Southampton increased West Ham’s woes with a 3-0 victory at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, heaping further pressure on Slaven Bilic.
Puel shows Bilic who’s boss
Tomorrow’s papers are likely to bring plenty of speculation about the future of Slaven Bilic, who is undoubtedly under pressure as West Ham’s woeful start to the season continues to show no signs of improving. However, the Croatian’s opposite number, Claude Puel, deserves plenty of praise for the way he has seamlessly adapted to the Premier League.
Many an eyebrow was raised when Southampton turned to Puel to replace Ronald Koeman this summer, but this is a club which has shown time and time again they are masters of a shrewd appointment. The Frenchman, like his predecessors, has had to contend with the sales of key players over the summer, with Victor Wanyama joining Tottenham and Sadio Mane moving to Liverpool.
And yet Puel has managed to mould an resolute and ruthless outfit, in a system which gets the best out of every player. Aided by the unheralded but impressive arrivals of the likes of Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Hjojberg, any fears Southampton could struggle this season have been swiftly eased, largely down to the nous of Puel.
Claude Puel has now won more games then Remi Garde… So there’s that monkey of his back #saintsfc
— Tom Laxton (@TomLaxton1) September 25, 2016
Dusan Tadic, often shunted out wide in previous seasons, has been allowed to flourish as a number 10 at the tip of a midfield diamond. Nathan Redmond, known as a promising winger, now troubles opposition defenders as a striker. Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand have been given license to push forward from full-back, and did so to impressive effect, with the Portuguese finding himself in a goal-scoring opportunity twice and the former Chelsea man providing the superb assist for Charlie Austin’s opener.
The director of football role is often viewed with a dose of scepticism in England, but it is no coincidence that Southampton so often appoint the right manager and sign the right players. Les Reed deserves a huge amount of credit for establishing Saints as a firmly-established Premier League club. Puel could soon be the next manager in demand.
West Ham’s Olympic ambitions awry
Whereas Southampton and Puel continue to display an obvious consistency in the club’s – here comes that terrible football buzzword – ‘philosophy’, West Ham’s summer points to a distinct sense of incoherence.
After such an impressive campaign last term, the pressure was on Bilic to ensure the club continue to progress, especially as the move to the Olympic Stadium was meant to act as a symbol of the Hammers’ ambition to join the elite level of clubs in the Premier League.
The stadium has instead been christened by an embarrassing defeat in Europa League qualifying, a terrible start to the league campaign, and a myriad of ugly unrest among supporters.
5 – West Ham have lost five of their opening six top-flight games in a season for the first time in their history. Burst. pic.twitter.com/5LZqt8MQON
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 25, 2016
A warning perhaps should have been heeded, given the club’s confusing business in the transfer market. The greatest achievement by West Ham this summer was keeping hold of Dimitri Payet, but rather than try and build a team around the France star, Bilic has instead assembled a muddled squad, falling into the trap of signing a host of squad players rather than significantly strengthening his starting XI.
Bilic was continually frustrated in his attempts to sign a big-name striker, and the club eventually broke their transfer record to sign Andre Ayew. The Ghana international is a decent Premier League player but is not the man to net 20-25 goals a season. Attackers Simone Zaza, Jonathan Calleri, Gokhan Tore, Sofiane Feghouli and Ashley Fletcher also arrived, all of whom would be squad players at best at any top six club.
Meanwhile, no team in the league has conceded more goals than the east Londoners. How did Bilic improve West Ham’s defence in the summer? James Tomkins was allowed to join Crystal Palace, while Alvaro Arbeloa and Arthur Masuaku were signed. Hardly the ambition of a club which should be competing for Europe.
Liverpool and Tottenham have learned their lessons from signing quantity over quality in the past, Bilic will be hoping he gets the chance to do the same.
Austin alerts Allardyce
Sam Allardyce may not have been in attendance to watch his former club, but the England manager’s assistant Sammy Lee was, and Charlie Austin will have played his way into contention for the next squad.
A frustrating run of injuries had made Austin somewhat of a forgotten man, but this is a striker who is a proven goalscorer at Premier League level, having netted 18 times in QPR’s relegation season in 2014/15.
21 – Since his debut (Aug 2014), Charlie Austin has scored as many PL goals as Wayne Rooney (21), despite playing 20 games fewer. Clinical.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 25, 2016
The 27-year-old’s form that season earned him a call-up alongside Jamie Vardy for fixtures against the Republic of Ireland and Slovenia, but while the Leicester forward was handed his debut, Austin remained on the bench.
However, with Harry Kane injured, Austin’s run of five goals in four games could give the former non-league player a chance to finally win his first cap.
Rob Conlon – @robconlon25