We knew there would be bad days. We told ourselves we must keep our heads when they happen. And that Daniel Farke and his players had done more than enough last season to earn our trust this.
That keeping your head lark, when all about you are losing theirs is no quite so easy when the time comes though is it.
And sure enough…
That’s not to say there were too many plus points to cling onto because there weren’t – other than Tim Krul’s excellence that kept the score down to a sober level.
It will take some sifting for City’s team of analysts to try and pull together a positives package from what became an increasingly nightmarish afternoon in Stratford.
But afternoon’s of this ilk have been rare of late and not since last September have we had to indulge in this much naval-gazing, the type you do after games where it feels as if almost nothing clicks and little goes right.
So – analysts, you can have this one for nothing – to have headed home off the back of a 2-0 defeat when it could have easily been 5 -0 or 6-0, was in itself something of a result. But for Krul’s heroics, it would have been.
And there’s the rub. It wasn’t the 2-0 defeat that was disappointing – a 2-0 defeat to an expensively assembled but also pretty good West Ham is no disgrace – but rather the level of performance when we know our heroes are capable of so much better. This wasn’t one of those defeats where we were left still feeling proud.
If teams like West Ham, blessed with the likes of Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini in their squad, perform well then it is going to be tough for City to live with them, especially away from home. That’s a sad fact.
That’s not to say City won’t pick up points away from, I feel sure they will, but we do need to find a system and a level of performance that doesn’t permit the opposition of the day time and space to play themselves into the game and then impose themselves on it.
Other than a decent opening 15 minutes in which City did look threatening, it all just looked a little too easy for the Hammers, who as the game wore on were able to knock the ball around in little triangles almost at will with our ailing midfield, in particular, barely able to lay a glove on them.
It was a midfield mix designed for City to have more than their fair share of the ball. Against Newcastle, who were happy to not press and let us have the ball, it worked beautifully with the two Germans at its base instrumental in everything good that we did.
But when you set up to have the ball, then don’t have enough of it the problems occur. Tommy Trybull and Mo Leitner as the ballast in that midfield are not going to thwart wave after wave of attacks. They’ll both compete, both put their foot in, but neither are physically equipped to deal with Premier League midfields who use physicality as well as top quality technique to outnumber and outpower.
Farke doesn’t need telling that that particular mix needs addressing.
Ball retention too was an issue yesterday and it was an afternoon unbefitting of a team that has passed the ball with such precision over the last year. The system demands that it’s passed with accuracy and tempo, and when neither of those things happen it tends to fall over.
The mitigation, of course, is that to play with the swagger we did in the Championship in the top division is that much more difficult, with the intensity and pressure on the ball being that much greater. What’s a simple pass in the second tier becomes that little bit more tricky to execute in the Premier League.
To give the ball away in the Premier League invariably ends badly. Either you have to wait patiently before you get another turn to play with it again, or you get punished bu conceding a goal. Todd Cantwell will not need reminding that his nothing pass that led to Yarmolenko’s goal was just asking for trouble.
But again that’s something that will be analysed by Team Farke over the next fortnight and has to be remedied. Oddly, it’s the one area I expected us to be okay with, with it being our thing and all, and in the last couple of seasons when engaging with Premier League teams in the cups we passed the ball beautifully.
Hopefully, on that score, yesterday was just a bad one.
The Christoph Zimmermann incident was obviously disappointing and potentially costly but mustn’t be used to disguise the paucity of the performance. Paul Tierney should have booked Haller, no question, but I’m not convinced he was ‘out of control’ sufficiently for a red.
In a true twist of Norwich City fate, it had to be Haller who put the Hammers 1-0 up just three minutes after fouling our captain, with Zimmermann unable to make up the ground due to the impact the foul.
We didn’t lose because Tierney and VAR screwed up though. We lost because on the day we weren’t good enough.
But, *perspective klaxon*, the season is just four games old and in those four games, we have played the Champions League and Europa League Champions. The game we had pencilled in for possibly picking up points we won, and yesterday was the only genuine Premier League disappointment we have suffered so far.
So, let’s keep the toys in the pram for now and not slate Stuart Webber for not buying another centre-back, when it was perfectly fair to assume he had four available, five if we include Ibrahim Amadou.
The theory of giving those who got us to the Premier League a chance to play there should surely apply equally to central defenders. No one could have legislated for the injuries – that’s football.
The international break has, on this occasion, probably come at a good time. Time to take stock and go again in a fortnight against… eerrr… Manchester City.