West Ham’s defeat highlights defensive issues set to be exacerbated by Declan Rice suspension


Defensive problems

Since Kurt Zouma joined Angelo Ogbonna in the treatment room the Hammers have kept just one clean sheet in five matches and conceded eight goals in that time.

Part of the Hammers’ strength last season and earlier this campaign was the defensive solidity David Moyes had brought to the club. Prior to Zouma’s injury, West Ham had kept nine clean sheets in 22 matches and Moyes needs to get his side back to their defensive best if he wants them to maintain their spot in the top six.

This is easier said than done without the Hammers’ big-money signing Zouma and defensive lynchpin Ogbonna, not to mention the absence of the vital Aaron Cresswell in recent weeks. Cresswell picked up a back injury when he collided with the post during the 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on November 28 and has not featured since.

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Cresswell offers defensive solidity and an attacking option on the left and the Hamers have not been the same without him. Moyes is rarely one to blame injuries and with the trio not set for imminent returns, the manager will be determined to find a way to make his team harder to score against and soon.

Injury issues improving

As noted above West Ham are still without Zouma, Ogbonna and Cresswell but there are some signs of their other injury issues alleviating.

Ben Johnson and Ryan Fredericks are now back and whilst neither man started on Boxing Day they were on the substitutes’ bench and are now back in contention for starting spots should they be needed. With another match just 46 hours after the game against Southampton ended, Moyes will be relieved to have some fresh legs to call upon, with Ogbonna out for the season the return of Cresswell and Zouma would be most welcome.

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Another returnee on Sunday was Michail Antonio, following a short spell out after a positive COVID-19 test. With news that Said Benrahma will not join up with Algeria until January 3, the Hammers squad is a little less stretched than it has been in recent weeks.

Michail Antonio impact

The Hammers striker has not been in great form of late and there was a suggestion he could have been benched against Spurs in the Carabao Cup, a game he eventually missed after a positive COVID-19 test.

Antonio was showing no symptoms and having been doubled vaccinated he only had to isolate from the squad for seven days and was back in time for the visit of Southampton. Moyes opted to stick with Bowen from the start and Antonio was named on the substitutes’ bench.

Michail Antonio celebrates after scoring against Southampton (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
Michail Antonio celebrates after scoring against Southampton (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)

However, with West Ham struggling, Moyes turned to the Jamaican international at the break and three minutes later he was on the scoresheet, ending an eight-game Premier League goal drought. It was not just the goal that impressed, with Antonio key in the move that led to Benrahma’s goal and his all-round hold-up play back to somewhere near his best.

There is no doubt the Hammers need reinforcements in attack in the January transfer window but an on-form Antonio would be hugely beneficial for Moyes to get his team back to winning ways.

Declan Rice loss

Having picked up four yellow cards in the opening 12 matches of the Premier League campaign, the Hammers midfielder has been running the risk of a suspension for weeks. That he went the next six matches in all competitions without picking up a booking only to fall at the final hurdle will be of great frustration to both him and the manager.

If a player picks up five bookings in the first 18 matches of the season he is then handed a one-match suspension, Rice got his fifth booking of the season in West Ham’s 18th Premier League game and therefore will miss the trip to Watford on Tuesday afternoon. The on-field captain will be a huge loss to the Hammers and Moyes will have to decide whether to bring in Alex Kral or Mark Noble if he wishes to retain his 4-2-3-1 formation of switch things up and use Manuel Lanzini in a deeper role.

Whoever gets the nod has a massive task to step into Rice’s boots but it is likely to take a collective effort to make up for the loss of the England international.

On the plus side, Rice will finally get a rest having played every minute of the league campaign to date as well as four appearances in the Europa League and 90 minutes in the Carabao Cup against Spurs last week.

Rice’s 2021 is done but what a fantastic year it has been for the 22-year-old and with the fixtures coming thick and fast he will be back in action on New Year’s Day when the Hammers head to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace, hopefully off the back of a more positive end to the year with three points against Watford.

Poor set-pieces

Thanks to the eyes of Hampshire Live’s Tom Leach, football.london were able to get a fresh perspective on West Ham and one thing that stood out for the Southampton reporter was the Hammers’ set-pieces.

Over the past two seasons, the Hammers’ set-pieces have been superb and a vital source of goals for Moyes’ team and it was a Bowen corner that saw Dawson nod the ball down to Antonio for the first West Ham goal.

However, other than this the quality of West Ham’s set-pieces were criticised by Leach with second-half efforts from Arthur Masuaku and Manuel Lanzini particularly poor. With the likes of Issa Diop, Craig Dawson and Tomas Soucek attacking the ball, delivery from dead-ball situations is key for the Hammers and something Moyes will be keen to improve on and quickly.

Cresswell is so often the go-to man in this area but with Bowen, Lanzini and Pablo Fornals all capable of superb delivery the Hammers cannot afford to waste the opportunities, particularly if the defence is going to continue conceding at the current rate.

Source by Football London

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