Moyes has had 99 problems this season but our defence ain’t one

We're in a relegation battle because of firepower, not a poor defence says Michael Johnson

Jan Thilo Kehrer (WHU) Tomas Soucek (WHU) Nayef Aguerd (WHU) Angelo Ogbonna (WHU) at the West Ham United v Chelsea EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on February 11, 2023.

With this season not going to plan for us it’s easy to look for cracks. If it’s the management, certain players or a lack of flair in certain positions. One place I won’t hear blame though is our defence.  

Yes, I admit at times they’ve made mistakes and there are always ways we could improve but overall I think we’ve had a solid defence. After 24 games played, nearly two-thirds through the season, only five teams had conceded less than us.

In fact, we conceded more goals this time last season but instead of being in a relegation battle, we were sitting happily in 4th. This makes it seem clear to me that it’s our scoring that’s the problem. I hope the Forest thrashing can spark confidence in our strikers to pull us up to a more respectable finish come the end of the season.  

But most importantly I hope our defenders won’t be disheartened by our position and keep working hard as I feel certain players have received unfair stick at times.  For example, Ogbonna had been slated earlier on in the season but since Zouma has been injured he’s really stepped up.  

In these last five games, he’s really got stuck in, highlighted by the fact we’ve only conceded twice. I get that as he gets older he might not be our first choice like he once was but to have a quality replacement of his standard to step-in is such a valuable asset.  

Emerson is another player that was under a lot of fire in the first half of the season. I think as a new signing, he just needed more time and the recent games have shown what he can bring.

Specifically, a creative defender that can provide attacking options, which we desperately need. With Cresswell not as quick as he used to be, I think Emerson is the future on that left side and hope he continues to get more minutes.  

One of the best additions to our defensive lineup is undoubtedly Nayef Aguerd.  It was such bad luck he got injured before he’d even played a minute of Premier League football.  

Since he’s returned in the New Year, I think he’s been one of our best players. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewatched that tackle against Newcastle, which would have certainly been a goal. His speed for a centre-back is just crazy. He’s kept us in games and I think is a huge part of the reason our form has improved.

With results not always going our way, we’ve never actually been thumped by any team.  In all competitions, Boxing Day away to Arsenal is the only time we’ve conceded more than two goals.

West Ham and Newcastle are the only clubs in the Premier League to have conceded three or more just once, which I believe speaks volumes. We obviously need to do more but at least we haven’t been demolished like Bournemouth were against Liverpool earlier in the season.

Entering a period of, hopefully multiple, extra fixtures with the Conference League, I hope Zouma is able to come back soon from injury to increase the depth again to our centre-backs. Since coming to us last season he has proven himself time and time again. If he could recover soon, I think his partnership with Aguerd will be vital for the final third of the season.

Kehrer I’ll admit had an awful debut with a reckless tackle on Welbeck giving Brighton a penalty, which led to our terrible record against the Seagulls continuing. However, since then I think he’s not been as bad as some make out. As the chemistry further gels in this squad, I think he’ll start living up to his reputation.  

Coufal always puts in a shift but it’s easy to reminisce about the player he once was when he first came to us. If Moyes can get him playing back like that week-in, week-out then we’d really have a dangerous backline. Then finally there’s Johnson. I’ve gone back and forth with him since he came up. Part of me loves him as he’s a talented player and it’s nice to see academy players progress into the first team.

Although when I look at others in our defence and players from other teams in his position, he just doesn’t quite compare. I hope I am proven wrong and he turns into a class player for us but I just don’t see this happening. However, I will say as a backup option, he is very good and he is still young just turning 23.  

I do believe we have some really talented defenders in our squad and if the attacking force can help them out just a little bit I think we’ll have a good end to the season.

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