Excellent Hammers Need To Be More Emphatic: Five Takeaways From The Win Over Burnley

West Ham start the winnable phase of the season with a win that was commanding without the score ever being convincing. Nevertheless, there was plenty to be positive about.

Commanding But Not Convincing

What a pleasure it is to watch your team play with stylish attacking intentions; full of energy, movement, invention and just a touch of swagger.  West Ham were so dominant that the final score-line should really have been far more emphatic.  Seeing the scores level at half-time and the game tied at 2-2 with just over five minutes remaining was difficult to comprehend.  To their credit the Hammers kept pressing forward, boosted by adventurous substitutions, to secure a final result that, even if it will look more convincing in the record books that it seemed at the time, will be great for confidence.  Even at 3-2 Burnley had a gilt edge opportunity to draw level once again.

Anderson Puts The Win Into Winnable

Very pleased for Felipe Anderson that he finally had an afternoon to remember.  The goals were the icing on the cake but his all-round performance and level of involvement was impressive.  No West Ham player had more touches during the game.  The challenge now is for him to do the business on a regular and consistent basis.  Only then can he be considered as a player justifying his transfer fee.  There was a touch of fortune about both his two goals: the first squeezing between Hart’s flailing legs; and the second courtesy of a kind deflection.  In fact, his best effort was the first half chip headed miraculously from under the bar by Mee.  He might also have done better with the shot that hit the bar in the second period.  Probably, I am being picky because he did have an excellent game as did Grady Diangana and Marko Arnautovic.  There was another goal from Arnie, in his quest to be West Ham’s first ever Premier League 20 goals a season man, and Diang played with a quality of touch, vision and determination that you would expect from a seasoned campaigner.  However did the referee miss that penalty!

An Off Day At The Back

Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop have set the bar of defensive competence very high over recent weeks but this was one of their less dominant performances.  Perhaps the more direct and physical style of the opposition was new to them and something to learn from.  Both goals conceded were disappointing.  With the first: Diop failed to deal with the high ball; Burnley were unchallenged as it ran loose; and Balbuena and Aaron Cresswell seemed more concerned with offside than preventing the goal. For the second: it was a routine corner; why was it Robert Snodgrass who had the duty of marking Wood – and no-one on the posts to clear.  Wood was also given a free header late in the game.  While on the subject of playing to the whistle why did Chicharito (nice goal by the way) ignore the loose ball to claim a handing offence in the box?  Credit where it is due and Declan Rice was, once again, very impressive in his defensive midfield role.

A West Ham Way Philosophy

It was pleasing to read Manuel Pellegrini’s post match comments as they confirmed his philosophy is much closer to what many regard to be the West Ham philosophy than any other manager in recent history.  With the currently available resources the ‘we’re gonna score one more than you’ approach may not always be successful but it makes for interesting spectating.  Instilling a calm, controlled, passing game into the team looks to be paying dividends at last.  Encouraging a positive and creative attitude in the players raises everyone’s spirits and generates a feedback loop from the crowd that maintains momentum.

Medium Term Outlook

Funny things can happen in football but it is difficult to imagine any scenario other than a steady rise up the table.  Outside of the top six there is not a massive difference in quality between any other teams but maybe West Ham have already lost too many games to threaten for a Europa League spot.  Despite the long injury list there are still weaknesses in the squad that need to be addressed if it is to improve.  Most immediately, more quality is needed in the heart of midfield and longer term full-backs who fit the system must be found.  Perhaps Jack Wilshere can still do a job (if he fully recovers from injury) in there and I wonder how will Manuel Lanzini fit in?  I guess like many of us, I would be surprised if the owners dig deep during the January transfer window – they are likely to believe they did all their spending in the summer.  In any case, we can all breathe a little easier after this weekend.

West Ham entertain Burnley. Can we come out on top in the Clarets derby?

With a run of theoretically easier games on paper can West Ham follow through on the pitch by beating Burnley?

A quarter of the season has whizzed by. Well, not exactly whizzed because of two international breaks, and yet another one will arrive after the games that are played next weekend. It used to be a tradition to say that you should ignore the league table until at least a dozen games have been played, and by that time you will have an idea as to how the season will pan out. We have two further games to play until then, and you would have to say that on paper at least they are eminently winnable ones. Having had the toughest ten games of all the teams in the Premier League until now when you take into account the average points per team, or positions in the league table, we now face a run of games which on paper at least are easier fixtures and should define our season.

As we sit in thirteenth place at the moment with seven teams below us, there are just nine games to play until we reach the half way point of 2018-19 following the game that takes place the day after Boxing Day. Watford in seventh, and Manchester City, inevitably at the top, are the only sides currently above us that we haven’t yet played, whereas we still have to play each of those teams presently below us in the run up to the midpoint of the season (Burnley, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Cardiff, Palace, Fulham and Southampton).

We have yet to put in many really convincing performances, (Everton away, and Manchester United at home, excepted), although our two draws against Chelsea and Leicester could easily have been winning games. Nevertheless, despite our inconsistent, and at times indifferent form, we do have a few teams below us who haven’t even matched our record so far. We really need to start to pull away from the bottom cluster sooner rather than later, but once again our injury list is beginning to match that of recent seasons. Is it really bad luck or is it something more that makes this keep happening to our club?

Our visitors today have a very similar record to our own so far, winning two, drawing two and losing six of the ten games played. But whilst our early goal difference was very poor it has since improved to -6, whereas the Burnley goal difference is -11, mainly as a result of their last two games, defeats of 5-0 and 4-0 to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. Their only two wins were against an uncharacteristically poor (for this season) Bournemouth 4-0, and a 2-1 win at Cardiff. Their draws were against Southampton and Huddersfield.

When the Football League was formed in 1888 it consisted of 12 clubs. They were all from the Midlands and North-West. Burnley were one of the original teams, and are one of only three of them who are currently in the top flight of English football, the others being Everton and Wolves. The other nine teams were Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Notts County, Stoke, Derby, West Brom, Preston and Accrington. So Burnley have a history of 130 years in the Football League and in that time they have finished at one time or another as champions in all four divisions in England.

As I began taking an interest in football in the late 1950s, Burnley were a major force and were champions of Division One (that is equivalent to the modern day Premier League) in 1959-60, and reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup the following season. In 1961-62, they were runners-up in the league (to Ipswich), and lost in the FA Cup final to Tottenham. It just goes to show how the balance of power has shifted at the top in football when you consider that the top six clubs in order that season were Ipswich, Burnley, Tottenham, Everton, Sheffield United, and Sheffield Wednesday. Arsenal finished in mid-table, the two Manchester clubs were in the bottom half, and Chelsea finished bottom and were relegated. Liverpool won the Division 2 title that season.

Burnley couldn’t maintain their position near the summit of English football after those heady years of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Perhaps the abolition of the maximum wage for footballers in 1961 was one of the reasons for that. At that time no footballer could earn more than £20 a week, and once this was no longer the case, that was possibly one of the factors for the decline in the fortunes of teams from smaller towns, such as Burnley, who were less able to compete financially with teams from bigger towns and cities. Since that 1961-62 season, only nine towns or cities have provided the English football league (or Premier League) winners, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Blackburn and Leicester. Only the last four on that list have populations of less than half a million. Nottingham (300,000) and Derby (250,000) were largely the result of an exceptional manager (Brian Clough), whilst Blackburn (110,000) and Leicester (325,000) benefitted from wealthy owners.

Burnley did maintain their status in the top tier throughout the 1960s, even finishing third in 1965-66, which was followed by another good campaign in Europe in the Fairs Cup, reaching the quarter final the following season before going out at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt. Their league positions after then were closer to the bottom than the top, and in 1970-71 they were relegated.

After then Burnley went into a slow decline culminating in the final game of the 1986-87 season when they needed to win the last game of the season to remain in the Football League and not be relegated to the Conference. They duly beat Leyton Orient and were also saved by Lincoln City, who were then automatically relegated when losing their final game. Burnley began to ascend again from that time, and in the last few years have yo-yoed between the Championship and the Premier League.

After finishing on top of the Championship in 2015-16, they finished 16th in their first season back at the top, and then last season they rose to the dizzy heights of seventh place, their highest finish for almost half a century. Once again they qualified for Europe but this time they were eliminated before the kids went back to school after the summer holidays. This has enabled them to concentrate on the league, and they may need to do so after their indifferent start, similar to our own.

I’ll finish this week with a few random thoughts:

  • Spectators encroaching onto the playing area against Tottenham in midweek brought back memories of the last time Burnley visited the London Stadium in March.
  • Leicester’s late deflected equaliser maintained our lead at the top of the “points dropped from winning positions” league.
  • It would be good if we could score a headed goal. I can’t recall us getting one so far this season.
  • The two keepers this weekend, Fabianski and Hart, are at the top of the goalkeepers league for saves made this season (44 apiece).
  • West Ham are odds-on with bookmakers to win a league game for the first time this season.
  • You can almost guarantee that Burnley will be awarded a penalty against us. They weren’t given one in the whole of last season or in this season to date.
  • The magnificent goal that you see Bobby Moore score on the screens at our games was against QPR in our 4-3 win fifty years ago yesterday. It wasn’t even the best goal in the game. Harry Redknapp scored the winning goal with a thunderous volley.

Let’s hope we can get back to winning ways. I don’t think it will be as easy as some are expecting, but I take us to win by a narrow margin.

Up With The Christmas Decorations: Can West Ham Kick-Off A Winning Run?

A run of winnable games can see West Ham go up with the decorations in the run up to Christmas. Failure to create a level of consistency against lesser side could spell disaster.

Burnley were the surprise team of 2017/18, achieving a seventh placed finish and attracting plenty of praise for gravelly voiced manager Sean Dyche.  Having scaled such heights, however,  and only scoring thirty six in the process (only the three relegated clubs and Huddersfield scored fewer), it was always unlikely that a threat to the Premier League status quo was being built at Turf Moor.  The Dyche philosophy is not a style of play that is going to prosper in the long term; although it might be adequate for pragmatic survival in the footsteps of Allardyce, Pulis and co.

The Clarets still managed to record three goals in two of their thirty eight league matches last season: the first in the season opener away at Chelsea; the second in the infamous day of protests at the London Stadium – a game in which West Ham had controlled the first half but self-destructed in the final half hour.

This season with the added burden of a Europa Cup campaign, where they were eliminated at the Play Off stage, it has been a disappointing start for the visitors who are one of two teams sitting below the Hammers by virtue of goal difference.  Apart from a shock 4-0 win against high riding Bournemouth their performances have been underwhelming and they come into today’s game having conceded nine goals in their last two outings.

West Ham are now without a win in their last four games in all competitions – evidently still basking in the glory (and resting on the laurels) of victory against Manchester United.  With today’s game heralding the start of a winnable streak, Manuel Pellegrini will be desperate to see some added points on the board.  The dilemma is whether his team have enough guile and penetration to break down what will surely be a massed Burnley defence.  If past performance is in any way indicative of future results the omens are not good.

The West Ham lineup for today pretty much picks itself.  Not that the players have performed brilliantly just that there are so few options available due to either quality, injuries or suspensions.  The goalkeeper and the core of the defence are givens and the return of The General, missing in midweek, will be welcome – I am convinced he would have prevented at least two of the Tottenham goals.  The defensive problem area is left back where neither Arthur Masuaku nor Aaron Cresswell are comfortable as a traditional full-back – particular when midfield backup is so flaky.  As Cresswell remains a doubt I would expect Masuaku to get the nod again.  Declan Rice is a certainty to continue his impressive protection of the back four.

In Mark Noble’s absence, Pedro Obiang and Robert Snodgrass will be expected to put in the midfield yards but, while their energy is to be commended, it is a combination that doesn’t shout creativity.

In the advanced roles Marko Arnautovic will be back leading the charge with attacking support provided by Grady Diangana and Felipe Anderson.  Diangana continued to look promising in midweek, in complete contrast to Anderson who looks to be shrouded in a cloak of lethargy.  It is, perhaps, the best we have but has a worryingly one dimensional feel to it.

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Javier Hernandez and Michail Antonio will feature at some point but both have been mightily disappointing.  Hernandez is an impact player at best and Antonio has completely lost his mojo over the past couple of seasons – what happened to the player who one minute was tackling Liverpool’s Moreno just outside his own penalty box and then heading home at the other end a moment later?

Last season it was Barnes and Wood who did the damage but neither are expected to start this afternoon.  You would like to think that Pellegrini and the players are aware of the Burnley threat particularly from crosses and set pieces – cutting off supply will be key to keeping a rare clean sheet.

The match-day referee is Roger East from Wiltshire who is taking charge of only his second Premier League game of the season.  He was in the middle for the home win over Swansea last term as well as away defeat at Brighton.

Both Lawro and Paul Merson have predicted a 2-0 Hammer’s success which would be very welcome indeed.  It is a game that we should and need to win to give the season a lift and to prove that this is a team that are not only motivated for the bigger games.  Not picking up all three points would be extremely disappointing.  The worry is that West Ham will be too predictable allowing Burnley to frustrate and dampen the mood in the stadium- much like last season’s game, in fact.  Hopefully, an early goal will lighten that mood and set things up for a comfortable win.