William Hill - Bet £10, Get £30 in Free Bets!

There is something blanketing the Olympic Stadium.

A dark mist that has been choking one of last season’s most vivacious teams.

What is the malaise hampering the Hammers?West Ham have made a deathly poor start to the 2016/17 season, and almost as worrying as their record over the first six games of the league campaign – five losses and one win – is the fact that the malaise they’re wading through is so very mysterious. Slaven Bilic appears baffled by it, as does Mark Noble. Both were embarrassed after the 3-0 defeat to Southampton last weekend, bemoaning the various defensive miscarriages that occurred, but offering very little as far as a tangible explanation for them.

And that’s because it’s difficult to explain; with only one significant defensive player leaving over the off-season – James Tomkins – this is largely the same team that looked, for the most part, highly capable last term. The defensive unit, so frail and panicked of late, was, for much of last season, unified and defiant. The issue of a constantly revolving right back was present last season as well – Tomkins, Michail Antonio, Carl Jenkinson and others all played there – so the fact that it has endured into this season can’t explain the general defensive collapse we have seen over the past six matches, though it hasn’t helped.

The resilience shown last November when, following a 4-1 defeat to Spurs, the Hammers went on a streak conceding just four goals in eight games, appears to have abandoned Bilic’s troops, who have now conceded 11 goals in their past three games. When West Ham defeated Manchester City 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium last September, it was a result secured thanks to a backs-to-the-wall, bloody last stand from Winston Reid and Co, as City peppered the West Ham goal in search of an equaliser. Such an effort is unthinkable at the moment. This fragility has bred a more general plummeting of form throughout the team; Dimitri Payet looked flimsy and uninspired against Saints, as did almost all of the other West Ham attackers.

So what has changed? Well, obviously, the biggest change is the stadium. There is a vast mass of intangible things the match-day atmosphere can give to a team, and it’s clear that the Boleyn Ground gave West Ham something last season that they are currently not getting from the shallow, sprawling bowl that is the Olympic Stadium. Last season, West Ham would often take control of a game in small 15 minute surges, where the attacking fluency was lubricated by a rising aural upswing emanating from around them. It is difficult to understand that, in spite of the fact there are around 25,000 more people watching every home game in the flesh now, the same aural surges are not being broadcast as effectively by the crowd down to the players in the new stadium. How much this is affecting the players is extremely hard to determine precisely. Of course, getting behind your team is always easier when they’re winning; poor performances and a damaging lack of crowd support go hand-in-hand, twirling in a vicious circle, a deadly, withering game of Ring A-Ring O’ Roses.

It’s clear, though, that the team feels uncertain in their new surrounds, a little frazzled and jittery, and individual defensive errors only exacerbate the issue. But, as much as one might sympathise with Bilic and Noble – the two people upon whom the most responsibility rests to urge their team out of this funk – considering the abstract, enigmatic nature of the problems at hand, they simply cannot be entirely excused. As Winston Reid and Cheikhou Kouyate dribbled their team into strife against Saints, tottering on the ball, offering up the disarray that handed Southampton their second goal, Noble was there at the epicentre, watching limply. Noble had, ten minutes earlier, been responsible for what should have been a Southampton goal, when he neglected to track Dusan Tadic’s, allowing the Saint’s attacker an unchecked stroll to the penalty spot to receive a simple cut back. Luckily, the Serb’s shot flew too near to Adrian, but it was no thanks to Noble’s non-efforts.

In the post-match interview, Noble called the performance laughable, saying “on the bright side, I don’t think it can get any worse”. He’s wrong about that, because a loss to promoted Middlesbrough this weekend would indeed send the Hammers into a deeper, darker hole than the inky well they’re in now.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Evan Morgan Grahame
Blog: wildwordsofsport.com, Twitter: @WWofSport
for Outside 90, Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

Note: The views expressed within this blog post are those of the contributing author, and may not necessarily reflect those of MatchDayApp Limited, its representatives or associated partners.

Would you like to contribute to the MatchDayApp Blog? If so, please take a look at our guest blogger guidelines and get in touch.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,