5 Things Learned From MatchWeek 3

Our collection of random observations from Premier League Matchweek3

Five Things EPLThe Super Sunday Contractual Obligation Match

It is difficult to believe that some high powered TV people actually sat around in a meeting room with white boards, flip charts and Powerpoint presentations and selected WBA versus Middlesbrough to be a live televised match. Ordinarily the only purpose of such clubs on TV is as opposition for one of the big boys to dispatch with ease except, on rare occasions, where they met each other in an end-of-season relegation six pointer.

The Premier League still has a number of these underwhelming contests but they are normally buried among the left over Saturday 3 pm kick-offs. The game certainly delivered what it said on the tin and even the referee seemed reluctant to tag on any added time.

You Don’t Always see them Given

Last year I watched a Development Squad game where Shay Given was between the sticks for Stoke City in front of a few hundred supporters. This week he was back in the big-time of the Premier League where his notable contribution was heading in Leighton Baines penalty after it had come back off the post.

The Baines penalty was one of those awarded under the new Grappling interpretation of Law 12. As usual there is much inconsistency between different referees in how the rule is interpreted causing apparent confusion with players, pundits and supporters alike. In some situations a penalty is awarded straight away while in others players have escaped punishment and let off with a warning. Personally I have always taken a possibly naive view that a foul is a foul no matter where it is committed and that there should be some form of intent, bad timing or negligence involved. It seems nowadays a simple collision, expecting a tackle or tripping over your own feet is sufficient justification.

Last year there were 91 Premier League penalties awarded (equal to an average of 2.4 each week).  The first 3 rounds this season has seen 13 penalties (or 4.3 per week).

Terry and the Pace Setters

With just 3 games gone and we are already into an enforced international break in which the latest new dawn of English football will rise from the mixed metaphor ashes of Roy’s Euro disaster. After the first 3 games what can we deduce about the destination of the Premier League title?

There are 3 teams remaining on maximum points and each will expect to be in the running next Spring. The two Manchester clubs are the most likely champions in my view and it is difficult to choose which is now the lesser evil. Prepare for the over the top build up to their derby meeting immediately after the international break. Chelsea are only level on points due to cheating but with Hazard looking on top of his game and no European distraction they are probable candidates for 3rd or 4th.

Of the other teams Tottenham have been the most encouraging in how flat and uninspiring they look as if they haven’t recovered from last season’s blow-out. Liverpool look very workmanlike which is what you would expect from a midfield that includes Milner, Henderson and Lallana. Koeman’s Everton are undefeated and will be unspectacularly efficient in picking up points. Arsenal are like every other Arsenal team of the last decade only increasingly less-good; they may even miss out on a top 4 finish this time. We need to start getting players back and getting our act together. Losing away at two of the top three is no disgrace in itself but performances need to be far better.

Relegation or The HSmell of Success

History tells us that in all probability 2 of the promoted clubs will be relegated. Despite Hull’s promising start I can’t see them keeping this up given the turmoil that the club is in. I also expect Burnley to struggle massively whereas Boro might do enough to bore the opposition into surrender. The other suspects include Watford, Bournemouth, Sunderland and Swansea. I am relying on Eddie Howe to do enough to keep Bournemouth afloat and, although Watford looked very poor in the first half against Arsenal, they brightened up considerably after introducing new signings Isaac Success & Roberto Pereyra – two players we will need to keep an eye on when we meet them in 2 weeks.

Isaac Success is one of the best footballer names since Danny Invincible

A Substitute for Another Guy

Finally, a very strange occurrence in the Tottenham versus Liverpool game at White Hart Lane where in the very last of 3 added minutes at the end of the second half both teams brought on a substitute for their league debuts. I didn’t spot whether the respective number 2’s had given the players detailed instructions from the notepads as to what to do for the remaining 10 seconds.

5 Things From West Ham at Citeh

Observations and talking points from our defeat at the Etihad.

5 Things WHUThe Half Time Pep Talk

Managers and coaches do their best to bellow and point out instructions from their technical areas during as the game progresses but it is questionable how much of that actually gets through to the players. Half-time is generally the best opportunity to throw things around the dressing room to get the player’s attention. At half time on Sunday we were on the ropes and a crushing defeat was on the cards. City were playing well and at a high tempo and we seemed to be doing everything possible to help them out.
After the break some Slavic wisdom and a minor rearrangement of personnel and it was a different game. We started to compete and City were no longer free to strut their billion pound stuff. We couldn’t quite do enough to snatch an unlikely point but the performance was far more encouraging.

Unnatural Formations

In the Under The Hammers Match report Richard Bennett provides an excellent summary of the shortcomings in our line-up, formation and first half performance. Whether it was 3 or 5 at the back or some form of hybrid the tactic misfired badly with City’s mobile and pacey forward players allowed all the space and ball that they could want. The task wasn’t made easy due to injuries but the selected side lacked balance and we far too often conceded unforced possession. If Lanzini was unable to last a full game then why not play him first half rather than second? He would have been a better option than Tore who has a lot to do to prove himself.

Once we changed to two proper full backs we looked far more compact and threatening and Antonio’s goal came early enough to strive for a second. The momentum was lost after Aguero’s Costa moment caused Reid to leave the pitch and we went 4 at the back. I have read since that Slaven Bilic was about to make the change anyway which I find puzzling.
There are differences of opinion but I am certain that Aguero deserved a red card. The unfortunate thing with retrospective punishment is that it is other teams that benefit. Better if he was banned for the next 3 times that we play against him.

In that Round Mr Collins you have No Passes

I am sure we all love Ginge’s commitment to the cause and that the way that he is prepared to throw his body in the way regardless of the consequences. From a defensive point of view these qualities allow me to overlook his occasional rushes of blood and bloopers. However, he has to be one of the worse passers of the ball that I have ever seen from a professional footballer. This would not be such a problem if it didn’t seem to part of our game plan to use him as a major distribution outlet every time he plays.

There was one occasion in the first half where we had a free-kick inside the City half and, let’s face it, an industrial route one goal was the best we could hope for at that point. Yet rather than lump it forward Noble decided to play it backwards to Ginge; from where it probably found its way back to keeper or out of play. I really don’t understand what the players expected to happen. A defenders prime responsibility is to defend (and Ginge does this well enough) but when he has the ball he should play it short to someone who knows what to do with it. Whether we have the right players with right attributes to make themselves available as an outlet then becomes the issue.

Arthur Masuaku ‘E’s Alright

I like Arthur Masuaku. Over the course of the whole game he was our best player against Manchester City. I love his energy, his dribbles, his beard and his thousand yard stare. On these early performances he looks an excellent signing and will be stiff competition when Cresswell is fit again. He did exceptionally well in creating the goal for Antonio.

His battle with Sterling was one of the high points of the match and a less lenient referee may well have given him a second yellow (even though I thought the first rather harsh). Mr Mariner made amends by calling over Mark Noble to tell him it was Arthur’s last warning and then booking the captain for dissent instead.

Pay-et Forward?

The Payet situation is a strange one. His continued absence with little explanation has fuelled a host of non-specific transfer speculation which even Paul Merson sobered up long enough to posit upon. The club through ace tweeter dg have strenuously denied any ulterior motives for Payet’s non appearance.

Now it appears that he is off to join up with France squad for their friendly against Italy. If his ‘knock’ is so serious that we didn’t want to rush him back how is it wise for him to join the national squad? Have we made a secret deal with him to give him a longer rest in return for staying put?

Matchday: Man City v West Ham

Pre-match tension as West Ham look to pull off another shock at the Etihad Stadium.

Man City AwayThey used to say that lightning never strikes the same place twice.  Although our friends from Giurgiu have already dispelled that particular myth there is little confidence that the same repeat performance will apply to our game against Manchester City this afternoon.

When we visited the Etihad last September, City had won all 5 league games that season without conceding a single goal.  Against all odds and expectations goals from Moses and Sakho saw the Hammers take a splendid 2 goal lead and despite City pulling one back in first half added time, through debutant Kevin De Bruyne, we were able to hang on doggedly adding one more away-day scalp to those already collected at Arsenal and Liverpool.  I didn’t expect victory then and I don’t expect it again today.  Hope, on the other hand, is always a constant companion.

Head to Head

We have won 11 times in 50 away fixtures to Manchester City and just once since their move to the Etihad.  The overall record between the two clubs was fairly equal until the injection of Abu Dhabi money tilted the balance firmly in City’s favour.  We have won just 2 of the last 12 encounters as the one time working man’s club from Manchester became a Middle Eastern money pit.  Having invested a further £100 million + during the current transfer window to mould the team in Pep’s image, the total spending since the  takeover is now nudging towards £1 billion.  City could most likely field a complete team who individually cost more than our new record signing.

The full head to head record is as follows:

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 48 24 12 12 81 52 LDLLWD
Away 50 11 7 32 64 102 LLLLLW
98 35 19 44 145 154

Team News

Definitely sitting this one out are Sakho, Cresswell, Carroll, Ayew, Feghouli and Nordtvelt who are all injured.  Mark Noble is expected to return while it is reported that the fitness of Payet and Lanzini are yet to be assessed.  With an extra week for an international break on the horizon I doubt either will start with only one on the bench.  There are unconfirmed rumours that Payet has not travelled which is likely to raise speculation once more about his future.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it this season. We know it’s a big challenge, not only regarding our injury situation, but we are hoping and our whole plan is to have a good game and to get something out of it.”

– Super Slav

The signing of Simone Zaza was too late for today’s match but it will be interesting to see whether Edimilson Fernandes features or is regarded merely as one for the future.  Fortunately Zaza has been omitted from the Italy squad and so will not be able to pick up an injury while on international duty.

With no proven striker available and the creative players still missing it is difficult to see how we could possibly surprise City again today.  My own suggested would include starts for both Oxford and Fletcher:

Team Man City

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Andre Mariner from Birmingham.  Mariner officiated in two of our home games last season; the goalless draw with Stoke in December and the derailing of Spurs title aspirations in March.  We should hope that he has a quiet game and does not feel he has to get in on the dubious penalty award at a corner bandwagon.

5 Things We Learned From WHExit.

The summer excursion to the continent is over for another year. Here’s what we learned from the inglorious campaign.

Europa League LessonsFormations are not set in stone (…….unless they are rock formations).

Among the rush to hasty conclusions following the Europa League debacle there has been earnest debate about formations. Have we now changed shape from a 4-2-3-1 to a more defensive minded 4-1-4-1. It is possible for people to become anally retentive about formations as in a good team players should be fluid in reacting to changed situations. The concept of the formation is mainly of concern to TV producers for  the pre-match build up; for heat map geeks from the statistics community; and for Italians seeking to confuse with talk of false-nines, false-tens, nine-and-a-halves and liberos. Perhaps Slav’s innovation is the false-fullback!

Most often we utilise 3 central midfielders no matter exactly how we position them – this does not make them defensive midfielders as many seem to claim. The signing of Nordtvelt looks like an attempt to deploy a specialist DM in order to cut down goals conceded as neither Noble nor Kouyate are cut out for this role. Whether Nordtvelt’s other attributes (i.e. passing) allow him to make an overall positive contribution has yet to be proven. Apart from goalkeeper I’m not sure the modern Premier League is the place for one-trick specialist ponies.

It’s a Game of Four Halves.

Embarrassing is an overused word and much favoured by the knee-jerkers who find that so much about the club causes them embarrassment; whether it is young Jack’s transfer gossip, David Gold’s tweeting or that Sullivan Senior made his money from adult entertainment. However, losing at home on Thursday to a team from Romania in a match where a 0-0 draw would have been good enough is probably about as close to embarrassing as it gets.

If there is one thing we know from last year it is that we are not good at breaking down teams that come to defend and rarely batter teams that we should beat easily. OK, that might strictly be two things! Astra didn’t come bursting with ambition and damage limitation may well have been at the top of their agenda. Perhaps there was pressure for us to entertain in the new stadium but the truth was that our main priority should have been to not concede. You only have to look at the Astra goal, and how many players were AWOL as Teixeira was given freedom to waltz through the middle, to wonder what on earth we were thinking in that regard. At times tactics in two legged European ties need to be pragmatic and we got it badly wrong.

Slav the Great and Powerful?

Last year when we failed to qualify for the Europe League group stages it was in the context of a new manager, a fairly thin squad and an approach that said “OK we’ll give it a go but it’s not a top priority!” This season everyone had been quite clear that the intention was to take it seriously and start to make a mark on the European stage. This desire may have been obstructed by a raft of unfortunate injuries but nevertheless we now had a stronger squad – at least that is the received wisdom – and a stated intention to give it our best shot.

So, whereas last year’s elimination passed with merely a shrug of the shoulder this year it risks rubbing a little of the sheen off the reputation of the “can do wrong “ manager. If there were such a thing as a Manager’s Rating Agency there could be a risk of downgrade from Super Slav to just plain Slav. Of course, as players return from injury and with a few inspiring league victories all will be quickly forgotten in the short term memory of the supporter on the Clapton omnibus.

How Deep is Your Squad?

There has been a lot of talk that we were building a squad to take account of a Europa League campaign (i.e. the minimum of 6 additional matches that group stage qualification would have brought). To date there have been 9 arrivals during the transfer window (if you include Manuel Lanzini again) with Tomkins the only notable departure. On paper the squad is much stronger but, as the recent injuries have demonstrated, there are still gaps in cover in some important areas; most notably right back, creative midfield and striker.

We have since signed Edimilson Fernandes and there is continued speculation about Zaza so the fat lady can still belt out a few tunes before the window closes. There is no doubt that the squad looks far healthier than a few years ago but then so do those at most other clubs frantically spending the new TV money. We should not need to be in a position of asking players to be ‘humble’ and play out of position any more. Keeping everyone happy, however, might be the new challenge.

No Place for a Seat Fighting Man.

I have an idea for a dystopian movie which I will call Intransigent. Set in a post-apocalyptic east-end borough, people are divided into distinct factions; the ‘Perchers’ and the ‘Uprighters’. In the finale, these factions come together in a great stadium to fight an angry  battle between themselves much to the amusement of the rest of the world.

This is clearly an issue that has to be resolved. The right to stand cannot trump the right to sit and it lacks consideration to deny others a view simply because you were allowed to stand previously. Likewise you have no more rights as a long term supporter than a young child going to their first match. I have no issue in principle with a designated area for safe standing and hope it is something that can be addressed amicably.

Match Scene: West Ham v Astra Giurgiu

Surely a walk in the Olympic Park tonight and guaranteed Europa League group stage qualification.

Home to AstraTonight the nomads of FC Astra Giurgiu are the visitors to the London Stadium for the Europa League Play Off Round second leg match. With the tie finally balanced at a goal apiece from the away leg in Romania it will be an evening high on expectation but no doubt with a drop of typical West Ham nerve-wracking tension thrown in.

Many an old timer will be more than pleased to tell you for the price of half a pint of stout and an arrowroot biscuit that their favourite Upton Park night was the European Cup Winners Cup (ECWC) semi final second leg against Eintract Frankfurt in 1976. (I always maintain that the ECWC was a superior and far more difficult competition to succeed in than the old European Cup; contested as it was by teams proven to be good at winning cups.)

Going in to the game 2-1 down from the first leg it was a night where Sir Trev imperiously glided over the sodden pitch surface; scoring twice as the Hammers raced into a 3-0 lead. Fearing that this lacked the requisite drama, the Germans were gifted a late goal meaning that if they scored again it would be they to go through on the away goals rule. Cue a whistle blowing, nail biting, nervous hopping finale.

“They beat us last year and it is not job done. We have had enough time to recover from Sunday and I am optimistic.”

– Super Slav

I fully expect something similar to happen tonight. Cruise into a two goal lead, take the foot off the pedal, concede a sloppy goal, followed by an exhibition of sloppy slapstick defending before scoring a breakaway third in added time.

Head to Head

This is our fourth encounter against the current Romanian champions and, to date, we have yet to beat them (2 draws and 1 defeat). I have seen many reports stating that we lost to Astra at the same stage last year but this is not the case – we have progressed a whole round further so far this time around. Romainian champions they may be but I fully expect us to get the win that secures group stage qualification – but then I have been disappointed (and wrong) before.

Team News

The usual suspects of Cresswell, Carroll, Ayew, Sakho and Feghouli remain absent injured. Masuaku and Lanzini are not registered to play tonight but Dimitri Payet may now be available. Slaven Bilic has suggested that it will be a strong side and it will be a balance between doing what is necessary and keeping fresh legs for Sunday’s trip to the Etihad.

In the unlikely event that I were asked to pick the team I would start with Payet, to give him some match time and look for an early advantage, but leave Noble and Kouyate on the bench until needed; as both could do with a breather. This is how I would line-up (subject to availability):

My team v Astra

The Man in the Middle

We have a German referee tonight in the shape of Manuel Grafe from Berlin. Grafe was the ref for the goalless Euro 2012 qualifier between England and Montenegro where he was ‘blasted’ by Wayne Rooney for giving England’s players “no protection whatsoever” – and for not awarding any penalties.

The Names They Are a-Changin’

A look at the top 10 all-time most popular forenames for West Ham players.

NamesWest Ham famously won the FA Cup in 1964, and again in 1975, with a team full of Englishmen. The 1975 team being the last all English winners of the cup. By 1980 the rot had set in with the inclusion of a single Scot in the form of Ray ‘Tonka’ Stewart.

The lineup back in those days would be full of what Al Murray (the Pub Landlord) would describe as beautiful British names. The team would be populated by players with old fashioned names such as Jim, John, Jack, Eddie, Bobby, Billy, Alan, Ken and Trevor. Scan down any West Ham team-sheet this season and you will find the likes of Adrian, Dimitri, Manuel, Cheikhou, Pedro, Gokhan, Enner, Diafra, Havard and Sofiane.

As an aside, I can remember Ron Greenwood trying to sign Israeli international Mordecai Spiegler after the 1970 World Cup (and I actually witnessed him in a West Ham shirt in a pre-season friendly against the Orient) but numerous obstacles surrounding international clearance and work permits prevented the deal going through. In different circumstances there could have been an Israeli in the 1975 cup winning team.

The foreign player is now a fixture of Premier League football and arguably the most skillful, entertaining and creative players are all from overseas. English players accounted for just 31% of Premier League starts during 2015/16 while West Ham were just above average with 36% (or 42% if you count British and Irish players). With James Tomkins having left the club, Aaron Cresswell injured and (as yet) no home grown recruits no the English contingent will no doubt show a downward trend this time around.

At least one of our new signings comes with a traditional name that would meet the Pub Landlord’s approval and that is Arthur Masuaku. It is perhaps surprising that only 12 Arthurs have ever played for West Ham (including Thames Ironworks) and that Masuaku is only the second ever post war Arthur. I know this piece of useful information because in an idle hour during the summer I crunched the data to discover what were the most common West Ham forenames.

The winner by some distance was William (including Bill and Billy) with 67 occurrences. There was stiffer competition for the runner-up spot where John (42) just pipped James (41) and George (40).

The complete Top 10 is:

  1. William (67)
  2. John (42)
  3. James (41)
  4. George (40)
  5. Tom (31)
  6. Robert (26)
  7. David (23)
  8. Harry (21)
  9. Frank (20)
  10. Fred (19)

5 Things from Matchweek 2

Assorted observations and time wasting from this week’s Premier League

1.     Sledgehammer seeks nut.

In football, as in life, when a perceived problem is identified the authorities like to introduce a new law (or a new interpretaion of an old one) which is then applied zealously across the board with no room for common sense.  In the FA’s crosshairs this time are the shenanigans at corners and player dissent.

Five Things EPLThe hottest pundit “talking point” of the weekend were the two penalties awarded by Mike Dean in the Stoke v Man City encounter as a result of pushing and shoving in the area.  Certainly in most games neither incident would have been punished and yet in both incidents the offending player was clearly impeding an opponent.  In fact what was Sterling thinking when he had already seen Shawcross pulled up earlier in the game for a similar episode.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out as the letter of the law would result in numerous penalties in each game (just like Rugby).

Many players have already found themselves booked in the “crackdown” on dissent.  In our own game Arter of Bournemouth and Winston Reid both fell foul of the new ruling although neither had erupted into a nything like a twisted Vardy-esque red faced tirade.  Maybe another approach to this problem is refs stopping making bad decisions.

2.     Old Hammers, they fade and die

A few ex-Hammers were plying their trade in the Premier League over the weekend.  Former favourite and Basildon boy James Tomkins got to make his debut as a second half substitute for Crystal Palace at White Hart Lane.  It was not up there with the greatest dream debuts as Wanyama headed the winner just seconds after Tomka coming on.

The Tyne – Wear derby pitched number 2 pantomime villain, Jermaine Defoe against Stewart Downing.  A quiet day for Defoe who apart from one half chance where he might have done better he was unable to make any impression.  Downing in his usual manner spent most of the match getting rid of the ball as quickly as possible if there was any danger of a challenge looming.  At least he was able to pick up a win bonus.

3.     The many lives of Diego Costa

As former referee Howard Webb explained “Diego Costa was lucky to be playing at all on Saturday and lucky to still be on the pitch to score the winner.”  So having escaped dismissal and scoring a late winner against us there is a repeat performance just one week later against Watford.  He was booked once more for dissent by Jon Moss who then saw fit to turn a blind eye to blatant simulation before he once again proved to be a late match-winner.  This is not the first blatant dive that has gone unpunished in the first two weeks of the season.  Perhaps the new focus on interference at corners has taken the referee’s eye off the simulation ball.

4.     Black Cats nine lives to be put to the test again

Some things never change and yet again Sunderland have decided to sit out the first part of the season like a pole-vaulter who believes the early rounds of competition are beneath him.  The usual routine is to secure an early berth in the bottom 3 until the new year, replace the manager and then embark on a rip roaring, roller coaster escape ride to safety.  Early signs are that David Moyes is not equipped to threaten that tradition and so should be ready to dust off his CV come the Spring.

5.     The Manager’s New Clothes

Managers get far more screen time during TV coverage these days and as a consequence I have been drawn to a sartorial comparison of their matchday apparel.   There are two main camps in manager attire; those who like to turn out suited and booted and those who prefer the hands-on tracksuited look.  Here are my first thoughts of the men strutting the technical area catwalk at the weekend.

Of the suits, Ranieri was by far the smartest and almost immaculate; with an honorable mention to the increasingly distinguished Mark Hughes.  Pardew sported the look of an inebriated uncle at a wedding having just danced the macarana while Conte was had that flustered local government official look.  Appropriately for the Sunday match, Moyes and Karanka had dressed ready for Chapel while Slav is more ticket tout or used car salesman.

Klopp with BrainsTony Pulis is the standard bearer for the tracksuiters, complete with embroidered initials in case he forgets who he is,  and is joined by Klopp and Howe.  The loose limbed Klopp is one of those people who will look untidy no matter what he wears and he somehow reminds me of how Thunderbird puppet Brains would look should he be infected by an out of control growth hormone.

For completeness we should also mention the smart-casuals whose numbers include Dyche and Pochettino, both of who could easily pass for the manager of a fast food restaurant.