Frustrated Bilic at a loss to explain West Ham's capitulation
West Ham United 2 Watford 4
Slaven Bilic, it is generally admitted, had an excellent European Championships.
The West Ham manager's laid-back yet incisive punditry for ITV won him plenty of fans, and it only added to his appeal when footage was shown of him leaping on to the studio table when his playmaker Dimitri Payet scored for France.
Payet produced another moment of supreme artistry on Saturday, a 'rabona' cross for Michail Antonio to head his second goal of the game that had the best part of 57,000 on their feet. But Bilic found explaining how everything had gone wrong after that a lot harder than analysing the failures of other teams from a studio couch.
West Ham allowed Watford to turn a 2-0 deficit into their first victory of the season and Bilic had no simple answer to offer. It was not, he said, an imbalance between attacking and defensive midfield players, nor a failure of character, but individual errors for which it can be difficult to legislate.
"We had enough of the right kind of players," he said. "We had four defenders and a couple of midfielders who are very good in defence, Mark Noble and Chiekhou Kouyate, and we had in front of them players like most clubs do, players who are better with the ball than without, but good enough. Basically the same players who played against Bournemouth and who played well last season. So I don't think we have to find a balance.
"I'm happy with the players' character and belief and everything, so don't talk about lack of character. We haven't started [the season] well - mainly because of this result today, to be fair - but we played Chelsea and Man City away and found out what they are capable of and even in this defeat we had 40 really positive minutes.."
When he thinks about it this week, Bilic may decide that the former Real Madrid fullback Alvaro Arbeloa, when ready to start, will improve the right side of his back four, where Sam Byram betrayed a lack of experience at times. But otherwise, he was correct in saying that usually reliable players such as Adrian, the goalkeeper, and James Collins, made untypical errors.
Bilic also denied that his players had underestimated Watford, but perhaps they were unprepared for the extra dimension provided on his first start for the Hornets by Roberto Pereyra, an £11.2m signing from Juventus and a player that Walter Mazzarri, the head coach, had identified as his 'missing piece.'
Mazzarri favours a 3-5-2 formation that can leave the midfield crowded, but Pereyra, who has 10 caps for Argentina, breaks forward from the central midfield trio into wide and central attacking positions and gives an element of tactical variety that had been missing in Watford's first few games under Mazzarri.
Pereyra kept the West Ham defensive players guessing, creating an early chance for Odion Ighalao and it was his cross that led to Etienne Capoue putting Watford ahead early in the second half. Pereyra might have added a final flourish himself, but Adrian saved his shot after a slaloming run through that suddenly porous West Ham defence.
"Great player, great game," was Mazzarri's verdict on Pereyra. "I am very, very happy with the way Pereyra played. He is a great player but also I am happy with how much he ran and how much that meant for the team. I wanted him at all costs because of the quality of this player. For us he is very, very important."