The Result in Context
I have to confess that I did not watch the match live. Sometimes when this happens I try to watch the whole game on a re-run but on this occasion all I could face was the extended highlights; and even then had to watch from behind the sofa as if it was one of the late night horror films that they used to show after News at Ten. In the context of the season it is difficult to know how to gauge this match; there is nothing left in the season apart from avoiding relegation and/ or attempting to maximise the league placing ‘prize’ money. The first week in January is very early to accept that your season is pretty much over. I hate to think what our team performance and effort will be like if/ when Premier League safety is ensured.
Line Up & Penalty
Prior to the match I was hoping that we would go all out for a win. In theory we probably did but unfortunately Manchester City had the same idea and fielded a very strong team that included some of the best attacking players in the league. To face them with a makeshift right back and only one defensive minded midfield player was a courageous folly. Arguably it was a soft penalty that started the rot but after that heads dropped quickly and the towel was firmly thrown in as City ran riot. Referee Oliver is one of the top penalty givers and so it should have come as no surprise when he pointed to the spot. In the spirit of the game Zabaleta should not be looking for that faint touch that players use to send them spinning to the ground but in the circumstances there was no need for Ogbonna to make any contact. It simply gave Oliver the evidence he required to impose the current letter of the law. Ogbonna has ridden his luck with his manhandling attempts this season and this time it caught up with him.
The London Stadium Effect
The way some people talk about our performances at Upton Park it is surprising that we ever lost a game there. It is pointless to get into any further debate about the stadium as there is no going back; although I understand that steps would seem necessary to improve the matchday experience for spectators. It may also be true that the new stadium eliminates the advantage that Upton Park could provide for those occasional special nights under the floodlights. The stadium doesn’t prevent good football as a number of opposition teams have ably demonstrated. Pep Guardiola was reported as saying that the wide open spaces helped his side because it gave the perception of space for his players. It is my opinion that this perception is due more to the fact that we fail to close down and deny space due to inferior organisation and fitness levels.
Performances this Year and Last
I have seen much debate about performance last season and this. Before the start of the season my view was that we would be unlikely to repeat the excellent results against the top teams that we saw last year. I was still expecting, however, an exciting and profitable campaign based on the assumption that we could fix the problem of not beating the lesser bottom half teams. This has proved not to be the case and now with the majority of remaining home games against top half teams and the majority of away trips to lower half teams we look very vulnerable if past performance is at all indicative of future results. We may need to rely on there being three teams performing even worse than we are.
The Slavenometer at All-time Low
I was reading that pundit brotherhood all agree that Slaven Bilic’s position as West Ham manager is secure and I would guess that Slav is a popular guy amongst the mutual backslapping football fraternity. Others say that it is not the manager but the players that need to take responsibility but even if there is an element of truth in that I would ask who is responsible for selecting, organising and motivating the players other than the manager and coaching staff? Has he lacked resources? Possibly if you are comparing West Ham with a top 6 club but not compared with the rump of Premier League teams. We have no Russian gangster or Middle Eastern sovereign fund to throw cash in when needed (and there have been few saleable player assets in the recent past) but transfer funds have been available and spent; just not very wisely. It is the manager’s job to ensure he does the best with what is to hand, build a well balanced squad, ensure fitness levels are acceptable and establish a consistent style of play. Unfortunately as things stand I do not see progress on any of these fronts. The 3 league wins in December probably saved Bilic his job and making a reaction change now would be difficult. If it was my decision I would be making definite plans for a new manager to come in during the summer.