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.)

Our Challenge Lawro-athon

Our own season long Lawro challenge. Who will win?

The Thatched Haired LawroWe all know that Lawro is a thatch headed, know nothing West Ham hating Muppet who couldn’t predict the sequence at a set of traffic lights, right?  After all based on his predicted results last season we would have finished in 17th place having avoided relegation by just a single point.
Well time for us to put our money where our mouths are as we kick-off our season long Lawro challenge.  Every week we will go head-to-head with the much maligned pundit in the field of guesswork to see if we know better than him.  Our own scoring system will be one point for getting the correct result and three points for getting the correct score and result.
Predictions for the opening weekend are below and there is in not much optimism as far as the Hammers are concerned with none of us expecting Stamford Bridge to fall down on Monday night.  Personally, I would be more than happy to be wrong here but in such situations my “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” philosophy tends to take precedence.

 

Lawro

Geoff

Rich

Hull v Leicester

0-2

1-2

1-2

Burnley v Swansea

1-1

2-1

1-1

Crystal Palace v West Brom

2-1

3-1

2-1

Everton v Tottenham

1-1

0-2

1-1

Middlesbrough v Stoke

1-0

1-1

0-0

Southampton v Watford

2-1

1-0

2-0

Man City v Sunderland

2-0

4-0

3-0

Bournemouth v Man Utd

0-2

1-3

0-2

Arsenal v Liverpool

1-1

2-2

1-1

Chelsea v West Ham

2-0

2-0

2-1

5 Amusing Things About The Transfer Window

The Transfer Window is a time of speculation, exaggeration and outright invention.

1   The Majority of Transfer Speculation Stories are Most Likely Made Up

Transfer WindowFor the ever growing number of football news websites and blogs all looking for content that will attract traffic to their site there is nothing like a good transfer story.  A daily dose foretelling the latest exotic recruit linked to your club keeps many fans at fever pitch for the entire window – even if the original story was a figment of an over-active imagination.  Someone, somewhere will post a rumour which is copied, shared and tweeted and like all lies when repeated often enough becomes a fact.  Or maybe the original source is an agent attempting to stump up some interest in his want-away client.  In the spirit of the game I have invented my own statistic that 80% of all rumours are fabricated.

2   The Tricks and Traps of the Vague Story Title

Even when you have copied someone elses rumour it is no use being obvious that the story is the same as a dozen or so others already on the news feed.  The title of the post needs to be vague and cryptic enough to seduce the reader to click on through.  The day after West Ham had signed Arthur Masuaku from Olympiakos I saw a headline on Newsnow that read something like “Done Deal:  Second Defender Deal Completed in Two Days”.  Excited that it was a shiny new Right Back to complete a matching pair I was deflated to discover that the story was about an academy graduate agreeing to go out on loan.  Genius and it completely fooled me.

3   The Level of Supporter Outrage That Even a Made Up Story Can Generate

Whenever a transfer story appears there is always an army of angry supporters ready and able to argue about it regardless of how unlikely the whole thing is likely to be.  There will be the guy that hates the board and will repeatedly accuses them of penny-pinching/ misleading/ talking to media too much/ not giving supporters enough information; another who is adamant that we are paying well over the odds for every player linked (as if the transfer fee was coming out of his own pocket); and the bloke that doesn’t like or want us to do business with certain other clubs.  While opinions on players are perfectly valid (would anyone, for example, really want us to buy Benteke?) it hardly seems worth getting worked up about spurious speculation.

4   It Has a Vocabulary All of It’s Own

From the Manager dipping in to his “war chest” to “swoop” for the “want away” player that has “issued a come and get me plea” to the club that have “slapped a 50 million valuation” on their star player while”preparing a bid” for someone else’s in order to “test their resolve” the transfer window has a jargon rarely experienced anywhere else.  Sky Sports understands that this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

5   No Matter How Long the Window There Is Always a Last Minute Scramble

The transfer window is open for two months in the summer and another month in the winter.  One assumes that clubs are allowed to draw up their shopping lists well in advance of the window opening and so can clearly can hit the ground running.  In fact, West Ham always seem to complete some encouraging early business but then lose momentum.  As the days pass there is growing tension and panic leading up to deadline day where a high proportion of the workforce stop work to follow supposed sightings of players at airports, hotels and training grounds.  We are told not to go to bed else something that we have some control over happens before the morning when that window will have slammed shut.  There could be a good case for having the winter window open for one day only.

Another season, another reason, for makin’ whoopee?

Top 4, second season Slav syndrome or more of the same?

At the start of last season I was warned to be careful what I wished for and would happily have settled for a more entertaining brand of football while consolidating our place in the Premier League with another mid table finish.

Looking back objectively on the season only the most difficult to please supporter would dispute the view that the on-field achievement outperformed all expectations. A collection of inspired transfers and a more expansive style resulted in a creditable 7th place finish that included notable victories over Arsenal, both Manchester clubs, Chelsea and a double over Liverpool that finally ended the 50 year hoodoo at Anfield.

The flip side of taking welcome points from teams that we had traditionally rolled over to were the tame defeats to Bournemouth and Newcastle and dropped points against Villa, Norwich, Stoke and the Baggies. Had we beaten the teams we might be expected to beat then it was maybe the golden opportunity to secure the holy grail of a top 4 finish.

Now it is one year later and we begin the new season with relatively short odds for a top 6 finish and well off the radar as relegation candidates. As a long time hope-for-the-best, expect-the-worst type of supporter I wonder whether this optimism is justified considering how much cash is being flashed by all and sundry during the transfer window.

Tottenham Transfer Shopping
Tottenham Transfer Shopping

The 2016/17 season has new brooms at both Manchester clubs and Chelsea while Klopp begins to sweep away all of Brendan’s dead wood at Liverpool. Each of these clubs have been spending big as manager’s frantically attempt to build squads in their own image and will likely continue to do so until the window (slams) shut. In North London, Levy’s usual haphazard approach to transfers with all the discernment of a finalist is a Supermarket Sweep competition is now tempered by a competent manager advising him to steer clear of anything past its best before date. Over at Arsenal there is even the possibility of the Gunners making a late appearance at the transfer party as soon as Wenger remembers where he left his ATM card.

We look to have made some shrewd additions to the squad but I don’t believe we have adequately resolved the full back and striker situation. This will be a tough second season for Slaven Bilic as far as Premier League position is concerned especially with the prospect of Europa League to contend with. My heart wants glory but my head sees a repeat of last year’s seventh place at best. Here are my full selected standings.

1 Man City
2 Man Utd
3 Tottenham
4 Liverpool
5 Arsenal
6 Chelsea
7 West Ham
8 Leicester
9 Everton
10 Crystal Palace
11 Stoke
12 Southampton
13 West Brom
14 Bournemouth
15 Sunderland
16 Middlesbrough
17 Swansea
18 Watford
19 Burnley
20 Hull