On a miserable day at Craven Cottage, Fulham were decisively beaten by an in-form West Ham team thanks to goals from Snodgrass and Antonio.
It will be the comfortableness of the victory and the ease as to which the Hammers scored their goals that will be of huge concern to Claudio Ranieri and Fulham. The tinkering has already begun with steady signs beginning to show exactly how the Italian wants his team to play – on this evidence however, a lot of work is needed before results can flow as required. The Lilywhites have now played 17 games this season and are rooted to the bottom of the league on nine points – although they remain only three points from safety.
Are Fulham’s wing-backs a problem rather than a threat?
Ranieri has not tinkered massively with the philosophies that Slaviša Jokanović had already implemented – the habit of the full-backs pushing extremely high in order to continue the press, while also offering attacking support, has remained.
Joe Bryan and, curiously, regular centre-back Denis Odoi, were deployed as this match’s wing-backs on the left and right respectively, and both struggled. While Odoi’s crossing was surprisingly good for the majority of the first half, it was his advanced position that allowed a simple ball to Felipe Anderson to expose him badly and ultimately lead to the first West Ham goal.
His wild lunge at the feet of the Brazilian looked foolish and this was matched later by the second West Ham goal, where Antonio found himself free on the left-hand side of the box to control and fire into the net. Perhaps it is time to stop discussing these full back options as potential attacking threats and instead analyse how many goals each subsequent advance up the pitch is costing their side.
Despite fatigue, Anderson impresses once more
Felipe Anderson’s pressing and overall stamina in the fixture against Fulham was slightly below his usual standards. In his defence, he has played a lot of minutes recently and injuries to key individuals in the clubs set up has required the Brazilian to step up. However, even if he was exhausted, his grace on the pitch and astonishing control of the ball is still amazing to see.
He actually ended up summarising West Ham’s attitude to the game quite well – in the second half Anderson was lackadaisical, totally untroubled by the threat that Fulham posed and the reality that the game would be seen out. That attitude in itself, presented by Anderson’s almost bored shimmy around two Fulham defenders late on, should worry Fulham exponentially.
The Hammers can’t continue relying on Lukasz Fabianski
After conceding nine goals in their first three games of the season, West Ham’s defence has creaked and adjusted to get into a state where they can not only see games out but reliably so. Balbuena has come into his own at the centre of the defence (which was on show to good effect on Saturday), and Diop has proven to be a reliable partner in that position as well.
However, the team is still overly-reliant on the excellent, superb form of summer signing Lukasz Fabianski: the ex-Swansea man has been in excellent form from the beginning of the season (forgetting the away game at Huddersfield), with his value being reflected in his ability as an all-rounder.
On Saturday, his shot-stopping was on display; he was called upon early to make a crucial save from Aboubakar Kamara, who tried to fool the keeper into exposing his near post and it is fair to say that another clean sheet for the Hammers is thanks to the brilliance of the man between the sticks.
Jean Michaël Seri is yet to be effective
Jean Michaël Seri has proved the surprise disappointment of Fulham’s summer. A summer of, admittedly, a raft of different disappointments for the club. It is a surprise in principle that he has not lived up to the early promise as he is clearly a talented player who in theory, should be invaluable in his ability to dictate the tempo. However, in retrospect, perhaps Seri’s lack of form is understandable.
What Fulham are now desperately striving for is a strong, physical presence in the centre of the park, shown with the ongoing experiment to reinvent defender Calum Chambers as a defensive midfielder. Perhaps Seri will shine when he has a formidable partner beside him, freeing up attention and space to allow Seri to control games as we know he can. Here again in this match however, he was lightweight, error-prone and totally ineffectual. His substitution on the 60th minute, although unsurprising, was reflective of a much larger problem.
How far can the Hammers go?
It seems like a sudden revelation that West Ham have found a decent spell of form; this was their fourth win in a row, having dispatched Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Newcastle before this game. Fixtures have been kind, form has been kinder and both may continue for a little while yet. What will be fascinating to see is how the team and the squad react to the fixtures turning difficult when they do once more.
In four games they host Arsenal at the London Stadium, a game that already promises to be a fascinating experiment as to how far Pellegrini has taken this side. Are they capable of a comfortable top ten finish? Do they have the consistency for a second-half of the season continental push? It may take a few more clean-sheets and a few less injured players for that dream to become a reality but, for the first time in a while, the word ‘relegation’ is not near a single West Ham fan’s lips which will be a relief to Pellegrini and his side.