Premier League: Pellegrini already under pressure with Hammers in relegation trouble
Alex Keble looks at what's gone wrong for West Ham under Manuel Pellegrini and predicts that both club and manager will struggle to recover this season...
"West Ham fans have endured an appalling two years in their new home, the London Stadium’s soullessness a symbol of the board’s pursuit of a glamorous, but essentially hollow, identity over a more intelligent or organic business strategy. Relegation would be a fitting end to a disastrous chapter in the club’s history."
Not every club that loses four successive Premier League matches is automatically in crisis mode, but given the mutinous atmosphere that has engulfed West Ham United ever since their ill-fated move to the London Stadium it is fair to say this is one club in serious trouble. The last time they began a campaign so badly, in 2010/11, they finished rock bottom under the woeful stewardship of Avram Grant. The last time any Premier League club lost their opening four matches the manager - Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace 12 months ago - was promptly sacked.
Relegation and a swift managerial exit are now firmly on the cards for the Hammers. Of the eight clubs to have lost their first four games in the Premier League era only twice has the manager lasted the entire campaign, and only one of these two successfully avoided relegation (Steve McClaren at Middlesbrough in 2001/02). The odds are stacked against Pellegrini, if not the club: four of the eight survived the drop thanks, McClaren aside, to a new manager bump.
Pellegrini faces the sack
West Ham's opening four games might have included a tough opener against Liverpool and a trip to the Emirates but their performances in both matches were seriously underwhelming, while West Ham's displays in both the Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bournemouth games were frankly atrocious. Pellegrini's job must be under review, even if reports on Monday suggested the threat was not "imminent".
David Gold and David Sullivan will be having serious conversations, however, not least with a trip to Goodison Park and home ties against Chelsea and Manchester United in their next three Premier League matches. That's a pretty ominous looking immediate future for West Ham to stew in over the next two weeks.
The September international break is traditionally the first time clubs can take stock of their start to the season and, if necessary, reassess. The league table finally means something once the fourth round of fixtures have been played and for those struggling it can be a long, wearying fortnight without a game. Pellegrini needs to spend this time motivating his players, lifting spirits by identifying the problems and coming up with solutions. Unfortunately for Hammers fans Pellegrini and his lopsided squad frankly don't look up to the task.
West Ham's two fatal flaws
The biggest issues facing the club have been the same for several years, namely at right-back and central midfield, and yet not only did Pellegrini fail to strengthen these areas he also introduced an expansive attacking game that accentuates the flaws.
Attempting a haphazard high press while under-stocking midfield were the hallmarks of Pellegrini's final two years at Manchester City, in which the Blues finished with 79 and 66 points, and yet West Ham are closely mirroring those tactics. An inability to learn from his mistakes or strengthen the weak points defined a frustrating 24 months in Manchester. Early signs at the London Stadium suggest he hasn't changed.
Across four league matches Pellegrini continues to: pick flair attackers such as Marko Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson despite the defence desperately needing the extra support; deploy just two in central midfield despite possessing slow and weak players in this position; and instruct both full-backs to bomb forward at the same time despite this increasing their vulnerability to the counter-attack.
Too easy to beat
The end result is opponents working out exactly how and where to target West Ham. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Bournemouth bunched their passing through the middle of the pitch to expose the likes of Jack Wilshere and Mark Noble, as well as positioning their most creative player on the left wing to put Pablo Zabaleta or Ryan Fredericks under pressure.
Sadio Mane and Ryan Fraser were dominant for Liverpool and Bournemouth respectively, but it took Unai Emery 45 minutes to detect the chink in the armour. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was shifted out wide in place of Alex Iwobi for the second half and Arsenal promptly seized control, scoring twice to win 3-1.
It might have taken Wolves 94 minutes to finally break the deadlock but that is largely because Nuno Esperito Santo isn't a reactive coach. His refusal to budge from the same 3-4-3 tactic explains their erratic start to life in the Premier League, and yet even Wolves eventually worked out what to do, applying late pressure to central midfielder Carlos Sanchez and forcing the mistake.
Conclusion: disaster on the horizon
Pellegrini won't fix West Ham's problems, not only because he is stubborn in his wide-open attacking philosophy but because he simply doesn't have the squad to change things. Sanchez, Noble, and Wilshere aren't good enough and it's too late to sign reinforcements. Fredericks and Zabaleta will be a liability all season. The Chilean is the best bet to win the sack race, available at 4/1, and with a dearth of decent managers currently on the market West Ham to go down, priced at 11/4, is worth a punt.
West Ham fans have endured an appalling two years in their new home, the London Stadium's soullessness a symbol of the board's pursuit of a glamorous, but essentially hollow, identity over a more intelligent or organic business strategy. Relegation would be a fitting end to a disastrous chapter in the club's history.