Just like Lance Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army, Sir Trevor Brooking is urging West Ham fans not to panic after a miserable August that saw us lose three times and concede six goals. But the West Ham legend is urging Manuel Pellegrini to choose the right players and formation to make the Hammers less vulnerable at the back to stop fans saying: ‘We’re doomed’ after we’ve navigated a tricky first eight games.
Sir Trevor is also calling on the Hammers boss to get the best out of our record signing Filipe Anderson and centre-back Issa Diop, or face both becoming embarrassing flops after their summer moves to east London. Starting with our defeat away at Anfield, Sir Trevor admits we may have been foolish to try our new system with so many new signings against a side of Liverpool’s quality.
‘I went up to Liverpool for the game and they were, to be fair, very good. They’ve brought in new players, their front three were always exciting last year, and now they’ve got that little number eight in Keita in the middle of the park who looked sharp against us and during their second game against Palace,’ Sir Trev said. ‘We’ve bought nine players and started five for the first and when you try to play a new system with that amount of fresh faces, it will be a problem up there. We played quite a high line with the back four and it’s probably the worst opening game to try that because you have their front three who are lightning quick and their two full backs in Alexander-Arnold and Robertson who keep bombing on.
‘The problem was we tried to push up but they kept getting down the byline and the scary thing was that there must have been seven or eight balls that went right across our six-yard box whereas you’d normally try and get a defender at the near post to block it. With so many making it through and across the six-yard box because our lads haven’t quite got back in time, it was no surprise that two of them got slotted in.
‘It was always going to be a tough challenge and when you are under that sort of pressure you’re not going to find it easy to cause them problems and we didn’t create a lot.’
As for our first home game of the season, Sir Trev feels perhaps we all put too much emphasis on getting a victory in this game. ‘While everybody accepted the result against Liverpool, with Bournemouth up next there was a feeling it would all change but when you are trying to settle in so many players, it doesn’t work that way. We could have been a bit more relaxed going to Arsenal had we got the win against Bournemouth after being one-nil up at half time but having said that, Bournemouth created some chances in the first half so it wasn’t a surprise when they scored.
‘We created chances in the first half too and looked more threatening going forward in the first half because we had two up top which we’ve rarely had in the last couple of seasons but the first two games, the defence has been vulnerable. I was, like everyone else, hoping we would get a result against Bournemouth because if you look at the fixtures, the first eight games are really tough and that was the one you’d be looking to get a win because our first three away games are Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton and then our third and fourth home games are against Chelsea and Man U.
‘It really would have been good to go to Arsenal on the back of a win and play against a side who had lost their first two games of the season against Manchester City and Chelsea. They were desperate to get a home win to get off the mark so – had things been different – it might have been the perfect time to play them.’
While it hasn’t been the perfect start, Sir Trev, whose total appearances for West Ham are only beaten by Billy Bonds, Bobby Moore, and Frank Lampard Snr, says it is still too early to make a proper assessment of our new signings. ‘I’m sure the fans were delighted to see the money spent to blood some new faces. Obviously a lot of money went on Anderson and Diop,’ he continued. ‘Diop didn’t play in the first two games which was a bit of a surprise, while Anderson has been on the left-hand side and I don’t know if that’s his best position.
‘Against Bournemouth Anderson didn’t quite link up with anyone. Passes went astray and I do wonder if he could instead play just off the striker as a number 10. Clearly if you are one of the wide players, you need to track back and perhaps he hasn’t done that where he’s been before and that perhaps causes a problem.
‘But when you send the best part of £60 million on two players, you want to try and see them making an impact as quickly as possible. Anderson has showed flashes of his ability but he struggled in his first game at Liverpool and the understanding wasn’t really there for the Bournemouth game.’
When it comes to the man picking the players and formation, Sir Trev believes – despite the amount of money and players he has brought in – he was already in a tricky position before a ball was kicked under the new regime. ‘We need to remember that Pellegrini has a good track record. He managed at Man City, won the league and had big players to manage. But it’s not easy to come into a club like West Ham where you’ll see videos of the team and you can make an assessment of what’s needed but arguably the best player we’ve had other than Arnautovic, is Lanzini and he was injured before the World Cup so he lost him straight away.
‘When that happened, I thought that was a huge blow. Reid is out for quite a while too so that’s two big losses, but if you’re asking me where we’d finish before a ball was kicked this season, I was saying to friends that 10th would do me. The top six is going to be difficult to break into. Then I was thinking of the likes of Leicester, Everton, who spent a lot of money, and I thought Fulham or Wolves would be OK because they’d spent a lot of dough so then you’re looking for between seventh to 12th really.
‘You’re also looking to try and keep out of the eight who are looking over their shoulder and to keep out of trouble and that’s where we’ve been over the last two years and it’s not been great. Of course, you want a goodish start to make sure you’re not doing that after the first six weeks but after I saw the fixtures, I thought it was going to be a tough start.
‘Losing the Bournemouth game makes everyone edgy and I imagine Pellegrini is probably looking at it himself with all these different, new players and asking: “what’s my best starting XI?”. You see plenty of your players in pre-season but you’re not playing against the sort of quality you come up against in the Premier League so for me, he’s going to have to find a way quickly.
‘Because we lost to Liverpool and then Bournemouth, everyone was saying “oh no what’s happening” as if we could just press a button and everything would be OK but it does take time.’
Sir Trev – who scored 102 goals in 647 appearances for West Ham – hopes four new players are able to kick on and be successful in the coming months, and the rest of the season. ‘To say all of our summer signings are going to be great is a nonsense because it doesn’t work out that way. You’re going to get a third who are good, a third who will do OK and a third who aren’t as good as we thought. I think the ‘keeper has done well and I know it sounds silly but at Liverpool, you couldn’t really blame him – he made some great saves. I’m quite relaxed about him because he should be fine.
‘Fredericks was a player I liked the idea of because I saw him at Fulham two or three games last year and he did OK. He is more of a wing back, an attacking player and he did get caught out a couple of times at Liverpool but it must be strange for him going from playing as a wing back to playing in a flat back four trying to hold the 18 yard box.
‘Because they wanted to be so narrow so they didn’t get caught out down the middle, he had a tough time at Liverpool but at home against Bournemouth, I thought it was going to be Fredericks that would start so I was surprised that he didn’t. It’s going to be tough for him now because he’ll see it as he’s joined a new club, started one game and now has been left out, but I still think he is going to be decent.
‘Diop I don’t know much about. I saw him play about 10 minutes against Ipswich in pre-season and he is tall, quick but there clearly are some doubts as he didn’t get the nod to start any pre-season games ahead of Balbuena. Balbuena’s more experienced and OK in the air but he isn’t the quickest and certainly for the first goal against Bournemouth, he lost the tackle and as well as Wilson did, it would be one goal that the manager would have been tearing his hair out at.
‘Jack Wilshere has done OK. He did better in the second half against Liverpool when he was a bit deeper. In the first half he was just off the striker and we didn’t really use him as we didn’t get a lot of the ball. At home to Bournemouth I thought he did OK playing in that slightly deeper role, and I think Jack will be fine. I would play him deep. I think he is better facing the opposition and finding passes, running and shielding the ball.
‘Yarmolenko is OK. He’s not going to track back but I thought he did one or two decent crosses when he came on against Bournemouth and I actually thought Perez did quite well when he came on so they have all flickered. At the moment it feels like the classic combination of loads of people coming in and the manager not knowing who his best starting XI is yet.’
What is concerning Sir Trev more than anything else is our defence and how quickly we can concede goals and he has outlined what he’d like to see in the next couple of months. ‘The first goal against Bournemouth was bad but then we conceded again so soon after – something we’ve done a lot over the last couple of seasons. We cannot keep being a victim to these double whammies. Sure you’ll concede but then you need to get back down to business and get back into the lead whereas we have been letting the other team build on their momentum, get the second goal and then bring on another defender and then it’s even harder to break down.
‘At some stage we’ve also got to try and lock up our defensive frailty that keeps shipping so many goals and has been a niggle for the last couple of seasons. We conceded nine in our first three games but it could have been so many more. It’s been too easy to score goals against us but with Pellegrini’s experience, we’ve got the rely on him to sort this and get us to shut up shop a bit.
‘That’s not me saying I want us to be ultra defensive but we’ve got to get through a couple of games where we think we are looking pretty solid and that gives you the foundation to add attacking improvement. We really don’t want to be doom and gloom in three months’ time, I want to see green shoots of improvements and that individual players are settled and playing better. But at the moment I can’t see us picking up a lot of points with that fragile defensive display we saw in the first two games.
‘We’ve got to get mentally right because there are no easy games in Premier League and we need to make it harder for the teams playing us.’
As for the comments from Manuel Pellegrini about fans leaving early during the Bournemouth game, Sir Trev could understand both sides. ‘Coming into a club as the new manager and bringing in so many new players, I think that was a surprise for him but he hasn’t been here over the past couple of years so he doesn’t know how frustrated we’ve been and rather than shouting and hollering at the players, they will go out.
‘So it was probably something new to him. When he was at Man City, he wouldn’t have experienced that before and I don’t know what happens abroad if there is just one goal in it but the fans sitting there watching it could sense we weren’t going to get back into it so they decided to leave early and that’s their prerogative.
‘Some of the new players would have looked at how quickly it emptied and thought ‘goodness me’ but after the past couple of years, the fans are frustrated and the patience isn’t there. Now the players have to turn it around and get the fans on their side. I thought there was a pretty good noise in the first half against Bournemouth but it was just the two goals in quick succession that knocked us and the fans continued the habit of the past couple of seasons. You can only turn that around by performances and results and that’s easier said than done with the fixtures we have.’
Sir Trevor Brooking was speaking to Dave Walker, Kev Slade and Exwhuemployee on the 100th episode of the West Ham Way show on Phoenix FM. Listen to this podcast and more in their archive at phoenixfm.com/category/the-west-ham-way/