Where has it all gone wrong for West Ham this season? Slaven Bilic's side have no identity and no plan

Too often this season West Ham have looked like a team that has run out of ideas. Except against the very biggest teams, there never seems to be a cohesive plan

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The Independent Football

What if Arsene Wenger was right? The gulf between West Ham United’s last two performances, overpowering Tottenham Hotspur then rolling over for Liverpool, was so vast that it must have left Wenger exasperated as he watched on Sunday afternoon. Hence Wenger’s Monday morning snark about teams “releasing their focus”. He did not need to mention West Ham but he did not need to.

No team shows a bigger gulf between their good and bad days than Slaven Bilic’s side. The defeat of Spurs was the West Ham of last season, who nearly finished fourth and registered seven wins in their 10 games against what we now call the ‘big six’. But Liverpool, nine days later, was this year’s Hammers: sloppy, slow, dismally easy to play against and with no obvious plan.

There is a view that beating the big teams is enough, that it shows that West Ham and Bilic can do it when it really matters. West Ham have delivered some unforgettable games over the last two years, the argument runs, and that surely matters more than silently accumulating Premier League points.

That view is wrong. Being able to beat the good teams but not the bad ones is the sign of a bad team, not a good one. It shows that they can only function when maximally motivated. Which is fine in international football, as Bilic showed with Croatia at Euro 2008 and Euro 2012, but not exactly the best approach over a 38-game season.

The sign of a proper team is that they have an identity, a clear way of playing, that is apparent from the start of every match. Every good team bears the clear imprint of their manager, as Arrigo Sacchi always used to see. But what is West Ham’s identity? What is their structure? Except against the very biggest teams, there never seems to be a cohesive plan.

That is why West Ham cannot win the games they are expected to, when modest opposition comes to the London Stadium and it is their job to unpick them. This year they have lost at home to Watford, Southampton, Leicester City and Astra Giurgiu. Even the home wins that have kept them up, scraping past Sunderland, Burnely, Hull and Swansea all by 1-0, have been desperately unconvincing.

Too often this year West Ham have looked like a team that has run out of ideas, and when their only idea is to play like their lives depend on it, that is no real idea at all.

It has been a tough season for Bilic (Getty)

Of course there are factors beyond Bilic’s control here.

The move to the new stadium has cost West Ham one third of their haul of home points from last season. There have been many more bad days than good ones there this season and some of the defeats, to Manchester City and Arsenal, have been embarrassingly bad. When Arsenal left the pitch after winning 5-1 there last December, one first teamer thought West Ham were one of the worst opponents he had ever faced.

West Ham never truly recovered from losing Payet (Getty)

West Ham lost their best player Dimitri Payet in January, and their purchases last year were nowhere near good enough to make up the gap. Jonathan Calleri, Simone Zaza, Alvaro Arbeloa, Edimilson Fernandes and Ashley Fletcher all struggled to make an impact. That might not be Bilic’s fault but the failure of Gokhan Tore, his player from Besiktas, more likely is.

So not everything is Bilic’s fault, as his team limp towards the end of a disappointing season. But the West Ham board have two options this summer, to give him a new deal or to get rid of him. With the team drifting in the wrong direction, and with Bilic’s motivational burst only likely to wear thinner, what is the case for keeping him on?