Attackers on fire
Yes, it was only a friendly. Yes, it was against a team that made ten changes early in the second half. Yes, Celtic are not the European force they once were. And yes, West Ham still desperately need a striker.
But the Hammers’ finishing was superb at Celtic Park.
If we are being very picky it should have been eight. Before Michail Antonio got his first of the game both he and Jarrod Bowen missed very presentable opportunities to get the Hammers on the scoreboard.
Antonio showed terrific pace to get beyond the Celtic defence but his attempt on goal was well saved by Vasilis Barkas in the Hoops goal, in truth the Hammers number nine took the wrong option when attempting to curl into the far post with the near half of the goal gaping.
Bowen was also culpable of a poor miss after his first touch let him down and allowed the goalkeeper a chance to smother his effort.
Those two chances aside the West Ham finishing and attacking play was sublime. The team realised quickly Antonio had the beating of both centre-backs for pace and played on this weakness in their host’s backline. The Hammers striker took his two goals superbly and won a penalty before half-time after getting goalside of his marker once more, Mark Noble, of course, calmly buried the spot-kick.
Said Benrahma then got in on the fun with a brilliantly taken goal after leaving two Celtic men for dead. Bowen made up for his earlier miss with a fantastic cute finish and former Celtic man Armstrong Oko-Flex silenced the booing home fans with an accurate effort from a tight angle.
Yes, West Ham need more options up front but on today’s evidence, it will take a very good player to force his way into the starting XI.
The worst thing that can happen during a pre-season friendly is an injury to a key player. Results, as David Moyes has said, do not matter, it is about performances and fitness.
So for West Ham to see their most important defender hobble off injured after just seven minutes was a very worrying sight.
There was no word from the club on the extent of Ogbonna’s injury after the match so hopefully, the decision to withdraw the Italian from the fray was precautionary rather than anything more serious.
However, his injury, whatever the extent of it, does highlight the lack of depth in the Hammers squad.
Following Fabian Balbuena’s departure from the club without Ogbonna Moyes is left with just Craig Dawson, Issa Diop and the forgotten man of West Ham Winston Reid as recognised centre-backs with Premier League experience. Frederick Alves has been heavily involved in pre-season but he is yet to make a league appearance for the team.
A centre-back is on West Ham’s shopping list this summer but maybe the sight of Ogbonna hobbling off is a reminder that it is a position that needs strengthening and fast.
Pre-season positives continue
Ogbonna’s injury aside the trip to Scotland was full of positives, as has most of pre-season been.
Each match for West Ham has been a step up in opposition and the team have responded in kind. The performances have got better and the fitness levels are rising.
In the previous matches a number of key players have been given less than an hours game time but on Saturday Moyes gave his stars a much longer run out and it is clear to see the players are almost ready for the new campaign.
Moyes has said he will now give his squad a few days break before upping the training levels for the final two weeks of pre-season ahead of the Premier League opener against Newcastle on August 15. If Saturday’s showing was anything to go by the Hammers will be more than ready for the challenge of facing a team who took six points off them last season.
Cresswell question marks?
Aaron Cresswell has been a superb servant to West Ham but once again he looked slightly off the pace. The huge caveat is he had an excellent season last time out, contributing eight assists and featuring in all but two league games.
However, he did not have a great game against Celtic and has a clear weakness when he comes up against electric pace. Odsonne Edouard hared past Cresswell on a number of occasions and should have put the hosts 2-0 up after nipping in front of the sleeping left-back only to head wide with the goal gaping.
This is not to suggest Cresswell is past it or should be replaced in the starting team, more a reminder that against the quicker opposition he may be better used as part of a three-man backline with the faster Ben Johnson, Ryan Fredericks or Arthur Masuaku on the flank outside him.
West Ham are blessed with a solid, dependable and experienced number one in Lukasz Fabianski.
The Pole returned to the Hammers team following his Euro 2020 duty for his nation and despite not keeping a clean sheet he barely put a foot wrong bar a misplaced kick straight into touch that the British and Irish Lions would have been chuffed with.
The goal he conceded came from a trio of mistakes, first a poor throw from Cresswell that put Manuel Lanzini under pressure. The Argentine was then caught on the ball and Dawson was not quick enough to come out to close Callum McGregor down but Fabianski had no chance with a fine finish.
Fabianski is, however, 36 and will sooner rather than later need replacing. Darren Randolph is an experienced goalkeeper with 50 international caps to his name, he is the consummate professional but at 34 is far nearer the end of his career than the start.
He was responsible for a howler when allowing Ryan Christie’s header to beat him but the Irishman is usually a dependable number two.
Goalkeeper is not the most pressing issue in the West Ham squad but with strong links to both Sam Johnstone and Alphonse Areola, Fabianski could see his number one spot come under pressure and Randolph is sure to fall further down the pecking order if a younger goalkeeper were to be signed.
If West Ham do not get a deal over the line for either Johnstone or Areola it is not the end of the world but with two fine goalkeepers available the sensible long term solution would be to bring one in and then deal with the situation that is left behind in regard to Fabianski and Randolph.