Too Many Snakes And Not Enough Ladders. Pellegrini Does Not Have The Skills To Fix West Ham’s Problems

Can’t afford to get rid of him, can’t afford to keep to him? When will the tipping point be reached where even the Board realise that sticking with Pellegrini will end in disaster?

At this time of year, it is compulsory when commenting on football to mention that the games now come ‘thick and fast’ – even if the schedule is nowhere near as busy as it used to be. Most West Ham followers may associate more with thick than fast, however, when thinking about the Hammer’s recent struggles.

We expect football to be a game of ups and downs. It is part of its charm. But when the ups (intense and committed performances) are so few and far between, and when the downs (apathy, disorganisation, lack of effort, mistakes and surrender) are so commonplace, it becomes impossible to see an acceptable outcome. There is no light at all in our tunnel right now, and a target of 40 points looks way beyond reach unless drastic changes are made.

Yet, here we are with the Hammers hovering just above the relegation places (and potentially in the bottom three by the end of Sunday round of matches) and the Manuel Pellegrini sacking clock has reportedly been reset to zero – the manager once again has two games to save his job. Quite what return is required from those two games to earn a reprieve being a mystery known only to our can kicking Chairmen. In hindsight, it might have been kinder had West Ham lost at Chelsea.

I read elsewhere that the Board were ‘keeping their powder dry’ on the Pellegrini situation, whatever that is supposed to mean. To me, this would suggest waiting for a better time to act. It doesn’t mean dithering about until wholesale panic becomes an absolute necessity. Was nothing learned for the Avram Grant experience? Probably not, is the answer.

When Leicester sacked Claude Puel in February 2019 it wasn’t because they were in danger of relegation but because the football was poor and the players had clearly lost faith with his tactics. It was a decisive act from which the Foxes have not looked back. To write off season after season just to allow manager’s contracts (and compensation) to run down is indicative of owners who prioritise only money – and preserving the value of their investment. They do not have the financial or intellectual resources to run and develop a football club beyond keeping it afloat.

There are plenty of things wrong at the club – which we have previously written about at length as the team have steadily sunk towards the bottom of the table. While, the owners are clearly implicated for the lack of any true desire to reach ‘another level’, the Hammer’s current plight in the relegation mix is 100% down to the manager. Never mind the old net-spend chestnut, West Ham have an expensively assembled squad in Premier League terms – especially when the not inconsiderable wages are taken into account.

Chief scapegoat at the moment is Mario Husillos and while the director of football’s involvement in picking talent has been underwhelming I doubt it was he who instructed Pellegrini to: play someone who had scored prolifically in a front two as an isolated lone striker; persevere with two wingers playing on their wrong foot; keep faith for so long with a goalkeeper who is patently petrified of crosses; maintain a rigid attachment to the same formation week in week out, even though it clearly doesn’t suit the players available; only ever change the personnel and never the system;  not work hard enough in training on fitness or organisation; create the slowest team in the league who are incapable of moving the ball quickly; and refusing to budge on his inflexible tactics of the high back line and a patient build-up, regardless of circumstances or opposition. Standing on the touchline looking confused and admitting that you are baffled does not inspire any confidence – in players or supporters.

It was no surprise following the win at Chelsea that the performance level was not maintained at Wolves a few days later. Fitness levels are just not up to it, and with the one-man press, Michail Antonio, missing it was always going to be a struggle against a disciplined and hard working Wolverhampton side.

There are several obvious gaps in the West Ham squad (central midfield and full-backs in particular) but it is still good enough to stay up with proper and astute management. That is not to say that our recruitment has been smart. Not enough emphasis has been placed on unearthing developing talent – both from within the academy (which has a dismal record in recent years) and from outside. We have become a mirror image of pre-Pochettino Spurs who would sign random big name players – those who were not quite good enough for the truly top sides, but who acted as if they were – and hope they would magically gel into an effective team.

Our next manager needs to be all about discipline and team building, as well as delivering a touch of style. He is out there somewhere!

Speculating on what might happen on Monday night is difficult. Arsenal also find themselves in something of a predicament. They are also a team lacking cohesion; with a suspect defence but they do, at least, have pace and carry a goal threat. No doubt there will be the odd personnel change in the Hammer’s side but little else will be new. While Antonio is on the pitch and before he runs out of puff we may be able to compete and unsettle the visitor’s defence, but beyond that there is little that provides cause for optimism.

As someone who is now desperate to see the back of Pellegrini, I am conflicted as to what I want to happen. I never want to see the team lose but possibly it could be for the best. A new broom installed prior to the winter transfer window is a must in my eyes.

The game will be a third meeting this season with referee Mike Dean from the Wirral – he previously presided over the thrashing by Manchester City and also sent off Arthur Masuaku at Villa Park. His friend at VAR central will be Kevin Friend.

Lawro seems to have made his predictions during a drunken Christmas party binge and has gone for a 2-0 home win; while Charlie Nicholas sees it going the other with a 1-3 away win. The best I can hope is to stay on the fence with 2-2.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters: West Ham Finally Wake Up To Earn Pellegrini Reprieve

I’d rather be a hammer than a blue. West Ham defy the odds with a deserved victory to keep the customer’s satisfied – at least for the time being. What did we learn?

Oh! What A Surprise

I doubt that even the most optimistic of us saw this coming. I certainly didn’t, and had fully prepared myself for the worst – that adding yet another game to the demoralising win-less run was a mere formality. But it wasn’t to be. The West Ham of recent weeks had seemingly hired an unusually energetic and lively set of impersonators who would compete rather than capitulate. In the end it was a comfortable victory against a surprisingly subdued Chelsea side. The final margin of victory could easily have been wider, even ignoring the disallowed goal. It was a much improved effort all round. Better shape, improved intensity, space closed down and the ball moved far more quickly. Much was made of the change of keeper (and that was immensely important) but other factors contributed equally: Mark Noble sitting deeper alongside Declan Rice as a defensive midfield duo; Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals working their socks off in the wider midfield positions; and greater mobility up front through Michail Antonio. The obvious question is, why did it take eight games and the onset of a sacking crisis for Manuel Pellegrini to finally make changes to his game plan? With an away game against Wolves coming up in a few days we will get the opportunity to see whether Saturday’s performance was a one-off reaction or the springboard for better things.

In Comes Startin’ Martin

David Martin’s Premier League debut at age 33 was the great story of the weekend. His emotion at the end of the game and the embrace with dad, Alvin, was a priceless moment. It is the first time I have seen him play and he looked more than a competent deputy. Handled well, was composed and communicated with his team-mates throughout the game. It must have been an enormous relief to the rest of the defence to know that disaster wasn’t lurking behind you. Quite what the manager and coaching staff have seen in training to prefer Roberto over Martin is a puzzle. The choice between the erratic flamboyance of Roberto and the unspectacular, competence of Martin should not be a difficult one, Señors. Neither can be regarded as a replacement for the injured Fabianski but only one will have the trust of his colleagues. Buoyed by the presence of a capable keeper and better protection from midfield the improvement in the performances of Angelo Ogbonna and Fabian Balbuena was clear. Admittedly, Chelsea offered little attacking variety but the defence did all that they had to do very well. A bonus takeaway from the weekend was confirmation, if it were needed, that Giroud would not make a positive addition to the West Ham squad.

The Beast Is Back

Michail Antonio rightly took many of the post-match plaudits for a performance that was pivotal to West Ham’s success. With Antonio you get exactly what it says on the tin – pace, power and directness. He unsettles and out-muscles defences, provides a willing outlet for team-mates and is prepared to chase down opponents once possession is lost. He may not possess the greatest of technical ability but so what? It doesn’t diminish his overall effectiveness and eliminates much of the predictability from West Ham’s attacking play – provided that he is used correctly. Antonio’s qualities have frequently been undervalued by successive managers at the club, who have regarded him as emergency cover across multiple positions, rather than to be used where he can do most damage. It would be great to see him deployed in tandem with Sebastien Haller – opposing defences would certainly know that they have been in a game.

How do you solve a problem like Felipe?

Felipe Anderson has become the most enigmatic of characters. I have to say I was pleased to hear that he had been moved to a central midfield position when the lineups were revealed. The failed tactic of using him and Yarmolenko stranded on the ‘wrong’ flanks has never worked since the start – and, what’s more, it denies space for the full-backs to exploit. Aaron Cresswell demonstrated this to good effect on Saturday culminating in an excellent goal. Ryan Fredericks was less inclined, and seems too nervous to venture forward beyond his midfield partner. I don’t subscribe to the view that Anderson is a lazy player but he is frustrating one. He is clearly not happy, has lost his early swagger and is not providing value for money as far as creativity is concerned. I wonder if there is a problem between him and Pellegrini? Unable to rely on the services of Jack Wilshere or Manuel Lanzini, West Ham need Anderson primed and ready if they are to make anything of the season. Yarmolenko’s brief cameo from the bench didn’t inspire any confidence, while the remainder of the bench was, as usual, completely uninspiring. With Haller already benched, why also include Albian Ajeti, rather than giving Nathan Holland the experience?

Falling Foul Of Jon Moss

A notable statistic from the match was that Chelsea did not commit any fouls – correction – were not penalised for committing any fouls. Jonathan Moss is well known as a ‘homer’ referee and he did not disappoint on this outing. I am sure he was quite relieved that his VAR pal was able to detect a technical infringement for the second ‘goal’. The decision may have been correct according to the letter of the current interpretation of the law.  But this ‘any arm contact is handball interpretation’ is a brand new concept – it is not the reason so many were keen to see the introduction of VAR in the first place. I can recall controversies with penalty and offside decisions but not with balls accidentally striking hands.  An infringement should be an infringement regardless of who does it and where on the pitch it happens. VAR remains a good idea but typical of the football authorities that it has been so poorly implemented.

Player Ratings: Martin (7), Fredericks (7), Ogbonna (7), Balbuena (7), Cresswell (7), Rice (8), Noble (7), Snodgrass (7), Anderson (6), Fornals (7), Antonio (8) Subs: Yarmolenko (5), Haller (6), Masuaku (6)

Manuel’s Labours: Pellegrini And West Ham Certain To Be Singing The Blues After Stamford Bridge Showdown

The tortoises travel across London to face the hares this afternoon. What are the chances of a fairy tale finish?

If there was to be a Manuel Pellegrini terrace song then surely it would be one of those old blues/ country numbers where his women’s done left him, his momma’s an alcoholic, the house has burned down and the dog has died. The protagonist reflecting on this as he awaits the padre to escort him to his execution.

After a week of intense speculation where the entire focus was exclusively on who the club are lining up as his replacement, it has been reported that our manager has been given two weeks to save his job. At least when Flash Gordon was given 14 hours to save the Earth he had a sporting chance of achieving it.

In their wisdom, the two Daves decided that kicking the can down the road a little more was the sensible course of action to take – seemingly prepared to write off the games against Chelsea and Wolves.  Maybe they believe it will make them appear more reasonable and thoughtful chaps – or else, save them a few weeks worth of severance payments. It is difficult to understand that anyone who has sat through a West Ham game in the past two months can’t see that the chance of Pellegrini turning around the fortunes of this aimless, dispirited, divided and disorganised squad are several times slimmer than winning the Euro millions. The more humane option would have been to put him quickly out of his misery; allowing someone new the chance to assess strengths and weaknesses before the transfer window opens in the new year.

If actually getting a new manager in place is going to take a few more weeks, then let the U23 manager take charge on a caretaker basis. From what I have seen (admittedly only highlights) it looks like he knows how to set up and organise his side with both pace, energy and enterprise – it’s not as if he could do any worse. It really is a bizarre club where the academy sides play an entirely different style of football to the first team.

The elephant in the room when it comes to appointing a new manager is, unfortunately, the lack of imagination present in those making the selection. I don’t believe for a moment that the Board have been scouring the European leagues to identify up-and-coming talent – a few phone calls to their favourite agent or a search on Google would be closer to the mark. There have been so many names bandied about it is impossible to know which are genuine contenders and which have just been made to gain attention.

Personally, I would like to see someone who can be a longer term fix – a younger manager capable of instilling the kind of style, ethos and unity necessary to compete in modern Premier League football. What we don’t need is another rescue mission from one of the a managerial dinosaurs who may know how not to lose, but has little idea how to win.

We like to clutch straws and take comfort where we can find it and I would be happy with an appointment such as Eddie Howe – should he have any interest in coming to the London Stadium. At least now when I see a headline claiming “West Ham keen to pursue 41 year old” it just might refer to a managerial candidate rather than the latest stand-in goalkeeper or central midfield target.

Speaking of young managers, today will see West Ham come up against a Chelsea side managed by old foe Frank Lampard.  It has really surprised me how well he has done so far this season. I did think he would make a good manager one day but that this job had come too early for him – particularly with the transfer ban in place. Like it or not, Lampard is intelligent, articulate and happy to learn and adjust as he goes. His team play fast and attractive football and work hard for each other.  The introduction of a number of young academy players must have exceeded all expectations at the club.

Quite how our own laggardly rabble will fare against such youthful exuberance doesn’t bear thinking about. It could be a very long afternoon – starting an hour before kick-off when Pellegrini announces his latest permutation from his group of apparent strangers.

I read one laughable report in the week that suggested a recall for Carlos Sanchez (with Declan Rice dropping back to replace the suspended Issa Diop). The rationale being that the introduction of Sanchez changed the course of the game last week. Good grief! The worrying thing is that there is a good chance that Pellegrini saw it the same way – a tactical masterstroke that just came too late to save the day.  Can you imagine a midfield of Sanchez, Noble and Snodgrass chasing the shadows of Kante, Mount and Willian? He may as well bring back Pablo Zabaleta to take care of Pulisic.

Unless there is something devilishly cunning going on beneath the manager’s calm persona, I don’t expect any revolutionary changes to what we have seen taking place over recent weeks. A token effort for 15 to 20 minutes or so followed by a collapse when the first goal goes in. The other great unknown being who will it be be picking the ball out of the net when that happens. Seeing Roberto on the team sheet again could cause spontaneous combustion across the east-end.

This week’s referee double act consists of Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire) trying to keep up with play on the pitch and Andrew ‘Andy’ Madley (Huddersfield) on VAR duty.

Media pundits Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are being rather conservative in predicting a home win but only by 2-1 and 2-0 respectively. I can easily see this being a complete rout and annihilation – something close to the 7-1, which I believe would equal our worst ever Premier League defeat (away to Blackburn in October 2001). Despite all this negativity I will still be watching and be urging us on to win. Perhaps there can be a miracle (like the two Di Canio goals in September 2002) but I can’t see where that individual quality can come from these days. I usually look forward to games but will be more than happy when this one is all over.

Should He Stay Or Should He Go: Pellegrini’s Time Surely Up After Spurs Clash?

If he stays there could be trouble, but if he goes will there be double? Is there any way we can rely on the owners to make a sensible decision?

Shattered Dreams

I don’t pretend to speak for all West Ham fans, but would like to think that what most of us are looking for is a club that we can feel rightfully proud of. One that attempts to entertain but even when that doesn’t come off, a team that goes into every match with 100% commitment. So that, whoever the opposition, they know that they have been given a game. It’s not much to ask and, if we are really lucky, there might also be the faintest whiff of success in one of the cup competitions. There are a collection of probable causes at to why we don’t have such a team. Owners who prioritise committing just enough to protect their asset over ambition: who have failed to invest sufficiently in both playing staff depth and infrastructure (such as training facilities, academy and scouting); who have no credible long-term footballing strategy. A manager and coaching staff who are unable to motivate, prepare and organise the team in a way that Premier League football now demands; who have recruited too many players that are unsuitable in meeting those physical and athletic demands. A squad of players who may have technical ability but lack the appropriate level of personal pride – a few notable exceptions aside.

Mark Noble says that if we are not careful, we will be in a relegation scrap. Have I got news for you, Mark – we are already knees-deep in one. At the current trajectory (two points from seven games) and a high probability of three defeats in the next three games, it is not a wild stretch of the imagination to envisage West Ham being rock bottom by Christmas.

If We Only Had A Heart (Or A Nerve)

Saturday’s game was a virtual re-run of the previous home fixture against Newcastle. A late flurry providing an undeserved air of respectability to what could easily have been a rout. Roberto may be the worst player ever to have pulled on a pair of Premier League goalie gloves for West Ham (and I’m including Julian Dicks and Carl Jenkinson in that definition) but he wasn’t the sole reason for such an undignified defeat. Once again, it was a team without plan or shape: too slow in possession; giving the ball away far too cheaply; and creating no space for themselves while allowing acres of it to the opposition. That West Ham relied so heavily on the heroics of Lukasz Fabianski’s for many of their points last season should have been a massive red flag. Skimping on the wages of a backup keeper in the hope that he wouldn’t be called into action was an act of gross irresponsibility. And what sort of cunning plan is it to hope that everything will be OK again once Fabianski returns?

On The Road To Nowhere

Apart from counting down the weeks until the return of Fabianski, the remainder of the current master plan is to “work harder”, “buck our ideas up” and “turn things around”. No need to worry then, everything is all in hand! If anyone can look at the displays served up over the course of the past month or so and conclude that all we need is a bit more effort, then they are fooling themselves. Of course, the players should be putting in a shift but the overriding reality is that the team are a disjointed and stuttering shambles. No-one seems to have a clue as to their respective roles and responsibilities. The captain was also reported on the Official West Ham site as saying the game has not changed in the 15 years that he has playing. I make him absolutely wrong on that score – it is much more team focused game now built around structure and cohesion (almost to a micro-managed level.) Individual flair and expression can still be encouraged but it has to be incorporated into the whole – just look how hard Salah, Mane and Firmino work at Liverpool. Pellegrini’s style belongs to the past. He has no roadmap or project for building a lasting legacy at West Ham. When we needed a unit constructed on solid foundations he wasted all the budget on soft furnishings. Pellegrini has to go and go now. There is no point giving him more time just to repeat the same old mistakes – he has no credible plan. The player’s morale and body language is at a record low and suggests an absence of belief. No player has improved as a result of his coaching – Diop, Balbuena, Anderson, Yarmolenko and others have all gone backwards since their encouraging arrivals. Although all of the other problems at the club will still need addressing, they are are longer term fixes. The only way I can see to avoid a devastating relegation is to replace the manager. Act now and let the new man can assess the strengths and weaknesses in the squad in advance of the transfer window.

Who Comes Next?

If the club should take the sensible decision and switch manager, the big question is who comes in as replacement? As ever, the usual suspects have been banded about in the media. I have no particular insight but would prefer a younger manager; one open to fresh ideas, who can also introduce far stricter discipline – like it or not, the players need it. Some may not want to believe it, but managing West Ham has to be seen as a top job – clearly it is not as glamourous as some others but the club are still top twenty in terms of world football revenues.  There should be no shortage of interest.  I can’t believe that Chris Hughton is a serious or genuine candidate (we may as well go for Mark Hughes or Tony Pulis) and can see Rafael Benitez want to hold out for the Everton job.  To my mind bringing Benitez back form China would risk repeating the mistake of Pellegrini – an older manager looking for his final payday. I don’t see why a new manager has to be British but, would be quite happy if the right candidate was home grown. Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe and Scott Parker would each be interesting options, in their own ways. There are sure to be exciting younger overseas coaches in the European leagues of the right calibre – if our scouting reach extends that far.  What we don’t need is a new manager who can do no more than steady the ship – a team builder is required. The worry in all of this, however, is that it will be the limited imagination of David Sullivan making the final decision.

Player Ratings: Roberto (2), Fredericks (4), Ogbonna (6), Diop (4), Cresswell (4), Rice (6), Noble (5), Yarmolenko (3), Snodgrass (6), Anderson (3), Haller (4). Subs: Antonio (8), Fornals (4), Sanchez (4)

Something Better Change: Dippy Dave’s Dither As Daniel Presses The Panic Button

Stick or Twist? What will win the day, West Ham continued indecision or Tottenham’s panicked recruitment of faded box-office star?

Just a week ago today’s game was billed as the South American manager death-match beat-down. A last tango in Stratford elimination contest where the victor lived to fight another day and defeated was cast out into wilderness, P45 in hand. It was all change, however, when pantomime Bond villain, Daniel Levy, sent his manager sliding into the metaphorical shark tank. A preemptive move that denied the Argentinian the perfect symmetry of starting and ending his Tottenham career with a game against West Ham – who can forget that injury time Eric Dier (yes, I know) winner that decided his opener?

Levy’s action has the hallmarks of a Terry Brown/ Harry Redknapp style spat rather than being a considered footballing decision. On this occasion the Glenn Roeder role is to be played by none other than Jose Mourinho. Yesterday’s man he might be, but Mourinho remains good box office and in the increasingly showbiz world of Premier League football, he is guaranteed to generate media attention. The Levy/ Mourinho dynamic and its inevitable meltdown should prove compelling viewing over the coming months. Meanwhile, Pochettino can take a short rest before picking up the reins at Old Trafford in the new year.

Meanwhile back in east end, the Two Daves find themselves once again firmly stuck in dither mode. For them, being driven the wrong way down the motorway, by a confused elderly driver, who is baffled by the controls and refuses to change gear, would not constitute a major problem. Unless there is immediate danger of head on collision, they are prepared to chug along to the next Services and hope the driver can turn things around.

With Christmas fast approaching, all the old chestnuts are still being banded about – ‘we must work harder’, ‘we need to sort things out’. Unfortunately, it has got to a stage where much more than platitudes are needed. We can only hope that Manuel Pellegrini, his staff and the players have used the international break to good effect. The squad and the injuries are what they are; it is the manager’s responsibility to organise and motivate those available in the best possible way – that is what he is paid big money to do. We are frequently reminded that Pellegrini is vastly experienced, so time to see some evidence of that. At least he has the advantage that this is one fixture the players are usually up for.

According to the joint-chairman’s statement issued yesterday, it is not only the aforementioned hard work that we have up our sleeves as a cunning plan. Today will see the Hammers unleash the ‘power of unity’.  This is easily dismissed as meaningless mumbo-jumbo, but it does sounds very new age and mysterious. Maybe the scattering of healing crystals around the dressing room will help. Or perhaps appeasing the gods by sacrificing a goat in the centre circle at half-time.

But enough of the negativity. There has been some good news in the week in that both Mark Noble and Michail Antonio have been passed fit for selection. Although, Noble has struggled for much of the season, he is still the best available as a more defensive minded midfielder alongside Declan Rice. The thought of Carlos Sanchez (or the laughable suggestion of Pablo Zabaletta) stepping into the role would be enough to trigger a panic attack in the most balanced individual.

When players are out for an extended period, their abilities tend to become exaggerated to mythical proportions. Even so, I look forward to the return of Antionio. He offers pace, muscle and a directness that is not apparent elsewhere in the squad.  I hope Pellegrini uses him wisely and that Antonio can provide an antidote to our slow ponderous build up. We desperately need to see some change in formation and cohesion. Something to suggest that this is a professional outfit rather than a bunch of blokes that have turned up for a kickabout over the park. I am a long- time advocate of giving 3-5-2 a try but don’t see the manager getting that radical. Let the wing backs provide the width and get those wrong-footed wingers off the flanks. Could there be any chance of a little imagination in the bench selection?

The elephant in the room is, of course, the goalkeeper situation. You don’t need to be a special one to know that Roberto is suspect under physical aerial threat. Any team (well maybe not ours) will know that and will plan to exploit that. Can David Martin provide a better option? Probably not, but his weaknesses might not be such common knowledge. Perhaps he and Roberto could play some form of three-and-in (or should that be three-and-out) keeper rotation. Is rush-goalie allowed?

Tottenham are nothing like the threat they were a few years back. Most of the players they have brought in have been a downgrade from those leaving or fading away – the exception being Lucas Moura. Having Harry Winks at the heart of midfield has slowed everything down to the extent that it is almost as torpid as ours. WInks is almost Noblesque in his short, back and sideways passing. Anyway, he went down in my estimation when he spurned the ’40 Winks’ squad number – watching him on a regular basis would certainly send me to sleep.

Today’s refereeing dream team are Northumberland based Michael Oliver, on the pitch, and Andre Marriner, at VAR mission control. It could be a feisty afternoon and with the north London diving team out in force, let’s hope they have all their wits about them.

Pundit-wise, Lawro has reverted to his default 1-1 prediction while Charlie Nicholas envisages the new manager bounce giving the visitors the edge with a 2-1 away win. I never like to predict a West Ham defeat, even more so against Tottenham. But it is difficult to call it any other way. The straw to clutch at is the hope that the players will for once find an acceptable level of commitment to make a game of it – provided that it doesn’t boil over into reckless card worthy challenges (Noble, Snodgrass – I am looking at you).

I really want to believe, but Santa Claus is looking the more believable option right now.

Hope Don’t Live Here Anymore: The Decline And Fall Of Pellegrini’s Hopeless Hammers Episode 6

After another terrible West Ham performance radical changes must be made if disastrous consequences are to be avoided. Hoping that there are three even worse teams is a reckless strategy.

Surprise, No Surprise

It is a sad reflection on the current state of affairs at the club, but what happened on Saturday came as no real surprise. A few weeks ago, I described West Ham’s performance at Everton as abject (adj – something experienced that is bad to the maximum degree; a performance completely without pride or dignity.)  Now it looks like I peaked too early with that description, as the situation has become progressively worse – adjective wise, it has left me nowhere to go. Performances have become above and beyond abject if that is possible. Are wretched and deplorable any worse? Or perhaps we should start adding binary prefixes to differentiate the state of disarray: mega-abject (Newcastle), giga-abject (Burnley)? As predicted, it was Sean Dyche who managed to galvanise his team into a reaction while mild-mannered Manuel Pellegrini continued to dither. A strong and pacey home side demonstrated belief and intent. West Ham were weak and rudderless, seemingly content to drift aimlessly towards the precipice of the relegation places.  Even though Burnley’s strength in the air is well known to all, there was no strategy to cut off the supply of crosses.  In fact, the Hammers offered nothing new – tactics, approach or hope – just what had failed so spectacularly over the course of the last six matches. What is it they say about repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Footballing insanity!

Collective Responsibility For Individual Errors

It is football manager 101 to reel off a whole string of incidental excuses whenever your team has lost – bad luck, refereeing decisions, individual errors, and so on – it is never your own fault.  It is always tempting smokescreen to use when your team have been comprehensively outplayed by what, in theory, is a lesser team – at least in terms of support and resources. Sure, the first goal should not have been a corner and, without doubt, Roberto and Fabian Balbuena contributed enormously to the other two goals conceded. Most goals have some degree of culpability from the defending side but well drilled teams endeavour to minimise the impact of individual mistakes by effective organisation. Pellegrini seems as afraid of organising his troops as Roberto is of crosses. The fact that it was a goalkeeper who was last year’s Hammer of the Year should have been cause of concern, not one of celebration – taking nothing away from Lukasz Fabianski’s heroics. Now his injury, and the decision to make a cheap gamble on a backup, have led to a reckless own goal. As dodgy a keeper as Roberto is, he also made some very good saves. As with the previous week, defeat was not entirely down to him. In fact, for the stat lovers out there, he was the Hammer’s highest rated player according to the whoscored website.

Manuel’s Random Team Selector

This week’s pin sticking team selection lottery comprised replacing Pablo Zabaleta with Ryan Fredericks and Andriy Yarmolenko with Pablo Fornals. Everyone else was deemed to have done well enough the previous weekend to keep their places. Fornals was, sort of, deployed central and in a more advanced role but you might not have noticed but for some half-hearted attempts at closing down when we lost possession. As usual the Hammers faffed about with the ball in no-man’s-land (possibly as a mark of respect for Remembrance Day) and steadfastly refused to move the ball forward quickly – and when they did only down the flanks. Before his injury, Mark Noble had only two touches in the opposition half. His positional replacement, Robert Snodgrass, did get further forward but mainly down the congested left side where Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell also congregated for most of the afternoon. Sebastein Haller managed only two touches in the opposition penalty area during the whole ninety minutes, while Albian Ajeti amassed a grand total of five touches in his thirty minutes on the pitch. This is not a side that plays with any pattern, cohesion or shape.  It is not a jigsaw where there is just an odd piece needed for completion; it is one where none of the pieces seemingly match the picture on the box. From the off, there was never a time when it looked as though West Ham would get anything from the game.  It was just a matter of time before Burnley’s superior aerial threat overwhelmed the Hammer’s inadequate defences.

Here’s Another Fine Mess We’ve Gotten Into

The scale and extent of West Ham’s current woes run deep.  There is no quick fix that will address all of them. The first casualty will likely by Director of Football (DoF), Mario Husillos and although I wouldn’t lose any sleep over his departure it will go now way to resolve any of the pressing, immediate problems. In truth, the DoF should be providing an independent input to player recruitment, not be an old pal of the manager – but that is just another example of the amateurish West Ham way of doing things. Worst case scenario would be the return of David Sullivan (or one of his boys) as the de facto DoF. I am probably more ambivalent towards the owners than many supporters, but ultimately it will only be by investment (in players and in infrastructure such as training facilities and the academy) that can move the club forward. While their ambition is inclined more towards treading water than moving forward, the club finds itself being swept into very dangerous territory. They should not have allowed the squad to become so irresponsibly thin but equally they are not directly responsible for the unmotivated, disorganised rabble that regularly takes the field on a Saturday afternoon. That is down to the manager. You might also argue that the players are not putting in the required level effort or playing for the manager, but much of that is down to poor preparation and an absence of belief in what they are supposed to be doing.

What Happens Next?

Another international break now and there is so much work to be done if there is to be any hope of improvement (not confident, though).  The next run of games sees fixtures against Tottenham, Chelsea, Wolves and Arsenal which would not, on recent performance,  promise a lot in the way of points. This is not a team in a poor run of form but one that has fundamental issues in the way it is set up; and a manager who has admitted to being baffled as to how to fix it. Personally, I find it impossible to imagine how Pellegrini can turn things around.  He is stuck firmly in the past and has few fresh ideas that are relevant in a modern game where pace, fitness and organisation are all important. When the clocks changed recently, they may as well have gone back to the 1990’s. It was mentioned at the weekend that West Ham had covered less ground this season than any other team in the Premier League. That is no surprise. They probably had the lowest average speed as well, if that was measured. As things stand this is not a group of players you would want with you in the trenches of a relegation scrap with – at least not under the current leadership. The board will be reluctant to replace the manager, due to the cost involved, but it is looking increasingly like it will be necessary. West Ham are adrift now, lacking fitness, motivation, cohesion and any structured style or approach. Everything that suggests these are desperate times requiring the most urgent attention. Hoping that there are three even worse teams in the league is a risky strategy (and I can easily see Watford climbing away from trouble now.) The general consensus in the media is that Pellegrini’s job is safe for now. I really don’t see why that should be the case.  It is not a sensible position to take when the stakes are so high and there are so few positive signs to pin your hopes to.

Ratings: Roberto (4), Fredericks (4), Diop (4), Balbuena (3), Cresswell (5), Rice (5), Noble (4), Snodgrass (6), Fornals (4), Anderson (4), Haller (4) Subs: Yamolenko (5), Lanzini (4), Ajeti (3)

Get Up, Stand Up! Don’t Give Up The Fight! West Ham Badly Need Bottle For Burnley Battle

Husillos is fingered as the convenient fall-guy the for current Hammer woes, but can anyone provide the much needed motivation and organisation to bring an end to the current freefall?

Every poorly performing project needs to have a properly identified scapegoat ready for when things really start to fall apart. In West Ham’s case the responsibility for the recent disastrous run is apparently all down to Director of Football (DOF)/ Recruitment, Mario Husillos.

On the face of it there is damning evidence for this view of the world in the shape of recent recruits Roberto, Carlos Sanchez and Pablo Fornals – but the extent of his culpability is surely dependent on the scope of his actual brief. In my own simple view of how recruitment might work, it is the manager who decides what types of players and needed and for what positions. The board determine what funds are available for each deal (and that includes transfer fees and wages) while it is the DOF’s roles to identify options for each position.

If Husillos had been asked to find the best keeper he possibly could, and the name he came up with was Roberto, then that would indeed be a worry.  If on the other hand he was asked to find an experienced but cheap option as backup, because the club didn’t want to continue paying Adrian’s wage demands, then responsibility is a a more collective one.  If his task was to find the type box-to-box midfielder that has eluded the club for an eternity, and his answer was Fornals, then he would be clearly certifiable. If it was to find a young, creative attacking midfielder then his pick would be easier to understand – even if he looks too slow for the English game.  It would not be his fault if the player was subsequently played out of position. It is difficult to believe that the manager wouldn’t have the final say on signings and for him to be happy that their abilities were a good fit with his preferred style of play.

Aside from a lack of funds, the areas where recruitment has regularly fallen short (and where Husillos must take some share of the blame) are: not being able to scout and develop young talent; ignoring the physical demands and pace of the modern Premier League game; focusing too much on players from the Hispanic world; and signing players with questionable attitude.

According to a ranking of Premier League squads produced at the start of the season, West Ham were valued at £313m (and that allows for the view that the squad was deemed to be irresponsibly thin). In contrast, the weekend’s opponents, Burnley, were valued at £179m. With the two clubs occupying 13th and 14th positions in the table, the logical conclusion is that it is Sean Dyche who is doing the better job. Disregarding a few of the top teams, all managers operate under financial constraints and the ability to meld, organise and motivate players is why they can command big salaries.

With both teams having suffered bad defeats last week, whom I wonder, will do the better job of motivating his team into a reaction.  I wouldn’t risk that much money on it being Manuel Pellegrini.  The memory of last season’s feeble display at Turf Moor is still fresh in the memory. Burnley had been on the wrong end of a 1-5 Boxing Day home humbling by Everton, while the Hammers went into the game having won five of the last six. What transpired was the meekest of all surrenders in a 0-2 defeat against a fully fired-up home side.  Can we expect anything different this time?  It is up to Pellegrini and the players to prove my pessimism misplaced. No mistake this is going to a physical test as much as anything else.

I have long wanted to see Pellegrini at least have a try at a 3-5-2 formation. It would seem to suit our players better, but I don’t anticipate seeing anything that radical when the team is finally announced. It will be the usual tinkering with the core squad of fifteen or so players that leaves us with an unbalanced starting eleven and an uninspiring bench.

In the defence, it would be a huge surprise if Ryan Fredericks doesn’t replace Pablo Zabaleta after his struggles last week, but maybe there will also be recalls for Angelo Ogbonna and Arthur Masuaku. Unfortunately the defensive high line preferred by the manager and the tactic of allowing as many crosses to come in as possible – in the hope that we are strong enough aerially to deal with them – will likely play to Burnley’s strengths – especially when you add a suspect keeper who is low on confidence into the mix.

Will there be any surprises in midfield? There is little chance of Jack Wilshere starting even if he is fit enough for the squad.  That means there is no realistic alternative to Declan Rice and Mark Noble for the more defensive minded duties. Will we still have the two wide-men playing on their wrong side – a tactic, not unlike that weird short free-kick routine, that has fooled absolutely no-one yet. Unlike other observers I thought Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini did OK (at least in the second half) against Newcastle and would persevere with them in the absence of anything more creative available. By default, the last place would go to Robert Snodgrass – mainly for the effort he brings to what is likely to be a robust encounter. Somehow one of Anderson, Lanzini or Snodgrass needs to be deployed far closer to Sebastien Haller if he is not to end up as Billy-No-Mates once again.

This weekend’s referee is Kevin Friend from Leicester. Whispering into his earpiece and picking up the clear and obvious offside armpit calls will be Lee Mason from Lancashire. Friend has been something of a red card enthusiast this season, and there is a good chance of him adding to tally here.

Both Lawro and Charlie Nicholas got it badly wrong last time in predicting a West Ham win over Newcastle, and now both have eyes on a Burnley victory – by 2-0 and 2-1 respectively. I wish I were able to inject a little positivity into proceedings, but now find myself looking nervously down at the foot of the table and hoping that games like Norwich v Watford ends in draws to preserve as much daylight as possible. After this week, the games only get tougher.

I think a hard fought draw is the best we can hope from the game, and even then, the caveat is that it would rely on putting out a team that is up for the fight and able to maintain the intensity for ninety minutes. Recent evidence suggest that this requires a massive improvement in attitude.

With all the weekend focus on Liverpool playing Manchester City no-one is really going to take much notice of this match, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. Otherwise, we got into another international break in a very bad place. COYI!