Pellegrini Shuffles The Pack But Still Has A Handful Of Jokers: Takeaways and Ratings

A point won or two points lost? Takeaways and player ratings from another below par West Ham performance against resolute opponents.

Crumbs From The Table

Just as a starving man might regard a stale crust of bread as a fine feast, there is a temptation to seek comfort from this marginally improved performance that ended a losing run and put one more point in the bank. A game where the Hammers dominated possession and, but for the spurning of several chances, would have ended as a deserved victory?  At least, that is how Manuel Pellegrini saw it – a spot of bad luck rather than the continuation of the previous poor run of performances.  From where I was sitting, however, it looked like the same uninspiring fare, but served up with slightly more enthusiasm. Sure, we might have scored one or two more on a better day but then so could the opposition. Had Sheffield been more adventurous in the first half, then who knows what might have happened? Once their confidence grew, an equaliser was always on the cards – even if, when it came, Roberto’s attempt to save Mousset’s Barnes-Wallis volley reflected his preference for the spectacular over the functional.   West Ham still have the look of a team in need of overhaul rather than fine tuning.

Nothing Ever Changes

Learning from Marko Silva’s recipe for success from the previous weekend, Pellegrini decided that the road to victory lie in making five changes to the starting eleven. It was close to all change at the back where Angelo Ogbonna and Ryan Fredericks would have been mightily miffed at their exclusion. The rationale, I guess, is that the underlying problems are defensive personnel rather than an inability to compete in midfield, which to me is more apparent. Naturally there was no change to formation where old-dog Pellegrini will have no truck with trying new tricks such a back three. No matter what happens, we are stuck with his 4-1-4-1/ 4-2-3-1 (or whatever it is) for the foreseeable future. Of the players who came in, Robert Snodgrass was the pick of the bunch and made a whole-hearted contribution capped with a smartly taken goal.  His level of effort compensating for an overall lack of creativity – even if his best work was as an auxiliary winger and not in the central areas expected from the team sheet.  It was a huge surprise when he taken off, as Andriy Yarmolenko was clearly struggling by that point. Equally baffling was the substitution of Felipe Anderson who, frustrating as he is, remains the best outlet and only player capable of breaking forward at speed – although admittedly his final delivery was wayward throughout.  Manuel Lanzini seems to have finally perfected the art of hiding in plain sight – I saw him come on but then he simply disappeared.

Five Guys Named Slow

Pace is not necessarily the ‘be all and end all’ for a modern Premier League footballer but it has become increasingly important over the years. If a player does not have pace then there has to be other very special qualities to make them standout. The starting eleven contained at least five players unfortunately blessed with below average pace for their positions: Pablo Zabaleta, Mark Noble, Snodgrass, Yarmolenko and Sebastien Haller. The same could be directed at substitute Pablo Fornals. That is far too many for any one team. To be fair to Zabaleta (and his ageing legs) he did cover a lot of ground and was always willing to get forward. Yarmolenko showed some lovely touches – his pass for the goal, the through ball to Anderson and the cross to Cresswell – being arguably the most incisive moments of the match. I do believe that Haller possesses great attributes but he is no Jamie Vardy and expecting him to chase long balls is pointless.  Unless someone is playing close to him (which didn’t happen all afternoon) he is not going to deliver on his transfer fee.  The skipper again had a poor game but the sad truth is that there are no known alternatives in the squad.

Rice With Everything

Snodgrass may well have made a valuable contribution but Declan Rice was my West Ham man of the match by some distance. He is a special player who, as well as his energy and defensive capabilities, has a good eye for a pass – always looking to switch play and preferring to use the ball progressively.  Not for him the instinct to go backwards before going forwards that has come to characterise Noble’s game and was later imitated by Fornals after his introduction.  Rice is carrying the team right now and we need to make the most of him.  With the club not making any progress and his international exposure he will soon become frustrated and open to offers.  Difficult to see him still being a Hammer next summer.

Expectations Lowered

At the current run rate (13 points from 10 games) this would result in a total of 49 come the season end.  Slightly below last year and a total that would suggest a top of the bottom half finish – typical West Ham territory and not the kind of progress that we were hoping for. Perhaps the manager can turn it around but he doesn’t have the look of someone able to make the best of limited resources through motivation, organisation and technical nous.  That is surely what he is paid big bucks for. The situation is surprising in the light of his track record from earlier in his career. Maybe the game has moved on and he hasn’t kept pace.  Time to prove us wrong, Manuel.

Ratings: Roberto (5), Zabaleta (5), Diop (6), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (5), Rice (8), Noble (4), Yarmolenko (6), Snodgrass (7), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (4), Fornals (5), Ajeti (5)

Dust down your Carlos Tevez masks to watch West Ham entertain Sheffield United in a league match for the first time in over twelve years.

West Ham began the Premier League season 2006-07 with high hopes. We had unluckily lost the 2006 FA Cup final to Liverpool on penalties after conceding a goal in time added on to the infamous Steven Gerrard strike, and then on transfer deadline day it was announced that we had signed Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, two highly sought after Argentinians who had starred in that summer’s World Cup. What could go wrong? This was West Ham remember.

In the opening week of the season we comfortably despatched of Charlton 3-1, and then drew 1-1 at Watford. A 2-1 reverse at Liverpool was followed by a 1-1 draw at Villa. Five points from four games and we were in the top half of the table. Bobby Zamora had scored in all four of those games (a total of five goals) and at the time few predicted what was about to happen. I doubt that Bobby Zamora himself would have believed that he wouldn’t find the net again until mid-January despite playing in almost all of the games.

A home defeat to Palermo of Italy in the UEFA Cup was just the first of eight consecutive defeats which included a run of seven games where we failed to register a single goal. When we did eventually score we had been dumped out of the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle, we’d gone out of the Football League Cup to lowly Chesterfield (2-1), and tumbled down the league to 19th place.

Two consecutive wins against Blackburn (2-1) and Arsenal (1-0 on Bonfire Night), the latter sparking a touchline spat between Pardew and Wenger when Marlon Harewood’s late strike won the game, seemed to have halted the slide, but these were followed by two 1-0 defeats at Middlesbrough and Chelsea. We were still above the relegation places at this time when we faced Sheffield United at Upton Park on November 25th. A first half Hayden Mullins goal was the only score of the match, and at this point we were 15th in the table with Sheffield United 18th.

However three consecutive defeats in the first nine days of December followed (all to nil), and the last one of those (a 4-0 loss at Bolton) resulted in the sacking of manager Pardew just two days later. Two days after that Alan Curbishley was appointed and in his first game in charge we beat Manchester United 1-0 with a goal from Nigel Reo-Coker. But just three points from three draws in the next eleven league games, the last of which was an unlucky 4-3 home defeat to Tottenham, meant that with just nine games of the season left we were effectively 11 points adrift of safety with virtually no hope of escape. The Tottenham game was Tevez’s 20th appearance and brought his first goal!

The rest is history as we won seven of our final nine games, including the last-day 1-0 win at Manchester United which ensured safety (although a draw would have been enough). The two defeats in that winning sequence included a 3-0 reverse at Sheffield United, and a 4-1 loss at Chelsea. Incredibly we then won the final four games. Sheffield United lost at home to Wigan on the final day when a draw would have been OK and this sent them down.

The Blades insisted they were victims of a relegation rival gaining an unfair advantage by breaching the rules that barred third parties such as agents, or a company or investors, from holding a stake in the financial rights to a player. To many of us it seemed ridiculous. Mascherano had barely featured all season, while Tevez only started scoring towards the very end.

West Ham were found guilty in April 2007 of acting improperly and withholding vital documentation, but Tevez was allowed to continue playing and his part in the Hammers’ survival rankled with the Blades. Sheffield United subsequently slid into League One before their recent resurgence, while West Ham, in contrast, have only spent one season since outside the top flight. West Ham eventually paid £20m in compensation, having initially being fined £5.5m rather than being docked points. An arbitration panel said “the club had not only deliberately breached the rules but committed a grave breach of trust and been responsible for dishonesty and deceit”. The teams have only met once since, in a League Cup tie five years ago, which away side Sheffield United won on penalties.

I’m always amazed at some of the statistics that are dragged up these days before Premier League matches but the following are some of what I have read. Firstly we haven’t won a league fixture in the month of October since beating Sunderland in 2016. In that time we have drawn three and lost six matches. Secondly, including cup games, after four clean sheets in a row we have conceded at least two goals in four consecutive games since. And thirdly, since Haller scored with his right foot in the first half of our game against Norwich at the end of August, the next six league goals we have scored have all been left foot strikes.

Did you know that Sheffield United could become the first newly-promoted side for over ten years to remain unbeaten in their first five away games in the Premier League? Also, they have not kept three consecutive clean sheets away from Bramall Lane in the top flight for over 48 years, a record they would equal if they do not concede a goal today. Plus, this is their best performance in the first nine games of a top division season. One statistic that I really hate repeating though is that they have not won once in their last 16 games in the top division in London!

My co-blogger Geoff Hopkins wrote an excellent article published yesterday where he set out his expectations for today’s game. I have to agree with most of what he wrote, and I don’t believe his prediction of a goalless draw will be far away. However I don’t want to travel all the way to the London Stadium to see us come away with just a single point without seeing a goal being scored. For that reason I will dust off my trusty optimistic hat, and predict a 1-0 win with the sequence of left-footed goals being broken by a Sebastien Haller header. What are the chances? Another prediction – we will once again be the last game on Match of the Day!

The Best A Fan Can Get: Hammers Encounter With Blades Likely To Be Close Shave

A probably not-that-thrilling mid-table clash will no doubt be overshadowed by memories of Tevez-gate. Which team will have the greater motivation to win?

If the evidence of the last few matches is anything to go by, wearing a Carlos Tevez mask at the London Stadium on Saturday afternoon might be a useful way of hiding your embarrassment come the end of the game.  After two consecutive dismal performances, West Ham will need to face an energetic Sheffield United in a game that will have added spice due to the acrimonious events of 2007.

Other than the long embittered memories of the respective supporters, there are few remaining links back to the last to-flight meeting on 14 April 2007, when the Blades dispatched Alan Curbishley’s West Ham 3-0 to open up a five point gap over the visitors – with just five games to play.  Mark Noble and Phil Jagielka were both involved that day and may feature again this weekend; and the visitors rent-a-quote owner Kevin McCabe is still involved despite having exchanged half of his interest for a handful of Saudi shillings.

The Tevez affair has created an unlikely rivalry between the two clubs – at least in supporter’s minds.  Even though it was the Blades own incompetence (and in particular an inexplicable handball by Jagielka) that cost their Premier League status, it is always handy to have somewhere else to lay the blame.  Not unusually typical administrative blundering by West Ham did nothing to help matters. No doubt, if the roles were reversed, West Ham fans would have felt equally aggrieved but, hopefully the rivalry can be expressed in a good-natured rather than menacing way.

Manuel Pellegrini has been quoted saying that “enough is enough” as his team prepare to put an end to their feeble run of games.  Not just two defeats but two shocking performances as well. Given the apparent player disinterest in those two games, it is questionable whether the Chileans famous mild-mannered persona is exactly what is required right now. Rockets and backsides would be a more effective motivation strategy.

Following the defeat at Everton last week, Marco Silva described how he set up his team to be exploit the space around Declan Rice – something they achieved with great success.  Many commentators saw this as a criticism of Rice himself – but I see it as something very different.  It is a consequence of the poor structure and shape that continues to blight performances.  Pellegrini’s Hammers have long been generous at gifting space in front in central areas, a result of the half-hearted attempts to regain possession once it is lost.  That is not one player’s responsibility, it is a team one. Too slow, too disjointed and too rigid.

Defensive frailties would pale into insignificance if the promised swashbuckling style of play was rattling in the goals at the other end of the pitch.  But it isn’t.  The opposition penalty area as a restricted no-go zone – so rarely do we touch the ball inside its confines.  Some attempt has been made to mix up the personnel, but nothing has looked close to working as a potent unit.  Sebastien Haller has been isolated and width or penetration have been hard to find.  Certainly, plenty for Pellegrini to work on.

Most probably we will see recalls for Aaron Cresswell and Andriy Yarmolenko from the team that started at Goodison – but will there be any other changes? Felipe Anderson continues to be an enigma – mostly indifferent but still the most likely to offer something different. Manuel Lanzini flatters to deceive – a few promising flurries disappears for large portions of the game or elects to run into blind alleys. Perhaps it could be another opportunity for Jack Wilshere to prove he can still perform at (and still has the legs for) this level.  One of Lanzini or Wilshere must take on the role and responsibility of playing behind and getting much close to Haller.

There has again been talk of Nathan Holland being promoted to the matchday squad, on the back of a string of exciting performances for the table topping U23’s. It is interesting to hear that the current U23 success is based on the type of high intensity game conspicuously missing from the first team.  A young player or two on the bench would be preferable (in my opinion) to the usual uninspiring options.

Chris Wilder has worked wonders since his appointment as Sheffield United manager in May 2016, enjoying promotions in 2017 and 2019 as the Blades climbed two divisions back into the top flight. He has put together a primadonna free squad  that is, with only a few exceptions, made up of British and Irish players.  They play with a unity, spirit and cohesion that is sadly missing with West Ham. Their system is refreshingly fluid  with everyone appearing to know what is expected of them at any particular point in time. Their style  may be pigeonholed as direct, but this is not BSF hoof-ball. There is much to admire in making the best of limited resources.

There have been fewer goals in Sheffield United matches this season than any other Premier League side.  They have the division’s best defensive record (joint with Liverpool) but only Watford and Newcastle have scored fewer goals.  It does not require a tactical genius to know what to expect from the opposition – and the physical challenge that Pellegrini has to prepare his team for. How successful can he be in extracting a performance?

Part-timer referee, David Coote from Nottinghamshire will be taking charge of only his fourth Premier League match of the season.  Hopefully, he is aware of how VAR works but there to guide him in the control centre will be the experienced Martin Atkinson from Leeds.  Why are so few of the select group referees from London and the south?

Surprisingly both of our pundit friends are expecting a West Ham home win – Lawro by 2-0 and Charlie Nicholas by 2-1. Surprising that both see more than one goal being scored in what surely will be the tightest game.  Many observers will cite West Ham’s inconsistency but there have been several worrying consistent flaws throughout this season (and for much of the last as well).  Among them are the inability to breakdown resolute and organised defences and a susceptibility to rapid counter attacks – both will be put to the test by the visitors.  To get anything from the game the Hammers will need to up their game considerably from that of recent weeks.  In a fantasy world, I can imagine the game being settled by Robert Snodgrass, complete with Tevez mask, coming off the bench to score a last minute winner.  Failing that, I can see it ending 0-0.

Super Scallies Go Ballistic West Ham Are Atrocious: Takeaways and Ratings From The Latest Hammer Horror

Borrowing the classic football headline seems appropriate in summing up a diabolical West Ham performance at Goodison Park.

A Road To Nowhere

How to sum up that performance: abject, disgraceful, wretched, miserable, hopeless, pathetic, pitiful, sorry, woeful, atrocious, appalling, the west-ham-way? It was a carry over from the Palace game – only far worse. I would hate to think what might have happened had they not had the extra week to prepare and work things out. On the evidence of these last two games this is a bottom half of the table squad. A benign set of opening fixtures mixed with good fortune had provided a warped impression of the Hammer’s qualities – but gravity has returned them to a more realistic next level. The manager had a stinker and few players came away with any credit. Roberto made some smart saves, although he should have done better for the first goal. Declan Rice showed early energy but even he was waving the white flag by the end.  Issa Diop was the one player seemingly up for the physical challenge. Sebastien Haller worked manfully as a one-man attack.  The rest ranged from anonymous to useless and should feel mightily embarrassed at what transpired over the ninety minutes.

New West Ham Shirt Design

It’s Now A Pellegrini Team

Several months into his second season in charge and this is now definitely Manuel Pellegrini’s team.  He has had three transfer windows to freshen up the squad, plenty of time to assess strengths and weaknesses and run the rule over the academy players.  I am ambivalent towards the owners but am aware that many die-hard board haters continue to pin the blame on the two Daves. Perhaps they could have dug deeper into their pockets but any manager knows he has work within the budget available – and optimising what is available is what good managers are paid for .  Effective teams are a combination of talent, physical attributes, organisation and motivation. On paper, the talent is there (even if not in depth) but you have to question the whereabouts of the other components.  Where is the motivation and desire to win?  At this level, a team should never be soundly beaten simply because the opposition has a greater desire to win.   Was it a surprise that Everton came out battling and on the front foot?  Had there not been any preparation?   Pellegrini may have been justified in lambasting the players but he needs to have a long hard look at his own part in the proceedings. Expecting players to express themselves may be a good thing – ignoring the detailed planning is not.

The Slowest Team In Town

West Ham have to be the slowest team in the Premier League.  Perhaps someone from the home camp had snuck into the Hummer’s dressing room before the match and spread extra sticky toffee on their boots. Not just that there are few players with genuine individual pace but there is a collective inability to move the ball quickly, create space, switch play and pressure opponents when possession is lost.  There is no intensity in our play.  When possession is won it generally takes three or four backwards and sideways passes before even considering engaging a forward gear.  We get sucked into playing in congested triangles and seem reluctant to use the full width of the pitch. There is no-one pulling the strings in midfield.  When balls are finally played forward it is far too easy (Haller apart) for opponents to physically dominate against the lightweight midfield operatives – none of whom are anywhere near close enough to Haller. A patient build up is fine in practice but without pace, movement and guile you end up, as on Saturday, with hardly a touch in the opposition box.

Off The Ball

Out of possession we are equally weak.  No pressing and no getting back in numbers.  There is a slow retreat and that is happy to concede acres of space in the midfield.  Walcott was given so much room he could have been mistaken for Messi.  I think I heard that Roberto had made more saves in the game than any other keeper in any Premier League match this season.  It is no surprise.  The score remained at 1-0 for so long, not because of the efforts of West Ham, but due to the lack of composure in front of goal by Everton.  There could have been no complaints if the match had finished four or five to nil.

Big Changes Needed

Saturday’s game was like watching a re-run of the game at Burnley last season. A team on a bad run who had been galvanised into action against an always accommodating West Ham side.  Early domination of possession, an apparently disinterested and unmotivated opponent and freedom of the park bred confidence – and from then on it was one-way traffic.  Despite the brightish start to the season the warning signs have been apparent for some time – although these had been buried beneath encouraging results.  The team did acquit themselves well for large parts of the games against Manchester United and Norwich – but otherwise performances had not been convincing.  The concerns that I had mentioned pre-match – lack of passion, leadership, cohesion and penetration were all worryingly apparent.  Significant improvement is now essential, or else it will be yet another season going through the motions towards a (lower) mid-table finish.  As things stand there are few obvious signs of sustained team building taking place. I don’t expect West Ham to win every game but I do expect to see a team that knows what it is supposed to be doing – and does it with 100% commitment.

Ratings: Roberto (5), Fredericks (4), Ogbonna (4), Diop (7), Masuaku (4), Rice (5), Noble (3), Anderson (3), Fornals (4), Lanzini (4), Haller (5). Subs: Yarmolenko (4), Wilshere (4), Ajeti (4)

The Toffeemens’ supporters are getting restless, but will West Ham be Silva’s saviour?

Once again our hopes were built up as we pushed towards a place in the top four of the Premier League, only to be dashed by an indifferent performance against Crystal Palace a fortnight ago. Perhaps it will be an effective wake-up call to remind the players that merely turning up does not guarantee a win in the top league, even if we are playing against a team who had not beaten us in eight previous attempts. Despite not playing particularly well, we did take the lead in the game, but Rice’s (inexplicable to me) handball, and then switching off as the game approached the ninetieth minute, resulted in our second home defeat of the season. Palace were nothing special either, and the game could have gone either way, although those of us sitting in the stands could somehow predict what was about to happen when Ayew managed to stay onside (just!) to score the winning goal. Nevertheless despite the disappointment, 12 points from 8 games represents a decent start to the season (it took us 14 games to reach that figure last season, and 16 games the season before), and, after all, eighth place is higher than we have managed for a while in a whole season. Let us hope we can retain or improve upon that place as 2019-20 progresses. As much as I dislike the disruptive influence of international breaks, this one has come after a defeat, and gives the manager some time to work with the players who didn’t go away, and it is an opportunity to re-group and take stock.

To many followers of the game, one of the surprises of the season to date is to see Everton occupying one of the three relegation places with just 7 points from their eight games played. It is still very early days of course, and more than three-quarters of the season remains, nevertheless I still wouldn’t have expected to see the Toffees down there at this point. For many years (until fairly recently) they have been a bogey team of ours, but I do dislike seeing us coming up against a team in such poor form. How many teams break a losing sequence when facing us? It happens so often I’m afraid. Of course, early days in the league table mean that stringing together a few positive results can mean a rapid rise, as consecutive defeats can conversely mean a significant fall.

After their opening four games (wins at home to Watford and Wolves, a draw at Palace, and a defeat at Villa), Everton sat in a comfortable sixth place in the table, in the sort of position many expect them to occupy at the season’s end. But four consecutive defeats (in trips to Bournemouth and Burnley and in home games against Manchester City – no surprise, and Sheffield United – a big surprise) mean that with no points in their last four games they are the most out-of-form team in the league at this moment. It also means that Marco Silva heads the betting (at 5/4) for the next Premier League manager to leave his post (ahead of Solkskjaer at 2/1 and Pochettino at 5/1). What better for Everton than a home game against West Ham who specialise in helping teams and managers in this kind of predicament? Incidentally, at 50/1 our manager has only two managers below him in the betting to be next to leave (Klopp and Lampard are both 66/1).

Everton have only found the net six times in their eight games, and half of those came in the 3-2 win over Wolves. However five of those six goals have come in the four games on their own ground so it might be difficult for us to keep a clean sheet, especially in the absence of our first choice keeper who has successfully come through a hip operation, but is not expected to play again until 2020. The only time Everton failed to score at home this season so far was surprisingly against Sheffield United. I say surprisingly, but a look at the league table and fixtures played so far actually shows that Sheffield United are unbeaten in their four away games to date. Only Liverpool and ourselves can match that record after just four away games played by each team in the division this season! Also, no team in the Premier League has kept more clean sheets than ourselves this season (3). Even Liverpool have only managed two despite their 100% start.

Head to head fixtures against Everton stretch back for more than a century and, at the moment have a symmetrical feel to them. In 140 meetings, Everton have won 70, and the other 70 have been either draws (30) or West Ham victories (40). Positive results at Goodison Park are even rarer. Two goals from Yarmolenko helped us to achieve a 3-1 victory there last season, and in 2015-16, three late goals in the last 15 minutes meant an unlikely comeback win after trailing by two goals. Apart from those two wins, our only other success on their ground in the last quarter of a century came courtesy of a Bobby Zamora winner in another comeback win (2-1) in 2005.

But at least the bogey team thing seems to have disappeared for the moment as we have won two of the last three games we’ve played against Everton; previously we had won twice in the 22 meetings that preceded those! Everton have traditionally enjoyed playing against us, and in Premier League fixtures they have beaten us and scored more goals against us than against any other team.

For the benefit of TV we kick off at 12-30, so we have the opportunity (with a win) to temporarily leapfrog over other teams into a Champions League position! On the other hand a defeat would mean that Everton would (in the short term) rise six places in the table and they’d be just two points below us on ten points, a point ahead of the once mighty, and now not so mighty Manchester United, who will fall still further this weekend if they are unable to get a point against 100% Liverpool.

Everton are odds on to beat us, as are all the home teams on Saturday with the exception of Villa (at home to Brighton), and Palace (at home to Manchester City). Of the five games that Everton have lost (out of their eight games this season), four have been by a margin of two goals. Perhaps we can inflict a fifth two-goal margin defeat on them, perhaps repeating last season’s 3-1 win, to heap further pressure on their manager? All of our three wins have been by two goals, and another will do nicely. However, to do so we will have to improve significantly on our showing against Palace in the last game, but an early goal would silence the crowd, or perhaps even make them turn on their own team, who must be very short of confidence after these four successive defeats. I just hope that we don’t allow them to turn around their run of losses, as we are often inclined to do for any team having a poor time. It is 14 years since Everton last lost five league games in a row! I shouldn’t have highlighted that fact!

Hi Ho Silva Lining: The West Ham Charity Bus Heads For Goodison Park?

What better pick-me-up for an under pressure, besieged manager than to realise that this week’s visitors are registered charity, West Ham United?

An international break can be a long time in football. Go into it on the back of a good run of results and the feelgood factor carries you through the doldrums in no time at all.  Go into it on the back of a massively disappointing home defeat and performance against Crystal Palace, then it leaves too much time to dwell on your team’s shortcomings.

As a reasonably typical and longstanding West Ham supporter I know full well that disappointment is always lurking just around the corner, but that doesn’t make it any easier to handle.  The emotional roller coaster has entered a a steep dive and we need to know whether there is enough energy to get back up again.

The official media stance regarding the Hammers season to date is that they have had a bright start.  If you are comparing it to last season then that is a reasonable assessment.  However, there have now been a number of occasions this season (against not too difficult opposition) where it has looked like we were not trying to win the game.  Arguably that could be seen as a prudent approach for many Premier League awaydays, but to cautiously sit back at home to Palace is not excusable.  Even if the current style of football is nowhere near Big Sam tedious, it still lacks the verve and adventure that we crave.

Tomorrow’s early kick-off at Goodison Park is an opportunity to put things right and prove to doubters like me that the season can deliver more than mid-table stability.  Trips to the north-west are traditionally difficult for the Hammers although, who can forget, a run of four successive defeats at the start of last season was ended at Everton with a surprising 3-1 win just over twelve months ago.  This time the tables have turned, and it is Everton who are the crisis team embroiled in an equally unprofitable run.  Everton’s form has been so bad that they have opened up a four game gap over the Hammers at the top of the Premier League all-time losses table – 370 plays 366.

It may be stuff of legends but if you are lacking goals, points, confidence and are without a number of key players then what better could a manager or supporter hope for than a a visit from docile opponents with a history of bearing gifts.

It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, Manuel Pellegrini makes for the game. Will he put the Palace failure down as a bad day at the office or to his own poor tactical decisions? Change looks necessary in terms of different personnel the options are quite limited.

It is difficult to put your finger on the Pellegrini style of football at West Ham right now.  It tends towards the patient build-up but without the explosive element required to turn that suddenly into goal-scoring opportunities. Quick counter-attacks are rare, although ironically it was a rare one that was the catalyst for Sebastien Haller’s goal two weeks ago.

In fact, overall there are too few players able or willing to play progressively at pace – either through passing or running with the ball.  I have mentioned previously that two of the team’s most creative players (Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko) send too long hugging the touchline, on their wrong foot – this leads to predictability (they will invariably cut inside) while at the same time they deny space for the full backs to run into.

It was a feature of old-style (Greenwood and Lyall) West Ham sides that they played football on their toes – something that the better teams today also demonstrate – in chess terms, it is thinking a few moves ahead. Too often our players are stationery/ flat footed when they receive the ball – get it first before deciding what to do next. This is perfectly illustrated by Ryan Fredericks – a player who has had a good season and possesses blistering pace – yet his is an asset that is rarely used constructively. Openings are simply not being created for him to exploit. It results in crosses put in from very safe areas, twenty-five yards or so from goal, rather than being whipped back from the touchline.

Up front, Haller seems increasingly isolated. He is a useful target man but nobody is close enough to pick up the lay-offs and knock-downs.  I guess that is meant to be Manuel Lanzini’s role but he is usually too far away.  Someone needs to be playing close to and just behind Haller – a better role for Anderson or one for Wilshere?

Collectively, the side lack cohesion and have a tendency to bunch.  That absence of cohesion is also true when possession is lost.  The intent to win the ball back quickly or close down space has improved a little this season but needs to be much better.

Perhaps that two week break has left my glass even more than half empty than usual.  Perhaps a thrilling performance and victory will have it overflowing once again.  I just don’t see it somehow. But they are more than welcome to prove me wrong.

Everton have spent a lot of money over recent years to assemble a very expensive squad.  Unfortunately (for them), they have followed the Manchester United play book by splashing the cash on a string of individuals without any clear idea how they might fit together into a unit. There is much speculation that defeat today will lead to Marco Silva’s dismissal from the Goodison hotseat – he is the clear favourite in the Premier League sack-race stakes.  Lucky for him to have the silver lining of today’s usually amenable visitors.

Paul Tierney (whistle) and Michael Oliver (technology) are the dynamic matchday duo for tomorrow’s game.  Lucky for Tierney that, with it being an early kick-off, he doesn’t have far to travel from his Lancashire home. No doubt VAR will highlight once more the stupidity of the offside rule.  It really is time that assistant referee’s were instructed not to flag for any offside decisions.  When Yarmolenko was incorrectly flagged offside in open play during the Palace game (a clear and obvious error) where was the get out of jail card?

BBC and Sky pundits (Lawro and Charlie Nicholas) both have this down as a 2-1 but with different winners. Lawro says home win, Nicholas says away.  Deep down I think we will lose (as I did last season) but can’t bring myself to predict defeat.  Therefore, I will go get up there on the fence and go for a 1-1 draw. COYI!



It’s A Fools Game: Takeaways And Player Ratings From West Ham’s Latest Failure To Deliver

Manuel Pellegrini’s cunning plan to lull Palace into a false sense of security by refusing to attack them falls flat at the London Stadium. What did we learn?

Plus ça Change

Owners, managers and players may come and go but there is one thing remains the same at West Ham – the ability to disappoint. To build up expectations, then dash them just us quickly. The tantalising prospect of finishing the day sitting third in the Premier League was still intact at kick-off, courtesy of a last minute penalty winner at Anfield.  The omens felt good.  All that was needed was the right attitude and West Ham would put their workmanlike visitors to the sword.  High energy, high intensity, quick passing and good movement – that is all we needed.  We had seen it in the previous two home matches, so what could possibly go wrong?  We had heard earlier in the afternoon about what it means to be ‘Spursy’ – well, this was classic ‘Hammersy’.  Just when we needed the team to turn up, they collectively went missing.  As fans, we really should know better by now, but blind optimism tricks us into believing it can be different this time.  What fools we are.

A Poor Advert For The Premier League

In truth this was a very poor game and one where most of the uncommitted watching on TV across the world would have sensibly switched off sometime during the opening twenty minutes.  It had the pace of a training match that was being played in excessive heat.  It could easily have been mistaken for a game from a couple of divisions lower in the pyramid.  The onus was on West Ham to dictate the pace of the game but they seemed prepared to coast, confident that victory would emerge through osmosis.  Playing a patient style of football is one thing – this was verging on comatose.

Tactics, What Tactics?

It was impossible to make out what the Hammer’s tactics were meant to be.  Or what instructions the players had been given.  In the first half the entire team were lethargic, sloppy and passive.  Crystal Palace are a dull and predictable team but they did what they had to do.  In the second half there was a marginal improvement but apart from a delightful goal (totally out of character with the rest of the game) there was little joy as players bunched and failed to create space.  It was a team performance lacking motivation and leadership, both on and off the pitch.  There was far too much pointless passing in the middle third that achieved nothing other than allowing the opposition to regroup behind the ball.  The focus of attack was down the flanks but we rarely got behind the Palace defence or delivered anything special into the box.  There was the rare searching pass but no dangerous through balls to a runner or rapid counter attacks (other than for the goal). Only four corners in the entire game says a lot about how lacking in action it was.  If it wasn’t for the VAR controversies, there would be little to remember the game for.

Not A Case Of Missed Chances And Bad Luck

I don’t believe that we lost the game because of bad luck. The VAR decisions, that some might argue went against us, were correct according to the current interpretation of the laws of the game.  That the laws of the game might not be particularly sensible is a different matter altogether.  If anything, VAR has highlighted how ridiculous the offside rule is since the more recent changes.  Just imagine how many wrong decisions are being called in the lower leagues.  Neither do I believe that we lost because we didn’t take our chances.  Other than the Sebastien Haller chance in the first half (was that a bad miss or a great save?) nothing else was clear cut.  More half chances – and few of those are routinely converted.  We lost because we played poorly, lacked conviction and did not have the wit to unlock a disciplined Palace defence.  The enigma is that we have creative players in the squad but the slow and patient system (which I think is what we saw yesterday) stifles that creativity.  We have long struggled to breech stubborn defences and on this showing we are in line for another mid-table season (8th to 10th) – not a top six one.

Credit Rating Downgrade

I have read a few player ratings from yesterday’s match that gave several West Ham players a smattering of 7’s and 8’s for their performances.  Now we all have our own rating definitions but I do wonder what game they were watching.  I saw a team of under performers with Ryan Fredericks probably the pick of the bunch.  Roberto came through without any howlers.  Felipe Anderson had a lot of the ball but equally gave it away cheaply and delivered little.  Manuel Lanzini was anonymous.  Declan Rice was tidy but his afternoon was spoiled by the penalty award.  Mark Noble ran around a lot but apart from one pass he contributed little that was positive.  The rest were much of a muchness, ranking from mediocre to barely competent,

Player Ratings: Roberto (5), Fredericks (6), Diop (5), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (4), Rice (5), Noble (5), Yarmolenko (5), Lanzini (4), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Fornals (4), Wilshere (5), Zabaleta (5)

Old Kid In Town: Understudy Roberto Holds The Key To Seeing Off The Eagles And Furthering West Ham’s Ambitions

A buoyant West Ham can finish the day in the top three of the Premier League. But can stand-in keeper Roberto prove his doubters wrong and prevent panic in the Hammer’s defence?

The two elder statesmen of football management will ride their mobility scooters into the London Stadium later today as West Ham contest their first capital derby of the season.  Boasting a combined experience close to 75 years, Manuel Pellegrini and Roy Hodgson might have thought that, by this stage in their lives, they would be more likely sitting on a park bench (like bookends) reminiscing about dubbin, lace up footballs, nailed-on studs and £100 per week footballers.  Instead they will be taking charge once again of another game in the cauldron (© Sky Sports) that is Premier League football.

Crystal Palace have been rather profligate with their managers over the years with Hodgson being the 60th to fill the position (Pellegrini is West Ham’s 17th manager, by comparison).  A scan through the Selhurst Park managerial hall of shame shows many of the usual merry-go-round suspects (Bruce, Francis, Dowie, Warnock (twice), Pulis, Pardew, Allardyce) that suggests an unimaginative approach to recruitment which might represent the limits of their ambition.  The one missing name that prevents a Dinosaur Bingo full-house is that of Mark Hughes – but give it time.

It is fair to say that Hodgson has brought a degree of stability to Palace that makes them unlikely relegation candidates – even if that stability is rather dull and dependable in nature.  The cunning team strategy is to field ten plodders plus Zaha – just like when Le Tissier played for Southampton.  The stats may show that Zaha has little end product but he really doesn’t have much to work with – apart from getting into the box and going quickly to ground.  No wonder he wanted away.  If Palace were a car it would be a VW Beetle or Citroen 2CV – functional and able to chug along forever but lacking style or glamour.

West Ham by comparison are a wheeler-dealer’s custom car project. Although the old policy of collecting old parts from the breaker’s yard has been mostly abandoned, it is still some way from peak performance.  The flared wheel arches, racing seats and rear spoilers may all have been installed; but the important work of upgrading the engine and transmission has been largely overlooked.

Not that it hasn’t been an encouraging start to the season but there are nagging doubts that (given the games that we have played so far) there should be a few more points on the board if a realistic assault on the top six is to be mounted.  I guess clean sheets and unbeaten runs build confidence, but they don’t always result in the bring optimum points haul.  One win and two defeats from the drawn games against Brighton, Villa and Bournemouth would have earned exactly the same number of points.  Would a more adventurous approach have gathered a few extra?  It is no surprise that, as things stand, we are regarded in the media as a team that has enjoyed a better than expected start to the season, rather than being the team most likely to break into the top six (that being Leicester.)

Perhaps I am expecting too much. If you had asked me a few years back, then I would have been more than happy with our current situation.  We are playing a more attractive style of football and have recruited some fine talent; but I can’t help wondering whether there shouldn’t be another enterprising gear in there somewhere.

By far, the biggest talking point of the week for Hammers fans has been in digesting the news of the long term injury sustained by Lukasz Fabianski.  I knew that all those unnecessary pass-backs to the keeper would come to no good – a case of repetitive strain injury arising from all those punts upfield have taken their toll on the keeper’s hip.  Outside of the management team, there has been little confidence shown in the abilities of his replacement, Roberto.  Having confidence in the keeper is a key element of any defensive unit and if jitters are apparent they can quickly become contagious.  If too much attention is being paid to protect the keeper it will be detrimental to the entire team performance.

Roberto’s career has been as a “have gloves, will travel” itinerant. He has played 272 league games in four countries over 15 years.  He can be no Fabianski but he still needs our support.  Maybe a R-O-B-Erto chant to the old Ottowan D-I-S-C-O tune that was once use for Di Canio during his stay at Sheffield Wednesday would do the trick?

Apart from the keeper, the only other likely change should be a recall to the starting eleven for Manuel Lanzini, at the expense of Pablo Fornals.  It would be a good time for Lanzini, Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko to start creating some decent chances for the hard working Sebastien Haller.  The Palace defence will be well organised and well drilled and our creative players need to be at their sharpest to find a way through.

Yarmolenko is riding the crest of a wave at the moment and long may it continue.  He is a hard player to pin down in any particular category.  Not really a winger but playing wide on his weaker side should make him predictable but he has the sweetest left foot and rarely wastes a ball.  Perhaps he is a conundrum that also baffles opponents.

Palace will be without set-piece specialist Milivojevic through suspension while defender Sakho is out injured.  Veteran defender Cahill has relegated former West Ham pinup favourite James Tomkins to bench duty but there could be a start for wily ex-Hammer, Cheikhou Kouyate.

Making the long trip south from Northumberland with his whistle is one-time refereeing wonderkid, Michael Oliver.  Agreeing with all his decisions at VAR Central will be Paul Tierney.  I read that since Palace’s return to the Premier League they have been awarded more penalties than any side in the division (I couldn’t see how many of those had been ‘earned’ through Zaha’s tumbling act.)  During that same period, West Ham have conceded more penalties than any other team in the same league.  Make what you will of that particular omen.

Media pundits Lawro and Charlie Nicholas both forecast a home win, by 2-0 and 3-1 respectively.  Barring defensive howlers or calamities, it is difficult to see where the visitors will find goals from, if Jordan Ayew is the best they have to offer.  The game will hinge on the Hammer’s ability to break down Palace’s stubborn resistance.  It is one of those situations where if one goes in there could be several more.  A good day to discover a killer instinct.  A 3-0 win would do for me and depending on what happens at Anfield, it could see West Ham sitting pretty in third place by the end of the day.

The Eagles visit the London Stadium. Will West Ham or Palace be Glad All Over on Saturday evening?

Oh joy of joys, once again we kick-off at what a traditional football supporter would call a non-traditional time. 5.30pm on a Saturday evening. I didn’t want to do anything on Saturday night anyway! This will be our eighth league game of the season and our fourth at home at the London Stadium. All four of our home games have started at different times. We’ve had 12.30 on a Saturday, followed by 3.00 on a Saturday, 2.00 pm on a Sunday, and now 5.30 on Saturday! That’s the price we have to pay for vast injections of money into the Premier League from Sky and BT. But as a West Ham fan of long standing I guess we don’t have too much to complain about this season; well not as far as the league games are concerned. If, after our 5-0 beating by Manchester City on the opening day of the season, we had been offered the opportunity to be facing Palace in Matchday 8, having not lost any further league games, with three wins and three draws in the next six games, and fifth place in the Premier League table, most of us would have comfortably settled for that.

And we are only denied fourth place in the table by virtue of Arsenal having scored more goals than us, as we both have an identical goal difference of +1. For us, that’s quite a turnaround after being -5 after the first game. Personally I find it refreshing to see two of the “reserved” places in the “elite six” being occupied by ourselves and Leicester, taking the places of Chelsea and Manchester United. And I’m not unhappy to see us one place above those North London neighbours with the new stadium. I do think West Ham fans need to be a touch cautious though when crowing about Tottenham on social media sites. There was the mickey taking re their exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Colchester which came before our poor performance and defeat at Oxford. And then after their loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League I’ve seen plenty of pictures of “Seven Up” bottles. Perhaps when we qualify to participate in the Champions League we can afford to crow more, but I guess we need to make hay while the sun shines in respect of taunting Spurs. I’m all for it really but hope it doesn’t come back to bite us again! Arsenal supporters must be enjoying it too, especially as one of their former players bagged four of the goals that sank their neighbours.

Seven games down, and only three of them at home, and our league position after each matchday has read 20, 16, 14, 7, 8, 5, 5, showing excellent progression. The performances have not always been as good as we would like, and we can definitely improve further so the outlook is good. On paper at least the next few matches are eminently winnable. Three of the next four are at home, with an away game at out of form (but still dangerous I suspect) Everton. Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Newcastle are all teams we would expect to beat (especially at home) if we want to be considered a big team, and teams we would need to defeat if we want to continue to pursue a place in the top six.

As far as many of our fans are concerned, one big blot on our ambition is in the injury to Fabianski which is likely to keep him out for quite a while. Fans have taken to social media questioning why we let Adrian go, but it seems he wanted to go, and there’s no point in continuing with those moans. Many are also questioning whether the two back-up keepers we signed in the summer are of sufficient quality to play in the Premier League. Roberto seems to be the preferred choice to take over from Fabianski rather than David Martin, but his performances so far have not exactly earned rave reviews and many are concerned that this may be a significant stumbling block in our quest to continue our fine start to the season. He certainly moved around a lot in Spain, with visits to Portugal and Greece too, and there is some historical controversy in respect of the ownership of the economic rights of the player himself. Where have I come across that before? He has often been a second choice keeper for the teams he has played for, but having said that he has amassed over 300 senior appearances, and played for the Spanish national side at all age levels except for the full side. The West Ham crowd seem to have taken against him, but I just hope he makes some good saves early on to get the fans behind him. I’ve seen West Ham fans have issues with our goalkeeper before (Allen McKnight is the main example, but there have been others at times e.g. Ferguson, Day) and watched as the keeper visibly lost confidence and his performance suffered as a result. I just hope it doesn’t happen this time. If it all goes pear-shaped in the next few games as far as the goalkeeping position is concerned then Mario Husillos’ judgement will be called into question and perhaps the chairman will want to regain control over transfers and the Director of Football position at the club.

Palace themselves have made a decent start to the campaign with three wins, two draws and two defeats in their seven games, meaning that they are just a point below us among four clubs on 11 points. Like us they have beaten Norwich and Manchester United. In the main their games have been low scoring affairs, the exception being a 4-0 defeat away from home at the hands of Tottenham. They also lost 1-0 at Sheffield United, so the highlight of their travels was the 2-1 victory at Old Trafford. Of their six league goals scored, Van Aarholt, Townsend, Milivojevic (penalty as usual), and ‘Own Goal’ have scored one apiece and an Ayew of the Jordan variety has scored twice. AT least Milivojevic won’t be able to score a penalty this week – he is suspended.

I can recall a game early in 2016 when West Ham beat Aston Villa 2-0 (in the season they were relegated) and Jordan Ayew was sent off for inexplicably elbowing Aaron Cresswell for no apparent reason as they were waiting for a free kick to be taken. He ended up as Villa’s leading scorer that season albeit with only seven goals. I expect Cresswell (our in-form goalscorer!) is looking forward to renewing his acquaintance with him. Incredible really, two goals in two games, when he took more than 100 games for his last two.

Historically we have a positive record in head to head games against today’s visitors, and in the last four seasons we have a record against them of the kind that I don’t like, in that it is there to be broken. In the eight fixtures since the beginning of the 2015-16 season we have won four and drawn four. In last season’s game at the London Stadium just ten months ago, Palace led at half time, but we came back strongly in the second half and won the game 3-2. It was the very first time in a West Ham v Palace Premier League fixture that the team scoring the first goal went on to lose the match. We began that game less than a year ago with Hernandez and Perez up front; fortunately neither are still here. Incredibly West Ham and Palace are two of the three teams (Manchester City are the other team) that have kept three clean sheets this season.

With the bookmakers we are evens favourites to win. I expect us to be too strong for our opponents in attack. Zaha is a dangerous player but (and I hope I don’t regret writing this) I think he lacks an end product; he ought to score far more goals than he does. I’m not sure if we can retain our clean sheet record but I reckon we’ll win by two clear goals, either 2-0 or 3-1. Enjoy the game.