The cold hard facts of closing the gulf

There has been a brush with cold reality as far as West Ham is concerned these past few days. With the accent on the cold bit!

But you’d think we had just re-appointed big Sam the way some folk are behaving. Without wanting to bore you unduly, take a look at David Moyes’ after match quotes as to why and how we only lost 2-1 to one of the world’s best and richest clubs. Every word should be digested and understood.

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The North: never an easy place to come to

Look, we were facing a side with superb ball retention, technique, tactical awareness and outstanding skills capable of beating any team on the planet.

Moyes talked of trying to reach their level. What he wouldn’t say, obviously, is that we have players not quite as good as City’s, not as talented and sometimes that is an impossible gap to overcome. Basically Man City have greater individual quality.

Moyes says we are trying to combat that by having a good team and getting the best out of our players. He said: “I think the fans that were here, were pleased with the effort the players put in and we came very close to getting something.

“We’re getting a little bit better but we can still see the gulf we’re going to have to bridge if we are really serious about challenging the really top teams.” Last season we drew with them at our place and this term knocked them out of the League Cup. So bit by bit we are getting closer.

But there is a glass ceiling, it’s what Everton under Moyes and now Leicester are discovering. So what we have discovered is that when we are not ‘at it’ as the pros say, not on top of our game, then results like losing at Wolves happen. So much of the Moyes style and system depends on work rate, running and intensity that when we are not spot on, we struggle.

But as football has developed into a pressing game, that just about applies to every team these days.

As for Manchester City, and having thawed out by now and watched the whole thing through again on Sky - yes, my wife does think I’m mad - I don’t think we did as badly as I first thought. Certainly not as bad as the battering the team and manager got from some social media experts.

Long ago I stopped being that bothered by the views of folk who were not at the match, have only seen highlights or watched on a dodgy feed on a small laptop screen.

And I was probably hard on the team afterwards. Watching Man City from the second tier of the Etihad gives a wonderful view of how a brilliant, possession-based side take control of a game and relentlessly pull a team apart. Pep Guardiola called it “putting the ball in the fridge” after the destruction of Manchester United recently. A cold hearted passing machine. A perfect description of controlling possession and not conceding the ball... like we did far too often.

I suppose I was upset by our frequent loss of possession, poor choice of pass when we did have it and a failure to take the small amount of opportunities that did come our way. But that’s the difference, the gulf Moyes is talking about.

However I don’t think our team deserved the ear-bashing they got from some people online. The team that had beaten Paris St. Germain last week needed to bring on Fernandinho, one of the best defensive midfielders, in the final few minutes to stop Declan Rice’s growing influence on the game as we gave it a real go in that last 15 minutes.

Defensively we were outstanding. Against the very best you must still be in contention in the final 20 minutes - and we were. Come out and play and you get destroyed.

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A difficult afternoon for Said?

This was the team that had clinically dismantled Manchester United, humiliated Everton and overpowered and outplayed PSG - Messi, Nymar and Mbappe and all - in recent matches. But we were not dismantled, we were not humiliated, we were not overpowered or outplayed. Far from it.

The difference from an identical result and defeat last February was uncanny. Guardiola has called that West Ham performance the most difficult they had faced at home last term. The difference was that we had Jesse Lingard then, and his pace and attacking ability threatened to unhinge City that day.

Lingard wasn’t around on Sunday to produce that direct running. Without wanting to single out Said Benrahma, who on second looking had a much better game than I first thought, Lingard is a better player and we should move heaven and earth to sign him in January.

One of those chances that Moyes pointedly referred to came when Michail Antonio got down the left early on and pulled back a cross that Benrahma should have converted from close range, but he had a couple of touches and lost the ball. That would not have happened at the other end. Said needed to hit it first time, like a Man City player would have done.

Like Ilkay Gundogan did from close in for Man City’s first goal, when he got himself in front of Ben Johnson in the six yard box. A gulf can be such a small thing at times, but it’s why Man City are what they are.

Benrahma, in fact, found a lot of space behind Man City’s midfield and never stopped working and running. But it’s those final touches, speed of thought and better decision making at pace that is not quite there.

Manuel Lanzini came on in that role for a late cameo, scored the best goal of the day and may well get a run-out against Brighton this week before we have Chelsea at our place on Saturday, where I will not be present due to my grand daughter’s birthday party. She’s six, I'm sure you will all understand the priorities.

Finally, a final word for my travelling colleagues, many of whom did not get to the game because of another day of train chaos and horrible weather.

It’s been like that for a while. For the Aston Villa game there was a train crash in the west country and trees on the line elsewhere that reduced Euston and New Street to the usual level of panic. It wasn't much better for the Wolves match, for which there were more cancellations as on Sunday. Manchester trains being taken out of action at Euston at the last minute.

Getting home through the snow must have been fun and just for a change, living in the Manchester area had some advantages. Not having to endure Avanti’s shambolic takeover of the West Coast line for a change was welcomed.

And our fans responded like they always do. Constant noise, which could be heard throughout the TV rerun on Sky. And you can tell the players and manager appreciate it. More so than Everton fans I noticed, after yet another defeat. You can find the footage on YouTube if you fancy a good laugh.

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