A relegation six-pointer is the Saturday 5.30pm game – Southampton v West Ham – “All of us know we need a result.”

I really cannot believe that I will be writing about Manuel Pellegrini any more after this weekend. There cannot possibly be any way that he can survive as the manager of West Ham, whatever the result this evening. In view of the postponement of the Liverpool game (and perhaps even if it hadn’t been postponed) there is a very big chance that we will be in one of the relegation positions at Christmas. Very few managers survive after a run of results that we have had in the past few weeks, plummeting down the table from the heady heights of fifth place. Enough is enough. A change is necessary. There is no need to feel sorry for him – just take a look at the pay-off he will get, despite the poor performance. The exit poll taken as the fans left the ground after the Arsenal debacle predicts that he will be gone well before Christmas.

I’ve collected some of the comments attributed to him this week.

“All of us know we need a result.”

“I always think as a manager that the results of the team depends on the individual performance of a player. After that you can work a lot on tactical, physical and technical work but the players decide the games.”

“Of course, when you have your important players not in their best moment, the results of the team will not be good.”

“You must find why they are not in that moment and try to work with them and give them confidence and I hope that most of them will return as soon as possible to their normal performance.”

‘Well of course all of us know we need the results. We have just five points from the last nine games.”

“We need to return to being a consistent and solid team in the way we did against Chelsea and for 60-65 minutes against Arsenal. The points that we have are not enough for this team.”

“We dominated for 60 minutes. Maybe scoring the second goal would have been so important.

“It (booing at the end) was understandable because the last five games that we play here, we didn’t win.

“If you don’t win at home, your fans are not going to be happy.

“You cannot concede three goals in every game. Unfortunately for us, we are doing wrong things, but we need to continue fighting.”

The following is not a comment made by MP but it could have been – “And now the end is near and so I face the final curtain.”

Asked if he thought he could fix it, Pellegrini added: “Of course.”

A lot of things have been written about a rift between Pellegrini and Felipe Anderson. Here are some of the comments attributed to our Brazilian playmaker this week.

“When I arrived it was hard but we started winning and I started to show my potential by helping the team with goals, assists and dribbles, and right now things are not working out as we want.”

“Things have to improve and I have to improve to be able to help the team.”

“As I always say, this is a collective game. If I don’t score and the team wins, I’m happy, but if I don’t score and the team loses and I couldn’t help the team as I want to, it’s difficult.”

“But we need to keep on working hard and think positively.”

“Monday’s match was a very negative result and one that we didn’t expect because we were at home and because we had played well in the previous two matches.”

“But we know that we need to keep working hard to get out of this situation.”

“This is the worst phase I have been going through with the team.”

West Ham go into this “must win” game against Southampton, a team that has improved in recent weeks, certainly since being thrashed 9-0 at home by Leicester, knowing (well if they don’t know I’ve just told them!) that they have beaten Southampton in Premier League games more than they have beaten any other team. Our results against them in recent times have been positive with four wins in the last five Premier League meetings.

Knowing how our heads seem to go down when we concede a goal, one statistic that I read this week is troubling. In our last 15 visits to Southampton (a period of time that stretches back almost 25 years) we have failed to score the first goal in the game! I’m not sure what the odds will be, but based on that, you can almost guarantee that Southampton will take the lead by scoring the first goal. Despite their poor season they have managed to score in every league game they’ve played apart from two. Only Liverpool, Manchester City and Wolves have scored in more games than that.

As West Ham fans we’ve had little to cheer in recent games, and don’t need reminding of some of the statistics being banded about. Seven defeats in our last nine league games, five points fewer than at this stage last season, and twelve points dropped from winning positions (which equals our total for the whole of last season!) make depressing reading. It is hard to ignore the goalkeeping situation – we have lost 14% of games when Fabianski was in goal, and 78% of games since he has been injured and out of the team. We need him back sooner rather than later!

On a positive note (bearing in mind we are playing away), 56% of our total points this season have been collected on our travels, a percentage unmatched by any other team in Premier League. (It starts from a low base though). Our manager should be confident of victory too based on his past record, having won six and drawn one of the eight games he has been in charge of teams playing Southampton.

Of course I want us to win and I hope we can win. I don’t honestly believe that when we play our next match at Selhurst Park on Boxing Day that MP will be in charge whatever the result today. There is every chance that we will have a new man at the helm. Surely, despite some deficiencies in the squad, there is enough talent to work with to ensure a mid-table finish at least with these players. I just hope that we can attract a younger manager with fresh ideas, and don’t resort to one of the usual managerial names being banded about in the media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On current form two of the three poorest teams in the Premier League meet at the London Stadium, when West Ham entertain Arsenal.

I refer frequently to the form table when writing this column, and look at how the teams have fared in their last five Premier league games. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool and Leicester are at the top with a maximum 15 points. Manchester United and Wolves come next with 11 points apiece. Wolves continue to be the draw kings, and have now drawn 9 of their 16 games following their predictable draw at Brighton yesterday.

A resurgent Tottenham, and Newcastle come next with 10 points each. I hate to admit it but some of the Tottenham goals against Burnley on Saturday were a bit special, especially the “Maradonna-esque” effort from Son. Three teams from very different regions of the league table are next with 7 points. They are Manchester City, who are now 14 points adrift of Liverpool and surely cannot now retain their league title, mid-table Palace, and Southampton who are still in the bottom three (just!). Had they not conceded a very late goal at Newcastle yesterday they would have moved out of a relegation position.

Four teams each have six points, namely Chelsea, Sheffield United, Burnley and Everton. A further four teams each have four points as a result of winning one and drawing one of their last five games, and they are Brighton, Aston Villa, and the bottom two clubs Norwich and Watford.

So that is 17 teams I’ve mentioned so far, and I still haven’t referred to the two teams meeting at the London Stadium tonight. Two teams woefully out of form. Looking at our opponents first, they have just 3 points from 3 draws in their last 5 games. In fact they haven’t won a game in the last ten they have played (in all competitions), which is their worst run in 42 years. Oh how I hate statistics like that when looking at teams about to play us! Not surprisingly they sacked their manager a few days ago, because that is what happens these days. Teams who have long poor runs tend to do that. Most of them anyway.

West Ham, too, have just 3 points from the last 5 games, courtesy of the improbable victory at Stamford Bridge just over a week ago. Of course normal service was resumed with the defeat at Wolves in midweek. So tonight’s game is between the two teams sitting equal 18th in the last 5 game form table, two sides demonstrating relegation form. By the way, Bournemouth are the team propping up my form table with nil points; five consecutive losses.

If we were able to repeat last season’s success at home to the Gunners then we would move up to 19 points, level with our opponents (and Brighton), and four points clear of the drop zone. The bottom half of the table from Arsenal in 11th downwards are just four points ahead of Southampton in 18th. It looks as if Norwich and Watford are becoming adrift at the bottom, but the recent form of Southampton is of concern to the other teams in the bottom half.

Apparently Michail Antonio is having a late fitness test. How I hope he is fit to rough up the poor Arsenal defence! Their central back partnership which consists of Luiz and Mustafi, established Brazilian and German international footballers, looked very poor when I watched them draw with Norwich a week ago, and this is one area we could exploit. I say “could” because we haven’t looked like exploiting any other teams weaknesses very often in recent games. Since we beat Manchester United towards the end of September, then apart from the Chelsea win last week, we haven’t beaten anybody else!

Our manager was quoted ahead of today’s game. “The players need to believe in this moment more than ever. We must not concede goals from set-pieces, as we have done that too many times this season. If we are solid, consistent in defending, and creative in attacking, that will influence the result.” What he didn’t say was what has happened in the past few days for the players to suddenly believe in the moment (whatever that really means!) and what steps they have been taking to avoid conceding goals from set-pieces, and how they will become more solid, consistent in defending, and creative going forward. In fact, I don’t think he knows; he just hopes that a group of talented footballers can somehow do this without a lot of guidance from the very person who is paid a lot of money to manage and motivate them.

The following eleven points of interest may be considered to be either good or bad depending on how you view such facts:

  1. Arsenal has not scored a goal at the London Stadium for over 1000 days.
  2. Arsenal has beaten West Ham 29 times in Premier League games, more than any other team has beaten us.
  3. (Taking recent form a bit further than I did previously) The 4 points we have collected in our last eight league games is fewer than any other team in the Premier League.
  4. No other Premier League team has lost as many as our 29 defeats on a Monday.
  5. We have lost 99 London derby matches – more than any other London team.
  6. Arsenal’s 19 points from their first 15 Premier League games is their (equal) lowest ever.
  7. Arsenal has not kept a clean sheet for 64 days (11 matches).
  8. Aubameyang has never scored against West Ham.
  9. Arsenal has not won any of their last six Premier League matches away from home.
  10. We haven’t won any of our last four Premier League games at the London Stadium.
  11. We haven’t scored a goal this season when Mike Dean has refereed our game (2 matches).

So there we have it. Two of the three poorest teams in the Premier League based on current form (5 games). One has sacked their manager, the other hasn’t (yet!). Of course I always want us to win football matches, and this game is no different, but a win tonight might paper over the cracks temporarily, and not be good for us when we consider the bigger picture. If we are going to consider a new man in charge then he surely has to have the opportunity to make use of the forthcoming transfer window.

A win tonight and we will move three places up the table to 13th. A draw would see a rise of two places to 15th. It says a lot about our current form when the bookmakers have Arsenal as strong favourites to win the game (around even money, when we are more than 2/1), despite the fact that we are at home and they haven’t won a game in the last ten they have played!

Our next two games are away from home (Southampton and Palace). The Liverpool game has been postponed because of Liverpool’s involvement in the World Club Championship. Our last game in this calendar year is at home to Leicester who have won eight straight games. Did you see how good they were today away at Villa? At that point we will have faced everyone (apart from Liverpool). We could easily start 2020 in one of the three relegation places, and have a game in hand on the other teams (albeit against Liverpool). It wasn’t that long ago that many pundits were talking us up as a potential top six team. It has gone horribly wrong. What happens in the remainder of 2019 will be massively important for our football club. We could have 16 points or it could be 25. It could be somewhere in between. We could retain our manager, or we could have appointed a new one. It is West Ham remember. Who knows what will happen?

Too Many Snakes And Not Enough Ladders. Pellegrini Does Not Have The Skills To Fix West Ham’s Problems

Can’t afford to get rid of him, can’t afford to keep to him? When will the tipping point be reached where even the Board realise that sticking with Pellegrini will end in disaster?

At this time of year, it is compulsory when commenting on football to mention that the games now come ‘thick and fast’ – even if the schedule is nowhere near as busy as it used to be. Most West Ham followers may associate more with thick than fast, however, when thinking about the Hammer’s recent struggles.

We expect football to be a game of ups and downs. It is part of its charm. But when the ups (intense and committed performances) are so few and far between, and when the downs (apathy, disorganisation, lack of effort, mistakes and surrender) are so commonplace, it becomes impossible to see an acceptable outcome. There is no light at all in our tunnel right now, and a target of 40 points looks way beyond reach unless drastic changes are made.

Yet, here we are with the Hammers hovering just above the relegation places (and potentially in the bottom three by the end of Sunday round of matches) and the Manuel Pellegrini sacking clock has reportedly been reset to zero – the manager once again has two games to save his job. Quite what return is required from those two games to earn a reprieve being a mystery known only to our can kicking Chairmen. In hindsight, it might have been kinder had West Ham lost at Chelsea.

I read elsewhere that the Board were ‘keeping their powder dry’ on the Pellegrini situation, whatever that is supposed to mean. To me, this would suggest waiting for a better time to act. It doesn’t mean dithering about until wholesale panic becomes an absolute necessity. Was nothing learned for the Avram Grant experience? Probably not, is the answer.

When Leicester sacked Claude Puel in February 2019 it wasn’t because they were in danger of relegation but because the football was poor and the players had clearly lost faith with his tactics. It was a decisive act from which the Foxes have not looked back. To write off season after season just to allow manager’s contracts (and compensation) to run down is indicative of owners who prioritise only money – and preserving the value of their investment. They do not have the financial or intellectual resources to run and develop a football club beyond keeping it afloat.

There are plenty of things wrong at the club – which we have previously written about at length as the team have steadily sunk towards the bottom of the table. While, the owners are clearly implicated for the lack of any true desire to reach ‘another level’, the Hammer’s current plight in the relegation mix is 100% down to the manager. Never mind the old net-spend chestnut, West Ham have an expensively assembled squad in Premier League terms – especially when the not inconsiderable wages are taken into account.

Chief scapegoat at the moment is Mario Husillos and while the director of football’s involvement in picking talent has been underwhelming I doubt it was he who instructed Pellegrini to: play someone who had scored prolifically in a front two as an isolated lone striker; persevere with two wingers playing on their wrong foot; keep faith for so long with a goalkeeper who is patently petrified of crosses; maintain a rigid attachment to the same formation week in week out, even though it clearly doesn’t suit the players available; only ever change the personnel and never the system;  not work hard enough in training on fitness or organisation; create the slowest team in the league who are incapable of moving the ball quickly; and refusing to budge on his inflexible tactics of the high back line and a patient build-up, regardless of circumstances or opposition. Standing on the touchline looking confused and admitting that you are baffled does not inspire any confidence – in players or supporters.

It was no surprise following the win at Chelsea that the performance level was not maintained at Wolves a few days later. Fitness levels are just not up to it, and with the one-man press, Michail Antonio, missing it was always going to be a struggle against a disciplined and hard working Wolverhampton side.

There are several obvious gaps in the West Ham squad (central midfield and full-backs in particular) but it is still good enough to stay up with proper and astute management. That is not to say that our recruitment has been smart. Not enough emphasis has been placed on unearthing developing talent – both from within the academy (which has a dismal record in recent years) and from outside. We have become a mirror image of pre-Pochettino Spurs who would sign random big name players – those who were not quite good enough for the truly top sides, but who acted as if they were – and hope they would magically gel into an effective team.

Our next manager needs to be all about discipline and team building, as well as delivering a touch of style. He is out there somewhere!

Speculating on what might happen on Monday night is difficult. Arsenal also find themselves in something of a predicament. They are also a team lacking cohesion; with a suspect defence but they do, at least, have pace and carry a goal threat. No doubt there will be the odd personnel change in the Hammer’s side but little else will be new. While Antonio is on the pitch and before he runs out of puff we may be able to compete and unsettle the visitor’s defence, but beyond that there is little that provides cause for optimism.

As someone who is now desperate to see the back of Pellegrini, I am conflicted as to what I want to happen. I never want to see the team lose but possibly it could be for the best. A new broom installed prior to the winter transfer window is a must in my eyes.

The game will be a third meeting this season with referee Mike Dean from the Wirral – he previously presided over the thrashing by Manchester City and also sent off Arthur Masuaku at Villa Park. His friend at VAR central will be Kevin Friend.

Lawro seems to have made his predictions during a drunken Christmas party binge and has gone for a 2-0 home win; while Charlie Nicholas sees it going the other with a 1-3 away win. The best I can hope is to stay on the fence with 2-2.

In-form West Ham (well last weekend anyway!) travel to face the draw specialists at Molyneux

I have to be honest, prior to last weekend’s game at Stamford Bridge, I didn’t really think we had a chance of avoiding a heavy defeat. Of course I always hope, but even at my most optimistic I couldn’t really see it coming. The only factor in our favour was the fact that Chelsea had a European game in midweek, and statistics show that teams are more likely to have a poor result the following weekend. Frank Lampard didn’t use that as an excuse, but I think he was more than confident of a victory before the game, and left out a couple of key players who had been playing very well lately, in Kante and Willian. By the time he eventually brought them on it was too late, and we were good value for the win.

Of course the game will always be remembered for David Martin’s contribution, followed by his Pat Cash impersonation at the end, climbing the stairs in the stand to greet his legendary father, Alvin. What a story that turned out to be! But for me the team played well as a unit, defending together, and attacking as one. The back four had good games, and that is three goals this season now for Cresswell. Rice and Noble had their best games for a while, especially Rice, who perhaps with a point to prove against the club who let him go, really shone in all aspects of the midfielder’s role.

I’ve always liked Snodgrass, especially for his wholehearted attitude, and he and Fornals, who also had probably his best game, were vital cogs in the midfield. Anderson was OK, whilst not yet demonstrating that he is at the top of his form (we’ve seen what he can do). One pundit summed it up perhaps when he said that, for all his talent, there’s a reason Anderson is at West Ham, and not at one of the very top clubs. But for me, Antonio was superb, showing exactly what he is good at, pace, power, strength, and endless running. And to think that a previous manager once played him at right back! I remember a game at Stamford Bridge where he played in that position too! But then the same manager didn’t have a clue how to use Snodgrass either.

Writing the article last week I referred to the gulf between the teams at the top of the table and those further down. In particular I mentioned three games, and three teams who were not even in the bottom three, ourselves, Newcastle and Brighton who were very long odds to win their games.

“We are 9/1 to win at Chelsea, Newcastle are 14/1 to win at home to Manchester City, and Brighton are also 14/1 to win at Liverpool. A 2,250/1 treble on three football matches shows just what the Premier League has become.”

Without being really hopeful, I had a small wager on each of the three teams to win their games, and had to do the treble too, as I would have kicked myself if the three most unlikely results had all actually happened, and I’d mentioned the very long odds without placing a bet. As it turned out I made a profit (thanks to West Ham of course) but the others put up good performances too, with Newcastle holding Manchester City, and Brighton only going down narrowly at Liverpool. Perhaps the top teams were all suffering hangovers due to their midweek European games.

On average this season to date, slightly more than a quarter of matches have ended as draws (38 out of 140 = 27%). Sheffield United and Arsenal have each drawn half of their 14 games, whereas this evening’s opponents, Wolves, have gone one further drawing eight. With four wins and just two defeats they stand at sixth in the table on twenty points, four ahead of ourselves. The two games they lost were 3-2 at Everton, and then 5-2 at home to a rampant Chelsea. Apart from those setbacks it has been a good season, although no doubt they would have wished to have turned some of those draws into wins, just as we would perhaps have liked to have turned some of our defeats into draws? A 0-0 draw away to Leicester on the opening day (a very good result in hindsight) was the only game in which they failed to score this season, and perhaps their highlight was a 2-0 win away at Manchester City.

Seven of their eight draws have been with a 1-1 score, including four of them at home to Manchester United, Southampton, Burnley and Sheffield United. If you like to bet on scores in matches then 1-1 would seem to be an obvious result, with the odds being 11/2 on that happening, although the favourite is 1-0 to Wolves at 5/1. If you fancy us gaining a second 1-0 away win in less than a week against one of the top sides, then you can get 11/1 on that. A West Ham win is 7/2, and an away victory with both teams to score is 13/2.

Let us hope that we can take the confidence from our victory on Saturday into this game, and if David Martin can keep another clean sheet then, stating the obvious, we won’t lose! Despite their good season, Wolves have only stopped the opposition from scoring in three of their games, whereas we have amazingly kept four clean sheets. Amazingly runaway leaders Liverpool have only kept two!

I fancy another 1-0 win, although I’d settle for a 1-1 draw. Last season the game at Molyneux was one of our worst performances. Let us hope for a much improved one today.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters: West Ham Finally Wake Up To Earn Pellegrini Reprieve

I’d rather be a hammer than a blue. West Ham defy the odds with a deserved victory to keep the customer’s satisfied – at least for the time being. What did we learn?

Oh! What A Surprise

I doubt that even the most optimistic of us saw this coming. I certainly didn’t, and had fully prepared myself for the worst – that adding yet another game to the demoralising win-less run was a mere formality. But it wasn’t to be. The West Ham of recent weeks had seemingly hired an unusually energetic and lively set of impersonators who would compete rather than capitulate. In the end it was a comfortable victory against a surprisingly subdued Chelsea side. The final margin of victory could easily have been wider, even ignoring the disallowed goal. It was a much improved effort all round. Better shape, improved intensity, space closed down and the ball moved far more quickly. Much was made of the change of keeper (and that was immensely important) but other factors contributed equally: Mark Noble sitting deeper alongside Declan Rice as a defensive midfield duo; Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals working their socks off in the wider midfield positions; and greater mobility up front through Michail Antonio. The obvious question is, why did it take eight games and the onset of a sacking crisis for Manuel Pellegrini to finally make changes to his game plan? With an away game against Wolves coming up in a few days we will get the opportunity to see whether Saturday’s performance was a one-off reaction or the springboard for better things.

In Comes Startin’ Martin

David Martin’s Premier League debut at age 33 was the great story of the weekend. His emotion at the end of the game and the embrace with dad, Alvin, was a priceless moment. It is the first time I have seen him play and he looked more than a competent deputy. Handled well, was composed and communicated with his team-mates throughout the game. It must have been an enormous relief to the rest of the defence to know that disaster wasn’t lurking behind you. Quite what the manager and coaching staff have seen in training to prefer Roberto over Martin is a puzzle. The choice between the erratic flamboyance of Roberto and the unspectacular, competence of Martin should not be a difficult one, Señors. Neither can be regarded as a replacement for the injured Fabianski but only one will have the trust of his colleagues. Buoyed by the presence of a capable keeper and better protection from midfield the improvement in the performances of Angelo Ogbonna and Fabian Balbuena was clear. Admittedly, Chelsea offered little attacking variety but the defence did all that they had to do very well. A bonus takeaway from the weekend was confirmation, if it were needed, that Giroud would not make a positive addition to the West Ham squad.

The Beast Is Back

Michail Antonio rightly took many of the post-match plaudits for a performance that was pivotal to West Ham’s success. With Antonio you get exactly what it says on the tin – pace, power and directness. He unsettles and out-muscles defences, provides a willing outlet for team-mates and is prepared to chase down opponents once possession is lost. He may not possess the greatest of technical ability but so what? It doesn’t diminish his overall effectiveness and eliminates much of the predictability from West Ham’s attacking play – provided that he is used correctly. Antonio’s qualities have frequently been undervalued by successive managers at the club, who have regarded him as emergency cover across multiple positions, rather than to be used where he can do most damage. It would be great to see him deployed in tandem with Sebastien Haller – opposing defences would certainly know that they have been in a game.

How do you solve a problem like Felipe?

Felipe Anderson has become the most enigmatic of characters. I have to say I was pleased to hear that he had been moved to a central midfield position when the lineups were revealed. The failed tactic of using him and Yarmolenko stranded on the ‘wrong’ flanks has never worked since the start – and, what’s more, it denies space for the full-backs to exploit. Aaron Cresswell demonstrated this to good effect on Saturday culminating in an excellent goal. Ryan Fredericks was less inclined, and seems too nervous to venture forward beyond his midfield partner. I don’t subscribe to the view that Anderson is a lazy player but he is frustrating one. He is clearly not happy, has lost his early swagger and is not providing value for money as far as creativity is concerned. I wonder if there is a problem between him and Pellegrini? Unable to rely on the services of Jack Wilshere or Manuel Lanzini, West Ham need Anderson primed and ready if they are to make anything of the season. Yarmolenko’s brief cameo from the bench didn’t inspire any confidence, while the remainder of the bench was, as usual, completely uninspiring. With Haller already benched, why also include Albian Ajeti, rather than giving Nathan Holland the experience?

Falling Foul Of Jon Moss

A notable statistic from the match was that Chelsea did not commit any fouls – correction – were not penalised for committing any fouls. Jonathan Moss is well known as a ‘homer’ referee and he did not disappoint on this outing. I am sure he was quite relieved that his VAR pal was able to detect a technical infringement for the second ‘goal’. The decision may have been correct according to the letter of the current interpretation of the law.  But this ‘any arm contact is handball interpretation’ is a brand new concept – it is not the reason so many were keen to see the introduction of VAR in the first place. I can recall controversies with penalty and offside decisions but not with balls accidentally striking hands.  An infringement should be an infringement regardless of who does it and where on the pitch it happens. VAR remains a good idea but typical of the football authorities that it has been so poorly implemented.

Player Ratings: Martin (7), Fredericks (7), Ogbonna (7), Balbuena (7), Cresswell (7), Rice (8), Noble (7), Snodgrass (7), Anderson (6), Fornals (7), Antonio (8) Subs: Yarmolenko (5), Haller (6), Masuaku (6)

Manuel’s Labours: Pellegrini And West Ham Certain To Be Singing The Blues After Stamford Bridge Showdown

The tortoises travel across London to face the hares this afternoon. What are the chances of a fairy tale finish?

If there was to be a Manuel Pellegrini terrace song then surely it would be one of those old blues/ country numbers where his women’s done left him, his momma’s an alcoholic, the house has burned down and the dog has died. The protagonist reflecting on this as he awaits the padre to escort him to his execution.

After a week of intense speculation where the entire focus was exclusively on who the club are lining up as his replacement, it has been reported that our manager has been given two weeks to save his job. At least when Flash Gordon was given 14 hours to save the Earth he had a sporting chance of achieving it.

In their wisdom, the two Daves decided that kicking the can down the road a little more was the sensible course of action to take – seemingly prepared to write off the games against Chelsea and Wolves.  Maybe they believe it will make them appear more reasonable and thoughtful chaps – or else, save them a few weeks worth of severance payments. It is difficult to understand that anyone who has sat through a West Ham game in the past two months can’t see that the chance of Pellegrini turning around the fortunes of this aimless, dispirited, divided and disorganised squad are several times slimmer than winning the Euro millions. The more humane option would have been to put him quickly out of his misery; allowing someone new the chance to assess strengths and weaknesses before the transfer window opens in the new year.

If actually getting a new manager in place is going to take a few more weeks, then let the U23 manager take charge on a caretaker basis. From what I have seen (admittedly only highlights) it looks like he knows how to set up and organise his side with both pace, energy and enterprise – it’s not as if he could do any worse. It really is a bizarre club where the academy sides play an entirely different style of football to the first team.

The elephant in the room when it comes to appointing a new manager is, unfortunately, the lack of imagination present in those making the selection. I don’t believe for a moment that the Board have been scouring the European leagues to identify up-and-coming talent – a few phone calls to their favourite agent or a search on Google would be closer to the mark. There have been so many names bandied about it is impossible to know which are genuine contenders and which have just been made to gain attention.

Personally, I would like to see someone who can be a longer term fix – a younger manager capable of instilling the kind of style, ethos and unity necessary to compete in modern Premier League football. What we don’t need is another rescue mission from one of the a managerial dinosaurs who may know how not to lose, but has little idea how to win.

We like to clutch straws and take comfort where we can find it and I would be happy with an appointment such as Eddie Howe – should he have any interest in coming to the London Stadium. At least now when I see a headline claiming “West Ham keen to pursue 41 year old” it just might refer to a managerial candidate rather than the latest stand-in goalkeeper or central midfield target.

Speaking of young managers, today will see West Ham come up against a Chelsea side managed by old foe Frank Lampard.  It has really surprised me how well he has done so far this season. I did think he would make a good manager one day but that this job had come too early for him – particularly with the transfer ban in place. Like it or not, Lampard is intelligent, articulate and happy to learn and adjust as he goes. His team play fast and attractive football and work hard for each other.  The introduction of a number of young academy players must have exceeded all expectations at the club.

Quite how our own laggardly rabble will fare against such youthful exuberance doesn’t bear thinking about. It could be a very long afternoon – starting an hour before kick-off when Pellegrini announces his latest permutation from his group of apparent strangers.

I read one laughable report in the week that suggested a recall for Carlos Sanchez (with Declan Rice dropping back to replace the suspended Issa Diop). The rationale being that the introduction of Sanchez changed the course of the game last week. Good grief! The worrying thing is that there is a good chance that Pellegrini saw it the same way – a tactical masterstroke that just came too late to save the day.  Can you imagine a midfield of Sanchez, Noble and Snodgrass chasing the shadows of Kante, Mount and Willian? He may as well bring back Pablo Zabaleta to take care of Pulisic.

Unless there is something devilishly cunning going on beneath the manager’s calm persona, I don’t expect any revolutionary changes to what we have seen taking place over recent weeks. A token effort for 15 to 20 minutes or so followed by a collapse when the first goal goes in. The other great unknown being who will it be be picking the ball out of the net when that happens. Seeing Roberto on the team sheet again could cause spontaneous combustion across the east-end.

This week’s referee double act consists of Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire) trying to keep up with play on the pitch and Andrew ‘Andy’ Madley (Huddersfield) on VAR duty.

Media pundits Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are being rather conservative in predicting a home win but only by 2-1 and 2-0 respectively. I can easily see this being a complete rout and annihilation – something close to the 7-1, which I believe would equal our worst ever Premier League defeat (away to Blackburn in October 2001). Despite all this negativity I will still be watching and be urging us on to win. Perhaps there can be a miracle (like the two Di Canio goals in September 2002) but I can’t see where that individual quality can come from these days. I usually look forward to games but will be more than happy when this one is all over.