West Ham need to be bolder in playing younger players next season
It has long been the case that when West Ham turn a corner, they usually find another roadblock.
Such was the case Sunday, when the Hammers came up against Liverpool in what many expected to be a difficult chase for Champions League points for the Merseyside club. The Hammers might have moved to a big stadium set amongst glorious parklands and canals, but some backgrounds never change.
It was hoped that when the club left their old home in Green Street, they would leave behind their infuriating inconsistency. Sadly, it seems that they have transported it with them.
After an exhilarating and battling display against Spurs the week before, it might have been expected -- at the very least -- that Liverpool would need to be at their best to overcome the Hammers.
It wasn't to be, however. In a limp and half-hearted performance, the Hammers faithful were forced to sit through another afternoon when they had turned up, but their heroes had not. Liverpool were impressive, but West Ham allowed them to be so.
The real issue about the performance against Jürgen Klopp's men was the lack of options. Shorn of Cheikhou Kouyate and Mark Noble, who joined Pedro Obiang and MIchail Antonio with season-ending injuries, there seemed to be little in reserve.
It's hard to believe that players such as Reece Oxford and Reece Burke are better off playing Championship/League One football when they could be gaining experience in the Premier League. Neither might have been able to stem the Red tide on Sunday, but at least they would have learned something.
In the case of Oxford in particular, this was someone deemed good enough to start against teams such as Arsenal and Leicester City just over a year ago. What's to be gained by continually loaning out players such as he?
Older fans will remember someone such as Tony Cottee having an opportunity to start in the old First Division and seizing the chance with both feet. Whole careers can be carved out in such moments. Like Oxford, Cottee was eventually required to be rested after a seismic start -- that happens with younger players -- but the striker came back later to become a West Ham legend.
It's time the club reviewed their policy toward Academy stars. When the club is forced to pay £20 million for Andre Ayew -- a forward who managed to strike a post twice within seconds when a yard outside of the goal and no keeper in sight against Liverpool -- serious questions need to be asked.
Not that Ayew was the worst offender. His might have been the miss of the season, but at least he was in a place to miss it. One suspects Jonathan Calleri dreams of missing such a chance. As it is, the Argentine forward looks completely out of place in the Premier League, and it's hard to see how Slaven Bilic can persevere with a player he apparently rates highly.
The end of the season is in sight, and the problems for Bilic this summer are identical to those of the past. Money is available, but the best players want to join a club in the top seven. To compete and move the club forward, the Hammers need to take a punt on a player happy to see a move to Stratford as a step up and hope the gamble pays off. It has always been a problem for a middling top team such as West Ham. But now, with a big stadium to fill, the club -- from owners to coaching staff -- need to plan a way forward.
On Sunday, the last day of the 2016-17 season, West Ham travel to Turf Moor to play Burnley. It's a nothing match with little at stake, barring a few league placings and a bigger share of the Premier League millions.
The Hammers have a good record against the other Claret and Blue club, and this is the type of match in which the East London side might be expected to take some points. The Clarets have an excellent home record this season and will want to finish on a high, though.
This then is the type of game in which it would be considered a bonus if the manager were able to play a few youngsters and see what happens. Unfortunately, chances are the same faces will be seen again, and the campaign will limp toward its inevitable lower-mid-table end.
It's been a difficult season in many ways, and most fans have understood the situation and been patient. But there needs to be some positive direction by next August. Supporters might not be as accommodating next time out.
Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is ESPN FC's West Ham blogger.