Won’t Get Fooled Again – 5 Takeaways From West Ham’s Rout By Liverpool

Meet the new boss same as the old boss – or just a case of early teething problems for Manuel Pellegrini? What did we learn as West Ham’s new season fails to get off to plan against Liverpool?

Meet The New Boss Same As The Old Boss

OK, so we won’t be playing a team as good as Liverpool every week and it is only two months into Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure at the London Stadium.  But yesterday could easily have been a West Ham performance from any of past few seasons as the team outclassed, out-passed, out-thought, out-fought and out-run by the opposition.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!  The images of Pellegrini looking forlorn and perplexed in the dugout could just as easily have been Allardyce, Bilic or Moyes.  It will be a test of his character and expertise to see the response he gets from the team over the coming weeks.  Against Liverpool, the Hammers were second best in every department albeit to a team (love them or hate them) that will almost certainly be in with a shout at the title come the end of the season.

The Scoreline Didn’t Flatter Liverpool

Pellegrini was reported as saying that the scoreline flattered Liverpool.  It didn’t – perhaps he was desperately scraping from the barrel of managerial excuses – and it must be extremely difficult to face the media in the immediate aftermath of such a hammering.  True that the third goal was clearly offside but at least it had the effect of allowing Liverpool to take their foot off the pedal and start to rest some of their key players.  I just knew that Sturridge would score when he came on – if he could play against West Ham every week the Golden Boot would be no contest.

The Core Of The Problem

As with many games in the Premier League, this one was won and lost in midfield.  The criminally neglected defensive midfield was once again the primary source of our downfall; as it will be against all the other top clubs unless there is a return to the bus parking tactics of recent years.  Yesterday was further confirmation that Mark Noble is too slow of foot and mind to compete at a top level these days and that Declan Rice is blatantly unsuited to the role – to the extent that it could well destroy his confidence.  Liverpool were given the freedom of the park to waltz through at will.  Defensive midfield responsibilities require discipline, strength, stamina, speed and mobility.  They need to win and release the ball quickly and intelligently to the more creative players – particularly against teams that press in the way that Liverpool do. Where are our players that can do this and turn West Ham into a unit that is able to maintain possession?

Looking for Positives/ Rating The New Boys

It is always difficult to pick out positives off the back of a comprehensive defeat.  Łukasz Fabiański comes away with some credit as he was not at fault for any of the goals and made several smart saves without which the score would be even less respectable.  Of the other new boys I thought Andriy Yarmolenko gave the best account of himself; Felipe Anderson showed some flashes (although his going to ground so easily was worrying and he failed to track Milner for the crucially timed second goal); Jack Wilshere looked lively – a promise of more to come without really delivering a great deal; Fabian Balbuena did OK in very difficult circumstances; while Ryan Fredericks had a poor debut which spotlighted his defensive limitations.  It is easy to point a finger at the defence when you have just shipped four goals but with players of the quality of Salah, Mane and Firmino sniffing around, it is the supply that has to shut off – otherwise goals are inevitable.  The poorest performances of the afternoon were Rice, Noble, Fredericks and Michail Antonio.

The Only Way Is Up

Starting the season at the bottom of the table means that the only way is up.  It is no surprise that we left Anfield pointless but the nature of the defeat and the overall performance must have been disappointing to all concerned.  Did anyone feel that we competed (for more than the opening ten minutes) or posed any serious threat to the Liverpool goal?  We are sure to do better as new ideas and players start to take shape and should expect incremental improvement.  The success (or otherwise) of our season will be defined more on performances against the Premier League fodder rather than against its elite – but the minimum we should expect is that the latter know that they have been in a game.  Our ability to dominate the also-rans will be put to the test against Bournemouth next week.  Preventing goals, rather than scoring them, looks like it will continue to be the major problem and with the players available I am not convinced that a back four makes a lot of sense.  Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku are both wing backs rather than full backs and three centre backs can go some way towards mitigating the defensive midfield weakness.  I accept that Manuel is somewhat better qualified than I to sort this one out but it looks like a lot of hard work is going to be needed on the training ground over the coming weeks and months.

Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham Era To Kick Off At Anfield

Another tough opening weekend away fixture for the Hammers but can Manuel Pellegrini’s new look West Ham surprise Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday afternoon?

You can’t accuse the fixture computer of not having a sense of humour as it follows up successive opening weekend away encounters at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United with a visit to Anfield for the new look Hammers.  Whether the performance will mirror the stunning victory witnessed at The Emirates in August 2015, or the tame surrender seen at Old Trafford twelve months ago is, the challenge faced by Manuel Pellegrini as he prepares his troops for battle.

In a side that could show as few as four survivors from that which started the last league game against Everton at the London Stadium three months ago, it will require an instant ‘gelling’ in the squad if they are to come away from this traditional unhappy hunting ground clutching any of the points on offer.

It was a few weeks after that Arsenal victory in 2015 that West Ham recorded their only victory away to Liverpool in the past sixty-five years; and they would go on the beat the Reds three times during the course of that season.  Normal service has since resumed, however, with the Hammers conceding four goals in each of the last three encounters between the two sides.

The 3-0 win at Anfield in August 2015 was one of the events that led up to Jurgen Klopp replacing Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager.  Liverpool finished just under the hammers in his first season in charge, and has followed this up with two fourth place finishes – plus a European Champion’s League Final appearance.  Many pundits believe Liverpool to be the main threat to a Manchester City procession in this season’s title race.

For many West Ham fans, the title that Liverpool are always front runners for is that of most hated rival club.  Personally, I don’t get that and feel that you have to greatly admire what Klopp has done in moulding them into serious contenders. On the other hand, the ongoing media obsession with the Scousers would make it a nightmare should they ever finally succeed in picking up a Premier League title.  Only a Tottenham title win would prove a greater incentive for leaving the country for a few weeks next May.

Early season matches can be difficult to predict but that has not stopped both Lawro at the BBC and Merson at Sky opting for comfortable 2-0 home wins in today’s contest.  With players returning late from world cup duty and integrating new players it may prove difficult for teams to find early season rhythm – something that could affect both of today’s teams.

With Liverpool’s strength based on collective work ethic and cohesion in pressing the opposition (and with several likely injury concerns) my clutched straw is that the Hammers can catch the opposition cold today and pull of something of a surprise. For this to happen would require all of new boys to hit the ground running and show a level of discipline that frequently eludes West Ham sides.  Can Jack Wilshere become one of the better Arsenal imports?  Will Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko adapt quickly enough to the pace of English football?  Is there a resolute defensive formula somewhere within the squad that can resist the Salah, Mane, Firmino triumvirate?

It will be interesting to see Pellegrini’s chosen lineup and I have attempted to second guess him below.  The questions for the defence are who gets the nod between Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena as Angelo Ogbonna’s central defensive partner and who plays left back.  I am thinking Diop, who might just have that extra bit of pace required, and Arthur Masuaku, based solely on having had greater pre-season preparation.

lineup-(2)

In central midfield, defensive responsibilities will fall to Mark Noble with support from either Pedro Obiang or Declan Rice and I would see Obiang’s greater experience swinging the selection.  I am ruling out any place for Sanchez in the immediate future.

The rest of the side picks itself unless Yarmolenko is not fit to play, in which case I see Michail Antonio stepping in.  Another frustrating start of day on the bench for Little Pea.

Regardless of what happens in this tough opener I am convinced it is going to be a very positive season for West Ham once they have a few games under their belt.  Ever the optimist, I will be keeping everything crossed but the best I am seeing today is a 1-1 draw.

Today’s referee is Anthony Taylor who makes the short trip from Manchester.

 

 

We’re Gonna Score One More Than You!

Dusting of my bobble hat and polishing the rattle for a season where attempting to outscore the opposition makes a welcome return over hoping not to lose.

With the transfer window slamming shut and the Premier League season starting in the course of two days, the scene is set for the mother of all media frenzies – Sky sources will be going beserk.  As usual, the close season has witnessed a host of managerial comings and goings and vast sums of money exchanged for both exciting and mediocre players.  Some are certain to shine while others are sure to fail.  Everyone has spent big, optimism is widespread but ultimately three clubs will still be relegated.  At the top the slate is wiped cleaned, but there is almost universal consensus for a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool.

Meanwhile at the London Stadium something very strange has been happening – as if the owners suddenly discovered the PIN for their ATM card and decided to dip deeply into their pockets.  Even the most curmudgeonly anti-Board critics must find it difficult to complain about the scale of the summer’s transfer activity; although there is still the stadium, the design of the third kit and the sleeve advertisements to moan about.

At last, the much needed and belated squad overhaul has taken place with a vengeance.  Whether this is a one-off reaction to keep the season ticket cash register ticking over or part of a longer term investment strategy remains to be seen.  Rumours persist, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, for several more arrivals before Thursday’s deadline but, even now, looking at the attacking talent available in the squad makes some of us moist with anticipation.

New manager Manuel Pellegrini promises a new expansive approach and style of play that could prove the perfect antidote to the dour pragmatism of recent seasons.  How quickly the Hammers can adjust to these changes (and the new arrivals to the frenetic pace of the Premier League) will only become apparent over time.   Can the new boys hit the ground running, will it take a while to build telepathic understandings, and what is a realistic expectation for West Ham in the 2018/19 Premier League season?

There is a very strong correlation between the wealth of a club and their probable finishing position in the league.  On that basis, the top six places are already spoken for – although it is not unknown for any individual club to experience a wobble in a given season.  That would leave the Hammers fighting it out with the likes of Everton and maybe Leicester (or Wolves) as leaders of the chasing pack.  If it was me setting targets then I would be looking at between sixth (with the most favourable of following winds) and tenth; worse than tenth would be a failure and the idea of another relegation haunted season is unthinkable.

However, I think many of us would prioritise entertaining football, a good cup run and being prepared to give it a go against the big boys above any particular league position.  From what I saw of pre-season I am confident that can look very good in possession but fear a continued vulnerability without the ball – particularly exposed through the middle against marauding or fast breaking attacking sides.  Defensive midfield has become the new right-back where the club and management have been slow or reluctant to address a long perceived weakness.  Perhaps a solution can be found in the next day or so.  In any case we are in a much better position now in attempting to outscore the opposition, even if it means conceding a few in the process.  Hoping not to lose should no longer be the game plan.

From experience, we know that any discussion about the Hammer’s strongest line-up when everyone if fit is a purely theoretical exercise.  Nevertheless, speculation is always fun.

I see little between the two keepers but suspect the Number One spot will be Fabianski’s to lose.

In defence, Pellegrini prefers a back four and I will be interested to see which of the various permutations best suits this set up.  On the left both Cresswell and Masuaku have been better at going forward than in defending and are possibly more suited to a wing back role than as traditional full-backs.  Across the other side of the park, Fredericks looks certain to be first choice and has looked electric going forward (I am, as yet, unfamiliar with his defensive prowess) while Zabaleta is a useful backup.  The centre of defence would then be any two of Ogbonna, Diop, Balbuena and Rice.  It may take some time to establish the optimum pairing but believe it will be Ogbonna and Diop who get the shout from day one.

Defensive midfield options are currently a choice from Obiang, Noble and Rice and I expect Pellegrini to be looking to select two of these.  Each has their own limitations in a role expected to protect the back four, win possession cleanly and move the ball forward quickly.  Noble will continue to be an important figure around the squad but unless he can be fitted with a new pair of legs before the weekend I am not convinced that he can still operate effectively at this level – more than happy to be proved wrong though.  Rice is a great prospect but it would be a case of a central defender playing, out of position, in midfield to my view.

This year’s attacking options provide some mouth-watering options.  Pole positions (subject to any late additions) must be Wilshire, Anderson, Yarmolenko and Arnautovic with Hernandez and Antonio (if he stays) as backup.  There may be a case for starting with Hernandez as part of a two up top on some occasions but only in matches where one of the two defensive midfielders can be sacrificed.  A prediction from all of that is for Arnie to set a new Premier League goals in a season record for the Hammers – eclipsing the current 16 by Di Canio in 1999/2000.

Of the departures it was sad to see Reece Burke go.  He is the modern day Eliot Ward and I can see him making a return to the top level later in his career. It was also time for Kouyate to move on, even though he was nowhere near as bad as some made out – who will replace him as the whipping boy?

I have very high hopes for the season but then again this is not a brand new sensation.  This time, more than any other time, maybe they can be at least partially fulfilled.

2018-19 – A new campaign for West Ham to move to the next level?

A new manager, new backroom staff, many new players, and let us hope for a better season. But is it enough to move on to the next level? What are the odds?

We ended last season at the London Stadium in style with an emphatic win over Big Sam’s Everton. It was the end of Big Sam and also signalled the end of David Moyes following his short tenure as our manager. He did what he came here to do (to ensure we were not relegated) and was no doubt paid handsomely for it. The owners felt that we needed a change to “take us to the next level” and Manuel Pellegrini was installed as the new boss.

Premier League clubs voted for a shortened transfer window this time around, and may have shot themselves in the foot with the window elsewhere remaining firmly open whilst the weather remains warm until the end of the month, enabling foreign raids on our clubs until then. The general consensus among Hammers fans is that this has been one of our better windows, and the owners certainly seem to have dug deeper in their pockets this time around with the hope of avoiding the calamities of the last two seasons. Who would have thought when the last season ended that West Ham would buy more players than there would be days when it rained in the close season?

But can we reach the “next level”? What exactly is the “next level”? If you study the odds on offer among the vast array of bookmakers throughout the country then there is a certain similarity of where they all believe clubs will finish in the Premier League. Not surprisingly, Manchester City are odds on to retain the title and Liverpool are clear second favourites at 4/1. Then come Manchester United 7/1, Chelsea 12/1, Tottenham 14/1 and Arsenal 25/1. So that’s the top six sorted. Same as last time, the same top six elite, the clubs with the biggest revenues will fill the top six places again. As predictable as ever according to the odds makers.

Following hot on the heels of the top six, well not exactly on the heels but trailing behind at a distance, bookmakers have four clubs all priced in the region of 250/1 to fill places 7-10. Those clubs are (in no particular order, because the order varies from bookmaker to bookmaker) Everton, Wolves, Leicester, and West Ham. So we are well fancied to finish in the top half, and even as high as seventh place, but will not realistically be challenging the elite six. I suppose you could call that the next level?

As a matter of interest the next four clubs are priced generally in the 500/1 to 750/1 bracket – Palace, Newcastle, Southampton and Burnley. And finally the bottom six in the betting market at odds of between 750/1 up to 2000/1 are Bournemouth, Brighton, Fulham, Watford, Huddersfield and Cardiff.

Of course the aim of all fourteen clubs that make up the “also-rans” in the Premier League should be to break into the top six, but unfortunately the aim of many is to secure at least seventeenth place for a return visit next season. I’d like to think that our goal is to consolidate a position comfortably in the top half of the table, with a target of finishing in seventh place, and hopefully finishing as close to the top six as possible. If you believe that we can force our way into the elite group then you can get odds of between 9/1 and 12/1 to achieve this. Now that really would be the “next level”!