5 Things From the Latest Premier League Weekend

Now that the dust has settled a chance to rake over the embers of Matchweek 4.

Five Things EPLMeet The New Boss……

The build up to the weekend games was dominated by the Manchester derby and in particular the clash of the titan managers, Mourinho and Guardiola. One of the changes in the modern TV version of football is that all managers are celebrities; not just those who have something interesting to say or are otherwise entertaining such as a Clough or Shankly. The outcome of the match made it 8-3 to Pep in the head to head with Jose which makes it fairly conclusive that Pep is the main man. We can put this one to bed now I think. As usual Mourinho blamed the match officials for the defeat but they were second best in what was an exciting yet error prone contest; where spirit and determination dominated rather than the quality of the football – not one for the purists you might say. I’ve not yet heard Guardiola interviewed but his impression of Marcel Marceau on fast-forward on the touchline does provide added amusement.

Both Manchester clubs will likely be in at the death when the Premier League is decided next May. The amount of money spent on player recruitment will determine that, never mind the respective managerial competences. Manager of the season so far, for me, has to be Ronald Koeman at Everton; not only a great start for the Toffees but also for taking Enner Valencia off our hands.

Money’s Too Plentiful to Mention

It was revealed this week that Manchester United became the first UK side to earn more than £500 million in revenues in a single year. As with most Premier League teams an ever increasing proportion of revenue comes from TV and commercial operation rather than from matchday income. If in the future the crowd effect can be virtually added by CGI there may be no need for troublesome supporters in the stadium at all. It was estimated that the transfer fee cost of the starting 22 in the Manchester derby was somewhere in the region of £700 million. Big clubs with big managers tend to sign players with big reputations. It is surprising how little you might end up getting for your money if the performances of Pogba and Bravo are anything to go by. Interesting that despite all the spending City do not have a reliable backup to Aguero; Iheanacho may have potential but the remarkably one-footed Nolito doesn’t look a viable replacement. Kevin de Bruyne is a fine player and probably justifies his fee but I am still to be convinced that either Sterling or Stones are the best use of (getting on for) £50 million each – with almost the same again spent on a taller version of Sterling in Leroy Sane. Value is largely subjective but if there was any purpose in Fair Play Rules they would legislate against the indiscriminate spending of the likes of City and Chelsea.

Going off at even more of a tangent into the Championship, I was surprised to note that of the 27 players featured in the encounter between former European champions Villa and Forest only 9 were English.

Strikers, Goals and Movement

It is most unusual to see a West Ham player at the top of the goalscoring charts but Michail Antonio is currently up there along with Costa and Ibrahimovic. Maybe we will get someone into double figures this season. Off the mark this week were Lukaku and Kane and I would expect both to continue rattling them in during the remainder of the season. Many of the goals at the weekend were the result of quick, incisive passing and movement often on the counter attack. The type of goals we scored in the smash and grab away victories at Anfield and the Etihad but which have been rare ever since. Quite a few teams have adopted the pressing and quick break strategy with the notable exceptions of Arsenal and City who still tend towards the tippy-tappy. Our own current Plan A is something of a hybrid involving ponderous sideways passes (also known as fannying about) with the ball eventually played out to one of many wide-men who then attempt to put in a cross; Plan B is to try to win a free kick in a dangerous position.

There were two flying overhead kicks at the weekend by Koscielny of Arsenal and dirty Diego of Chelsea. Both looked spectacular and helped towards earning points for their respective clubs but both also raise the question of where the line is drawn for dangerous play. Had they happened elsewhere on the pitch I wonder what the decision would have been?

The Case for the Defence

There was a fair share of comedy (or was it schoolboy) defending this weekend. There were individual errors and there was collective incompetence. Top prize for individual error went to Lucas of Liverpool but fortunately for him it did affect the final outcome of the game. There was some complicity from Mingolet who should never have given him the ball in the first place. Players (playing for the more sophisticated coaches) may be under instructions not to welly it upfield but abdicating the responsibility to a teammate is not really any better. Claudio Bravo was not content with his initial flapping at a cross clanger and tried to go one better by embarking on several suicidal dribbles. The award for collective incompetence was hotly contested and in the final analysis Sunderland just pip West Ham for the honour. The West Ham defence at least put up a token resistance to opposition attacks whereas Sunderland just seemed to want to keep out of Lukaku’s way. Honourable mention as well to Stoke who conceded four at home for a second match running. A poor result for them but their defence was more undone by opposition cunning rather than them being absent without leave.

Bad Decisions Make Great Stories

A week in Premier League football would not be complete without referee inconsistency or downright bewilderment. Arsenal’s fortunate last minute penalty was a case in point with the referee making a (Freeman’s sized) catalogue of errors. First he failed to spot a clear foul on a Southampton player which gave Arsenal possession; then he didn’t stop the game despite there being an Arsenal player lying prone with a head injury in the middle of the goal; said prone player then prevented the Southampton keeper getting to the cross; and finally he penalised the Southamton defender in what was as clear a case of ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’ as I have ever seen. Such events can kick-start a season. Elsewhere it appeared that ‘top whistle-blower’ Mark Clattenburg had decided that the new dissent clampdown didn’t apply to Wayne Rooney – on any of a number of occasions during the course of the match. Chelsea were, for once, on the wrong end of a refereeing blunder with Cahill clearly fouled by Leroy Fer before he scored Swansea’s second; this can, however, be put down as justifiable karma!

This Week in Hammer’s History

A look back at the week 12 – 18 September in Hammer’s History.

This Week Hammers HistoryToday we dust off the covers of the Under The Hammers almanac and take a sneaky look at the week 12 to 18 September in the Hammer’s history.

If in 1964 you were lucky enough to own a 625 line UHF TV then you may have been one of the 20,000 viewers who tuned in to the new BBC2 football highlights programme, Match of the Day. Week 4 of the show on 12 September 1964 featured the game at Upton Park between West Ham and Tottenham which was hailed by presenter Kenneth Wolstenholme and summariser Wally Barnes as the most exciting game shown to date. A Johnny Byrne hat-trick (he also had a penalty saved) saw the Hammers secure a 3-2 victory with Jimmy Greaves netting two for the opposition.

A video of the second half can be seen below. West Ham were leading 1-0 at the break.

Also on 12 September, but over 40 years later in 2005, there was another hat-trick this time for Marlon Harewood as newly promoted West Ham demolished Aston Villa 4-0 in a Yossi Benayoun inspired display in the Monday night match.

Another game that caught my eye was a 3-3 draw with Leicester on 13 September 1975 where, and I hope I am remembering this correctly, we came back from 3-0 down to earn a draw and maintain an unbeaten start to the season. We ended the day in second spot in the old First Division. We were also top of the league in November but ended the season in 18th position.

September also sees the early rounds of the League Cup and a fair share of those potential banana skins. You might think that beating a lower league side over two legs would not be a problem yet we still managed to get knocked out by Northampton Town in 1998 losing the away leg 2-0 on 15 September. A year earlier we had also lost an away leg to Huddersfield but managed to turn that one around in the return game.

This week’s featured game is the European Cup Winner’s Cup First Round First Leg away to Castilla (aka Real Madrid Reserves) at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on 17 September 1980. The match is mainly remembered for the crowd trouble inside the stadium with over 50 travelling supporters being evicted from the ground by Spanish police and one fan dying after being hit by a bus outside the ground. There were also counter claims of extreme provocation.

The aftermath saw the crowd scenes described as a 哲ight of Shame・and led to UEFA investigation and predictions that West Ham would be thrown out of the competition. As it tuned out UEFA originally ruled that the return leg would have to played at least 300 km from Upton Park but on appeal revised the decision to have the game played behind closed doors at the Boleyn.

For the game itself, David Cross headed home a Brooking cross to put West Ham a goal up in a game that they were largely controlling. However, Castilla pulled a goal back in the 64th minute and then scored two more before the end to run out 3-1 victors. Prior to this game West Ham had gone six matches without conceding a goal and so it was very disappointing that the last two goals were both the result of poor back passes.

Parkes, Stewart, Lampard, Bonds, Martin, Devonshire (Brush), Morgan (Barnes), Goddard, Cross, Brooking, Pike

Notable Hammer Birthdays this week:

13 September:   Pat Holland (66)
16 September:   Sam Byram (23)
17 September:   Billy Bonds (70)
18 September:   Brian Dear (73)

5 Things We Learned From The Watford Defeat

A frustrating day as we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

5 Things WHUEarly Days & Late Fitness

These days any anger at a poor West Ham performance is fleeting; disappointment lingers a little longer whereas the glow of rip-roaring victory can keep me sustained through to the following Thursday. So far, this year it has been mainly disappointment (except on Twitter which has seen blistering rage) but we must remember that the season is young and that quirky results can occur all over the place at this stage. That is not to say there are not problems to address and weaknesses to resolve. Of these problems the most basic appears to be an issue with fitness levels. While some of the deficiencies could be put down to players coming back from injury (and the Euros) this obscures what appears to be an otherwise poor preparation for the new season; the pointless visit to North America and the halfhearted approach to the Europa League which certainly hasn’t seen us hit the ground running. In each of our league games this season we have been second best in terms of fitness and it is difficult to understand how there can be any excuse for this.

We have Improved the Squad but not the Team

There were plenty of arrivals at West Ham during the transfer window with only one senior first team player leaving in the shape of James Tomkins. Yesterday’s starting eleven only included two of the new boys (I am excluding Lanzini who is technically a new signing). Of the two, one (Masuaku) probably wouldn’t have been playing (or even at the club) had there not been the injury to Aaron Cresswell. Last season our problem was conceding goals rather than scoring them (which we did well enough provided that Payet was playing). The defensive side of the squad has not been improved and this includes introducing an effective defensive midfielder which I believe has been a significant gap in the squad fro some time. As we saw against Watford we are vulnerable when players run from midfield areas at us. I guess that is why Havard Nordtveit was signed and, on paper, an experienced international and Bundesliga player should be the perfect fit. So far though he has not impressed. The other assorted new midfield players don’t look to be a significant upgrade (or any upgrade at all) on what we already had. It would be foolish to write anyone off after a few games but some rapid improvement would be very welcome. For now, it seems like we have a deeper (rather than better) squad; ironically capable of coping with a competition that we have already been eliminated from.

Mark Noble, The Elephant in the Room

Wholehearted and committed players, especially if the are local, are very likely to become fans favourites at West Ham. It is part of the family/ community feel that, even now, surrounds the club. For many of us, there are far too few home grown players in and and around the first team. This is where the dilemma of “what do we want from our club?” comes in. Is it success or sentiment? Mark Noble ticks all the boxes for the romantic; from Canning Town and West Ham through and through. He has been a great servant (albeit a well payed one) to the club but I see him in the Steve Potts envelope rather than the Trevor Brooking or Billy Bonds one. His commitment is not matched by the necessary speed of thought or movement to be a regular at the heart of a team with ambitions of top 6 and beyond. I can understand why people love him but don’t believe he offers enough guile at the highest level particularly when his form drops as it has now. I see James Collins in a similar vein. If you want someone battling every aerial challenge and throwing his body in the way as a last gasp attempt to stop a goal bound shot then Ginge is your man. But, he makes too many mistakes, is vulnerable to runners and has terrible distribution. Angelo Ogbonna is streets ahead in terms of quality and would have been mightily upset at being overlooked for Ginge.

Dimitri Payet, I think we do understand…

For a long period during the 1970’s West Ham relied almost entirely on Trevor Brooking for any attacking endeavour. It was stop Brooking and you stopped West Ham; until Alan Devonshire came along. Now there is an over reliance on Dimitri Payet. He is a tremendous player and, of course, any team would miss him but we cannot expect him to carry the rest of the team through the season. Contributing tow assists for the goals against Watford, including the superb Rabona, he had a lively start but as he tired then so the attacking threat faded. The defensive implosion rightly grabbed the headlines but we need to be asking more questions in attack than leaving it all to Dimitri. We have an abundance of midfield parts and the coaching staff need to find a way of assembling them in a way that creates a beautiful, practical and efficient unit. Our inability to see off the teams we should beat will be a major problem if we are unlikely to repeat the heroics (and points haul) from the better teams.

Getting the first defeat out the way

A lot of teams would be thinking of coming to the London Stadium and being the first away team to win there in the league. Just like we remember being the last team to win at Highbury and the first to win at The Emirates. Well now that we have got that that defeat out the way early we can now set off on a barnstorming run of invincibility. So there!

Matchday: West Ham v Watford

What can we expect as the Hammers take on the Hornets with a returning Dimitri Payet.

West Ham WatfordThe early season international break, transfer dealings extending past the early games and players returning late due to the Euros and injuries give today’s game the feel of another new beginning;  not just for West Ham but also for other clubs including today’s visitors, Watford.

Going in to our game against the Hornets last April there was a lot of publicity about how few penalties had been awarded to West Ham compared with other teams at the top end of the table.  Watford, with Premier League safety assured, fielded a weakened side due to their approaching FA Cup semi-final appearance with Crystal Palace.  Anti-grappling referee, Mike Dean, duly obliged the critics by awarding the Hammers two penalties; both ably converted by Mark Noble in a largely comfortable 3-1 victory.  A late Deeney penalty for Watford was saved by Adrian.

“With the injuries it was tough. Now hopefully a few of them are back. It’s not a new start for us but with the players who are back I am very optimistic.”

– Slaven Bilic

For Watford, defying the pundits to secure a second season in the Premier League while reaching a cup semi-final was not enough for the difficult to please owners who replaced Spanish (Hugh Laurie lookalike) manager Quique Flores in the summer by itinerant Italian coach Walter Mazzarri.  Mazzarri has since embarked on a thorough overhaul of his squad which has seen them pick up just a single point so far this season.

Head to Head

West Ham have won 23 of 37 League and Cup encounters with Watford since the first senior meeting in 1978.  At Home, the Hammers have won 13 out of 18 losing just 3 times, 2 of which a month apart in early 2007 under Alan Curbishley.  The full record is:

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 18 13 2 3 19 16 WWLLDW
Away 19 10 4 5 25 22 DWDLWL
37 23 6 8 44 38

Team News

According to Physio Room the injury list is at an all time low with just Carroll (due back 17 Sep), Ayew (Nov 27), Cresswell (Nov 26) and Sakho (Oct 1) still unavailable.  All the signs are that Dimitri Payet will make his first start of the season and that we will see the striking debut of Simone Zaza up front.  It will be interesting to see how the remainder of the midfield is set up and whether Manuel Lanzini also gets a start or whether Havard Nordtveit returns as a more defensive option despite failing to impress so far.  I suspect Lanzini will be on the bench, along with Sofiane Feghouli, for this one.

“We can say that from this week the job that I perform can be judged. I like to work with a group that I choose myself, and I’m very happy with this one.”

– Walter Mazzarri

Slaven Bilic may also prefer to bring in Alvaro Arbeloa (assuming he is deemed to be match fit) at right back but personally I believe Sam Byram has done enough to keep his place and would be unlucky to miss out.

Watford have no injury problems.  Much of last season’s heroics were founded on the goals of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney but neither have scored this term (yet!).  Deeney is a fine professional but looked off the pace when I watched Watford lose to Arsenal recently.  The Hornets certainly improved after the break in that game after the introduction of new signings Isaac Success (great name) and Roberto Pereyra, both of whom looked to carry a threat.  On the other hand; Kaboul is always worth a goal to the opposition; former Hammer Behrami good for a yellow card and defenders Cathcart and Britos sound like they belong in old TV sitcoms.

Here is my predicted line up in a 2-1 victory:

Team v Watford

Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire.  Atkinson officiated 3 West Ham games last season; away victories at Arsenal and Bournemouth and the home draw with West Bromwich Albion.  Atkinson is known for his reluctance to brandish red cards and award penalties.

The Lawro Challenge: Week 4

Where we attempt to show Lawro how predictions should really be done.

Lawro Crystal BallI am currently living in Asia and, at just a shade under 6 foot, happen to be rather taller than most of the local population.  This is just as well, for at the moment, I am unable to look anybody straight in the eye.  The reason for this discomfort is that it seems I am worse at predicting the results of Premier League matches than even Lawro.

However, fresh from warm weather training during the international break I am determined to claw back some of the disadvantage between myself and the early pacemakers.  This week’s naval-gazings are shown below and see Lawro depart from his usual cautious tradition by actually predicting a team to score more than two goals.  In the circumstances, I am quietly confident that my redoubled efforts will see me far better placed following this current round of matches.

   Rich    Geoff    Lawro
Cumulative Points     28     22     26
Saturday
Man United v Man City     1-1     1-0     1-0
Arsenal v Southampton     2-1     2-0     3-0
Bournemouth v WBA     1-0     1-1     1-1
Burnley v Hull     2-2     1-0     2-1
Middlesbro v Palace     2-1     2-2     0-2
Stoke v Tottenham     1-1     1-2     1-1
West Ham v Watford     3-1     2-1     2-0
Liverpool v Leicester     2-1     1-1     2-1
Sunday
Swansea v Chelsea     1-2     0-2     0-2
Sunderland v Everton     1-1     1-2     1-1

* Our scoring system is one point for a correct results plus two bonus points for the correct score.

More Damned Statistics

Studies have shown that accurate numbers aren’t any more useful that the ones you make up!

stats

For a while as a young boy I collected London bus numbers; not route numbers but the fleet number that was painted next to the driver’s cab. It was the budget version of train spotting because you didn’t need to buy a platform ticket. I would carefully write the numbers down in a small notebook but I didn’t stick at it very long before realising the whole exercise was a complete waste of time.

Nowadays any millennial geek fascinated by collecting and recording pointless information can ‘monetise’ their proclivity through gainful employment with an organisation such as Opta, the sport’s data specialists. Football, like most sports, is now awash with data that provides a minute by minute analysis of every action and incident so that at any time we can know how far Mark Noble has run today. My assertion, however, is that while the resulting statistics might be interesting they are nothing more and there is no cause and effect between the data presented and the actual outcome of a game i.e. that the stats are basically meaningless. I have written about this previously and undertook to keep a watchful eye as the season progresses to see if I could be proved wrong.

For the purposes of my study I am using the data presented on the Whoscored website, which despite my scepticism over the usefulness of the stats is an excellent resource. The Whoscored data is, I understand, sourced from Opta and fed real-time to a large number of media companies . For each game, the website provides a match report showing summary details for possession, passes completed, shots on goal, aerial duels won, tackles made and dribbles won. I am making an assumption here that having selected these categories the folks at Whoscored consider them to be the most pertinent to the outcome of a game.

Of the 30 Premier League matches played to date there have been 22 which have had a positive outcome (with 8 drawn games). Of these, the winning team had the advantage in possession, passes completed, shots and dribbles won while the losing side more often came out on top for aerial duels won and tackles made. In only 1 of 30 games (Burnley v Swansea) did the winning side dominate every category while there was also 1 game (Palace v WBA) where the losing side was on top across the board.

So are there any conclusions that we can make? Should managers tell their players that losing aerial duels and tackles is the best way to win the game? Or is it obvious that more shots on goal increase the chance of winning? Or that if you are forced to defend it is likely that you will need to make more tackles?

There was a school of thought last year that conceding possession bore some relation to winning the game; probably because it was a prevalent feature of Leicester’s season (and our own to some extent). This has not been reflected in the games so far this season although I am still not convinced as to how possession is actually measured; the only time I have seen it explained (a few years back) it was suggested that possession is, in fact, derived from passes completed. That in all 30 games the team with most possession also completed most passes may confirm this.

Maybe the only purpose for the stats is the fun of collecting them in a similar vein to the bus numbers and I am over-thinking them.  But I don’t believe that is how they are used by TV producers and pundits who present them as if they define the game. For now it remains case unproven as far as I am concerned but I will keep on tracking developments.

The Boy Never Quite Made It: Roger Cross.

Firs in a series of Hammer hopefuls that didn’t quite make the grade.

Boy Never Quite Made ItThere is nothing more satisfying as a supporter than seeing a young player come up through the youth system (or academy in modern parlance) and establish himself in the first team. Over the years we have been blessed with golden ages of plenty from our academy but there have also been periods of famine. In the Premier League age it is becoming increasingly rare for youth players to make it through the ranks and academies have become multi-cultural establishments; much different from bygone days when a youngster from Kent would have been considered exotic in our youth setup.

Roger CrossFor every successful youth team product there are many more who simply fade away. Among these there are those who are hotly tipped for stardom but who ultimately do not deliver. We shall be taking a look at some of these ‘Boys Who Never Quite Made It‘.

As a young teen in the late 1960’s it was not uncommon to arrive at the game two hours before kick-off on a Saturday afternoon in order to get the favoured view from the North Bank terrace. This allowed plenty of time to read the match programme from cover to cover to discover, not only what the current state of play was in the unofficial London championship, but also what was happening in the Football Combination (reserves) and South East Counties League (youth teams).

For several years running the name of Roger Cross repeatedly appeared in the back of the programme as he rattled in the goals for youths and reserves. He scored when he wanted to even before that idea was born.

Cross was part of the same youth intake as Trevor Brooking (they were born just a few weeks apart in October 1948) and Sir Trev mentions Cross as one of his pals at the club in his autobiography, My Life in Football. Strange to think that I had never heard of Trevor Brooking before his debut but was eagerly awaiting a first sighting of Roger Cross.

Cross made his debut as a substitute (for John Sissons) in August 1968 during a 5-0 home win against Burnley and later that season went out on loan just down the road at Leyton Orient. The start of the 1969/70 season saw Cross get a brief run of games in the first team, scoring his only goal in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Upton Park; but that run came to an end by October and he was transferred to Brentford.

His playing career then took him to Fulham, Brentford (again), Seatle Sounders and Millwall before going into coaching with QPR. Cross renewed his association with West Ham in 2001 and held a number of coaching and scouting roles before parting company in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure during the Avram Grant revolution.