow one of the club's prematch on-pitch interviews, as I would have loved to have heard the answer to the imagined question: "Against Barcelona, when you looked up, you saw Lionel Messi in front of you. At Upton Park it will be Carlton Cole and Ricardo Vaz Te. Are you excited by the prospect?"
The Hammers' 3-1 loss to the Saints represents their third defeat at home before August is even out. Worse though, this was an inept, toothless display that saw the home side outpassed and outmanoeuvred in a fashion that shocked the short-tempered home crowd into silence for long periods. Quite what Song, watching from the stands, thought is difficult to say.
As if manager Sam Allardyce didn't need the explosion of anger and mass exodus of fans that followed Graziano Pelle's strike on 83 minutes -- Southampton's third and thoroughly deserved goal -- he must have been aware of the watching owners who could gaze down on a Saints squad torn apart to the tune of 90 million pounds in the close season but now managed by ex-Dutch international Ronald Koeman who appears to have built a better team in less than three weeks.
The Hammers on the other hand have spent a small fortune trying to solve the problems from last season, beefing up the squad to include 12 million pound striker Enner Valencia from Ecuador, who sits on the bench, Allardyce seemingly preferring the skills of two players he tried to discard last year. When you consider Morgan Schneiderlin, the Saints midfielder who destroyed the Hammers with two well-taken goals, cost less than 2 million pounds and is now valued much higher, you have to wonder what West Ham's scouting system has been doing during the close season. It's hard to resist the temptation to believe that, like the rest of us, they have been merely clutching a cold beer and watching TV from Brazil in the hope of a quick -- albeit overpriced -- fix.
Let's be clear: criticism of individual players should not be seen as the problem here. Cole is a faithful servant and respected stalwart for the Hammers who has been top scorer for many seasons and can still offer something from the bench. Similarly, Vaz Te will always have a place in the hearts of Hammers fans, the Portuguese forward scoring the late winner in the playoff final against Blackpool in 2012 following a successful season in front of goal.
However, both players were seen as surplus to requirements last season -- Cole actually being released before being re-signed following Andy Carroll's heel injury while Vaz Te nearly left for Norwich -- and it is utterly baffling how both can now be leading the line for the Hammers.
But it's likely that the team's inept performance up front will be overshadowed by some calamitous defending. Under the cosh they may have been, but Southampton's go-ahead goal didn't arrive until the 68th minute when the Hammers disputed an incorrectly given corner that the Saints took quickly, allowing James Ward-Prowse to whip in an unchallenged short pass for Schneiderlin to poke home while the home side stood around arguing. As the France international had been similarly unmarked just before halftime when equalising Mark Noble's 30-yard opener, the West Ham defence is likely to get a serious examination by Allardyce in the coming weeks.
It's an international break now, and Allardyce is going to need the time and all his experience not only to turn this ramshackle squad into a cohesive unit but also to fight off the growing clamour for a change of manager. It will take more than the signing of Song to quell the growing feeling that West Ham are a strong squad with no direction.