I spent the weekend watching far too many Premier League games on TV than was strictly necessary. There must be more productive things to do when West Ham have been relegated to the Monday night slot. The experience left me with three random observations.
First, what is the point of the Oracle Cloud Win Probability that pops every twenty minutes or so? And are the commentators contractually obliged to mention it’s findings? Manchester City are leading 2-0 and are more likely to win than their opponents. Really, who knew? How is such an insight meant to inform or entertain?
Second, can TV producers please step back from their irritating and increasing tendency to look for arty angles to shoot the action from? As if they are filming a re-make of Escape To Victory. Doesn’t the TV viewer want an equivalent view to what would be experienced in the stadium, not a close up of Jack Grealish’s boots?
Third, and most importantly, if you have no particular skin in the game (i.e. West Ham are not involved) the entertainment value of games is not that great – for what is said to be the best league in the world. There may be momentary flashes of sublime skill, plus the occasional intriguing tactical battle, but take out the partisanship and many games tend towards the dreary for long periods. At least they did this weekend. Perhaps that is why we need the VAR talking points. To stop us nodding off or getting distracted by an animated dancing donkey video on TikTok.
The West Ham – Bournemouth game is unlikely to feature on anyone’s future list of best ever games. The various VAR debates will live far longer in the memory than any of the action on the pitch, and that seems true of so many games these days. No surprise that the West Ham and Bournemouth camps were not in full agreement on the decisions of Messrs Coote and Dean. Post match several ex-referees have given their opinion that according to the letter of the laws (or their current interpretation), both decisions were the correct ones. It is clear, though, that the offside and handball laws in particular need a thorough overhaul. Not to make them easier for VAR to review but to make them more consistent with their original sporting intentions.
Player ratings are another area where strong disagreements arise. Most are probably made up on the hoof without much thought and based on overall impressions – and influenced by individual prejudices. I doubt many are completely objective. Many years ago I think it was only the Sunday People that gave player ratings but in the modern era where it is possible to rate anything and everything (bus stops, flyovers, toilets and so on) they have become ubiquitous. Below is a selection from Monday night’s game.
Football London followed the path of least resistance and gave every West Ham player a 7, while anointing Kurt Zouma as their first among equals STAR MAN (come on Football London couldn’t that have been an 8?). iNews and the Evening Standard were all at 6’s and 7’s aside from the bold iNews decision to award Jarrod Bowen an 8; and the Standard in giving Said Benrahma, 8 and Gianluca Scamacca a sorry 5. Claret & Hugh mostly echoed the Standard ratings but with an additional 8 for Declan Rice. The award for the most creative ratings goes to West Ham Zone whose distribution included Bowen (3), Ben Johnson (4), 8’s for Rice, Benrahma and Thilo Kehrer, and a 9 for Zouma.
In comparison, the stats website, Whoscored, takes an algorithmic approach to its ratings based on a myriad of measurable player actions that are recorded during the course of the game. From that data, Whoscored rated Zouma, Aaron Cresswell, Benrahma, and Tomas Soucek as the Hammer’s top performers (all above 7.5) while Bowen lagged behind as worst of the bunch (excluding late substitutions).
Reading various message boards after the game, I saw plenty of criticism of Soucek, but much of that might be muscle memory from prior performances. I thought he was played more to his strengths against Bournemouth which, as we know, are headed clearances and ghosting in late for goalscoring opportunities. It’s unfortunate that elsewhere on the pitch the messages from his brain take far too long to reach his feet. The emergence of Flynn Downes now presents a conundrum for Moyes as a threesome with Rice, Soucek, and Flynn Downes, leaves one a defensive midfield gooseberry.
It’s a return to Europa Conference League action tonight as West Ham welcome Danish Super Liga club, Silkeborg to the London Stadium. The Hammers are already assured of progressing to the next phase of the competition while Silkeborg are the only club able to overhaul them as group champions. Although it would take a run of freak results to that. To secure top spot West Ham need either a win, a draw or to come out on top in the head-to-head aggregate score against the visitors. A 1-0 or 2-1 defeat would be good enough.
Silkeborg currently sit fourth in their domestic league, two places behind Viborg who the Hammers earlier beat in Conference League qualifying. They are leading scorers in their league but also have one of the leakiest defences. At the weekend they went down 3-2 away to Horsens after going down to ten men just after the break.
In the reverse fixture between the two clubs, the Hammers won 3-2, recovering from an early home goal, racing to a 3-1 lead and then surviving a late scare after Silkeborg pulled one back. The Danes followed this up with two impressive 5-0 thrashings of FCSB to move into second place. Their final group match will be at home to Anderlecht next week.
David Moyes will likely ring a host of changes in the starting eleven, leaving his bigger guns on the bench in case of accident. Students of the training session videos sent out by the club are suggesting the involvement of Conor Coventry and Pierre-Emmanuel Ekwah in addition to the normal midweek shadow squad. There may even be a welcome West Ham debut for long term absentee Nayef Aguerd at some point during proceedings.
I’m fully expecting the Hammers to do just enough to get the job done, but not expecting any fireworks. Possibly another 3-2 win. COYI!