Who Will Cut The Mustard In West Ham Versus Norwich Goalfest?

The Hammers look to build up a head of steam with successive league wins and an improved London Stadium performance.

Last weekend I was able to sit through the Norwich versus Chelsea match immediately prior to own game at Watford.  Both games were remarkably open affairs with all four teams seemingly prepared to throw caution to the wind.  While West Ham weathered the Watford storm at Vicarage Road and finished much the stronger side, Norwich started their game on top but fell away noticeably for most of the second half.

The results left both clubs in the cluster of clubs sitting on four points who will be looking to build on their solid starts to the season.  With only Liverpool boasting a 100% record and only Watford still to register a win the table has an unusual look about it.

Daniel Farke has created an amazing transformation during his two seasons at Norwich taking them from the lower reaches of the Championship to division champions on a shoestring budget.  When you are a newly promoted club and your marquee signing in the transfer window is Sam Byram says it all.  It will be interesting to see how their season pans out compared to big spending Aston Villa – the two clubs had been relegated together at the end of the 2015/16 season.

Much of the early season buzz at Carrow Road has surrounded Teemu Pukki, whose 5 goals from 3 games has him leading the charge for the Golden Boot.  Pukki is an interesting character having experienced an uninspiring early career (including a very mediocre season at Celtic) before kicking on at Brondby and then at Norwich.  From what I have seen he demonstrates excellent movement and will be a handful for whichever central defensive partnership he comes up against at the London Stadium.  If they can keep him away from Delia’s pies it could be a very influential season for the Finn.  Another player to look out for is Todd Cantwell who looks to be an excellent prospect based on his performance against Chelsea, particularly in the first half.  Seems a bit unfair but they also have Spiderman playing in midfield.

Both teams have been involved in EFL Cup ties since last weekend.  West Ham negotiated a tricky visit to South Wales to face Newport County while Norwich crashed out against Crawley Town.  Premier League teams continue to gamble that their much changed teams have enough to edge past lower league opposition.  Manuel Pellegrini won his gamble whereas Farke did not.

All things being equal I would have expected West Ham to start this weekend’s game with same team that was on the pitch once Michail Antonio replaced Andriy Yarmolenko.  However, an injury to the unlucky Antonio has sidelined him for a while.  The options would be to persevere with Yarmolenko or call in one of Pablo Fornals, Robert Snodgrass or Jack Wilshere.  My concern that more than one of Mark Noble, Snodgrass and Wilshere at any one time reduces the average pace to snail level.  I can’t begin to guess what Pellegrini will go for.

West Ham will have plenty of opportunity to show their attacking qualities but they will also have many Norwich attacks to repel.  The Canaries like to get their full-backs forward to provide width and this could easily expose the Hammers lack of numbers in those areas if the attacking wide men do not put in a defensive shift.

When the two teams met in 2015/16 season both games ended in 2-2 draws – Cheikou Kouyate scoring an injury equaliser at Upton Park and the Hammers coming back from two goals down at Carrow Road.

This weeks real and virtual referees are Paul Tierney and Andre Marriner respectively.  An interesting aspect of VAR is that it hasn’t really overturned many actual decisions made by referees.  Rather it has become a mechanism to review each goal for technical infringements and as a backstop offside checker.  It can’t be long before offside is totally automated, just like the goal-line technology, with the referee receiving a ‘beep’ in his ear each time a forward strays offside.  After all it is a simple case of applying and measuring clearly defined rules – there is no subjectivity to it as with handball.

Everyone will be expecting the game to be a high scoring extravaganza.  I was considering opting for a 7-5 home win to claim the record for the highest scoring Premier League game (Portsmouth 7 Reading 4 in 2007) but instead will go against the flow and predict West Ham to win 1-0.

West Ham are visited by the Canaries this weekend. Who will be singing on Saturday evening?

I’ll start with a couple of quiz questions. Question One – Name the only two teams that didn’t manage to win one of their first three Premier League games this season? Answer – Watford are one, the other team are Wolves. Question Two – Name the four teams in the Premier League that haven’t lost a game this season? Answer – Liverpool and Manchester City (inevitably), Leicester, and Wolves (again). So Wolves haven’t won a game and neither have they lost one. Is it better to win one and lose two games, or to draw three in a row? Of course the goals scored, and goals conceded, makes that question difficult to answer in respect of league position, but psychologically which would you prefer? The reality is that the points attained are the same in both scenarios.

The early league table after just three matches is an interesting one. Of course it doesn’t mean a lot yet, but the team in fifth place is on four points, whereas the team in 19th place is on three points. Close then. After our opening day 0-5 reverse with two away games to follow, most of us would have been happy to be one of the teams sitting on four points at this stage, albeit at the bottom end of those because of our goal difference. Ten teams have the won one, drawn one and lost one tag, and on paper I guess we’d like to believe that we can move up to seven points after this weekend’s fixture, the last before the international break! The season has barely started and we are having an international break already. For those who don’t like to see such disruption to the domestic fixtures I’ll remind you of the breaks to come. After this one (7 September) we have the second break on 12 October, the third on 16 November, this season also sees a winter break in February 2020, and then a final international break on 28 March. I’m not a fan of these continual breaks to the season, but it looks like they are here to stay.

One paper I read described Norwich as a breath of fresh air, and if they meant by that there are a lot of goals in their games (at both ends) then it is a fair description. After an opening 4-1 defeat at Liverpool, they beat Newcastle 3-1 before going down 3-2 to Chelsea last weekend. 14 goals in three games exceeds any other team in the division, and in Mr Pukki they have the leading goalscorer in the Premier League with five goals, an excellent outcome for those who (like me) selected him in their Fantasy Football squads. The goals have been well taken, and we will do well to keep him quiet on Saturday. Our own Mr. Haller opened his account with two well taken strikes at Watford as well, so with 25 goals scored in the six games involving Norwich or West Ham this season, we can look forward to an open, entertaining game. From the West Ham viewpoint, the “naturally gifted midfielders” who merely jogged back leaving our defence exposed when Watford scored their goal last week, must add the need to defend to their repertoire, rather than thinking solely of attack.

Of course it makes for an attractive game when both teams eschew their defensive responsibilities, but if we wish to progress then this is one aspect of our game (which those of us who follow West Ham have known for ages!) that must improve. We were very fortunate when Hughes somehow contrived to miss the target from about a yard out, and if we’d gone 2-1 behind then the outcome might have been very different. But he did miss, and Haller’s well-taken two goals meant a well-deserved first win of the season. I thought that the introduction of Antonio was a key factor in the win, and surely he had done enough to start this weekend? Until the game at Newport of course! The injury jinx is beginning again. Yarmolenko will take time to get up to speed after his long lay-off, and at this stage of the season he needs to be eased in gently. Personally I cannot understand how or why Ogbonna is keeping Balbuena out of the team either, but for some reason that is the case.

The TV people believed that we were an obvious choice for an upset in the League Cup last Tuesday, and that is why we were chosen for the televised game. Sorry TV, but we spoiled your fun as for once we didn’t lose to a “giant-killer” as we have done so many times in the past sixty years I have been following the team. But until Jack Wilshere scored we always looked as though we may concede a goal. It was as interesting as ever to read some West Ham forums after the game to get a diversity of views of our fans. Of course it’s a game of opinions, but some of our fans have some wildly differing views which provide me with some amusement.

“A professional performance.” “We were c**p.” “Never in doubt.” “Lucky to win.” “Sanchez was our man of the match.” “Sanchez is dog****”. “Roberto looked a good keeper.” “Heaven help us if Fab gets injured.” – Just eight excerpts to demonstrate my point.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the Watford game, but in the end it was a highly entertaining open match. I am looking forward to the Norwich game, however, and even have a bit of a soft spot for them. But only when they are playing other teams of course. My prediction – I reckon we’ll come out on top of a highly entertaining, high scoring game, 4-3.

A Newport State Of Mind: The Fans Expect, Can Pellegrini Deliver?

A whole bunch of banana skins with potential have been seen heading for South Wales tonight. A strong West Ham side with the right attitude will be needed to keep them away.

West Ham enter the Carabao Cup fray this evening with a second round tie against League 2 Newport County at their Rodney Parade stadium.  Arguably, the League Cup is the most winnable competition for teams outside of the rich six, but it remains a feat that has been beyond the Hammers during its 50-odd year history.

Many supporters would happily trade a few Premier League positions for a decent cup run but owners and coaches have tended to take a different view – unless you go all the way the financial reward is not high.  Nevertheless, apart from those with a realistic shout at a top four finish (or those concurrently committed to European competition) it is difficult to understand why the competition would not be taken with utmost seriousness.

With a long history of embarrassing cup exits to lower league team under their belts, including the recent memory of an FA Cup exit to AFC Wimbledon last season, West Ham would be foolish to take tonight’s game lightly.  In truth, the team fielded at Wimbledon should have easily been good enough to win the match and so attitude and proper preparation is equally important.

The most recent meeting with Newport County was one of those cup shocks when the Welsh side beat a John Lyall West Ham team that included Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds, Alan Devonshire and Alvin Martin, That was a 1979 FA Cup third round tie at Newport’s old Somerton Park ground which Lyall regarded as one of his worst nights of his managerial career.  The Hammers famously won the FA Cup in the following season while Newport went on to win the Welsh Cup in the same year.  Both teams made it through to the Quarter Finals of the 1980/ 81 European Cup Winner’s Cup where they were each eliminated by the eventual finalists.

Things took a turn for the worse after that for Newport and they were forced to go out of business in 1989.  The club was reformed and embarked on a nomadic existence around the lower leagues before regaining league status in 2010.  Under current manager, Mike Flynn, they have recorded some notable cup upsets including wins over Leeds, Leicester and Middlesbrough and earning a creditable draw at Wembley against Tottenham, before losing in a replay.  They are unbeaten in this season’s League 2 campaign and will go into tonight’s game with little to fear and nothing to lose.

This will be no easy ride for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.  He may well want to rest a few who might be carrying knocks or try out a number of fringe or youth players but there is no room for complacency.  Maybe it will be an opportunity for recent signings Albian Ajeti and Gonçalo Cardoso to play a part; or perhaps some of Ben Johnson, Conor Coventry and Nathan Holland will be included in the squad.  Pellegrini cannot afford to make too many changes or take anything for granted.  A committed, disciplined and professional performance is required if further embarrassment is to be avoided.

It will be a tough test.  The TV executives obviously sensed the chance of an upset by selecting the tie for live broadcast.  I can’t see there being many goals but am hoping that, in the end, West Ham’s extra class will ultimately prevail over Newport’s determination.

Last Among Equals: Haller Brace Earns West Ham First Win – Takeaways And Player Ratings

The embryonic league table has an unusually condensed look to it. What can we learn from the Hammers first win of the season that sees them joining a host of ten clubs sitting on four points?

The Will Of The People

Looking back at the game from the final whistle, West Ham looked to be worthy winners.  Despite Watford’s greater shot count, the Hammers were the more creative and carried the greater goal threat throughout 90 minutes.  It was a remarkably open game from the start with neither side concerning themselves too much about the art of defending.  Great to watch in many ways and would fit many observer’s definition of the West Ham way.  As usual, West Ham surrendered possession easily and allowed Gerard Deulofeu far too much space and time.  Fortunately, on this occasion, he was unable to deliver much in the way of end product to round off his trickery.  The pivotal moment in the match was the glaring miss by Will Hughes just before the second half drinks break.  I have seen worse misses (when players have the ball under control) but had he converted, as he should, the rest of the game would have played out differently. West Ham grew and Watford faded from that point on.

The Return Of The Skipper

Mark Noble made a welcome return to the West Ham midfield for his first appearance of the season.  On the 15th anniversary of his West Ham debut, it was fitting that he was able to get on the scoresheet early when converting a 3rd minute penalty – following a definite foul on Manuel Lanzini but which didn’t warrant the Argentinian’s theatrical interpretation.  The goal takes Noble up to 43 Premier League goals (25 from the spot), now only 4 behind West Ham’s leading PL scorer, Paolo Di Canio.  Otherwise, he had a steady rather than a spectacular game; perhaps not surprising after a longish lay-off and curtailed pre-season.  Despite his shortcomings, he remains the best option available to play alongside Declan Rice.  The captain was seen lambasting his forward colleagues for making no attempt to track back in the lead up to Watford equaliser but his remonstrations did little to change behaviour for the rest of the game.  As I have mentioned previously, the defensive responsibilities of forward players must be enforced on the training ground, not by the captain on the pitch.

Haller Off The Mark

It was great to see Sebastien Haller grab two goals to open his West Ham account.  Have we finally got ourselves a real striker; one who is also prepared to work hard for the team?  His second goal was particularly pleasing, and hopefully the first of many to celebrate throughout the season.  Interesting to read that he didn’t feel that he had the greatest of games himself.  Maybe he would liked to have contributed more in open play but that will come once greater understanding is developed with those around him.  There was a lovely piece of improvisation in the first half when Andriy Yarmolenko headed back across goal, but his backheel flick didn’t have sufficient power to worry the Watford keeper.  Apparently, when Haller scored he caused West Ham to become the first club to reach the milestone of 150 different goalscorers in the Premier League.  Seems we are great at sharing  the goals around – just not that many from any individual player.

Masterful Substitution?

Depending which way you look at it, the decision to start with Yarmolenko rather than Michail Antonio was either a shocking selection or a tactical masterstroke.  Yarmolenko is clearly a talented footballer, with a great touch, but a long injury absence has meant he has yet to prove himself in the rigours of the English game.  Having both Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson playing on the wing of their weaker foot is an odd tactic; preventing full use of the pitch as they invariably cut back inside rather than attempting to get behind the defence.  The one time that Anderson got to the bye-line (following excellent work from Arthur Masuaku) ended up with the cross for the first Haller goal.  Once Antonio was introduced, his power and direct approach added a whole host of problems for the Watford defence – he made a real match-winning difference.  The debate will no-doubt continue as to whether the poor defensive shape is down to personnel or the way that Manuel Pellegrini sets up the team.  Could Masuaku or Angelo Ogbonna have done better to prevent the Andre Gray goal, or was the damage done when the 4 forward players made no attempt to win back possession?

An Unusual League Table

League tables this early in the season are fairly meaningless but it is interesting to see so many clubs with identical 1-1-1 won, drawn and lost records, sitting on 4 points.  The heavy opening day defeat to Manchester City means that West Ham are last of the clutch of the 10 teams in that position (technically tied last with Chelsea with whom we also have an identical goals for and against).  A little different this season is that after 3 games, only Liverpool have a 100% win record and that only 4 teams remain unbeaten, including Wolves in 15th place.  No surprise that Liverpool and Manchester City occupy the top two positions and there is nothing to suggest that the league will be anything other than a predictable two horse race.  Defeats for Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham (very ordinary when the want-away Eriksen is not in their side and no doubt Pochettino is already dusting off his CV) must give encouragement to any teams who is organised and talented enough to chase a top six place come the end of the season.  If West Ham are to be one of them they cannot afford to be so open in the middle of the park.

Player Ratings

Fabianski (7), Fredericks (6), Ogbonna (6), Diop (7), Masuaku (7), Rice (8), Noble (7), Anderson (6), Lanzini (7), Yarmolenko (5), Haller (8) Subs: Antonio (8), Fornals (6), Sanchez (6)

Saturday Night’s Alright: West Ham Must Come Out Fighting To Secure Elusive August Win

Another slow start to the season for West Ham. Manuel Pellegrini asks for patience but where are the signs of improvement?

With an unlikely August Bank Holiday heatwave on the cards, authorities have issued an Amber Alert warning with a forecast of high pressure, soaring temperatures and raging thirsts.  If anything, it sounds like a typical August match day afternoon for hot-under-the-collar West Ham supporters, as the Hammers seek to register a first league win from ten attempts in the opening month of the season – the last August success being the first ever game at the London Stadium in 2016.  To make matters worse, the Met Office are advising those at risk to avoid self-medication with copious quantities of alcohol.

Today’s encounter against Watford at Vicarage Road brings together two of the Premier League’s eight winless clubs.  Both will have pencilled in the fixture as another opportunity to kick-start their seasons.

Manuel Pellegrini has urged supporters to be patient as he searches for to find the right blend from a squad that appears very talented on paper but has failed to deliver yet on the pitch.  It is difficult to know, though, what level of tweaking in formation and personnel the manager has in mind.  After all, he has only effectively brought in two new players – one a direct replacement for the departed Arnautovic and an additional attacking midfielder.  Given that he is firmly rooted in his 4-1-1-3-1 formation, and there was no new recruitment in defensive areas, his options look somewhat limited.

The elephant in the room remains central midfield where, despite 80% of supporters (made up statistic) regarding further defence minded resources as a priority, the manager and coaches did not agree.  Unless there is an ideal free agent out there somewhere, we are stuck with what we have got for the time being – which is a choice of Mark Noble, Jack Wilshere or Robert Snodgrass to fill the gap.  Not a great deal of pace between them, but at least all are meant to be fit and available to play today.

I am sure we all love the skipper for the commitment he has given the club during his long career – he made his first West Ham appearance 15 years ago today.  However, his contribution to the team reaches mythical proportions whenever he has a period of absence.  Many will cite his leadership abilities but there have been just as many feeble performances when he is in the team as when he isn’t.  Having said that, I would still have him as pick of the available bunch for that role.

As to the more advanced positions, the challenge is to select three from Manuel Lanzini, Felipe Anderson, Pablo Fornals, Michail Antonio, Jack Wilshere and Robert Snodgrass to form an effective unit behind (the hopefully fit again) Sebastien Haller.  Of the Three Amigos (Lanzini, Anderson and Fornals), Manuel Lanzini has to be a definite starter and one of the others has to give way as collectively they are too similar and do not offer enough physically.  I think Pellegrini will stick with Anderson if he is considered fully fit.  Antonio has been one or our better players so far this season and would feel himself very unlucky to be on the bench again.  If I were picking the team I would be looking at Wilshere as a candidate for a more advanced role.  He is at his most dangerous there either picking out a killer pass or pulling off a quick one-two.  Whether his body is up to the challenge is another matter.  I don’t see Pellegrini going with that though and would guess at the following starting eleven:


At the back, all fingers and toes have been kept cross since last weekend that Fabian Balbuena will be back in place of Angelo Ogbonna.  I don’t foresee any change to Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku at full-back who are also needed to provide width in attacking situations.

As important as who is selected to play will be evidence of a better overall tactical effort and level of commitment.  This is my biggest gripe with Pellegrini right now.  It is quite clear that we offer opponents wide open spaces to attack either through the middle of midfield and down the flanks; while the supposed creativity to fashion goalscoring opportunities at the other end has been poor.  What are they doing on the training ground to address these deficiencies?  Yes, it is early season but I have yet to see any other team in the league that is slower, less compact or as careless in possession.  It shouldn’t be a case of looking for a leader on the pitch to stick to a plan, it should be something that is drilled into the players at Rush Green.

Having read reports online from the U23’s winning start to the season they have been playing a high intensity, pressing game and have even arranged additional matches to sharpen fitness.  This is all very admirable but at the same time rather odd in that it is so different from how the first team plays.  Modern football is fast, athletic and physical; all are ranking below average for the Hammers from current available evidence.

Watford, like the town itself, are pointless and goalless.  Manager, Javi Gracia, might have to give up any thoughts of collecting his Watford long service award unless he can remedy the long barren run that goes back to their FA Cup semi-final win.  What better opportunity, however, for a team down on its luck and looking for a boost in confidence than to come up against West Ham.  And remember, Watford have won more Premier League matches against West Ham than they have against any other team.

Today, the Hornets will be missing talisman striker (and their own leader) Troy Deeney but have several very exciting players in their ranks including Roberto Pereyra, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Gerard Deulofeu (a frequent thorn in West Ham’s side).  Great things are also expected from the pacey Ismaila Sarr, who could well make his debut this afternoon.

Today’s on-pitch referee is Chris Kavanagh from Manchester while his video counterpart is Jarred Gillett who is apparently from Australian where he has been VAR-ing since 2017.  What are the chances of a match free from VAR controversy?

Our favourite TV pundits are united this week with both Lawro and Charlie Nicholas predicting a 2-1 Watford win.  I did dream in the week that West Ham won the game 2-1 but before you dash off to the bookies to cash in on my premonition I should tell you that the goalscorers were Jack Wilshere and Paul Kitson – perhaps it was a West Ham Invalids XI.  I am struggling to find any optimism for a positive outcome from the game.  Having predicted two wins so far this season, it is time for caution.  We always find Watford to be tough opponents and even without Deeney they may prove too physical for our rather lightweight and fragile outfit.  In the circumstances, coming away with a point would be a decent outcome: 2-2!

West Ham visit bottom of the table Watford. Can we win our first game of the season or will we be stung by the Hornets?

There’s something about games against Watford that I don’t really like. Perhaps it is my memory of games against them in recent times where our record is not as good as I would like it to be. Perhaps it is the way they play. Perhaps I still haven’t got over 2016-17 when we led 2-0 in our first season at the London Stadium and then gifted the game to them 4-2 with some defensive howlers. I can’t really put my finger on it for certain, but it is never a game that I particularly look forward to.

I recall last season when they visited us at the London Stadium shortly before Christmas. We dominated the game but Balbuena gave away a penalty after half an hour, and injured himself seriously in the process. I remember Deeney slamming the penalty into the net, going to the corner flag and punching it, and taunting our fans, which led to a chorus of boos and expletives aimed in his direction. I don’t think he is the most popular of players! Foster, in the Watford goal, played a blinder, Antonio had two headers against the woodwork, and then Deloufeu wrapped the game up a few minutes before the end. Before the game we were level on 24 points with them (having given them a 12 point start in the first four games of the season), but their victory took them up to 7th in the table, whilst we fell to 12th.

We had to wait until the final game of the season for the return fixture. Before the game, Watford were on 50 points and we had 48. Of course, the match was just six days before the FA Cup Final where they were due to be thrashed by Manchester City, although they didn’t know it at the time! Perhaps they weren’t fully committed to our game, and we duly ran out 4-1 winners.

There were some odd goals in the game, Noble scoring with his left foot from open play, and then Lanzini scoring a header, both very rare occurrences. We led 2-0 at half-time but straight from the re-start Deloufeu pulled a goal back. But two minutes later Holebas was sent off for a fairly innocuous foul on Antonio when he was clean through on goal, a punishment that would have meant him missing the Cup Final, had it not been subsequently rescinded. With around 20 minutes to go Arnautavic scored his last goal for West Ham before Mark Noble wrapped the game up with a late penalty. The result meant that we leapfrogged the Hornets to claim 10th place and a top half finish. Ironically the season before we had finished 13th while they were 14th just a point behind. So our records in the past two seasons have been fairly similar.

Moving on to this weekend’s game, then we go into the fixture just one point apart once again. After the thrashing from Manchester City we collected our first point last week with an uninspiring draw at Brighton, who had surprisingly beaten Watford 3-0 at Vicarage Road on the opening day. Watford themselves left Goodison Park in their second game with a 1-0 defeat, meaning that they prop up the table with nil points. Of course it is early days, and the league table will change in the weeks to come no doubt. Having said that, most of the usual sides are already filling most of the top places after just two games.

I have written about VAR and some of the rule changes in previous articles and will no doubt return to them in later ones. Without returning to those subjects in detail this week, suffice to say we actually benefited from VAR last week when a Brighton goal was ruled out by an offside decision which was only marginally more offside than Sterling was the week before. Still, offside is offside, and based on the current rules, which I don’t agree with by the way (as I described at length last week) then VAR meant that the correct decision was reached, which enabled us to hold on for a point, and not join Watford at the foot of the table.

And what about the new handball rule? Is it right that if a forward accidentally handles it in the opposing penalty area in the lead up to a goal then the goal is disallowed? While on the other hand the boot is on the other foot if a defender accidentally handles the ball in his own penalty area, then it is not a penalty. Crazy I reckon, and I’ll return to this topic in later articles too. What it meant was that Spurs gained an unjust point. And from that match did you see the foul on Rodri which was one of those cast-iron penalties that surely VAR would have spotted? But nothing happened. Amazing!

VAR, the system that was supposed to put an end to controversy is creating more controversy than ever! I read somewhere this week that the officials behind the implementation of VAR reckon it will take ten years before the issues surrounding VAR are sorted out! Ten years! Ten years! Get a move on. I’ve already nailed my colours to the mast saying that I am strongly in favour of the VAR system, but they are really making a hash of the implementation aren’t they, not helped by the other ridiculous changes (mainly handball) to the laws?

Returning to this week’s visit to Watford then I would expect the game between these two out of form teams to feature as the final game on Match of the Day (again! – come on MOTD I want to go to bed earlier!). I’m hoping that we do enough to win, but one thing is for sure. Watford have yet to score a goal this season, and that is just the kind of statistic where teams know it will end because they are facing West Ham in their next game. Providing our manager doesn’t come up with another team selection that baffled so many of us last week, then with the return from injury of our expensive signings, I reckon we can repeat last season’s result at Watford, albeit in a much closer game. The bookmakers have Watford as even money favourites to win the game, with a West Ham win, or the draw, both in the region of 5/2. Let’s hope they have got it wrong.

West Ham Are All At Sea But Escape With A Stolen Point: Takeaways And Player Ratings

Another colourless and uninspired performance that was saved by a very lucky point. Can we expect any lessons to be learned or will it be rinse and repeat?

A Bounce-back-ability Failure

Any hope that the disappointing opening day defeat to Manchester City would be consigned to history by a storming performance at Brighton was firmly laid to rest on Saturday afternoon.  This was another dismal showing by West Ham, even though they managed to both salvage (steal) a point and prevent Glen Murray from scoring.  Following a similar pattern from the previous week, the Hammer’s started brightly but could only keep it up for less than 20 minutes; by which time they either ran out of puff, ideas or interest.  Despite bossing possession during that period they didn’t get anywhere close to threatening the Brighton goal.  West Ham have no divine right to beat teams such as Brighton but we should at least expect a better effort.  It was fortunate that the hosts were not as clinical as their win at Watford the previous weekend had suggested, otherwise another heavy defeat would have been on the cards.

Wot No Tactics!

Attempting to describe the West Ham tactics for this game would challenge the most creative spin doctor.  Admittedly, the absence of the clubs two most expensive acquisitions, Sebastien Haller and Felipe Anderson, were a major blow but five changes to the starting eleven came as a huge surprise.  It was revealed after the game that Haller and Anderson were never in contention for selection – but that this fact had been kept a secret to prevent Brighton planning accordingly.  The idea that opponents might understand the West Ham tactics when our own players seem to have no idea is an interesting one.  It is likley repetitive to labour the point about lack of options/ weaknesses in central midfield, but these are fundamental to the problems of poor organisation, defensive frailty and maintaining possession.  Whereas most teams endeavour to create space and switch play across the park, the Hammers appear set on heading into congested cul-de-sacs.  Apart from the occasional foray down the left wing there was little success in getting beyond and behind the Brighton defence.  For reasons unknown, Ryan Fredericks looks to be scared to leave his own half.  All in all, a very lucky point from a below par performance.

Oggy, Oggy, Oggy, Out, Out, Out

My heart sank when I heard the lineup an hour before kick-off.  It is bad enough when Angelo Ogbonna has to play as an emergency stand-in but for him to be selected as a conscious decision when there are other options available is an abomination.  It’s a shame because he always comes across as a really nice guy – just not a very good footballer.  Granted, The General has not looked at his best since the summer and his participation in the Copa America but he doesn’t need to be firing on cylinders to better Ogbonna.  The goal that was eventually disallowed thanks to the intervention of VAR was a typical Ogbonna moment.  Having been beaten in the air, his attempt at retrieving the situation involved ambling in the general direction of the Brighton player chasing the ball and allowing him all the time in the world to cross.  He was also implicated, if not solely responsible, for the Brighton equaliser.  Issa Diop looked to have won the initial tussle with Murray but failed to put the ball away to safety.  One again, Ogbonna made only a token attempt to close down the scorer, Trossard as the ball ran free.  It’s enough to make one nostalgic for those James Collins last ditch, body on the line, blocks of old.

You’ve Been VARred.

We have long believed that West Ham were champions of the bad refereeing decision and the early days of VAR have gone some way to vindicating this view.  Two games and two goals against disallowed.  Perhaps teams with the shakiest defences are certain to be major beneficiaries, simply as a consequence of the volume of opposition attacks involved.  The goal checking process is having a weird effect on games as goal celebrations and preparation to re-start have all taken place before decision comes through – particularly confusing for those inside the ground.  The disallowed added-time Manchester City goal against Tottenham was perhaps the perfect example of VAR’s detrimental impact on the spontaneity of the game.  However, rather than have VAR take all the blame, it is the decision to introduce a new rule that disallows any goal that might have involved ball to hand contact, regardless of intention, that needs to be looked at.  If a corner hit a defender’s arm, then an attackers, before a third person slotted home, what would the decision be – goal, no-goal or penalty?  Back to our own game and there were some claims of a possible penalty for a foul on Antonio but apparently this was not deemed worthy of review – even though such incidents were originally the driver for VAR introduction.

Old Dogs And New Tricks

If someone had taken a survey, I would have ticked the Mostly Satisfied box when assessing Manuel Pellegrini’s first season at West Ham – as I had been with Slaven Bilic’s first season a few years prior.  There was a breath of fresh air on the pitch after the dour fare offered by David Moyes, and it felt like a new, more professional and considered approach to player recruitment might be on the horizon.  There was still work to be done of course: weaknesses to be addressed; errors to be eradicated; and missing pieces of the jigsaw to be discovered.  From what we have seen to date, however, there are serious question-marks as to the actual direction of travel and the likely extent of any progress.  It is very early in the season for drastic changes but it is disturbing that fitness, shape and organisation continue to look well below average for a team who believe they are on the up.  There is a new breed of manager in the Premier League now where the emphasis is on high energy levels, compact shape and fluidity of formation.  What worked in the olden days for Pellegrini (and Hodgson maybe) may no longer be appropriate or relevant?  It is not a problem of age but an apparent reluctance to adapt to changing circumstances.  Failure to address his side’s poor all-round defensive performance will prove pivotal to the way the season unfolds.

The Ratings

Supporters often like to cherry-pick stats from sources such Whoscored to support whatever particular point they are attempting to prove.  It is interesting that, according to that website’s rating algorithm, our top performers on Saturday were (in order): Lanzini, Snodgrass, Masuaku, Diop, Ogbonna and Hernandez.  Would you agree?  Probably not!

I was struck though by one statistic on Whoscored and that was a Lukasz Fabianski’s pass success rate of 18% (compare this to Alissons 80% for Liverpool over the course of last season).  I don’t see this as the fault of Fabianski who continues to perform miracles between the sticks.  It is rather a reflection of the collective failure of the team to take individual responsibility and to provide the movement which creates opportunities to pass into .  Too many hurried back passes and too few options to build from the back remain an ongoing feature of our game.

Aside from Fabianski,  Manuel Lanzini and Declan Rice both had encouraging games but  there were few others who earned their corn this week.  These are my ratings:

Fabianski (7), Fredericks (5), Diop (5), Ogbonna (4), Masuaku (6), Rice (7), Wilshere (4), Snodgrass (6), Lanzini (7), Fornals (5), Hernandez (5) Subs: Antonio (6), Yarmolenko (5), Sanchez (5)

Time For West Ham’s Three Amigos To Step Up And Make Brighton Rock?

Once again West Ham’s plans are once again hampered by injury concerns but now is time for key players to live up to their reputations and kick-off the Hammer’s season for real.

It is safe to assume that the average football supporter experiences a far greater roller coaster of emotional volatility than do the players and coaching staff.  While we have had a week of festering after the early season optimism was so mercilessly crushed last weekend, we must hope that on the training ground there has been a more measured reaction to resolving problems. After all, very few people would have expected there to be any points on the board from our opener although most would have expected fewer entries in the goals against column.

To a certain extent the scale of last week’s defeat was overshadowed by debate of the tactical fouling employed by Manchester City.  With Manuel Pellegrini voicing his displeasure at the City tactics it brought to mind shades of Ron Greenwood, whose gentlemanly approach had him avoid the tough tackling enforcers favoured by many of his management contemporaries.  In truth, successful teams always have their tougher, darker side and even if the game has moved on from the outright thuggery of Revie’s dirty Leeds, a hard, uncompromising edge is still required to consistently bring home the trophies.  Like Greenwood, perhaps Pellegrini is just too nice.

West Ham’s woes aside, the Premier League season kicked off with a great deal of enthusiasm.  Word is that a new breed of managers with new sets of ideas are going to be breath of fresh air, at least in the lower reaches of table.  Farewell, the dour, attritional tactics of Allardyce, Pulis, Hughes and Hughton; welcome, the daring and enterprise of Farke, Wilder, Hasenhüttl, Smith and Potter.  The latter, of course, is now at the helm of today’s opponents, Brighton and Hove Albion.  Only time will tell whether the brave new spirit of adventure survives beyond the barren depths of winter – or whatever the modern day equivalent of a cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke is.

The Seagulls were the surprise package of the opening weekend with an emphatic 3-0 away win against a muddled Watford side.  Brighton’s expansive style was a far cry from what had been served up under Chris Hughton – but which did ensure Premier League safety for two consecutive seasons.  By all accounts Graham Potter prefers a fluid and flexible formation that switches between 3, 4 or 5 at the back; something which will provide an interesting contrast to Pellegrini’s more predictable (tried but not fully tested) set-up.

Just a week into the season and the perennial injury jinx may have already have raised its ugly head.  Depending on what you read, there may or may not be concerns with the fitness of Felipe Anderson, Sebastien Haller, Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko for today’s game.  Old-timers Mark Noble and Winston Reid are definitely unavailable.

The prospect of the Three Amigos (Anderson along with Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals) forming a mesmerizing attacking midfield alliance seemed to promise so much just a week or so ago.  These are players with big reputations, hefty price tags and fat wallets who need to step up to be more than mere supporting parts.  With good fortune it can start today but maybe injuries will force us to wait a little longer to see if it can work in practice.  Will it reinvent West Ham as a team of rapid movement, quick passing and smart interplay or will it once more be all icing and no cake?  I have a lingering concern that exciting as the trio could be it lacks anyone with a cool head and range of passing to take the game by the scruff of the neck and pull the necessary strings.  It is Wilshere that is probably best suited to such a role but not if his freedom is curtailed by having to fill the problem area in central midfield alongside Declan Rice.  The sad thing is that with Noble injured there is no credible alternative to replace him if it was decided to deploy Wilshere further forward.

For a team that has just conceded five goals in a home match we are only likely to see one change in defence where Arthur Masuaku is likely to step in for the hapless Aaron Cresswell.  Since Cresswell’s England call-up a few years ago his form has dropped off significantly, apart from a brief spell as part of a back three under David Moyes.  Perhaps he only looked good at left back when he had Payet to set up perfect overlapping and crossing opportunities.

Injuries permitting here is how I think Pellegrini will line up:


If Haller is really not available, I hope we don’t have to put up with another 60 minutes or so of Javier Hernandez wandering about forlornly to no effect.  Best option in my opinion would be for Michail Antonio to come in to lead the line.  I thought he was very unfortunate to be hauled off at half-time last week.  You know what you are going to get with Antonio – someone with pace, power and muscle who will unsettle defenders.  His lack of finesse doesn’t make him a good fit for a the softly, softly, tippy-tappy style.  Alternatives are Yarmolenko or Albian Ajeti although I don’t see Pellegrini opting for either of these two as a starter.

On the subject of Ajeti, I think if I was a twin and my parents called by brother Adonis it might leave me with an inferiority complex.  A little like “Hi, I’m Brian and this is my twin brother, Thor!”  Maybe Albian also has a significant meaning in Albanian that I am missing.  I am certainly looking forward to seeing him play.

Today’s Physical Assistant Referee is Anthony Taylor from Manchester while the person making all the important decisions will be his Virtual counterpart tucked away underneath the stands.  My blogging partner made some excellent points yesterday in his article about how VAR looks to be exceeding its original brief of righting the wrongs of clear and obvious mistakes.  TV pundits were unanimous in hailing VAR as an overwhelming success although to me this is from the perspective of football as business rather than as an entertainment.  While it cannot be said that VAR got anything wrong last week the danger is that it will spoil the matchday experience for the paying customers in the ground.  Fans will be unable to fully celebrate any goal until it receives official confirmation several minutes later.

For the record, today’s Virtual Assistant Referee’s name is Bond, Darren Bond – Dr No Goal, You Only Score Twice, Dive Another Day and so on.

On this week’s pundit watch we have Lawro back on his favourite fence with a 1-1 draw while Charlie Nicholas fancies West Ham to sneak a 1-0 away win.  As we all know, the Hammers will need to score at least twice to win making allowance for the customary Glen Murray goal.  I have a feeling there could well plenty of goals this afternoon, especially if the promised West Ham attacking creativity gets itself into gear and the defence remains as characteristically charitable.  My optimistic prediction is for a 4-2 away win, although this can only come about through a significant upgrade in resilience and commitment; ensuring that we are not out-fought, out-thought and out-maneuvered by what will be an enthusiastic opponent. COYI!

What can West Ham expect when they visit the AMEX to meet our bogey team, the flying Seagulls of Brighton?

Let’s get Manchester City out of the way first. We held our own for about 25 minutes or so, but once they scored it was all over. We didn’t play particularly well after that opening period, but by their standards neither did they, despite the scoreline. It was disappointing to see the goals go in, but I am afraid we won’t be the last team to be on the end of a spanking from the champions. They are just too good for the Premier League, which is no longer a competition that the majority of teams have any chance of winning. Just take a look at the bookmakers’ odds which reflect the fact that only two teams can win, with four outsiders and 14 no-hopers. Leicester? That was just a fluke of circumstances and will not happen again.

Moving on to VAR, then I am a fan and like to see correct decisions. But they still haven’t got it right have they? It’s there to correct clear and obvious errors in respect of goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity. But they are taking it further which should not happen. And it’s not the fault of VAR that Sterling’s shoulder was offside by 1.57 mm or some other ridiculously small margin. The fault lies with the offside rule itself. If any part of your body that can touch the ball legally is beyond the defender, no matter by how much, then you are offside. But let’s take a step back here. Why was the offside rule introduced all those years ago before any of us were born? To stop the concept of goal hanging, that’s why. So how can somebody be goal hanging if they are in an offside position anywhere in the opponents half of the field? It is a nonsense. Let’s bring some common sense to this. The offside rule should only exist for anyone in the penalty area only. And if any legal part of their body is level with a defender then I don’t believe they should not be ruled offside. Let’s give the advantage to attackers. It would also bring an end to a lot of controversy, and stretch the play on the pitch, which I believe would be a good thing.

And while I am on the subject of rules / laws, then I’ll return to the topic I raised last week. Timekeeping! The time added on by the referee last week was nowhere near sufficient to make up for the time spent or wasted in goals celebrations, injuries, VAR stoppages, and substitutions. OK so last week it didn’t matter and possibly saved us from further punishment. Perhaps Mike Dean was acting like a boxing referee by stopping the contest to save us from further punishment. But in some games, that time could be vital. Just look back at my comments last week. We need an independent timekeeper to control the stadium clock and stop it when the ball is not in play. We are being short-changed and teams will continually cheat by timewasting if they can get away with it.

Another subject I raised last week was goalkeepers moving for penalties. When Fabianski saved the first penalty against City he clearly moved off his line before the ball was kicked. Yet that wasn’t the reason for the re-take. That was because of encroachment by Rice, who then cleared the ball after the first save. I just happened to watch the penalty shoot-out of the Super Cup game this week and was pleased for our old friend Adrian who became an instant hero for Liverpool with his save when the fifth Chelsea penalty was taken. I wasn’t surprised by the love-in on West Ham social media that followed because Adrian was a popular guy, despite his shortcomings as a goalkeeper. But the rules were not followed. Very clearly he moved off his line before the kick was taken. Why are referees unable to see this? Some will and some won’t and that will lead to continued inconsistency.

Now to Brighton. The Seagulls are flying. They really are a bogey team for us in recent times. Have we beaten them since that glorious day in the sunshine when Ricardo Vaz Te ran wild with wonder goals, bullet shots, overhead kicks etc., and we beat them 6-0? Certainly in the last couple of seasons we haven’t done ourselves justice in this fixture, and I’m hoping that we rectify this and show a reaction after the City game last weekend. Brighton surprised most of us last weekend running out comfortable 3-0 winners at Watford. I doubt that they won any game by three goals last season, and there certainly seems to be a change in philosophy from their new manager. Now that they produce league tables after one game (which is a bit nonsensical really but obviously it is there to meet a demand), we are facing a team occupying a Champions League place, after meeting the champions last week. Let’s hope we can put an end to this miserable run against the Seagulls and pick up our first win of the season.

I see today (Thursday) that our new record signing (together with last season’s record signing) are both potential doubts for the game due to injury. We’ve started early this season haven’t we? Nothing we can do but hope that their replacements put in a performance. I just hope Hernandez is not one of them (to me he is one of the most over-rated players I’ve seen in a claret and blue shirt). We’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps Ajeti and Fornals will be given starting opportunities? Or possibly Antonio will be the one out and out striker? Whatever happens in terms of team selection, I just hope that the players and coaches have been working on the concept of defending as a team this week.

The other potential change I guess is Masuaku for Cresswell. Our captain of last week is unfortunately a shadow of the player who was Hammer of the Year not that long ago and selected for England too. Every player rating I saw for the game was unanimous – he was our worst player. I’m not sure that Arthur is the answer (especially in a defensive sense) and perhaps the highly rated youngster Ben Johnson will be given a chance sooner rather than later.

Considering last week’s results you would have thought that Brighton would be strong favourites to beat us, especially in view of their recent record against us. However, that is not the case, although they are marginal favourites to pick up the three points. I’m confident that we will win though, and expect a high scoring game, perhaps a 3-2 or 4-3 victory in our favour to kick-start our season. If we want to progress then fixtures such as these are ones that we should start winning, or at the very least we should be avoiding defeat.

West Ham’s Sorry City Surrender: Takeaways And Player Ratings

Another new season gets off on the wrong foot as West Ham’s early endeavour gives way to a familiar thrashing by Champions, Manchester City. Where did it all go wrong?

Nothing But Shattered Dreams

As opening days of the season go this couldn’t have been much worse.  The last three openers have now seen 13 goals conceded without reply.  This year hopes had been built a little but the dreams have faded and died just as rapidly.  Sure this was against a Manchester City side, the league’s finest, who have now extended their London Stadium record to played 5, won 5, goals for 22 and goals against 1, but that is not a reason to not compete.  There is undoubtedly a huge gulf in class but why such a large difference in fitness, spirit and organisation?  I doubt many really expected West Ham could win the game but we didn’t expect capitulation.  To go down fighting is one thing; to meekly wave the white flag of surrender is unforgivable.  The Hammers staked their runaway claim for the most incompetent performance of the weekend despite honourable mentions from Watford and Chelsea.  The only positive I can come up with is that at least we have got this fixture out of the way early doors (© Big Ron).

From The Beginning

West Ham actually started the game quite brightly and for 20 minutes or so seemed to unsettle their opponents by their enterprise, although without really threatening.  The physical presence of Sebastien Haller and Michail Antonio created an uncertainty in the visitor’s defence leading to an uncharacteristic sloppiness on the ball.  The danger, though, was that the approach left too many claret and blue shirts forward as spectators when possession was lost.  The Hammer’s daring appeared not only to surprise supporters but also Manchester City.  However, once they got into their stride and started to exploit the space left in front of our defence the warning signs were too apparent.  It may have been an admirable gamble by Manuel Pellegrini but trying to out-play City was always going to be extremely long odds.  The Sky Blues rare defeats are usually as a result of packed defence and snatched goals from breakaways or set pieces – not be playing them off the park.  Once the first goal went in the result was not in doubt – only the margin of defeat.

The Dark Side of The (Blue) Moon

As I had highlighted in my match preview, Manchester City are masters of the cynical tug and shove in preventing opponents the opportunity of rapid counter attacks – something that has featured widely in post match analysis.  That the fouls are largely innocuous and committed in safe areas of the pitch means they rarely garner any serious attention from the referee.  On Saturday, Mike Dean allowed Rodri to get away with several such challenges and Fernandinho has been doing it for years.  It is as much a City tactic as their sweet passing and movement.  Pellegrini mentioned after the game that his own midfielders needed to be a little nastier in that respect.  Maybe this is part of our manager’s laissez-faire approach to defending allowing players to act they see fit rather than under instruction.  I am fairly certain that cynical fouls and the art of diving in the area, are part of the training regime at the majority of top professional clubs.  The line between fair play and naivety is a fine one.

Style Over Substance

Reading through our list of midfield players and it is easy to believe that it is mightily impressive.  One can imagine it full of the type of silky Latin skills that personify the beautiful game.  If only that were the reality of what we saw this Saturday.  The promised passing, interplay and movement didn’t show up.  Decision making was poor and there was no width or penetration.  On those rare occasions where an opportunity to cross was engineered, delivery was shockingly bad.  The first decent cross didn’t arrive until the introduction of Robert Snodgrass in the second half.  Manuel Lanzini buzzed around to no effect, Felipe Anderson was anonymous apart from an early foray down the right wing and Jack Wilshere is not athletic enough for a deeper lying role and it removes him from areas where he can do the most damage.  Collectively the team were unable to create space and our play became condensed in pointless triangles well away from the danger areas.  Declan Rice and the central defenders were left exposed time and again as City were given the freedom of the park.  Ryan Fredericks defending has improved but the there was little evidence of the electric pace going forward that is meant to be his strength.  Aaron Cresswell was run ragged all afternoon.  Bags of flair without hard work and organisation is not going to win many games and even though Pellegrini must have known how City would play he could do nothing to resist it.

New Kids On The Block

It is impossible to judge any player on one game but Haller showed that he could have the right physical attributes and a good enough touch to thrive in the Premier League.  Of course, he is there primarily to score goals and there was limited opportunity to see what he has to offer from that perspective.  Pablo Fornals, on as a second half substitute, made little impression and I don’t recall any significant contribution.  Apparently, he had 23 touches with a 85% pass completion rate but there was nothing noteworthy out of those statistics.  Not a dream debut but obviously needs to be given time to adjust and show what he can do.

Don’t Mention The VAR

The jury is out for me on VAR and the impact it will have on flow of the game.  Some interesting decisions at the weekend with Sterling’s armpit being caught offside and the Wolves goal ruled out at Leicester for accidental handball in a penalty box melee from the preceding corner.  At least the disallowed City goal gave the London Stadium faithful one thing to cheer on Saturday.

Player Ratings

Fabianski (6), Fredericks (5), Diop (5), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (3), Rice (6), Wilshere (5), Anderson (4), Lanzini (4), Antonio (5), Haller (6). Subs: Fornals (5), Snodgrass (6), Hernandez (5)