It is amusing that we can get reminded of little things from Dad’s Army in other situations. Whilst watching the Liverpool FC love-in, otherwise known as Liverpool v West Ham on Sky TV last Sunday, my mind turned to a couple of phrases from the well-loved comedy programme of the 1960s and 1970s. Lance Corporal Jones (played by Clive Dunn) had a couple of famous catchphrases. One was “they don’t like it up ‘em” which I thought of when the commentary team were referring to Liverpool’s pressing on the West Ham players which they found distinctly uncomfortable, not giving them the chance to dwell on the ball. It would be good to see us doing the same to other teams. The other phrase was “don’t panic, don’t panic” which I was reminded of when reading some of the mass hysteria generated by West Ham fans writing on social media after the game.
OK, so the game could have gone better. We could have put up a better show. That is twelve Premier League season-opening games that we have lost now. More than any other team. But let us face reality. The top six teams in the Premier League are now so far ahead of the remaining 14 that it is very unlikely that they will drop many points against the lesser teams, especially when they are playing at home. Liverpool appeared in the Champions League final just three months ago. They have since strengthened an already outstanding team by spending more money than any other Premier League club. In Mane, Firmino and Salah, they had three players who scored almost 100 goals between them last season. They put four goals past Manchester City at Anfield in the league in January, and five past the same team in the two legs of the Champions League semi-final in the Spring. Manchester City won the league with over 100 points and are a far superior team in every respect compared to us. There was a good chance that our newly constructed defence / team would have difficulty in keeping them out. I reckon they will put as many goals past many other teams this season.
You only have to study the revenue figures and wage bills of Premier league clubs to realise how big an advantage the so-called elite six have over the rest of us. For the season 2016-17 figures were released in May 2018. In terms of revenue Manchester United were at the top at £581 million going down to Tottenham in sixth at £306 million. Leicester were seventh at £233 million, although these figures were bolstered by a one-off season of Champions League income of £70 million, which I suspect will not be repeated at any time in the near future for the Foxes or any other of the teams below them in the revenue table. West Ham were eighth at £183 million and were followed closely by Southampton and Everton. You then have a sizeable gap to Palace in eleventh at £141 million with the rest of the bottom half trailing down to Hull at £117 million. With TV and broadcasting income of £100 million upwards this demonstrates the reliance that clubs have on that money.
It is no coincidence how the make-up of the Premier League table reflects both the revenue figures and the wages bills of clubs. It is interesting to note that of the bottom eight teams in terms of revenue in 2016-17, six of them have been relegated in the past two seasons, namely West Brom, Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull. The two that have survived, and have therefore possibly over-performed are Watford and Burnley. So it is likely that the top six will dominate for years to come, and continue to walk over the others just as Liverpool did last weekend. In fact I fear that Manchester City and Liverpool will even break away from the other four to an extent and be the top two well ahead of the rest. And to make matters even worse in respect of equality, the top six clubs have won their battle to gain a larger share of the overseas TV rights from the season after this one. As there needs to be a vote of at least 14 of the Premier League clubs to effect a change such as this one, it makes you wonder how they got away with it. It must have taken astonishing diplomatic skill by Richard Scudamore the outgoing Chief Executive to persuade the majority that because the leading clubs claim to be the leading attractions they should receive more. In my view it is an iniquitous move that will only serve to widen the gulf between the “elite” and the rest.
Going back to the coverage of last week’s game I was very disappointed once again with the lop-sided coverage provided by Sky TV. The commentary team and pundits drooled over Liverpool from the start and a casual observer would hardly have known who they were playing against. And who were the pundits? Jamie Redknapp. Jamie Carragher. Graeme Souness. Not a lot of West Ham representation there! At one stage I was so disgusted with the commentary that I turned down the sound completely and just watched the pictures. I didn’t watch any of the post-match analysis. The drivel I listened to at half-time was more than enough. They all jumped upon the “high line” posed by our defence and would not give it a rest, continually going over and over the same point.
But, to use the titles of two popular songs from the eighties and nineties, “things can only get better” from here, and “the only way is up.” Well, not strictly true, as we could stay at the bottom of the league. But we won’t. We have too much talent for that and will start to show it in our first home game against Bournemouth, a repeat of the opening home league fixture at the London Stadium two years ago, which we won with a late Antonio header.
It will be interesting to see the team selection for the game. On the evidence of the first game alone I was impressed with our new Polish goalkeeper, and felt he did little wrong and should continue between the posts in preference to Adrian. Of course the army of Adrian lovers on social media will disagree with me, but there is more needed than passion for the club to justify selection for the team (a similar situation to the followers of James Collins, perhaps?). Will we continue with a back four, or will we go with a three and play with two wing backs? Certainly if Fredericks and Masuaku are chosen then the latter option is better suited to their abilities. Central midfield continues to worry me, and if I were selecting the team then Obiang would be my first name there. I believe that he is the only one at the club with the mobility and athleticism to fulfil the defensive role, although Sanchez has been bought as a short-term fix in this position, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he is brought into the squad. Rice is a fine prospect, but for me he needs to play as a defender. I’m sure Wilshere will come good and start to dominate games. I have high hopes for him. He was fouled more times (5) than any of our players. If only we could make better use of free-kicks and not turn them into goal-scoring opportunities for our opponents! Much as I’ve loved Mark Noble over the years I believe that the modern Premier League has changed, and his best years are behind him. But despite this the statistics show he had the most touches of any of our players (78), the most passes (67), and the most passes in Liverpool’s half (29). Not that they achieved much.
I’m also convinced that our array of attacking players will cause many problems for opposing teams, certainly those in the 14-team “division two” of the Premier League. Yarmolenko, Anderson, Antonio, Arnautavic, Hernandez, Cullen, Snodgrass, Perez, and then later on Carroll and Lanzini give the manager a selection of differing offensive skills that would be the envy of many clubs. What we need of course is for them to gel sooner rather than later.
So what will happen against Bournemouth? The bookmakers agree with me regarding a West Ham victory and have odds of around 11/10 for us to win the game. You can get around 12/5 on either a Bournemouth victory or a draw. West Ham wins of 1-0 or 2-1 are both priced at 15/2, and if you believe that we will win more convincingly then you can get 9/1 on 2-0, 14/1 on 3-1 (my prediction), or 18/1 on 3-0. So many football games seem to have a 4-1 scoreline and this is priced at 33/1.
And finally, returning to the war theme, a message for our fans with a parody of the 1939 motivational poster produced by the Government at the time. “Keep calm and carry on blowing bubbles.” I was very amused by a T shirt worn by one of our fans with a satirical imitation of the poster that read “I can’t keep calm I support West Ham!” That is old-fashioned East End humour at its best.