West Ham must believe they can compete with the big boys

We don’t play Manchester City every week but the team must show some bottle

It’s a good thing that we’re not keeping a running total from our London Stadium games against Manchester City.

We’re now into our fourth season in our new stadium and City have run up an incredible 22-1 aggregate scoreline against us with great thanks to Aaron Cresswell for, somehow, saving our blushes by scoring that one crucial goal for us. Otherwise it could have been embarrassing.

We’ve approached this yearly game with different players, different formations, different managers (three at last count), and even with and without the stunning rug surrounding the pitch; yet the result always seems
to be the same – it’s a landslide victory for the visitors.

In our five games against City at the London Stadium, we first lost 5-0 to City in the FA Cup in January 2017, followed the next month by a 4-0 loss which, with one less goal conceded, could be seen as progress.

Our home games in 2018 (April and November) saw us lose 4-1 and 4-0 respectively and, most recently and perhaps also most disappointingly given our actual investment into the squad, we’ve lost 5-0 in August 2019 in a game where VAR ruled and we failed to look like capable opposition after a well-played first half.

Manchester City are a fantastic team, but they aren’t impossible to play. The trouble is, we believe they are – and so we allow them to run rings around us with minimal resistance.

Our biggest problem isn’t even physical. It’s not the combination of players on the pitch, or manager on the side of it. It’s not fitness, or injuries.

It’s all about confidence; or, in our case, the lack thereof. In many games we start strong and by playing decent football.

The trouble is, that once one goal goes in from the opposition, we lose all confidence in our abilities.

We believe that the floodgates have opened and that the rest of the goals will start thundering in – and because we believe it, we allow it to be true.

You can see it in the players; their heads go down, their shoulders drop. The defence – and even, genuinely – the attack that they’ve maintained up until that point goes completely out of the window, which allows City to take advantage and completely exploit us.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and this was painfully obvious in our last game against City, where a marginal VAR decision to rule out a City goal that was offside by perhaps the millimetre of a shoulder at best was all that stopped us from finishing the game losing by six goals instead of five.

What’s frustrating is how avoidable it was based on the first half of football. We played well in the first half. There were reasons to be optimitstic.

We defended well and, perhaps more importantly, put together some great attacking runs. The passing was good, the ball was moved forwards – but
it all slowed when City got the ball in the back of the net in the 25th minute.

It went from bad to worse in the second half, when we were completely opened up to allow another four goals to soar in without any real resistance.

It’s been depressing viewing in our new home, but it would be naive to believe this is a problem that’s limited to the walls of the London Stadium – mainly because it isn’t.

In 2013/14 we were forced to play City both home and away in the League Cup, ending in a record 9-0 aggregate victory for the bluer of the teams.

The two games remain absent from the West Ham website’s fixtures and results from that year, as it’s best if we try to forget what happened. It is still on record that they put another five goals past us in league games that year, popping us on a 14-1 aggregate for that year alone.

The yearly slaughterings from City aren’t pleasant, and as years go by, they get more difficult to accept.

The team has been invested in in recent years. We’re making a slow climb up the table and away from the relegation zone, earning more points per year – but we’ve made no progress what-so- ever in avoiding huge defeats to City.

The truth is, the money, the investment, the progress – it’s irrelevant for as long as the team lack the confidence and belief to take on a good team.

Until our players begin to believe they can play against City, that one goal scored doesn’t have to lead to another four goals following, they will continue to be caught in a cycle of conceding landslides of goals against the Champions.

We’re capable of so much better; we just need to believe it.

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