The Starting Eleven
At first glance, the starting eleven was once again a little bewildering. It was perhaps as adventurous but looked fragile in the centre of midfield where the pairing of Cheikou Kouyate and Manuel Lanzini lacked the necessary defensive discipline to combat Burnley’s five man midfield. With Andy Carroll and Javier Hernandez playing as a front two, the attack minded Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic providing midfield width, and a flat back four it looked like trying to shoehorn in the preferred players rather than setting up in a conscious style of play. As it turned out, Burnley did not attempt to exploit the apparent frailties in the system and the game, although it offered incident, lacked any real quality. Even so, it was more interesting than the massively over-hyped, ‘greatest game of all time’, Liverpool versus Manchester United anti-entertainment that went earlier. The limitations of the formation meant that Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell rarely ventured forward into the opponents half and Lanzini was bypassed (later to be isolated on the wing) as once again the main tactic was to aim for Carroll’s head. The bench comprised the usual suspects with not a young player in sight. I am fairly confident that West Ham having a reasonable enough squad if only it could be assembled into a cohesive unit properly.
Route 1 Please, David
If ever there is ever any doubt as to what a Route 1 goal looks like then in future you can just search out Antonio’s goal on Youtube. The longest and most hopeful of punted clearances from Joe Hart, a shocking misjudgement of the flight of the ball by the defender, and Antonio nipping in to nudge it past the keeper and then roll it into the net. In striking contrast West Ham were unlucky not to double their lead just after half time when a delightful move involving Hernandez, Pedro Obiang and Lanzini ended with Antonio unable to find a way to guide a relatively easy chance past the keeper. The briefest of glimpses at some uncharacteristic excellent movement by the team and a reminder of a style of football that West Ham used to play it.
Red Cards and Referees
It is not difficult to see why referee, Stuart Attwell, is not trusted to take charge of more high profile Premier League games, such was his inconsistency and lack of authority. To be fair he made a common refereeing mistake by allowing a period of lenience in the opening stages of the game before (apparently) deciding that the next wholehearted challenge would end with the perpetrators name going in the book. The unsuspecting victim of this ill-conceived, totting up, the next-fouls-a-booking interpretation was Andy Carroll whose challenge, in my mind, was innocuous and without intent; if it was even a foul. You would like to think that an offence is an offence regardless of the circumstance but that doesn’t seem to be part of the referee’s code; they prefer to apply a random filter that is largely based on outcome rather than the actual level of recklessness – as witnessed by the reaction to a number of recent raised foot incidents. If the first booking was harsh then the second was sheer stupidity on Carroll’s part and reflects a wider issue with ill-discipline in a squad that leads the field in red cards. To restore balance after the sending off Atwell turned a blind eye to what looked like a certain penalty (when Joe Hart felled the Burnley attacker) and later allowed several challenges as bad or worse than Carrolls to go unpunished.
Scheduled or Tactical Substitutions
In the circumstances of playing over an hour with ten men then it would be churlish to complain about the result. Overall the players put in a great shift to limit Burnley to few goal-scoring opportunities. The introduction of Pedro Obiang was no surprise other than it did not take place until half time. It is difficult to conclude whether the other substitutions had any material impact. I have a sense that Bilic has a substitution timetable and that Diafra Sakho was always going to replace Hernandez at or around 70 minutes regardless of what was taking place on the pitch. I saw this as an unnecessary change as Hernandez was still full of running and was doing a job of holding the ball up very well. In hindsight, bringing on Masuaku earlier to double up after the introduction of Gudmundsson might have made sense. Both Cresswell and a tiring Antonio should have done better to prevent the cross that led to the equaliser.
Reflection on The Summer Signings
The stand-out success from the summer transfer business has to Zabaleta who continues to show determination and passion in his claret and blue shirt. Arnautovic was again disappointing and was the right player to sacrifice after the sending off. Apart from some impressive moments in the Bolton EFL Cup game he has done nothing to justify his huge fee. Perhaps it is still early days but the jinx of the record signing shows no sign of going away. My worry that he is a player who only shines when things are going well. I have yet to see what improvement Hart offers over Adrian – a strange set of circumstances when you consider he is only on loan. Hernandez was rightly disappointed at being substituted once again. Let’s hope that he does not easily become despondent.