Sunday 7 February 2016

Payet needs a wing man

Just when it looked like West Ham were ready to make a coherent challenge for a European spot, we blew it away to Southampton. In reality, this was always going to be a difficult test and a defeat is not the end of the world. In truth, Southampton dominated until Wanyama's foolish exit and thereafter we struggled to unlock a determined Saints defence in difficult blustery conditions where crossing became a lottery.

There were some important learning points. Firstly, Dimitri Payet is being targeted by opposition teams and needs to be protected as much as possible. He is our one truly creative force right now and teams have realised that if you deny him space that for all their energy and effort, Noble, Song and Kouyate are not natural lockpickers.

When reduced to ten men Southampton seemed happy to let Alex Song dance into their eighteen yard box feeling confident that he wouldn't cause too much harm - and they were right! However, Manny Lanzini is soon to return and any opposition that gives him the space afforded to Song will undoubtedly be punished. Lanzini's presence as a second lockpicker will provide a much bigger test of bus-parking defences and also create more space for Payet. Soon come.

It's not yet clear what exactly caused Tonks departure or how long he will be out but young Sam Byram provided spirited back up. However, he is far from the finished product as was evidenced by his sometimes overanxious movement of the ball in attack. More concerning still was his foolish two footed challenge that earned a yellow, but could easily have been red.

So, an opportunity missed but we can bounce back. For now, let's get focused on the FA Cup again and Tuesday night's Liverpool replay. Klopp is likely to be loyal to the young side who outplayed us at Anfield. Bilic will expect our senior squad to prevail.



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