Too Many Snakes And Not Enough Ladders. Pellegrini Does Not Have The Skills To Fix West Ham’s Problems

Can’t afford to get rid of him, can’t afford to keep to him? When will the tipping point be reached where even the Board realise that sticking with Pellegrini will end in disaster?

At this time of year, it is compulsory when commenting on football to mention that the games now come ‘thick and fast’ – even if the schedule is nowhere near as busy as it used to be. Most West Ham followers may associate more with thick than fast, however, when thinking about the Hammer’s recent struggles.

We expect football to be a game of ups and downs. It is part of its charm. But when the ups (intense and committed performances) are so few and far between, and when the downs (apathy, disorganisation, lack of effort, mistakes and surrender) are so commonplace, it becomes impossible to see an acceptable outcome. There is no light at all in our tunnel right now, and a target of 40 points looks way beyond reach unless drastic changes are made.

Yet, here we are with the Hammers hovering just above the relegation places (and potentially in the bottom three by the end of Sunday round of matches) and the Manuel Pellegrini sacking clock has reportedly been reset to zero – the manager once again has two games to save his job. Quite what return is required from those two games to earn a reprieve being a mystery known only to our can kicking Chairmen. In hindsight, it might have been kinder had West Ham lost at Chelsea.

I read elsewhere that the Board were ‘keeping their powder dry’ on the Pellegrini situation, whatever that is supposed to mean. To me, this would suggest waiting for a better time to act. It doesn’t mean dithering about until wholesale panic becomes an absolute necessity. Was nothing learned for the Avram Grant experience? Probably not, is the answer.

When Leicester sacked Claude Puel in February 2019 it wasn’t because they were in danger of relegation but because the football was poor and the players had clearly lost faith with his tactics. It was a decisive act from which the Foxes have not looked back. To write off season after season just to allow manager’s contracts (and compensation) to run down is indicative of owners who prioritise only money – and preserving the value of their investment. They do not have the financial or intellectual resources to run and develop a football club beyond keeping it afloat.

There are plenty of things wrong at the club – which we have previously written about at length as the team have steadily sunk towards the bottom of the table. While, the owners are clearly implicated for the lack of any true desire to reach ‘another level’, the Hammer’s current plight in the relegation mix is 100% down to the manager. Never mind the old net-spend chestnut, West Ham have an expensively assembled squad in Premier League terms – especially when the not inconsiderable wages are taken into account.

Chief scapegoat at the moment is Mario Husillos and while the director of football’s involvement in picking talent has been underwhelming I doubt it was he who instructed Pellegrini to: play someone who had scored prolifically in a front two as an isolated lone striker; persevere with two wingers playing on their wrong foot; keep faith for so long with a goalkeeper who is patently petrified of crosses; maintain a rigid attachment to the same formation week in week out, even though it clearly doesn’t suit the players available; only ever change the personnel and never the system;  not work hard enough in training on fitness or organisation; create the slowest team in the league who are incapable of moving the ball quickly; and refusing to budge on his inflexible tactics of the high back line and a patient build-up, regardless of circumstances or opposition. Standing on the touchline looking confused and admitting that you are baffled does not inspire any confidence – in players or supporters.

It was no surprise following the win at Chelsea that the performance level was not maintained at Wolves a few days later. Fitness levels are just not up to it, and with the one-man press, Michail Antonio, missing it was always going to be a struggle against a disciplined and hard working Wolverhampton side.

There are several obvious gaps in the West Ham squad (central midfield and full-backs in particular) but it is still good enough to stay up with proper and astute management. That is not to say that our recruitment has been smart. Not enough emphasis has been placed on unearthing developing talent – both from within the academy (which has a dismal record in recent years) and from outside. We have become a mirror image of pre-Pochettino Spurs who would sign random big name players – those who were not quite good enough for the truly top sides, but who acted as if they were – and hope they would magically gel into an effective team.

Our next manager needs to be all about discipline and team building, as well as delivering a touch of style. He is out there somewhere!

Speculating on what might happen on Monday night is difficult. Arsenal also find themselves in something of a predicament. They are also a team lacking cohesion; with a suspect defence but they do, at least, have pace and carry a goal threat. No doubt there will be the odd personnel change in the Hammer’s side but little else will be new. While Antonio is on the pitch and before he runs out of puff we may be able to compete and unsettle the visitor’s defence, but beyond that there is little that provides cause for optimism.

As someone who is now desperate to see the back of Pellegrini, I am conflicted as to what I want to happen. I never want to see the team lose but possibly it could be for the best. A new broom installed prior to the winter transfer window is a must in my eyes.

The game will be a third meeting this season with referee Mike Dean from the Wirral – he previously presided over the thrashing by Manchester City and also sent off Arthur Masuaku at Villa Park. His friend at VAR central will be Kevin Friend.

Lawro seems to have made his predictions during a drunken Christmas party binge and has gone for a 2-0 home win; while Charlie Nicholas sees it going the other with a 1-3 away win. The best I can hope is to stay on the fence with 2-2.

In-form West Ham (well last weekend anyway!) travel to face the draw specialists at Molyneux

I have to be honest, prior to last weekend’s game at Stamford Bridge, I didn’t really think we had a chance of avoiding a heavy defeat. Of course I always hope, but even at my most optimistic I couldn’t really see it coming. The only factor in our favour was the fact that Chelsea had a European game in midweek, and statistics show that teams are more likely to have a poor result the following weekend. Frank Lampard didn’t use that as an excuse, but I think he was more than confident of a victory before the game, and left out a couple of key players who had been playing very well lately, in Kante and Willian. By the time he eventually brought them on it was too late, and we were good value for the win.

Of course the game will always be remembered for David Martin’s contribution, followed by his Pat Cash impersonation at the end, climbing the stairs in the stand to greet his legendary father, Alvin. What a story that turned out to be! But for me the team played well as a unit, defending together, and attacking as one. The back four had good games, and that is three goals this season now for Cresswell. Rice and Noble had their best games for a while, especially Rice, who perhaps with a point to prove against the club who let him go, really shone in all aspects of the midfielder’s role.

I’ve always liked Snodgrass, especially for his wholehearted attitude, and he and Fornals, who also had probably his best game, were vital cogs in the midfield. Anderson was OK, whilst not yet demonstrating that he is at the top of his form (we’ve seen what he can do). One pundit summed it up perhaps when he said that, for all his talent, there’s a reason Anderson is at West Ham, and not at one of the very top clubs. But for me, Antonio was superb, showing exactly what he is good at, pace, power, strength, and endless running. And to think that a previous manager once played him at right back! I remember a game at Stamford Bridge where he played in that position too! But then the same manager didn’t have a clue how to use Snodgrass either.

Writing the article last week I referred to the gulf between the teams at the top of the table and those further down. In particular I mentioned three games, and three teams who were not even in the bottom three, ourselves, Newcastle and Brighton who were very long odds to win their games.

“We are 9/1 to win at Chelsea, Newcastle are 14/1 to win at home to Manchester City, and Brighton are also 14/1 to win at Liverpool. A 2,250/1 treble on three football matches shows just what the Premier League has become.”

Without being really hopeful, I had a small wager on each of the three teams to win their games, and had to do the treble too, as I would have kicked myself if the three most unlikely results had all actually happened, and I’d mentioned the very long odds without placing a bet. As it turned out I made a profit (thanks to West Ham of course) but the others put up good performances too, with Newcastle holding Manchester City, and Brighton only going down narrowly at Liverpool. Perhaps the top teams were all suffering hangovers due to their midweek European games.

On average this season to date, slightly more than a quarter of matches have ended as draws (38 out of 140 = 27%). Sheffield United and Arsenal have each drawn half of their 14 games, whereas this evening’s opponents, Wolves, have gone one further drawing eight. With four wins and just two defeats they stand at sixth in the table on twenty points, four ahead of ourselves. The two games they lost were 3-2 at Everton, and then 5-2 at home to a rampant Chelsea. Apart from those setbacks it has been a good season, although no doubt they would have wished to have turned some of those draws into wins, just as we would perhaps have liked to have turned some of our defeats into draws? A 0-0 draw away to Leicester on the opening day (a very good result in hindsight) was the only game in which they failed to score this season, and perhaps their highlight was a 2-0 win away at Manchester City.

Seven of their eight draws have been with a 1-1 score, including four of them at home to Manchester United, Southampton, Burnley and Sheffield United. If you like to bet on scores in matches then 1-1 would seem to be an obvious result, with the odds being 11/2 on that happening, although the favourite is 1-0 to Wolves at 5/1. If you fancy us gaining a second 1-0 away win in less than a week against one of the top sides, then you can get 11/1 on that. A West Ham win is 7/2, and an away victory with both teams to score is 13/2.

Let us hope that we can take the confidence from our victory on Saturday into this game, and if David Martin can keep another clean sheet then, stating the obvious, we won’t lose! Despite their good season, Wolves have only stopped the opposition from scoring in three of their games, whereas we have amazingly kept four clean sheets. Amazingly runaway leaders Liverpool have only kept two!

I fancy another 1-0 win, although I’d settle for a 1-1 draw. Last season the game at Molyneux was one of our worst performances. Let us hope for a much improved one today.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters: West Ham Finally Wake Up To Earn Pellegrini Reprieve

I’d rather be a hammer than a blue. West Ham defy the odds with a deserved victory to keep the customer’s satisfied – at least for the time being. What did we learn?

Oh! What A Surprise

I doubt that even the most optimistic of us saw this coming. I certainly didn’t, and had fully prepared myself for the worst – that adding yet another game to the demoralising win-less run was a mere formality. But it wasn’t to be. The West Ham of recent weeks had seemingly hired an unusually energetic and lively set of impersonators who would compete rather than capitulate. In the end it was a comfortable victory against a surprisingly subdued Chelsea side. The final margin of victory could easily have been wider, even ignoring the disallowed goal. It was a much improved effort all round. Better shape, improved intensity, space closed down and the ball moved far more quickly. Much was made of the change of keeper (and that was immensely important) but other factors contributed equally: Mark Noble sitting deeper alongside Declan Rice as a defensive midfield duo; Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals working their socks off in the wider midfield positions; and greater mobility up front through Michail Antonio. The obvious question is, why did it take eight games and the onset of a sacking crisis for Manuel Pellegrini to finally make changes to his game plan? With an away game against Wolves coming up in a few days we will get the opportunity to see whether Saturday’s performance was a one-off reaction or the springboard for better things.

In Comes Startin’ Martin

David Martin’s Premier League debut at age 33 was the great story of the weekend. His emotion at the end of the game and the embrace with dad, Alvin, was a priceless moment. It is the first time I have seen him play and he looked more than a competent deputy. Handled well, was composed and communicated with his team-mates throughout the game. It must have been an enormous relief to the rest of the defence to know that disaster wasn’t lurking behind you. Quite what the manager and coaching staff have seen in training to prefer Roberto over Martin is a puzzle. The choice between the erratic flamboyance of Roberto and the unspectacular, competence of Martin should not be a difficult one, Señors. Neither can be regarded as a replacement for the injured Fabianski but only one will have the trust of his colleagues. Buoyed by the presence of a capable keeper and better protection from midfield the improvement in the performances of Angelo Ogbonna and Fabian Balbuena was clear. Admittedly, Chelsea offered little attacking variety but the defence did all that they had to do very well. A bonus takeaway from the weekend was confirmation, if it were needed, that Giroud would not make a positive addition to the West Ham squad.

The Beast Is Back

Michail Antonio rightly took many of the post-match plaudits for a performance that was pivotal to West Ham’s success. With Antonio you get exactly what it says on the tin – pace, power and directness. He unsettles and out-muscles defences, provides a willing outlet for team-mates and is prepared to chase down opponents once possession is lost. He may not possess the greatest of technical ability but so what? It doesn’t diminish his overall effectiveness and eliminates much of the predictability from West Ham’s attacking play – provided that he is used correctly. Antonio’s qualities have frequently been undervalued by successive managers at the club, who have regarded him as emergency cover across multiple positions, rather than to be used where he can do most damage. It would be great to see him deployed in tandem with Sebastien Haller – opposing defences would certainly know that they have been in a game.

How do you solve a problem like Felipe?

Felipe Anderson has become the most enigmatic of characters. I have to say I was pleased to hear that he had been moved to a central midfield position when the lineups were revealed. The failed tactic of using him and Yarmolenko stranded on the ‘wrong’ flanks has never worked since the start – and, what’s more, it denies space for the full-backs to exploit. Aaron Cresswell demonstrated this to good effect on Saturday culminating in an excellent goal. Ryan Fredericks was less inclined, and seems too nervous to venture forward beyond his midfield partner. I don’t subscribe to the view that Anderson is a lazy player but he is frustrating one. He is clearly not happy, has lost his early swagger and is not providing value for money as far as creativity is concerned. I wonder if there is a problem between him and Pellegrini? Unable to rely on the services of Jack Wilshere or Manuel Lanzini, West Ham need Anderson primed and ready if they are to make anything of the season. Yarmolenko’s brief cameo from the bench didn’t inspire any confidence, while the remainder of the bench was, as usual, completely uninspiring. With Haller already benched, why also include Albian Ajeti, rather than giving Nathan Holland the experience?

Falling Foul Of Jon Moss

A notable statistic from the match was that Chelsea did not commit any fouls – correction – were not penalised for committing any fouls. Jonathan Moss is well known as a ‘homer’ referee and he did not disappoint on this outing. I am sure he was quite relieved that his VAR pal was able to detect a technical infringement for the second ‘goal’. The decision may have been correct according to the letter of the current interpretation of the law.  But this ‘any arm contact is handball interpretation’ is a brand new concept – it is not the reason so many were keen to see the introduction of VAR in the first place. I can recall controversies with penalty and offside decisions but not with balls accidentally striking hands.  An infringement should be an infringement regardless of who does it and where on the pitch it happens. VAR remains a good idea but typical of the football authorities that it has been so poorly implemented.

Player Ratings: Martin (7), Fredericks (7), Ogbonna (7), Balbuena (7), Cresswell (7), Rice (8), Noble (7), Snodgrass (7), Anderson (6), Fornals (7), Antonio (8) Subs: Yarmolenko (5), Haller (6), Masuaku (6)

Manuel’s Labours: Pellegrini And West Ham Certain To Be Singing The Blues After Stamford Bridge Showdown

The tortoises travel across London to face the hares this afternoon. What are the chances of a fairy tale finish?

If there was to be a Manuel Pellegrini terrace song then surely it would be one of those old blues/ country numbers where his women’s done left him, his momma’s an alcoholic, the house has burned down and the dog has died. The protagonist reflecting on this as he awaits the padre to escort him to his execution.

After a week of intense speculation where the entire focus was exclusively on who the club are lining up as his replacement, it has been reported that our manager has been given two weeks to save his job. At least when Flash Gordon was given 14 hours to save the Earth he had a sporting chance of achieving it.

In their wisdom, the two Daves decided that kicking the can down the road a little more was the sensible course of action to take – seemingly prepared to write off the games against Chelsea and Wolves.  Maybe they believe it will make them appear more reasonable and thoughtful chaps – or else, save them a few weeks worth of severance payments. It is difficult to understand that anyone who has sat through a West Ham game in the past two months can’t see that the chance of Pellegrini turning around the fortunes of this aimless, dispirited, divided and disorganised squad are several times slimmer than winning the Euro millions. The more humane option would have been to put him quickly out of his misery; allowing someone new the chance to assess strengths and weaknesses before the transfer window opens in the new year.

If actually getting a new manager in place is going to take a few more weeks, then let the U23 manager take charge on a caretaker basis. From what I have seen (admittedly only highlights) it looks like he knows how to set up and organise his side with both pace, energy and enterprise – it’s not as if he could do any worse. It really is a bizarre club where the academy sides play an entirely different style of football to the first team.

The elephant in the room when it comes to appointing a new manager is, unfortunately, the lack of imagination present in those making the selection. I don’t believe for a moment that the Board have been scouring the European leagues to identify up-and-coming talent – a few phone calls to their favourite agent or a search on Google would be closer to the mark. There have been so many names bandied about it is impossible to know which are genuine contenders and which have just been made to gain attention.

Personally, I would like to see someone who can be a longer term fix – a younger manager capable of instilling the kind of style, ethos and unity necessary to compete in modern Premier League football. What we don’t need is another rescue mission from one of the a managerial dinosaurs who may know how not to lose, but has little idea how to win.

We like to clutch straws and take comfort where we can find it and I would be happy with an appointment such as Eddie Howe – should he have any interest in coming to the London Stadium. At least now when I see a headline claiming “West Ham keen to pursue 41 year old” it just might refer to a managerial candidate rather than the latest stand-in goalkeeper or central midfield target.

Speaking of young managers, today will see West Ham come up against a Chelsea side managed by old foe Frank Lampard.  It has really surprised me how well he has done so far this season. I did think he would make a good manager one day but that this job had come too early for him – particularly with the transfer ban in place. Like it or not, Lampard is intelligent, articulate and happy to learn and adjust as he goes. His team play fast and attractive football and work hard for each other.  The introduction of a number of young academy players must have exceeded all expectations at the club.

Quite how our own laggardly rabble will fare against such youthful exuberance doesn’t bear thinking about. It could be a very long afternoon – starting an hour before kick-off when Pellegrini announces his latest permutation from his group of apparent strangers.

I read one laughable report in the week that suggested a recall for Carlos Sanchez (with Declan Rice dropping back to replace the suspended Issa Diop). The rationale being that the introduction of Sanchez changed the course of the game last week. Good grief! The worrying thing is that there is a good chance that Pellegrini saw it the same way – a tactical masterstroke that just came too late to save the day.  Can you imagine a midfield of Sanchez, Noble and Snodgrass chasing the shadows of Kante, Mount and Willian? He may as well bring back Pablo Zabaleta to take care of Pulisic.

Unless there is something devilishly cunning going on beneath the manager’s calm persona, I don’t expect any revolutionary changes to what we have seen taking place over recent weeks. A token effort for 15 to 20 minutes or so followed by a collapse when the first goal goes in. The other great unknown being who will it be be picking the ball out of the net when that happens. Seeing Roberto on the team sheet again could cause spontaneous combustion across the east-end.

This week’s referee double act consists of Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire) trying to keep up with play on the pitch and Andrew ‘Andy’ Madley (Huddersfield) on VAR duty.

Media pundits Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are being rather conservative in predicting a home win but only by 2-1 and 2-0 respectively. I can easily see this being a complete rout and annihilation – something close to the 7-1, which I believe would equal our worst ever Premier League defeat (away to Blackburn in October 2001). Despite all this negativity I will still be watching and be urging us on to win. Perhaps there can be a miracle (like the two Di Canio goals in September 2002) but I can’t see where that individual quality can come from these days. I usually look forward to games but will be more than happy when this one is all over.

In-form Chelsea face out-of-form West Ham. Surely there is only one possible outcome?

Shortly before our game against Bournemouth on 28th September, just two months ago, I wrote the following words in this column:

OK, so I know we are only six games into the new season. Nevertheless, how good is it to see three teams who are not members of the “elite six” occupying places in the top six of the Premier League even at this early stage? And if one of the two teams meeting at the Vitality Stadium (still known to some fans as Dean Court) emerges as the winner of this Saturday’s game then they are guaranteed a place in the top half dozen for another week at least, and potentially a place in the top two! Well that’s unlikely as I can’t see Manchester City tripping up at Goodison Park, but a third place beckons (at least in the short term) as neither Leicester nor Arsenal, who currently occupy third and fourth, play until Sunday or Monday. Let us hope we can keep our excellent run in the league going with another win to enable us to look down on the majority of teams in the top flight. But it won’t be easy!

The three non-elite teams in the top six just seven games ago were ourselves, Bournemouth and Leicester. We drew 2-2 at the Vitality Stadium that day whilst Leicester went on to thrash Newcastle 5-0 the following day. Not a bad result for us in the scheme of things. The previous Sunday we’d beaten Manchester United 2-0, but then we crashed out of the Carabao Cup in midweek to Oxford by an embarrassing 4-0 scoreline. Just another cup blip like so many in my lifetime. Never mind perhaps we were concentrating on the Premier League! So where are the three teams who had gate-crashed the top six just a few weeks ago? Well, Leicester are now second, Bournemouth are eleventh, and we are seventeenth! Just one place above the three teams occupying the relegation positions!

Just before the Everton game on 19th October, just six weeks ago, I wrote the following in this column:

It also means that Marco Silva heads the betting (at 5/4) for the next Premier League manager to leave his post (ahead of Solkskjaer at 2/1 and Pochettino at 5/1). What better for Everton than a home game against West Ham who specialise in helping teams and managers in this kind of predicament? Incidentally, at 50/1 our manager has only two managers below him in the betting to be next to leave (Klopp and Lampard are both 66/1).

Third favourite (Pochettino) has gone already, so the betting for the next Premier League manager to leave his post makes interesting reading. Emery at Arsenal is the new favourite at 1/2, Silva is still a low price despite Everton collecting 7 points in their last five games at 2/1, and the third favourite is guess who? Yes, Mr Pellegrini at 5/1. Quite a shortening of odds over a 7 game run in the league! The form table that I write about regularly in this column, based on the last 5 games, now has us at rock bottom, tied with Palace at 1 point! Southampton have 2 and Arsenal 3. Norwich have 4, and then both Watford and Bournemouth have 5. One point a game average is usually the minimum needed over the course of a whole season, so the teams I’ve just mentioned are the ones based on current form who would appear to be in the most trouble.

Our opponents this week have won four of their last five league games and so are in really good form. I watched their game last weekend where they lost 2-1 at Manchester City. The quality of football produced by both sides was so far superior to anything we have seen in recent times. Frank Lampard has made a very promising start to management at the top level, which won’t be a pleasing thing for some of our fans who dislike him (or worse). Where does he stand on the hate scale compared to Messrs. Ince, Defoe, and Payet? Chelsea sit comfortably in fourth place seven points clear of the fifth team, who incidentally are our next opponents. Yes, the game after this one will be another away game at Molyneux. Wolves, despite their slow start, have risen to fifth in the table and have only lost two games this season. Where are our next points coming from?

There is little point in me writing about the shortcomings of the team, or our current manager. In the last few columns both Geoff and I (mainly Geoff) have gone into some detail as to what we believe the problems would appear to be, but has anything changed? I always remain hopeful but the club appear to have hit a very low spot that requires drastic action. The dramatic fall from the top six down to seventeenth with a run of fixtures that on paper were not the most difficult would have resulted in action elsewhere, but, despite numerous rumours, it appears nothing has changed. I still expect to see the same team and squad selected this week, and cannot see anything other than another defeat. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I just cannot see anything else. If it is any consolation we can’t be in the bottom three on Saturday night, but by Sunday it is possible, albeit unlikely. At the current rate it will happen soon, and then perhaps some action will be taken.

The gulf between the teams at the top of the table and those further down is now massive. Three teams who are not even in the bottom three, ourselves, Newcastle and Brighton are very long odds to win their games this weekend. We are 9/1 to win at Chelsea, Newcastle are 14/1 to win at home to Manchester City, and Brighton are also 14/1 to win at Liverpool. A 2,250/1 treble on three football matches shows just what the Premier League has become.

Should He Stay Or Should He Go: Pellegrini’s Time Surely Up After Spurs Clash?

If he stays there could be trouble, but if he goes will there be double? Is there any way we can rely on the owners to make a sensible decision?

Shattered Dreams

I don’t pretend to speak for all West Ham fans, but would like to think that what most of us are looking for is a club that we can feel rightfully proud of. One that attempts to entertain but even when that doesn’t come off, a team that goes into every match with 100% commitment. So that, whoever the opposition, they know that they have been given a game. It’s not much to ask and, if we are really lucky, there might also be the faintest whiff of success in one of the cup competitions. There are a collection of probable causes at to why we don’t have such a team. Owners who prioritise committing just enough to protect their asset over ambition: who have failed to invest sufficiently in both playing staff depth and infrastructure (such as training facilities, academy and scouting); who have no credible long-term footballing strategy. A manager and coaching staff who are unable to motivate, prepare and organise the team in a way that Premier League football now demands; who have recruited too many players that are unsuitable in meeting those physical and athletic demands. A squad of players who may have technical ability but lack the appropriate level of personal pride – a few notable exceptions aside.

Mark Noble says that if we are not careful, we will be in a relegation scrap. Have I got news for you, Mark – we are already knees-deep in one. At the current trajectory (two points from seven games) and a high probability of three defeats in the next three games, it is not a wild stretch of the imagination to envisage West Ham being rock bottom by Christmas.

If We Only Had A Heart (Or A Nerve)

Saturday’s game was a virtual re-run of the previous home fixture against Newcastle. A late flurry providing an undeserved air of respectability to what could easily have been a rout. Roberto may be the worst player ever to have pulled on a pair of Premier League goalie gloves for West Ham (and I’m including Julian Dicks and Carl Jenkinson in that definition) but he wasn’t the sole reason for such an undignified defeat. Once again, it was a team without plan or shape: too slow in possession; giving the ball away far too cheaply; and creating no space for themselves while allowing acres of it to the opposition. That West Ham relied so heavily on the heroics of Lukasz Fabianski’s for many of their points last season should have been a massive red flag. Skimping on the wages of a backup keeper in the hope that he wouldn’t be called into action was an act of gross irresponsibility. And what sort of cunning plan is it to hope that everything will be OK again once Fabianski returns?

On The Road To Nowhere

Apart from counting down the weeks until the return of Fabianski, the remainder of the current master plan is to “work harder”, “buck our ideas up” and “turn things around”. No need to worry then, everything is all in hand! If anyone can look at the displays served up over the course of the past month or so and conclude that all we need is a bit more effort, then they are fooling themselves. Of course, the players should be putting in a shift but the overriding reality is that the team are a disjointed and stuttering shambles. No-one seems to have a clue as to their respective roles and responsibilities. The captain was also reported on the Official West Ham site as saying the game has not changed in the 15 years that he has playing. I make him absolutely wrong on that score – it is much more team focused game now built around structure and cohesion (almost to a micro-managed level.) Individual flair and expression can still be encouraged but it has to be incorporated into the whole – just look how hard Salah, Mane and Firmino work at Liverpool. Pellegrini’s style belongs to the past. He has no roadmap or project for building a lasting legacy at West Ham. When we needed a unit constructed on solid foundations he wasted all the budget on soft furnishings. Pellegrini has to go and go now. There is no point giving him more time just to repeat the same old mistakes – he has no credible plan. The player’s morale and body language is at a record low and suggests an absence of belief. No player has improved as a result of his coaching – Diop, Balbuena, Anderson, Yarmolenko and others have all gone backwards since their encouraging arrivals. Although all of the other problems at the club will still need addressing, they are are longer term fixes. The only way I can see to avoid a devastating relegation is to replace the manager. Act now and let the new man can assess the strengths and weaknesses in the squad in advance of the transfer window.

Who Comes Next?

If the club should take the sensible decision and switch manager, the big question is who comes in as replacement? As ever, the usual suspects have been banded about in the media. I have no particular insight but would prefer a younger manager; one open to fresh ideas, who can also introduce far stricter discipline – like it or not, the players need it. Some may not want to believe it, but managing West Ham has to be seen as a top job – clearly it is not as glamourous as some others but the club are still top twenty in terms of world football revenues.  There should be no shortage of interest.  I can’t believe that Chris Hughton is a serious or genuine candidate (we may as well go for Mark Hughes or Tony Pulis) and can see Rafael Benitez want to hold out for the Everton job.  To my mind bringing Benitez back form China would risk repeating the mistake of Pellegrini – an older manager looking for his final payday. I don’t see why a new manager has to be British but, would be quite happy if the right candidate was home grown. Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe and Scott Parker would each be interesting options, in their own ways. There are sure to be exciting younger overseas coaches in the European leagues of the right calibre – if our scouting reach extends that far.  What we don’t need is a new manager who can do no more than steady the ship – a team builder is required. The worry in all of this, however, is that it will be the limited imagination of David Sullivan making the final decision.

Player Ratings: Roberto (2), Fredericks (4), Ogbonna (6), Diop (4), Cresswell (4), Rice (6), Noble (5), Yarmolenko (3), Snodgrass (6), Anderson (3), Haller (4). Subs: Antonio (8), Fornals (4), Sanchez (4)

Something Better Change: Dippy Dave’s Dither As Daniel Presses The Panic Button

Stick or Twist? What will win the day, West Ham continued indecision or Tottenham’s panicked recruitment of faded box-office star?

Just a week ago today’s game was billed as the South American manager death-match beat-down. A last tango in Stratford elimination contest where the victor lived to fight another day and defeated was cast out into wilderness, P45 in hand. It was all change, however, when pantomime Bond villain, Daniel Levy, sent his manager sliding into the metaphorical shark tank. A preemptive move that denied the Argentinian the perfect symmetry of starting and ending his Tottenham career with a game against West Ham – who can forget that injury time Eric Dier (yes, I know) winner that decided his opener?

Levy’s action has the hallmarks of a Terry Brown/ Harry Redknapp style spat rather than being a considered footballing decision. On this occasion the Glenn Roeder role is to be played by none other than Jose Mourinho. Yesterday’s man he might be, but Mourinho remains good box office and in the increasingly showbiz world of Premier League football, he is guaranteed to generate media attention. The Levy/ Mourinho dynamic and its inevitable meltdown should prove compelling viewing over the coming months. Meanwhile, Pochettino can take a short rest before picking up the reins at Old Trafford in the new year.

Meanwhile back in east end, the Two Daves find themselves once again firmly stuck in dither mode. For them, being driven the wrong way down the motorway, by a confused elderly driver, who is baffled by the controls and refuses to change gear, would not constitute a major problem. Unless there is immediate danger of head on collision, they are prepared to chug along to the next Services and hope the driver can turn things around.

With Christmas fast approaching, all the old chestnuts are still being banded about – ‘we must work harder’, ‘we need to sort things out’. Unfortunately, it has got to a stage where much more than platitudes are needed. We can only hope that Manuel Pellegrini, his staff and the players have used the international break to good effect. The squad and the injuries are what they are; it is the manager’s responsibility to organise and motivate those available in the best possible way – that is what he is paid big money to do. We are frequently reminded that Pellegrini is vastly experienced, so time to see some evidence of that. At least he has the advantage that this is one fixture the players are usually up for.

According to the joint-chairman’s statement issued yesterday, it is not only the aforementioned hard work that we have up our sleeves as a cunning plan. Today will see the Hammers unleash the ‘power of unity’.  This is easily dismissed as meaningless mumbo-jumbo, but it does sounds very new age and mysterious. Maybe the scattering of healing crystals around the dressing room will help. Or perhaps appeasing the gods by sacrificing a goat in the centre circle at half-time.

But enough of the negativity. There has been some good news in the week in that both Mark Noble and Michail Antonio have been passed fit for selection. Although, Noble has struggled for much of the season, he is still the best available as a more defensive minded midfielder alongside Declan Rice. The thought of Carlos Sanchez (or the laughable suggestion of Pablo Zabaletta) stepping into the role would be enough to trigger a panic attack in the most balanced individual.

When players are out for an extended period, their abilities tend to become exaggerated to mythical proportions. Even so, I look forward to the return of Antionio. He offers pace, muscle and a directness that is not apparent elsewhere in the squad.  I hope Pellegrini uses him wisely and that Antonio can provide an antidote to our slow ponderous build up. We desperately need to see some change in formation and cohesion. Something to suggest that this is a professional outfit rather than a bunch of blokes that have turned up for a kickabout over the park. I am a long- time advocate of giving 3-5-2 a try but don’t see the manager getting that radical. Let the wing backs provide the width and get those wrong-footed wingers off the flanks. Could there be any chance of a little imagination in the bench selection?

The elephant in the room is, of course, the goalkeeper situation. You don’t need to be a special one to know that Roberto is suspect under physical aerial threat. Any team (well maybe not ours) will know that and will plan to exploit that. Can David Martin provide a better option? Probably not, but his weaknesses might not be such common knowledge. Perhaps he and Roberto could play some form of three-and-in (or should that be three-and-out) keeper rotation. Is rush-goalie allowed?

Tottenham are nothing like the threat they were a few years back. Most of the players they have brought in have been a downgrade from those leaving or fading away – the exception being Lucas Moura. Having Harry Winks at the heart of midfield has slowed everything down to the extent that it is almost as torpid as ours. WInks is almost Noblesque in his short, back and sideways passing. Anyway, he went down in my estimation when he spurned the ’40 Winks’ squad number – watching him on a regular basis would certainly send me to sleep.

Today’s refereeing dream team are Northumberland based Michael Oliver, on the pitch, and Andre Marriner, at VAR mission control. It could be a feisty afternoon and with the north London diving team out in force, let’s hope they have all their wits about them.

Pundit-wise, Lawro has reverted to his default 1-1 prediction while Charlie Nicholas envisages the new manager bounce giving the visitors the edge with a 2-1 away win. I never like to predict a West Ham defeat, even more so against Tottenham. But it is difficult to call it any other way. The straw to clutch at is the hope that the players will for once find an acceptable level of commitment to make a game of it – provided that it doesn’t boil over into reckless card worthy challenges (Noble, Snodgrass – I am looking at you).

I really want to believe, but Santa Claus is looking the more believable option right now.