Five Takeaways; West Ham’s Bonus Point at Stamford Bridge

West Ham snaffle what looked like being an unlikely draw at Stamford Bridge. As well as earning another valuable point in the quest for Premier League survival what else did we learn?

A Fortunate Bonus Point

I am not going to lie, this was a very fortunate but hugely valuable bonus point in West Ham’s survival struggle.  For most of the first half, and large parts of the second, the Hammers were second best in all areas.  There is no doubt that Chelsea have some fine players but allowing those players full and free rein to express those talents was a reckless strategy and served again to highlight the fragility of the West Ham squad.  If you are wanting to stop Chelsea play then you don’t allow the likes of Hazard and Willian as much of the ball as they like, and give them all the room in the world to use it.  West Ham have the second poorest defensive record in the Premier League but defending is a team responsibility.  Until there is effective protection from midfield and an ability to retain possession for more than a couple of passes then the defence will always be under pressure.  At the end it was a very welcome point but it owed more to the host’s shortcomings than our own efforts.  On another day Chelsea could easily have been out of sight well before the hour mark.

A Return to Average Performances

Following on from the encouraging win against Southampton the previous week, only a handful of players could be satisfied with their afternoon’s work.  Edmilson Fernandes, Cheikhou Kouyate and Mark Noble were all poor in the roles asked of them in midfield while Joao Mario and Arthur Masuaku did not live up to the promise shown a week before.  On the plus side both Angelo Ogbonna and Declan Rice performed admirably in defence showing a level of concentration and commitment that is not always obvious in our rearguard.  Joe Hart had an excellent afternoon demonstrating an agility that has been largely lacking during his time in London.  My issue with Hart remains that having a loan player (that you have no intention (I assume) of buying) as your Number 1 is a flawed strategy.  Star man once again was Marko Arnautovic who has become more skilful and more of a handful as each week goes by – even if he should have done more to prevent the Chelsea goal.  I hate to think where we would be this season without him.  There really is no need to hold a Hammer of the Year poll.

Llamar A Un Amigo

West Ham were totally on the ropes from the start of the second half and it looked to be only a matter of time before Chelsea extended their lead.  A lifeline was badly need but it took David Moyes a long time to ‘phone his friend’, Javier Hernandez.  It was no surprise that it was Fernandes that was sacrificed, a player with good technique but no position; wherever he was meant to be playing yesterday was not it.  Pundits scratch their heads as to why Hernandez does not get more game time at West Ham but he remains an enigma.  Undoubtedly he is the best goal scorer at the club but how to accommodate him (other than as substitute) remains problematic.  Conceding goals has been more of an issue this season than scoring them and playing two forward players could make matters worse.  Arnautovic has blossomed once freed from tracking back duties and this could be compromised if he is played in a more withdrawn role.  Having said that it was superb combination play between the two to score a finely struck equaliser.

Great Tackle or Penalty?

The game certainly livened up once the scores were level.  The closest West Ham went to nicking a winner was when Arnautovic breezed past the Chelsea defence only to be thwarted by Kante as he bore down on goal.  While Kante was lightning fast in getting back (probably no other player could have even got close) it still looked to me as if the he played Arnie’s boot rather than the ball.  Personally I was pointing to the spot straight away but the referee thought otherwise.  This is not the type of decision that you get playing away at a top six side but would have had a high probability of being given if it had happened at the other end.

Fighting For Survival

The weekend turned out to be a good one for West Ham in the battle for survival.  The point earned took our total to 34 from 32 games played.  My best guess is that neither Southampton nor Stoke will get more than 35 points meaning that one more win or a couple of draws should be enough.  Games at this time of the season have the added complication of teams starting to switch off or with their focus elsewhere.  Several of the relegation threatened clubs still have to face Everton who are clearly going through the motions under Fat Sam; Leicester also have nothing to play for.  Southampton made a better fist of things against Arsenal but still came away with nothing from a half empty Emirates, where the hosts are pinning all of their hopes on the Europa League.  West Ham may already have done enough to limp over the line but it is evident that major surgery is required on the squad if this season’s woes are not to be repeated; preferably by someone who knows how to build a team rather than simply buying players offered up by agents without any understanding of how they will complement one another on the pitch.  You can’t complete a jigsaw with odd shaped pieces taken from many different puzzles.

Chelsea v West Ham – Saturday’s results could hardly have been better for the Hammers

With the relegation field narrowing each week can the Hammers return from their trip up west with some much needed survival points?

On Saturday morning we were in 14th place in the Premier League, and with no game until today, there was every chance that we could have slipped down the table with most of the teams still involved in the relegation scrap having the opportunity to pick up points. But none of the teams below us managed to win a game which was probably the best we could have hoped for, so we go into today’s game with little to lose, and everything to gain. An average of a point a game has kept teams outside the bottom three all season, and it is looking increasingly likely that 38 points will be more than enough to achieve safety. It may only take 35 or 36.

Newcastle reached that level (38) yesterday with an important win at Leicester, as did Bournemouth who once again managed a late equaliser to deny Crystal Palace an away victory. They should both now be safe, as Watford almost certainly are with 37. I think that we can now narrow down the potential relegation candidates to eight teams as set out in the table below. Stoke lost to Tottenham, Brighton drew with Huddersfield, and Swansea could only manage a draw at doomed West Brom. I don’t think we could have wished for better than that.

Southampton play at Arsenal today, so I’m hoping that they will not gain on us, and they won’t have a hope of doing so if they replicate their woeful performance against us at the London Stadium last week.

The bottom teams in the Premier League Points Goal Diff. Games Played Games to play
13. Brighton 35 -14 32 6
14. West Ham 33 -18 31 7
15. Swansea 32 -19 32 6
16. Huddersfield 32 -28 33 5
17. Crystal Palace 31 -19 33 5
18. Southampton 28 -18 31 7
19. Stoke City 27 -33 33 5
20. West Brom 21 -26 33 5

It could be that Brighton have enough points already, but three more points will almost certainly see them safe. It is just as well that they have 35 points in the bag, as I doubt that they will get many more in their six remaining fixtures, two games at home to Tottenham and Manchester United, and four away games at Palace, Burnley, Manchester City and Liverpool. Our remaining fixtures are not the easiest but a home win against Stoke in the next round of matches should see us virtually safe with five games to go. Looking at the outstanding games, Palace have the easiest run-in on paper, and Swansea have a tough run of games before meeting Southampton and Stoke at home to round off their season. Huddersfield’s next game at home to Watford is a big game for them, as their final four fixtures see them play Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City and Arsenal.

At this stage I reckon that West Brom and Stoke are as good as down, and they will be joined by Southampton or Huddersfield. Bookmakers tend to agree with my assertion with both West Brom and Stoke at massive odds on to be relegated, and Southampton / Huddersfield both around even money. You can get around 5-1 on Swansea, 8-1 on Palace, and 10-1 on ourselves to be playing Championship football next season.

So what chance do we have in today’s game? Very little based on recent visits to Stamford Bridge. The last time we won a Premier League game there Di Canio netted the winner so you can see how long ago that was. Unsurprisingly Chelsea are massively odds on to collect three points, whereas you can get upwards of 10/1 on a West Ham win.

I’m hoping that we can upset the odds, but more than that looking for us to put in a good performance in the game. We beat them in the reverse fixture at home when Arnie scored the only goal of the game, so what chance we can do the double?

Hungry West Ham To Take Advantage of Chelsea Blues?

West Ham look to sneak a first win at Stamford Bridge since 2002 against a fast fading and disinterested Chelsea side that now has no hope of Champion’s League qualification.

At this stage of the season there are already four Premier League clubs who know their final finishing position.  Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion will be first and last respectively, Arsenal will be sixth and Chelsea fifth.  Everyone associated with Chelsea also knows that come the start of next season they will have yet another different manager.  Even though Roman Abramovich seems to have increasingly lost interest in the project since Chelsea’s Champion’s League success (or perhaps there is no money left to laundered?) he still loves to sack a managers whenever he can.  Chelsea, like Arsenal, no longer compete with the Manchester clubs in fanning the wild flames of transfer fee inflation leaving them as big six also-rans with the feel of a famous 1970’s rock band who continue to tour under the same name but with none of the original line-up.

In a quirk of fixture computer fate, Chelsea take on West Ham on the same day that Arsenal face the fellow strugglers, soundly beaten by the Hammers last weekend, Southampton.  On paper both would be seen as tough games in the run-in of relegation threatened sides but, in reality, the two once mighty London clubs are left with little to play for as far as the Premier League is concerned.   The papers may be full of stirring claims that Chelsea will be desperate to bounce back from last week’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham but transferring that spirit of enthusiasm to the most typical band of fickle West-End mercenaries may be more of a challenge. In short, taking a point or more from this game is more than possible for the Hammers.

If West Ham are no longer everyone’s second club, playing a brand of football the way it is meant to be played, there is one tradition that has been maintained throughout Hammer’s history – inconsistency.  On the evidence of last week the Cockney Boys should be going into the game with their tails up and full of confidence.  I’m sure that many supporters have a sense, even if they don’t want to say it out loud, that today could be one of those days where the return journey on the eastbound District Line is a happy one where the blue flag has been well and truly inserted where it belongs.  The secret fear, however, is that rather than starting where they left off last week it will be one of those timid and lethargic displays that all too often follow an encouraging win.

Head to Head

West Ham’s recent overall record against Chelsea is probably as good as it gets against top six sides showing four wins from the last twelve encounters.  It is not such a good picture, however, when you look at away games only.  The Hammers have won none of the last twelve and the last manager to win at Stamford Bridge was Glenn Roeder in September 2002.

Team News

Every West Ham player put in a good performance and received wisdom in such situations is not to change a winning team.  Even a half-hearted Chelsea will offer more of a challenge than Southampton did and their greatest threat has traditionally been the dribbling and diving of Eden Hazard; if he can be bothered this afternoon.  If Hazard does turn up then strength (without reckless challenges) in the centre of the Hammer’s midfield will be crucial.  If James Collins is fit there could be a case for deploying Declan Rice in midfield but the question is who would make way?

Manuel Lanzini returns to the squad this afternoon but would expect him to start on the bench with Moyes sticking to the Marko Arnautovic/ Joao Mario partnership that rattled the Saints last time out.

Chelsea are likely to have Courtois and Pedro available and I am hoping that Conte decides to play Pedro rather than the want-away Willian, a player that I admire greatly.

Man in The Middle

Kevin Friend from Leicestershire is today’s match-day referee.  Friend has two previous West Ham games under his belt this season – the home league win over Huddersfield and the EFL Cup exit at Arsenal.  His season record is fifty-one yellows and one red from twenty-eight games.

Predictions

Both Merson and Lawro have predicted 2-0 home wins for the game.  It is about time the Hammers had some joy at Stamford Bridge although we were clearly cheated out of three points by some typically terrible Robert ‘Bobby’ Madely refereeing in March 2016.  In a fit of optimism I am banking on West Ham sneaking it over a listless Chelsea with a Di Canio emulating brace from Arnautovic.

Five Takeaways: Swaggering Hammers Slaughter Sorry Saints

An unexpected demonstration of flair, commitment, pace and invention allows West Ham to steamroller a poor Southampton side at the weekend. What did we learn from the experience?

The Good, The Bad And The Game Of Two Halves

Whenever a match ends in an emphatic win for one side or the other, the reporting tends towards the extremes of whether the victors being excellent or the defeated very poor.   What we witnessed at the weekend was a combination of both in what could be described as a typical ‘game of two halves’.  Arguably the Hammers played some of their best and most fluent football of the season in the first period, almost reaching rampant on the domination scale.  It is a shame that it was decided to declare at half time, in what has been described as a show of game management, because I was really hoping for a hat-full of goals.  I have enough West Ham games under my belt to know that sitting back can be, and has been, a dangerous tactic.  A team rarely comes back from three goals down but if it is going to happen then it is going to happen against the Hammers.  In the circumstances Southampton had nothing to offer and gave the impression of not being too bothered about making a game of it.  The second half lacked any real incident and it seems that Mark Hughes is well on his way to relegating two teams in a single season.

Command Performances

For once, the starts were aligned and there were excellent performances throughout the team.  At the back, Declan Rice didn’t put a foot wrong and Angelo Ogbonna had a fine game showing what a good defender he can be when he stays alert for the entire ninety minutes.  It was interesting to read that David Moyes had intended to play Rice in midfield if James Collins had been fit as the much criticised (particularly by me) partnership of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate exceeded all expectations in securing central midfield.  Noble threw off his recent sluggishness adding intensity to his usual  graft while Kouyate was surging forward to great effect.  Arthur Masuaku made a welcome return on the left and immediately provided balance providing an outlet for his colleagues (Alan Devonshire style) as someone able to maintain possession for more than one or two touches.  When Michail Antonio limped off early in the game I feared the worst as without his physical presence goal scoring options looked to have narrowed even further.  Little did I know that Joao Mario would step up to the plate for his best game yet in claret and blue or that the returning Edmilson Fernandes would be so energetic and effective after a long lay-off?  The icing on the cake was another superb Marko Arnautovic performance which embraced pace, power, flair and enterprise.  His spat with Hughes was priceless!

The Bare Bones Formation

On the face of it Southampton went into the game with the more attacking line-up.  But there is no point having two strikers (neither of whom are particularly mobile) if you don’t give them any service and, at the same time, you blunt your most dangerous weapon by playing the wing backs in a flat back four.  There were no doubt some eyebrows raised at the Hammers starting eleven but a look at the bench shows how few options there are available at the moment – the bare bones can be partly put down to bad luck with injuries but it is mostly the result of haphazard and arbitrary player recruitment practices.  Arnautovic has been a revelation since being moved to a more central role and has a style (pace, invention and mobility) that none of the more recognised strikers possess.  Even if the others were fit they really are no more than impact players in my mind.  There won’t be many easier opponents than Southampton and my jury is still out over the central midfield pairing until they prove it can work without reasonable doubt. There are also questions as to whether Manuel Lanzini and Mario can play effectively in the same team or what the best role is for Fernandes.

Beautiful Team Goals

The beauty of Saturday’s win were three excellent team goals which, to me, are more satisfying than the spectacular pile-drivers that routinely make the goal of the season running.  Each of the goals featured a speed and aggression that is all too often missing from West Ham’s play.  For the first, there was pressure by Mario and Noble to win possession following a Saint’s corner and when Kouyate embarked on a typical powerful run it was, for once, topped off with an insightful pass rather than a hopeful punt. Mario’s three touches (including a cheeky one with his knee) ended with a satisfying ripple of the net.  The second was also the result of sustained pressing before Mario’s measured cross was met by a powerful Arnautovic header that the keeper couldn’t hold allowing Marko to react first to slot home.  The third currently stands as my favourite West Ham goal for some time.  Like the first it was excellent, rapid counter attacking football culminating with Masuaku’s raking cross expertly stroked home by Arnautovic.  It reminded me of a goal of the season scored by Martin Peters past Peter Shilton at Upton Park in 1968.  Had Aaron Cresswell’s late effort snuck in under the bar then perhaps there would have been even more competition for favourite goal.

The Relegation Stakes

It was a good day all-round for West Ham in the relegation stakes.  Three points gained while most of the relegation rivals lost has put some daylight between the Hammers and the bottom three.  The survival threshold now looks as if it will be around 36 or 37 points and if Saturday’s level of performance and commitment can be repeated then this should be comfortably achieved.  However, if there is a return to the performances witnessed in the previous three games then all bets are still on.  It is difficult to understand why our players need to specially psyche themselves up to put in this level of effort.  Surely it should be the norm.  The fragility of the squad depth is still a concern and we are possibly just another injury or two away from yet more anxiety.  Had we not been so generous to Brighton and Newcastle or seen out the game properly at Selhurst Park then the players could already be preparing to splash on the Ambre Solaire on a beach of their choice.