Match Scene: West Ham v Bournemouth

The latest in the series of first ever games at the new stadium.

West Ham BournemouthSo after the actual opening game and the official opening game we are finally getting down to the real business of the opening league fixture at the new Stratford stadium.  In the process we will be setting a new club record home league attendance surpassing the 42,322 (including my teenage self) that were squeezed into Upton Park for the 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur in October 1970.

Today’s visitors may now have taken on our pre-state aid mantle of everyone’s second favourite team following their unlikely (usually termed as fairy-tale) rise from the lower reaches of the league pyramid to the very top table of English football.  A creditable mid-table finish last season did nothing to diminish the reputation of bobby-dazzling Bournemouth manager, Eddie Howe – only signing Jordan Ibe for £15 million has been able to do that.

“You can’t expect seven goals in any game nowadays but they happen, I expect us to be much more concentrated and much more solid than we were in that game.”

– Super Slav

Head to Head

There is only a 7 match history between the two teams.  The first meeting was a 5th round cup tie in 1929 against the then Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic was followed by a 60 year wait for re-match against an AFC Bournemouth side managed by Harry Redknapp.  Last season’s match at Upton Park was the first Hammer’s defeat in the series; the full record is shown below:

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 4 3 0 1 12 6 WWWL
Away 3 1 2 0 5 3 DDW
Total 7 4 2 1 17 9

Team News

Rumours circulating on the internet suggest that every West Ham outfield player, with the exception of Mark Noble, is unavailable through injury for this game.  Our usual inside Under The Hammers sources were too busy taking out the bins to either confirm or deny the reports which have, in any case, been made up in a poorly disguised attempt to get visitors to the site.

“The obvious threat is with Andy Carroll’s aerial ability and that is a threat we are going to have to try to counteract.  “He is slightly different and is quite unique in this day and age. If you go back 10 to 15 years, there were a lot of similar type strikers in a similar mould and, in the Premier League, the majority of those players have gone.”

– Eddie Howe

Longer term injuries continue to plague Ayew, Cresswell, Lanzini, Sakho and Feghouli and none will be available for consideration today.  Physio Room also shows Payet and Nordtvelt suffering from knocks but there is nothing on Kouyate who sat out the midweek match in Romania, again with an apparent knock.  More speculative chatter, which to be honest would be no big surprise, is that Andy Carroll is broken again – once again proving that he is ‘unplayable’.  I also came across comments by Slaven Bilic about not rushing Payet back to the action following his exertions at the Euros so maybe he is still a little tired, bless!

Former Hammer, Junior Stanislas, who has just signed a new 3 year deal with Bournemouth is absent from their squad (with a scary sounding inguinal hernia injury) but new signing Marc Wilson, formerly of Stoke City, may make a first start.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s potential short-sighted official is Craig Pawson from South Yorkshire.  Pawson, who as luck would have it is a Sheffield Wednesday supporter, took charge of the two exciting home draws against Manchester City and Arsenal last term.  You may remember it was Pawson who did the double dirty on Manuel Lanzini in the latter match by incorrectly disallowing a headed (what would have been opening) goal and then denying a blatant penalty following a foul challenge by Bellerin.  Suffice to say that Craig owes us one.

The Lawro Challenge Update 1

The first update to the season long challenge sees Lawro bring up the rear.

Lawro Crystal BallIt is just possible that maybe this predictions malarkey is not as easy as it might at first seem if the first week’s attempt is anything to go by.  Naturally, we both did better than the luckless Lawro but that really isn’t such a proud boast is it?  We have to believe that our indifferent performance was a down to an interrupted pre-season causing a lack of match fitness and that we will be far sharper in the coming weeks.

Below is the current state of play based on our own scoring system of 1 point for the correct result plus 2 bonus points for the correct score. As you can see we all got at least half the games completely wrong although Rich has managed to sneak into an early one point lead

  Lawro Geoff Rich Actual Lawro Geoff Rich
Hull v Leicester 0-2 1-2 1-2 2-1 0 0 0
Burnley v Swansea 1-1 2-1 1-1 0-1 0 0 0
Crystal Palace v West Brom 2-1 3-1 2-1 0-1 0 0 0
Everton v Tottenham 1-1 0-2 1-1 1-1 3 0 3
Middlesbrough v Stoke 1-0 1-1 0-0 1-1 0 3 1
Southampton v Watford 2-1 1-0 2-0 1-1 0 0 0
Man City v Sunderland 2-0 4-0 3-0 2-1 1 1 1
Bournemouth v Man Utd 0-2 1-3 0-2 1-3 1 3 1
Arsenal v Liverpool 1-1 2-2 1-1 3-4 0 0 0
Chelsea v West Ham 2-0 2-0 2-1 2-1 1 1 3
6 8 9

New TV scheduling means that the weekend starts here on a Friday evening this week with the Zlatan circus at Old Trafford and ends on Sunday with the Hammers hoping to find 11 fit players to put out against Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth.  Worryingly, all three of us are forecasting a home win to christen the league debut at the  Olympic/ Tesco/ London stadium.

    Lawro Rich Geoff
Friday 19th August Man Utd V Southampton  2-0 2-1 2-1
         
Saturday 20th August Stoke V Man City  1-2 0-1 0-2
  Burnley V Liverpool  0-2 1-3 1-1
  Swansea V Hull  2-1 2-0 0-0
  Tottenham V Crystal Palace  2-0 2-0 3-0
  Watford V Chelsea  0-2 1-2 1-1
  West Brom V Everton  1-1 1-1 0-1
  Leicester V Arsenal  1-1 2-2 1-3
         
Sunday 21st August Sunderland V Middlesbrough  1-1 1-1 1-0
  West Ham V Bournemouth  2-1 3-1 3-1

Setting The Scene: Away to Astra

The tension builds as West Ham seek to build a winning first-leg foundation.

Europa League AstraWest Ham have travelled to Romania for tonight’s Europa League qualifying play-off first leg tie against the Black Devils of FC Astra Giurgui (Kick Off 19:15 BST). It was Astra who ended the Hammer’s European dream last season with a 4-3 aggregate win in our only previous encounter with the current Romanian champions. Previous meetings with Romanian opposition in Europe competition (where we have yet to record an away victory) saw UEFA Cup elimination to Steaua Bucharest in 1999 and victory against Poli Timisoara in the 1980/81 Cup Winner’s Cup. Coincidentally, Astra recorded their first league win of the season last weekend against bottom side Poli Timisoara.

Until 2012 Astra Giurgiu were known as Astra Ploiesta until the club was moved 130km to the south by the current owner despite long running protests from Barry Hearn. This would be the equivalent of Reading moving to Southend and a far greater upheaval than our recent relocation from Upton Park to Stratford. The move heralded Astra’s first ever Romanian championship victory.

“We have a big job to do against the Romanian champions. I know there are many players from last year and a lot of international players. For me they played a good game against Copenhagen at home and I know how good the teams from Romania can be.”

– Super Slav

Despite the game sandwiched between our tame defeat at Chelsea and the opening home fixture with Bournemouth it is expected that the Hammers will field a strong side in order to secure Europa League group stage qualification. It seems that Ayew is now out for an extended period and joins Lanzini, Cresswell and Sakho on the recuperation ward. Under The Hammers sources (i.e. we read it on the internet) suggest that Payet and Nordvelt have not travelled with the squad but that new boy Callieri managed to grab a spare seat on the plane. Arthur Masuaku is not yet eligible but no news, as yet, on the whereabouts of Sofiane Feghouli.

How we line up will be awaited with interest particularly the thorny full-back situation with Byram being our only available specialist in that position. I searched to Google to see if there was any possible academy replacement but all I got was “Page Not Found” (or at least out on loan along with Hendrie). Involvement from at least one of the Reeces tonight would be very welcome along with a role for the unfortunate Antonio as a midfield attacking threat.

“The decisions were scandalous and disgraceful. The errors of Artur Dias did not happen due to dishonesty. He needs to leave refereeing or ask to be excused from our games.”

– Porto President Pinto da Costa on tonight’s referee.

The man in the middle tonight is Artur Dias of Portugal who was once described by Porto’s President as scandalous and disgraceful following his performance in a Benfica – Porto derby game. We managed to avoid a repeat of last year’s red-card-fest in the previous round so fingers crossed that discipline is maintained.

My prediction for what it is worth is that our Romanian duck will endure with a scoreless or low scoring draw.

5 West Ham Things from Week One

Looking back calmly now the dust has settled.

5 Things WHUThe growth of the angry fan-base continues unchecked.

West Ham have long been known as a loyal and passionate set of supporters. They travel home and away in their numbers, get behind the team, develop a long suffering gallows humour and recognise good performances by the opposition when they see it. More recently with growth of social media a far more fickle element have attached themselves to the club – and are happy to shout about it. Their resting start is angry and knee jerking and they seem to hate almost everything that happens at the club. Perhaps this is not the game or club for you.

Square Pegs do not fit into Round Holes.

For as long as I can remember West Ham managers have taken pleasure in playing players out of position. The logic seem to be that if one of my best 11 players got injured I will put the 12th best player in regardless of his skill set. It is the type of thing that we would do in our Sunday morning football teams where the worst players were put out of harms way at full back. It seems that the same can happen in the modern multi-million pound era. It may be that Slav does not rate Michail Antonio as a winger and so has bought 3 more players to play in his position. For me, Antonio’s raw energy, power and unpredictability make him a very difficult attacking opponent – like Carlton Cole but with pace, mobility and goal scoring ability. He is no full-back though. Nearly all the supporters can see this.

The referees still have it in for us.

It is well documented how many points we were denied last year by incorrect decisions by the men in black/ blue/ yellow or whatever they are wearing this season. Step forward Anthony Taylor who saw fit to give Adrian a straight red against Leicester last year for accidentally kicking Vardy. On this occasion he allowed the eventual match-winner, well known thug Diego Costa, to go completely unpunished after raking his studs down our keeper’s shin. Now maybe (just maybe) it was not intentional but a high proportion of fouls are like that. It was late, mistimed and rash. Had Costa not already been booked he would most certainly have received (at least) a yellow. The referee absolutely bottled it. No doubt. I see that Chelsea manager, Conte, had a touch of the Wengers and didn’t see the incident but somehow concluded that Taylor had been right in taking no action.

Our forward players do not suit the style we tried to play.

Before the game Slav had talked of Plan A and Plan B for the game. Plan A was almost certainly a reprise of the games at Arsenal and Manchester City last year. This relied on containment and hitting the opposition on the break. The containment part probably worked quite well aside from individual mistakes leading to the two goals. However, we did not have the personnel on the pitch for the quick counter. If you are going to successfully utilise Andy Carroll you have to play his strength which is crosses into the box – a set piece ploy rather than the break where you are relying on mobility and pace. Although Valencia tries his best his close control is too weak to be effective in the English game. The inability to freshen up our attacking options (so far) is our Achilles heel (or is it Andy’s heel).

Beware the injury curse has moved with us.

Ever since Arnold Hills refused to buy lucky heather from the wife of a Millwall docker in the early 1900s West Ham have lived in the shadow of an injury curse. Often new signings are injured in pre-season never to re-appear so at least Andre Ayew went one better in lasting 34 minutes before going lame. Optimistic reports are that the injury will not keep him out too long and that he may even return for the Bournemouth game. I hope the club are acting on our dire injury situation and have made sure that there are sufficient beds in the new treatment room at Rush Green.

5 Things We Learned From Matchweek 1

The topics and talking points that created an impression this week.

Five Things EPLThe Fixtures Computer can still produce underwhelming results.

With all the money, glamour and razzmatazz that surrounds the newly re-branded Premier League, the fixtures computer still managed to contrive a good few uninspiring pairings for the opening day; particularly for the Saturday afternoon slot whose temptation included Middlesboro v Stoke, Burnley v Swansea and Palace v Albion. Only the die-hard neutral could take any interest in what is quite typical Saturday 3pm fare in the TV era. In the end I settled for the lesser of many evils and watched Everton against Spurs in the hope of an Everton rout. In the event of Europa League group stage qualification, Saturday games will be a stranger to West Ham this season and it’s going to be a toss up between watching the games or going on a paint drying course.

Mistakes by the ‘Elite’ Referees continue to influence the outcome of games.

It didn’t take long for Mike Dean to clock up the first big refereeing mistake of the season when he awarded Leicester a penalty an the chance to draw level in the early kick off at Hull. With Hull holding a slender half time lead Tom Huddlestone tackled Demarai Gray just outside the area and Dean inexplicably awarded a penalty – video referee anyone? Leicester appeared to get the ‘rub of green’ last season from officials and maybe they are benefiting from big club favouritism. I also noticed a couple of blatant dives by Manchester United players that went unpunished at the weekend – and no, Jim Beglin, expected that you might be tackled does not justify diving to the ground. And then of course there was Diego Costa…..

TV commentators still mainly talk “b*ll*cks”.

I don’t know what I was hoping for. Possibly that they had a commentators team building offsite during the close season and decided that their “mission statement” wasn’t to hear the sound of their own voice. A return to Kenneth Wolstenholme’s laconic and frugal commentary style and ditching the co-commentator would suit me just fine. We are there to watch the game in front of us not to be impressed by your knowledge of statistics or where players went for their holidays. Today’s commentary team seem to select a theme or their potential man of the match ‘early doors’ and no amount of contradictory evidence is ever going to change their minds.

We are going to have to endure a season long Zlatan-mania.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had a great career, is a personality and a wonderful entertainer. Whether he can contribute during a full Premier League season (do United have to play away at Stoke on a wet Tuesday night in February?) remains to be seen. He seems like a Meadowlark Lemon/ Harlem Globetrotter type of signing to me; more about image and marketing than on-field ability. Nevertheless he featured in the Sunday game at Bournemouth where he produced one flick-on for Rooney before unleashing a mishit goal scoring shot which was subsequently converted into a ‘wonder strike’ by the close-to-orgasm commentary team. If Zlatan lasts the pace we could get mightily annoyed by the hype.

Does Eric Lamela wear eye make-up on the pitch?

Eric Lamela is a much more expensive version of our own “jewel” Manuel Lanzini. Lamela was purchased at huge expense at a time when the cash from Gareth Bale’s transfer was blocking the corridor outside Daniel Levy’s office at White Hart Lane. After a couple of indifferent seasons Lamela is look to be worth at least half his transfer fee and at the weekend popped up with a headed equaliser at Everton. The big question for me was that it looked like he had applied new-romantic style eye liner before the match. I know that modern day footballers can be rather effete compared to their predecessors but there is a line surely; the rot set in when Keith Weller pulled on a pair of white tights.

And So It Begins…..

Pre-match tension builds for West Ham’s season curtain raiser.

Away at ChelseaExcitement and anticipation have been left simmering away that little bit longer for us this season as we feature in the last of the opening weekend fixtures away at Stamford Bridge.

With squads going through major Dr Who style re-generation every year it is difficult to know what your team (and the opposition) will look like as the real business of the day gets going.

According to the Whoscored analysis of our style of play from 2015/16 we are very strong at free kicks, set pieces and coming from behind; strong at creating chances, finishing, working long shot opportunities and aerial duels; but weak at defending against long shots, defending against skillful players and individual errors.  Our stats show lots of crosses, lots of shots,  and tendency to attack through the middle and be the victims of aggressive opponents (the 3rd most fouled team last season).  How will adding a handful of extra wingers to the squad affect this I wonder?

“The match will be very tough. We face a strong team. They have a good manager, a squad with physical, fast, talented players.”

– This Year’s Chelsea Manager

Chelsea who have a new manager and have added a few more £30 million pound players to their squad in Batshuayi and Kante will be looking for an improvement over last year’s effort free from any midweek European distraction.  Let’s hope they do no hit the ground running.

Head to Head History

Our record against Chelsea is reasonably even-stevens with Chelsea recording just one more victory than ourselves.  Given that we have won only 2 out of 21 since the asylum seeking roubles washed up in west London it is clear that historically we have held the upper hand.

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 48 25 9 14 85 65 DLWLLW
Away 49 12 13 24 64 88 LLLDLD
Total 97 37 22 38 149 153

After having been cheated out of victory at the Bridge last March we have to look back to September 2002 for our last success at their quaint, little stadium; a victory masterminded by G Roeder Esq and executed by P Di Canio.

Team News

It is difficult to speculate how we might line-up for this game.  There is speculation that neither Payet nor Masuaku are match fit and may only be on the bench.  The PhysioRoom website is still showing 9 players sidelined for us; in addition to the longer term absences of Cresswell, Lanzini, Tore and Sakho they also list Kouyate and Obiang as potential absentees.  It will be a big loss if Kouyate is not fit in my opinion and the combination of Antonio and Byram as right and left backs respectively is not filling me with confidence.

“Antonio Conte is a great manager and wants to change the way they approach the game and the principles. I rate him very highly. I am sure he will do a good job there. But we beat the big teams away last season and it was a good experience for us.  We will see how we are going to start on Monday night. We have Plan A and Plan B.”

– Super Slav

Chelsea report injuries to Terry and Zouma.  Surprisingly, Terry has a head injury as you might think there is nothing up there to damage.

Tonight’s Referee

Tonight’s referee is Anthony Taylor from Greater Manchester.  Taylor officiated 4 West Ham matches last term resulting in defeats to Leicester [H] (where he sent off Adrian) and Watford [A] and victories against Newcastle [H] and Everton [A].

Let The Games Begin

A run through the West Ham squad for the upcoming season.

FormationNot long to wait now until we discover if there is going to be any significant change to shape or to the way that the team is set-up following the assorted arrivals at West Ham during the close season. With all the wingers we now have at the club maybe a revolutionary new formation is soon to be revealed.  The approach of getting the ball forward quickly to wide positions has been a feature of the Croatian national team for some years.

Looking through the players that will potentially feature most regularly in Premier League games we look in decent overall shape albeit a little short of cover in some areas given that there may also be the Europa League to contend with.

Goalkeepers: Adrian, Randolph

Our keeper position is good enough if not outstanding. Adrian is a likeable fellow and a very competent all-round keeper aside from the odd ricket (© H Redknapp) and an over-confidence in his dribbling skills. Randolph is capable backup and good to see that he signed a new contract recently. He is an excellent shot-stopper but does not command the area sufficiently well to be a number 1 at this level.

Defenders: Reid, Cresswell, Collins, Ogbonna, Byram, Masuaku (Burke, Oxford)

With James Tomkins leaving for Crystal Palace where he be able to fully develop his beard potential it looks like a few games for Burke and/ or Oxford this season during the inevitable injuries and suspensions to the regualr centre-backs. Some interesting comments made on the difficulties of blooding youngsters in the Premier League by Slaven Bilic, in the Daily Mail interview with Martin Samuel, and mistakes don’t get punished as cruelly as they do as last defender.

Following Aaron Cresswell’s injury we look light at full back even with the arrival of Arthur Masuako. There are two schools of thought regarding the suitability of Antonio as a right back; there are those that think square peg in a round hole and there is Slaven Bilic. Maybe Slav sees a net benefit from his attacking abilities and, at the moment, we owe him our trust.

Midfielders: Nordtvelt, Feghouli, Kouyate, Lanzini, Obiang, Noble, Tore, Payet, Antonio (Quina)

Many of us may have thought that midfield was the one area where there was already an abundance of talent whereas it has seen the most reinforcements (particularly if you consider Ayew as a midfielder rather than a striker). I certainly understand the signing of Havard Nordtvelt as none of the current crop are truly from the defensive midfielder mould (although I don’t think we saw enough of Pedro Obiang to reach a conclusion).

Assuming Payet remains first on the team-sheet and Noble retains his place as local boy, Englishman and skipper then it leaves some very good players vying for a couple of starting berths. Admittedly our injury curse will no doubt ensure that at least 2 or 3 are in the treatment room at any point in time – someone will need to keep Gokhan Tore company).

Domingos Quina seems to be a young player who could be on the fringes of the first team if pre-season appearances are anything to go by.  Or he could be this year’s Reece Oxford and play in the first game and then disappear.

Strikers: Carroll, Valencia, Ayew, Fletcher, Callieri (Sakho)

West Ham were joint 4th highest goal scorers in the Premier League last year but many will agree that it is the strike-force where we are most exposed. We appear to specialise in the 20 injuries a season striker which affects both body and mind – How do you solve a problem like Diafra?

I am looking forward to seeing Andre Ayew in the claret and blue and have high hopes for Ashley Fletcher but know nothing about Jonathon Callieri – except that he is allegedly owned by the Uruguayan equivalent of a Payday Loans company. Not sure there is a Golden Boot (or bonce) candidate in that lot anywhere but collectively they should be able to keep the goal tally ticking over nicely (although one more striker would not be frowned at, Davids.)