Just Like Watching West Ham
Ask the majority of West Ham supporters how they would like their team to play and you might find yesterday’s performance coming closer to that ideal than anything seen for a good many years. The ugly duckling performances of the first four games have metamorphosed into a very fine swan indeed. Suddenly players who had previously laboured and plodded their way around the pitch for ninety minutes are playing on their toes with confidence high and a spring in their step. It brought to mind Arsene Wenger’s original transformation of George Graham’s Arsenal with one-time donkey Tony Adams playing passes with the outside of his boot. It is a wonder what can be achieved when organisation, teamwork and movement are introduced along with a belief that the ball isn’t something that needs to be got rid of as quickly as possible. This was West Ham’s finest show of the season in what has turned into a nice little unbeaten run. We can now look forward with interest to see how the team manages to maintain impetus, flair and hard-work in the next set of fixtures. From the spectre of a long relegation battle I am now looking curiously at sixth spot in the table.
Ten goals conceded in the first four games has been followed up with just two in the next three (comprising tough games against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United) all with largely with the same back-line. If ever there was an example of defence not being only about the back four or five then this is it. Finally, we have the look of a team that attacks and defends as a unit rather than being made up of three discrete components working to a rule book. However, despite the team ethic there were also fantastic individual performances all-round yesterday! Pablo Zabaleta (as with Mark Noble in front of him) seems to have discovered a fresh pair of legs. Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop have exceeded all expectations as a central defensive partnership (already there are envious eyes focusing on the talent and athleticism of Diop). Declan Rice has shown a far greater deftness of touch and eye for a pass than I gave him credit for, and I even spotted a Bobby Moore tackle at one point – neatly complementing the Gordon Banks save made by the flawless Lukasz Fabianski from Fellaini’s header. And how about the effort put in by Robert Snodgrass during his time on the pitch – playing like a man possessed. It was a shame that the goal conceded blotted the afternoon’s copybook resulting, as it did, from a drop in concentration during the visitor’s double substitution.
It’s All About The Pass
Of all the football statistics now thrown at us, it is the ‘Assist’ that I find to be the flakiest of them all. Two weeks ago at Everton, Noble got an assist for Andriy Yarmolenko’s second goal although his actual contribution to it was negligible. Yesterday, without his precise defence splitting pass to Zabaleta to set up the West Ham opener there would have been no goal. Yet as a goal can only have one assist there is no recognition. The biggest positive out of the last three games (apart from the points) has been the quality of the passing. For a good pass you certainly need somebody to execute it but you also need options and for others to take up positions that will provide an advantage. The number of options available to the player with the ball has been pleasing as has the movement and anticipation that allows quick switching between flanks and for balls to played into space for runners. There was some great interplay on show yesterday particularly, although not exclusively, between the front three of Marko Arnautovic, Felipe Anderson and Yarmolenko. The first and third goals were a delight to watch.
That Free Kick Routine…..
I am still a little puzzled by the free kick routine where Player A takes the kick, rolls it a few yards to Player B who stops it and then retreats allowing Player A to cross into the box. It is clearly a routine from the training ground as we have seen it a few times already this season. I suppose it could slightly alter the angle of delivery into the box but does it really make so much difference? Answers on a postcard please …..
Do You Know The Way To Can Jose?
No surprise, given the high profile of those involved, that much of the media attention was on the crisis unfolding at Old Trafford. As well as the Hammers played they were allowed plenty of space and opportunity to do so by an opponent who looked dispirited, disinterested and disorganised – especially in the first half and again after the third goal went in. Mourinho looks to be re-enacting his last days at Stamford Bridge blaming everyone for the collective deficiencies apart from himself. Manchester United look to be a team in turmoil and with very public spats between manager and leading players it is difficult to see how this can be fixed with Mourinho still in place. I had thought they may stumble on for a while longer but now having seen how bad the situation is it could well be a matter of days before Zidane rocks up in Manchester.