Since You Gotta Go, You Had Better Go Now! Can Someone Please Put Us Out Of This Misery?

In a low budget, poorly produced sequel to the Avram Grant season, the West Ham board continue to dither over compensation payments in a further blow to the next level credibility.

Baffled Of Santiago

I was expecting to wake up this morning to discover that Manuel Pellegrini had finally been dismissed. Now just a single point away from the relegation places (with an inferior goal difference) and with a manager who: admits he is baffled; has been largely responsible for assembling this current one-paced squad; has seemingly no idea how to set up and organise a team to compete in the modern game; and is completely out of touch with current tactical trends. No-one in their right mind can surely believe that Pellegrini has got what it takes to turn things around; or, based on past performance,  would want to trust him with any further funds in the upcoming transfer window.  The season is a poorly produced, low budget, remake of the Avram Grant Season. There is no footballing rationale whatsoever for keeping him on – compensation payment is the only issue on the table. The longer a decision is put off, the greater will be the imperative to hire a manager specialising in ‘ugly’ tactics to sort it out. Stop the dithering, bite the bullet and pull the trigger – even if it is with a caretaker in charge for the next run of games.

Insider Dealing

The ubiquitous club-insider is suggesting that the manager will be given another two more games (again) to save his job. Also that if he does go then David Moyes is the probable replacement. Now I have no idea whether the insider is just making stuff up like the rest of us or is being fed information from the club (which would be massively unprofessional, but easy to believe) but if it is true then it is a deeply worrying scenario. Not that I don’t think Moyes would be a better option than Pellegrini but that is not the point. He is not the right person for the type of club we need to be. Someone who would be able to take the team in a direction that most supporters want to travel. Ultimately, football is meant to be an entertainment. It has to offer more than just doing enough to hang on to your place at the top table so that we can see the top players in the world come to tear us to pieces every season. As supporters, we need something to believe in, to be proud of, and at least be given a glimmer of hope of an a honest tilt at the occasional cup competition.

Not Fit For Purpose

Yesterday, we looked doomed right from the start. Any side with probably the three slowest players in the Premier League (Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Zabaleta) is going to struggle. Throw in a comedy goalkeeper and whatever hope there was disappeared over the horizon. To be fair, Roberto was not at fault for either of the goals and made a couple of decent saves. The bench looked a little brighter with the return of Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson but neither ultimately made any impression. As usual there was no sign of any young legs and energy among the substitutes. There may have been a desire to ship out what was thought to be deadwood (Obiang, Fernandes, for example) but they were far better than what has been left behind. Is there some kind of collective madness at the club?

Two Poor Sides

The match was, as the one at Southampton, a contest of very poor quality. The Hammers nominally adopted the same 4-4-2 formation that had triumphed just over a week earlier but on this occasion the gaps between each block of players were far too great. Having won one game it was apparently beyond the players to put in the same level of effort for two matches in a row.  Michail Antonio was the only real threat, and the only one to come away with any real credit, but he cannot maintain those energy levels for a full ninety minutes. In a re-run of the past few matches, once Antonio starts running on fumes, the whole team shape collapses and becomes fatally exposed.

New Formation, Same Failings

Although there were now ostensibly two layers ‘up top’ the supply line to them was as ineffective as ever. Snodgrass despite his goal (and almost getting a second) was pedestrian throughout and again demonstrated that perseverance with the winger on the wrong flank is complete madness. Mark Noble’s only notable contribution was a bust up with Angelo Ogbonna (not sure why, but possibly due to Noble’s lazy pass putting Aaron Cresswell under pressure.) The formation, as implemented, doesn’t suit Declan Rice as his ability to break forward is seriously curtailed – he is utilised as a holding midfielder only and gave one of his least effective displays for some time as a consequence. The upshot was that Palace were given acres of space both in the centre of midfield and down their left wing where Zaha ran Pablo Zabaleta ragged all afternoon. If only we had known that might happen. Even at a goal up, it was clearly only going to be a matter of time (and Antonio’s battery running flat) before the home side breached the West Ham defence. I would take one (a defeat) for the team if it meant the end of our bewildered manager.

Ratings: Roberto (5), Zabaleta (3), Ogbonna (6), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (5), Snodgrass (5), Rice (5), Noble (4), Fornals (6), Antonio (8), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (4), Anderson (5), Ajeti (?)

Present Imperfect: West Ham Win Would Be Ideal Gift But Leave Manager Dilemma Unresolved

Boxing Day matches have long been a highlight of the footballing calendar. On the second day of Christmas will our true loves send us yet another stuffing or serve up a real Christmas cracker?

Christmas is over, West Ham are not in the bottom three, even have a game in hand, and the Manuel Pellegrini doomsday clock is stuck permanently at one minute to midnight. Time to feast on the left over turkey and wonder whether Santa has delivered any new ideas to the London Stadium.

Boxing Day football is as much part of the traditional festive landscape as snowmen, robin redbreast, eggnog and maids-a-milking.  My all-time fantasy Christmas list would have taking the 723 to the Boleyn for an early morning kick-off as one of its many highlights. Sadly, it seems that a home fixture on Boxing Day is now a thing of the past and that we must be content with the short trip across town to the land of allotments and inflatable clapper sticks.

On the face of it the omens are favourable for today’s game. Our boys have had a few extra days to rest or work on ‘stuff’ in training while hosts, Crystal Palace, have an injury list that would overwhelm even the best funded of A&E department. The only fly in this ointment being that such favourable circumstances have rarely worked to our advantage in the past.

The cancelled fixture against Liverpool has presented an opportunity for the Hammers to chalk up rare successive back-to-back Premier League victories. Apart from the promising run early in the season and a purple patch in November/ December last year, victories have arrived in staccato fashion separated by missed opportunities. The compact nature of mid-table means that a few wins can change the apparent complexion of the season significantly, allowing a decision on the manager’s immediate future to be parked until the summer.  As I fail to see any good place where Pellegrini can take the club, it leaves me conflicted.

Aside from the enforced change at right back due to Ryan Fredericks suspension, Pellegrini’s major selection headache will be who plays in goal. Even he must realise that either Lukasz Fabianski or David Martin on one leg has to be a better option than the hapless Roberto. If reports are to be believed it will be Martin who gets the nod today with Fabianski making his return at the weekend. Other than that, I would imagine that the team will lineup as at Southampton, with Felipe Anderson restored to the bench following his mystery illness. Certainly, if Antonio and Haller reproduce last week’s from they can unsettle the usually well-organised Palace defence.

The major (only) Palace threat will again be provided by Zaha and the hope is that there will be a plan to double up on him in times of emergency – otherwise he will lead the ageing legs of Pablo Zabaleta a merry dance. The Eagles will probably be fielding two ex-Hammers in their starting eleven – James Tomkins and Cheikhou Kouyate. Tomkins is a decent but erratic defender who is always a danger as an attacking threat from set pieces; while Kouyate has become more dependable in the limited role expected of him by Roy Hodgson.

Thoughts at this time of year also turn to the impending transfer window – which will ‘burst open’ on 1 January. Already, there are conflicting reports on how busy the Hammers will be; ranging from their being no cash available at all to a lengthy list of apparent targets that the Daves have sent to the North Pole. Whatever money there is, we can but hope that it is spent wisely. Dependable (youngish) replacements for the troublesome central midfield and full-back positions would be at top of my list but how that will lay out amid uncertainties with manager and director of football is unclear. Recruits should be fit, athletic, technically competent and, importantly, with the right attitude. They do not need to be exotic, flamboyantly named, Hispanics or ex-Champion’s League winners. It has reached a point where I am wary of any player who is reported as keen to join West Ham. Typically it is for the wrong reasons – munificent wages, the bright lights of London, or the easy life. To paraphrase Groucho Marx “I refuse to sign any player who is eager to become a (squad) member.”

I received an email from West Ham in the week announcing a 60% off clearance sale but was surprised to see that Carlos Sanchez and Roberto were not yet listed as available. The squad is far too thin to allow many departures but cannot see a downside in letting those two go. If numbers get that desperate, then give some of the young players a go. How could it be worse?

The matchday referee is Andre Marriner from West Midlands making his second West Ham appearance of the month (he was in charge of the defeat at Wolves). His VAR chum is Andrew ‘Andy’ Madley from West Yorkshire. Any chance of a seasonal penalty decision going our way today?

Looking at the TV pundits, we see Lawro backing West Ham for a 2-1 win and Charlie Nicholas unable to separate two inconsistent sides with a 1-1 draw.  It really should be an opportunity for the Hammers to add to their points tally. After all, with the season almost halfway done, the 20 point threshold has still to be reached. Thankfully, as illustrated by some of the games that I watched last weekend there are a plenty of poor teams in the Premier League right now – no matter what the marketing boys say about there being no easy games. I would prefer not to be (and we shouldn’t be) part of the Premier League leftovers but fear that is how it will stay for the foreseeable future.  Limping into the second half of the season with a bewildered manager who is living on past glories rather than present realities. I do believe, however, that we can win today.

The week was overshadowed by the sad news of the death of Martin Peters, one of the all-time great West Ham United players. Peters was a huge favourite of mine when I first started following West Ham and is easily part of my all-time West Ham XI. It was a massive disappointment when he left prematurely in 1970 as the first big-name Hammer’s departure of my West Ham supporting career. He was part of a West Ham team that played in the first ever top flight clash between West Ham and Crystal Palace, in November 1969 – a 2-1 home win in front of 31,515 spectators. The team that day, including at least five West Ham legends, was: Ferguson, Bonds, Lampard, Howe, Stephenson, Moore, Redknapp, Peters, Brooking, Hurst (1), Best (1)

Haller-lujah, Antonio In Excelsis! Takeaways As West Ham Snatch Survival Lifeline

Now, I’ve heard about when West Ham scored. That Sebastien played, and it pleased the Lord. What, if anything, did we learn from West Ham’s surprise change of formation and victory at St Marys?

Sack Race Goes Into Added Time

There was plenty of pre-match speculation as to the potential scenarios that each of the possible outcomes might have on the future employment prospects of Manuel Pellegrini. Many believed that he would be gone no matter what the result. But now, according to the latest reports being leaked from the club, the manager will be hanging around for as long as the Christmas decorations are – ‘tis the season to be jolly! Although rather than being given another two game window to save his job, he is now apparently in sudden death territory – just one more shameful, insipid performance away from the job centre. None of this should really be any surprise since it became obvious that the decision hinged on compensation payments and not for football reasons. Are the team, under Pellegrini, able to scramble high enough up the rock-face to avoid drowning in the rising tide of relegation? It is not a matter of trust in the manager- it is a case of trusting that there are three worse teams in the league come the end of the season.

First Among Failures

West Ham were deserved winners in the game that, although relatively exciting, was generally poor in terms of quality. Not exactly a ‘game of two halves’ but certainly one of ‘two portions.’ The Hammers were dominant for the first 60 or 70 minutes until they tired badly just after the hour – perhaps a few more minutes than they managed on Monday. After that, all ambition disappeared and were left hanging on and thanking the woodwork by the final whistle. Fitness levels are one of the major concerns under the current management regime – as they were during his time at Manchester City. Better sides than Southampton (that is, most of the Premier League on this showing) will be quick to exploit that weakness. Hasenhüttl had adjusted his formation at half time and there was debate in the commentary box as to whether Pellegrini would make changes to compensate – based on previous experience he will be ready to do so sometime in early March. Although Romeu was one of the hosts better performers it was fatigue in the Hammer’s ranks (notably Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass) that changed the dynamic of the game.  The defence (particularly Angelo Ogbonna and Fabian Balbuena) was resolute but luck also played a huge part.

Pellegrini Sees The Light

Just as the manager had been slow to recognise the glaring limitations of Roberto, he was also the last person alive to twig that Sebastien Haller might be far more effective if he wasn’t left so isolated on the pitch. Begrudgingly and with the catalyst of a convenient Felipe Anderson illness, Pellegrini finally accepted that more than one team formation is possible. It was a transformation. Michail Antonio was outstanding, causing havoc in the Saints defence with his aggressive running, pace and power. Haller responded magnificently, not only with a goal, but also with a genuine striker’s performance that was a constant threat of danger. One could argue that Haller should have been putting in the required effort previously, but it is easy to understand his frustration – who would pay top dollar for a striker and then refuse to give him any service? More is still needed, however, to compete against better sides than Southampton. Midfield runners need to get into more advanced positions, beyond the strikers, on occasion – only Pablo Fornals (who is showing definite signs of improvement) did so to any effect.  The changed formation meant Declan Rice playing a more subdued role than usual – good for defensive stability but a problem while he remains the only pace in midfield. Long balls for Antonio and Haller to chase are a useful option, but cannot become the only tactic.

Little In Reserve

You only need to take a look at Saturday’s bench to recognise how thin the squad depth is, and how no confidence is being shown in academy players – Roberto, Zabaleta, Masuaku, Diop, Sanchez, Yarmolenko, Ajeti – hardly the magnificent 7! Accepted that there have been injuries, but probably no worse this season than the average Premier League club. Allowing Obiang, Fernandes and Hernandez to leave without bring in replacements and failing to address the full-back issues were completely irresponsible by all concerned. A good match-day bench should be a mix of essential cover and players who are capable of changing the game. Even Southampton had better alternatives to call on from the dugout. Pellegrini’s use of substitutes was again eccentric. Andriy Yarmolenko’s defensive contribution has suicidal tendencies – even if replacing Snodgrass (knackered and in danger of a second yellow card) made sense. The introduction of Carlos Sanchez (for Haller) effectively handed all remaining initiative to Southampton. Still, all’s well that ends well, I suppose.

Schrödinger’s Penalty

We saw the worst of VAR in Saturday’s game. Not the technology, but the way the buffoons (lunatics and assylum spring to mind) have implemented it. Ostensibly introduced to eliminate refereeing mistakes, it’s primary use is to either apply rules (or interpretation of rules) that previously didn’t exist or to enforce offside to a spurious degree of accuracy . The handball rule used to disallow the Antonio goal is bizarre. How does an offence (unintentional handball) only apply when it occurs during an attack and where a goal is scored? When in all other circumstances it is waved on? What is the current rule on penalties? What happened to the crackdown on grappling at corners? When does contact become too much contact – went down too easy versus entitled to go down? It’s a mess. In Saturday’s penalty incident there were two blatant fouls for the price of one but both ignored by the referee – perhaps he was overwhelmed. If it happened too quickly for the referee to see, then it should have been apparent to the VAR. The ‘clear and obvious error’ defence is clear and obvious nonsense – it should be about consistency and accuracy, not about a referee losing face. It has been said that had Atkinson awarded the penalty then Moss would not have reversed that decision either -for the same clear and obvious reason. It was both a penalty and not a penalty at the same time.

Ratings: Martin (6), Fredericks (5), Balbuena (7), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (6), Rice (6), Noble (6), Snodgrass (6), Fornals (7), ANTONIO (12), Haller (8) Subs: Yarmolenko (5), Sanchez (5), Diop (5)  

Pellegrini Farewell Tour Goes South: Our Exit Poll Predicts No New Dates Planned

In the longest farewell tour since Elton John, Pellegrini takes his beleaguered Hammers to a seasonal six-pointer showdown at St Mary’s. Are we coming to the end of the line?

The Manuel Pellegrini Golden Bullet Farewell Tour heads to the south coast late on Saturday afternoon for the last of its currently schedule dates. We shouldn’t expect anything more than the same old tired performance; going through the motions with the usual absence of energy and lack of co-ordination. The tours co-promoters, G&S Self Promotions Inc, will reportedly decide, after the show, whether to add any further venues to the tour or finally call it a day.

Pellegrini is supposedly once more down to his final life – like some cornered avatar in a fantasy computer game. A West Ham win might earn him two more lives; a draw would mean not losing a life; while defeat and it is game over. As the sacking decision is now clearly only about money, any pretence of keeping faith with the manager to ‘turn things around’ has completely evaporated. West Ham occupying one of the relegation places at Christmas has now become almost guaranteed.

From the demeanour of manager and players, it has been obvious for at least a month that Pellegrini was a dead man walking. The problems run so deep that there was never any likelihood of a way back – the plug should have been pulled after the Burnley game.  To blunder along in the dark, week by week, hoping for a miracle has been beyond negligent.  Only time will tell whether the penny pinching, dithering Daves have allowed history to repeat itself and acted too late.

There continues to be much speculation in the media as to who the next manager might be. Despite everything, managing in the Premier League at West Ham will still be seen as an attractive job – with an attractive benefits package to go with it. Let’s face it, nearly all top flight manager appointments end up in ‘failure’ to some extent or the other – so who wouldn’t be prepared to give it a try.  It would be nice to think that our search would extended beyond the usual list of unimaginative hopefuls that always crops up when such a vacancy occurs. I cling to the hope that a younger manager with ideas that have been not been obsolete for the last decade could be in the frame. As it will be Sullivan who will be making the decision, though, I will not be holding my breath.

So, what about this weekend’s six pointer between a resurgent, high energy, cohesive Southampton side and a dispirited, bewildered, lethargic West Ham one? Which way could it possibly go? OK, so I was equally pessimistic before the Chelsea game and look what happened there. Maybe, the same lightning will strike again this time. We must pin our hopes on the possibility that Pellegrini has again left preparation for the match to one his coaches, rather than taking any part himself.

The main topic of team related discussion this week has been whether the Hammers will throw caution to the wind with a two man front-line. Such a change would entail Michail Antonio partnering Sebastien Haller with Felipe Anderson relegated to the bench. Sounds fine in theory, but difficult to see who would be loading the bullets if we have to rely on the combined sluggishness of Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals. I do understand the frustration that many supporters have with Anderson, but he remains the best (only) source of the unexpected. As with the Arsenal game, the fear is that once Antonio has run himself into the ground after an hour, there will be no meaningful threat left.

The best strategy may be one of containment with the hope of snatching a goal from a set piece or defensive mistake – in true Fat Sam style. Whether, it will work against Southampton, as it did against Chelsea, is the gamble. I sense that Danny Ings and Shane Long will create panic in the visitor’s defence while Nathan Redmond (who is usually mostly harmless) often looks a world beater against the Hammers.

The refereeing combo at St Mary’s consists of Martin Atkinson (whistle) and Jonathan Moss (remote control). Atkinson from West Yorkshire will be making his first appearance at either a West Ham or Southampton game this season.

As well as predicting a 2-1 Southampton victory, Lawro made an interesting comment about Pellegrini comparing him to an empty tube of toothpaste, from which the last squirt was being extracted.  At the time of writing, Charlie Nicholas has yet to reveal his selections – possibly out celebrating the expectation of a future independent Scotland. I will predict his prediction as a 3-1 home win.  Personally, I can see nothing other than more dark clouds for the Hammers this weekend; but with the silver lining of a change of manager on the horizon. At least that will offer a little hope until the name of his replacement is made known.

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.