A Review of West Ham at Southampton

West Ham 2017-18 – What do you think of it so far?

For those of you old enough (like me) to remember the 1970s, one of the famous Morecambe & Wise catchphrases was when Eric Morecambe asked the question in a sketch “what do you think of it so far?” Many of our fans on social media, if asked about the beginning of our season, would appear to have the same answer as that posed in the sketch, which is “rubbish”.

Certainly we are not where we would like to be after two games. Propping up the table with no points, the most goals conceded, the biggest negative goal difference, and a visit to (tongue in cheek, hopefully) fellow relegation strugglers Newcastle up next, does not make for happy reading.

Saturday’s game at Southampton was filled with action, controversy, goals, negatives, some positives, many mistakes, and violent challenges, and we even featured as the first game on Match of the Day, which is something of a rarity. Of course the edited highlights didn’t do real justice to the game, as highlights so frequently do not. Despite playing for a large part of the game with ten men, and at one stage just before half time being two goals down, we fought back well with two well-taken goals from Hernandez, and his performance gives me hope for our goal scoring in the season ahead.

The Reid injury in the warm up is just so typical West Ham, as was conceding a penalty in the 93rd minute to lose the game. Even Mark Noble had a hand in the winning spot-kick by revealing to Charlie Austin that Joe Hart knew where he was going to place the kick, and this made him change his mind. And speaking of typical West Ham, Southampton were thankful for us being the hospitable visitors which allowed them to break their long goal-less sequence at home, and allowed Gabbiadini to score for the first time in eleven games.

Referee Mason was praised in many quarters, not least on Match of the Day for getting almost all his decisions right. Mmmmm. Yes, Arnautavic had to go, but he completely missed Lemina’s leading arm (which should have been a red card beforehand) which led to our Austrian signing’s retaliatory challenge. He also missed a waist high challenge from Tadic early in the game which could have been a red card, he didn’t punish Noble sufficiently for a horror tackle, and he missed a blatant handball which should have given us an obvious penalty.

I may be wrong, but I also thought that fouls which deny a goal-scoring opportunity (where no attempt is made to play the ball) should also result in a sending off. If this is the case, then perhaps Fonte and Zabaleta should have gone too when conceding the two penalties. Since the beginning of the Bilic reign we have now conceded more goals from the penalty spot (13) than any other Premier League team. Arnautavic will miss some games now; the same should be true for Mason in my view.

I could ask so many questions about the game:

Is it me, or was it a bizarre selection with Noble in the team and Obiang on the bench?

Did Fonte really look like a Euro 2016 central defender? What was the point in attempting a stranglehold when the ball was running away from the attacker anyway? Should a defender of this supposed stature be so easily outpaced, and too busy ball-watching, for the first goal.

Has anybody told Zabaleta that pushes in the penalty area, which are not penalties when playing for Manchester City, are more likely to be awarded against West Ham? Did the attacker fall down easily and con the referee?

Have you ever seen Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell) and Lee Mason together in the same place?

What does Andre Ayew contribute to our cause? Did we really pay £20 million plus for him?

There are so many more that I could ask, but I’ve given up asking rhetorical questions. What’s the point? (Alexei Sayle, Edinburgh 2017)

But there were positives, too. Arnautavic looked lively (in the first few minutes!), Hernandez goals, another assured performance from young Rice, the return of Antonio who looked good, Sakho’s return, and the fight back which resulted in the creation of more shots, and more shots on target than the home side, despite the lack of possession. And we only sit six points off the top, or four away from a Champions League position! Hopefully Lanzini will be back for the next game, too.

But there is a long way to go in the season. We can still push for a top half finish, especially when we get to play some games at home! Currently, Huddersfield, West Brom and Watford are sitting in the top six in the table. None of them will be anywhere close by the end. But they have all stolen a march on us in the opening games. We’ll have to come from behind, just as we did on Saturday.

Five Takeaways from West Ham’s South Coast Heartbreak!

From despair to honour to ultimate heartbreak as the Hammers go down on the south coast.

A Game of Incident Rather Than Quality

Prior to kick-off the commentator, with customary TV hyperbole, was promising a mouth-watering spectacle from the St Mary’s Stadium.  What we got was a match full of incident but short of real quality.  As happens far too frequently in Premier League football the pattern of the game was defined more by a red card and other refereeing decisions than by the skill and cunning of the highly paid participants.  Arguably it made for an entertaining contest, at least for the victors, or even the neutral had there been any watching.  The merrymaking started in the pre-match kickabout when Winston Reid, concerned by the shortening Hammer’s injury list and weighed down by his new contract extension, had to be stretchered off the pitch to leave a formidable Jose Fonte – Angelo Ogbonna pairing at the heart of the Hammer’s defence.  The consequence of Reid’s injury was that West Ham were left a man short on the bench; although I’m not sure whether this was due to league rules or the club saving on the cost of an extra train ticket to put towards the transfer kitty.

The Consistently Inconsistent Referee

Lee Mason is only an occasional Premier League referee who does most of his work in the lower leagues.  On the evidence of yesterday it is not difficult to understand why.  It would be wrong to argue the case that any of the decisions yesterday that directly affected West Ham’s cause were wrong but Mason’s performance was either astoundingly inconsistent or incompetent.  Marko Arnautovic was foolish in the extreme to elbow the defender in the referee’s eye-line and deserved to go but by then Mason had been lenient with Tadic’s assault on Hernandez, missed completely an elbow on Arnautovic himself (to which he was no doubt reacting) as well as a trademark reckless challenge on the edge of the area by Mark Noble.  The first penalty was as stonewall as it was unnecessary to concede, while the second, heart-breaking as it was, is equally impossible to contest.  The accused, Pablo Zabaleta, was mightily aggrieved to have been penalised and whereas it was not the type of decision that would usually go against Manchester City he has to realise he is at West Ham now.  In mitigation challenges such as Zabaletas often go unpunished just as Mason chose (or missed) to penalise what I felt was an obvious handball by a Southampton defender earlier in the second half.

Ten Men or Less (or should that be Fewer?)

There is never a good time to go down to ten men but after just half an hour when you are already a goal down is up there with the worst.  Throw in the fact that several of the players who started contributed little or nothing then it left West Ham with a mountain to climb.  Jose Fonte in particular had a hand in all three goals conceded and must now go straight to the top of the assist charts.  Whoever thought that buying the ageing plane spotter was a good idea needs a slap and why he is seen as better option in the centre of defence than either Reece Burke or Declan Rice is a puzzle.  Everyone has come across a colleague at work who constantly gives the impression of looking busy in effectachieves nothing at all; this is Andre Ayew.  Always manages to photobomb TV close-ups dripping with sweat, hands on head, looking disappointed, cursing his luck or pleading with the referee yet his actual contribution is no more than a walk-on part.  I have a suspicion that unbeknown to us there was a surreptitious body exchange with his brother, Jordan, during his time out injured last year.  Finally, thanks Mark, but your time is now well and truly up.  The treacle runner once again saw the game pass him by and why he was preferred to Pedro Obiang is another to add to the list of Slaven Bilic mysteries.

There Were Some Positives

In the circumstances it was a gutsy performance to come back from two goals down to almost snatch a draw with ten men (or fewer).  What I feared would turn into a rampant demolition culminated with severe disappointment at the added time winner for the hosts; typical that it should be Charlie Austin, publicly maligned by our Chairman, who scored the decisive goal.  Although the closeness of the game was partly due to Southampton not having the belief to press home their advantage it was also a commendable effort on behalf of the Hammers.  In particular the return of Michail Antonio and the predatory skills of Javier Hernandez were impressive positives.  With minimal pre-season preparation, Antonio’s physical presence, commitment, effort and enterprise gave hope that the unexpected could happen and his tenacity was rewarded in setting up the first goal on the stroke of half-time (the nature of which meant, ridiculously, that no assist credit is given).  Little Pea demonstrated why his instinct will always deliver goals and he did this while also putting in tremendous effort as emergency cover for the disgraced Arnautovic.  There was also another assured performance from Rice although I still believe he would be better deployed in the centre of defence.

Better on Paper Than on Grass

The dismissal and near-heroic fight-back distracted from the continued deficiencies and inadequacies of squad and manager.  Even before the sending-off the defence was opened up at will down Southampton’s right wing and the first goal highlighted how vulnerable West Ham are against attacks at pace through the middle.  The squad on paper looks strong enough but unfortunately the teams put out on the pitch are less than the sum of their parts; through a lack of cohesion, organisation plus the aforementioned passengers.  With Manuel Lanzini and Chiekhou Kouyate still to return there should be a decent starting eleven in there somewhere if only it could be exploited, but cover is worryingly thin in some areas with only Lanzini capable of offering much in the way of subtlety and creativity.  Patting ourselves on the back for a successful transfer window is looking increasingly premature.  Hernandez looks to be a fantastic signing and cheap at half the price but my personal jury is still out as to what the others can offer.  Hart doesn’t look the keeper he once was and I doubt whether he even dominates the area as much as Adrian does?  Zabaleta has commitment and experience but does he have the legs for a long hard slog?   I am definitely sceptical on Arnautovic and he has much to prove; he never consistently wowed at Stoke and is a fair-weather player who turns up when he feels like it really what we need?  With the transfer window open for just over another week I hope that extra pace and athleticism in central midfield and defence are firmly on the radar.  Otherwise current trajectory says no better than last season and quite possibly far worse!

Matchday: Will West Ham Turn Up Today at Southampton?

More misery on the road or a kick start to the season down on the south coast?

The team that has gone six games at home without a goal plays the team that, on last week’s evidence, look like they wouldn’t be able to score in a month of Sundays.  So a goal-fest at the St Mary’s Stadium would be improbable were it not for the Hammer’s obliging nature in ending the dismal sequences of the other clubs.

Most West Ham supporters would consider the Hammers a bigger club than the Saints although this has not been in evidence over recent years.  Southampton pipped West Ham for automatic promotion in the 2011/12 Championship campaign and have finished higher in the Premier League in each of the last four seasons.  Despite finishing in a creditable eighth spot last season, the south coast club elected to change managers and now have a new boss in Argentine Mauricio Pellegrino, who has been described as a ‘breath of fresh air’ by his playing staff.

“They know they are not only following West Ham but ‘living’ West Ham. Those fans, they know how well the chairmen are doing for the club – how much they have invested – and they have taken it a long way up already.”

– Slaven Bilic on the Owners

Southampton also have new Chinese owners and they have inherited a well run club that appears to have a long term plan, a philosophy of how the game should be played ( regardless of manager) and a belief in giving a chance to their young players.  It is in stark contrast to the erratic, unfocused and unplanned direction witnessed at West Ham just now.  One report suggested kindly, after last week’s debacle, that the Hammers were a team in transition but sadly this level of uncertainty has become business as usual in the east-end.

Head to Head

West Ham can still boast supremacy in the all-time record with Southampton having won forty and lost thirty of the 105 senior meetings.  Honours are even at four apiece in the last twelve encounters, home and away, while in away games only West Ham have won two and lost six of the last twelve. In the eight meetings since Southampton moved to St Mary’s the Hammers have lost three times and won just the once, with a draw being the favoured outcome.  The sole victory was, of course, last season’s ultimately comfortable 3-1 victory earned with goals from Andy Carroll, Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble despite a typically shaky start.

Team News

West Ham welcome back Michail Antonio from a reducing injury list that now only includes three players; Manuel Lanzini, Cheikhou Kouyate and Carroll.  Without Lanzini the side continues to lack creativity but Antonio’s energy and power will be welcome, assuming that he is yet working at full throttle.

From the fall-out of last Sunday I would expect to see Aaron Cresswell re-installed at left back but whether that will be as part of a back four or in a slightly more advanced wing back role is anyone’s guess.  One of Antonio or Andre ‘What Does He Actually Do’ Ayew will likely be given attacking central midfield duties to give the impression of support to Javier Hernandez.  Obiang and Noble are probable starters with Declan Rice being introduced later on.

“We have to use our experience from Swansea and use everything we did in this game to keep learning and to use this experience for the next few games.”

– Mauricio Pellegrino

Southampton have no injury problems and can choose from a fully fit squad.  In recognition of the new Chinese influence on the south coast my takeaway is that we need to look out for Number 10, Number 16 and Number 22.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Lee Mason from Lancashire.  Mason’s only appointment last season with West Ham was in the 1-0 home win over Hull where he awarded a controversial penalty for a foul on Antonio, converted by Noble for the only goal of the game.

Predictions

The BBC’s Lawro and Sky Sport’s Paul Merson are going for 2-1 and 1-0 respectively.

I worked in Southampton at one time in my life and was a relatively frequent visitor to Saints games, although mainly in The Dell days.  Their fans have an innocent excitability about them, like schoolgirls at an international hockey game, and I predict that they will be very excited once more this afternoon with a 3-1 victory that will leave the Hammer’s firmly rooted in bottom spot.

A preview of West Ham at Southampton

After the Manchester United debacle, a trip down the M3 to visit Southampton, one of West Ham’s challengers to finish as champions of the second tier of the Premier League

I believe that the top seven places in the Premier League are already reserved for the two Manchester clubs, the two Merseyside teams, and the London trio of Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal. I’d love to be proved wrong but I’d get short odds from a bookmaker on those teams to finish at the top, even though the exact order that they will finish in is not cut and dried.

Southampton are the current “champions of the second tier of teams in the Premier League” after their eighth place finish last season, although the competition for this “honour” is a close run thing. They only finished a point ahead of ourselves (11th), and only six points separated 8th from 17th. I anticipate a similar close contest this time around.

In many ways the recent fortunes of Southampton are fairly similar to our own, although they have slightly the upper hand when it comes to league positions. We were both promoted to the top tier in 2011-12; they just pipped us for the second automatic place by two points, and it was the two games that we played each other that proved to be the difference. A 0-1 reverse at St. Mary’s in October 2011 was followed by a 1-1 draw in a controversial game at Upton Park on Valentine’s Day in 2012. Their four points to our one was essentially why they went up automatically, although with the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that great day at Wembley in May 2012 when we beat Blackpool in the play-off final.

In the first season back in the Premier League (2012-13) we finished a creditable tenth, with five more points that Southampton who were 14th. The following year our placings were reversed with the Saints 8th, 16 points ahead of ourselves in 13th. In 2014-15 the gap was 13 points with their seventh placed finish five places in front of us (12th). We both had excellent seasons in 2015-16; we were pleased to finish in seventh place in what in many ways (although not finishing position) many consider was our best ever season in the Premier League, but once again they were slightly above us by one position (6th) and one point. And one point (and three places) was their slender advantage over us last season.

In our two most recent games we shared the spoils, with a comprehensive Southampton victory (3-0) at the London Stadium just a fortnight after we had thrown away a two goal advantage in the home game against Watford last September, the catalysts for early season discontent which saw us sitting in a relegation place at the time. But by the time we met them in the reverse fixture at their place early in February this year, our fortunes had picked up considerably, and the three goals from Carroll, Obiang and Noble in a 3-1 win pushed us up to 9th place in the table. In a season where we only managed to score three or more goals in a league game on four occasions, we were in a hot streak (by our standards) at this time, scoring three goals for the third time in just three weeks. I try to forget though, that just three days before our victory at St Mary’s, Manchester City hammered us 4-0 at the London Stadium.

Head-to-head in the last six seasons (the Championship promotion year, and the five seasons since), we are very even with four wins, four draws and four defeats, with 15 goals scored to their 14. One interesting feature of this period is that Andy Carroll has scored in three of those games, although he is not yet ready to return to action, but Mark Noble has done even better. He has scored in four of the games (five goals in total), which must make our opponents one of his favourite teams to play against.

Our injury list has only reduced slightly with the return of Michail Antonio, although Sakho appears to have remained OK after his substitute appearance last weekend. Carroll, Kouyate, and Lanzini are all apparently close to a return but not quite close enough. Based upon last week’s performance, and the principle of horses for courses, as well as the need to recognise that Hernandez needs a partner to be at his best, I would expect our manager to name the following line-up for this game:

Hart

Zabaleta, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell,

Antonio, Noble, Obiang, Arnautovic,

Hernandez, Sakho

My main concerns, which are not new, are the possibility of being over-run in midfield, giving the ball away cheaply too often, the lack of pace at the back, and our slow build-up play. The manager may opt for Ayew (although I don’t know why), and Rice would be unlucky not to be called up based upon his excellent cameo at Old Trafford. Fernandes remains a good young prospect, but like Masuaku, both had poor games last weekend and may find themselves on the bench. Perhaps Sakho is not yet ready for a start, and either Antonio or Arnautavic might be pushed forward to partner Hernandez, which might give us the opportunity to bolster the midfield. Hopefully, all the players will be aware of the imminent return of Carroll, Lanzini, and Kouyate, and put in performances worthy of the shirt.

I’ll predict a draw, but hope that I am wrong and we sneak a victory. Perhaps Mark Noble will add to his goal tally against Southampton? Let us hope for an improved performance, and that we are not still at the foot of the table after this round of matches.

A reflective view on our trip to Manchester United last Sunday

A look back at West Ham’s defeat at Old Trafford now that the dust has settled.

Having let the dust settle for a few days I thought I would review what happened on Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford after a little reflection, rather than all the knee-jerk reactions that I read immediately after the game. It is always amusing (in a perverse way) to read the views of West Ham fans on social media at the end of a match, especially one where we have been heavily beaten.

The two widely diverse reactions mainly consisted on one hand of those who resorted to numerous expletives about the performance of the team and various individuals, and as an alternative view, those who suggested that such opinions are way over the top, and everyone should calm down. Of course we are all entitled to our views, but it does seem to me that many of our supporters only believe that their own view is valid, and anyone who disagrees with it is wrong, or even worse, they are just f****** c***s! But to some extent, that is the way social media operates.

Some are critical of the performance and various individual players, but try to be constructive, and suggest what we need to do to improve. But they are often lambasted with comments such as “the Bilic haters are out in force” (for Bilic you can read the names of some individual players), or “you should get behind the team”, or “West Ham till I die”, or other such comments.

I was on holiday last week in one of my favourite resorts, Camp de Mar on the island of Majorca, and a couple of days before the game I watched a comedian from Liverpool. He began his act by trying to ascertain where most of the audience came from. He asked if there were any Manchester United supporters and there was quite a cheer from parts of the crowd. His next question was to ask what part of London they came from! As I sat down to watch the game in the hotel bar I picked up on quite a few London accents around me, as well as a number of individuals from other parts of the country. When the first goal went in what we already knew was confirmed, and the comedian was proved right. Manchester United do have many fans in the south.

My opinion of the game as a whole is that we were completely over-run by a team that will undoubtedly be challenging for the title this season. They are full of skilful players with power and pace, and many teams are likely to be well beaten by them this season, especially at Old Trafford. The gulf in class between the top six teams in the country (perhaps Everton hope to make it seven) and the rest is vast. Some will point to the Chelsea game and the way they were beaten by Burnley, but Chelsea were in self-destruct mode (a bit like they were the season after Mourinho last won the title), so perhaps they will not be the same force as last season. Nevertheless they still fought back against Burnley despite being outnumbered.

The chances were we were always likely to lose the game, but to stand a chance, we had to be at our best, and preferably have our best team fit and raring to go. Our opponents were able to select their team from a fully fit squad, but we went into the game (as is so often the case) with injuries to key players. Lanzini, Antonio and Kouyate (and perhaps Carroll) are all first choice players, but were all unavailable. I despair at the number of key players that always seem to be missing through injury. Perhaps if they had been without Lukaku, Pogba, Rashford and Matic the result would have been different? But with the depth of their squad perhaps not?

But from my viewpoint the sad fact is that we appeared to go into the game lacking belief that we could win, and were just there to try to hold on for a draw. But I would have hoped for more resistance. Once again though, I’m not sure I understood what our game plan was, and I’m not sure that the players were aware of it either.

When you watch sport on TV these days you are bombarded with a plethora of statistics. This has always been a feature of American sport but it has now translated to these isles. If you watch tennis they show the number of unforced errors made by each player. This statistic is not yet a feature in football, but if it was then our figures would have been alarmingly high in this game. Time and again we gave the ball away to our opponents when not really under pressure.

According to our manager the players spent three days in training in how to deal with our opponent’s set pieces. Whose idea then was it that Masuaku should be the one to mark Lukaku? And talking of free kicks, how do we manage so often to waste them in the opposition half by taking them quickly and backwards, with the ball ending up back with our keeper? And why did it take so long to realise that Hernandez is not effective a lone striker? That’s just not his game, is it? We have four experienced international central defenders at the club. Am I alone in thinking that we need more pace in this area? And do Reid and Ogbonna make an ideal combination?

The Hart knockers (Adrian fan club?) were out in force on social media after the game. I thought Hart did OK. Yes, perhaps he might have saved one of the goals, but not at least three of them as some Adrian fans were suggesting. I like Adrian; he is a decent keeper; but I cannot go overboard about his passion purely in the light of throwing his gloves on the ground to take a penalty against Everton. I thought Zabaleta did OK too. I read some criticism of his pace, but most Premier League defenders would have struggled against Rashford and (later) Martial on the day.

Both of our left backs are perhaps better going forward than defending, as is the case with many full backs these days. I do have a slight preference for Cresswell defensively though, but it’s all a matter of opinion. I am a big fan of Obiang, and the potential of Fernandes, but both seemed well off the pace on Sunday. But the cameo from Rice was excellent with statistics to back it up. The pleasing thing from my point of view was his desire for the ball, and how he looked confident and assured when he had it. I believe a run in the team would be well deserved.

Our attacking play was slow and predictable, as it was for much of last season, and many believe that part of the reason for this is our captain. He has been a great servant for the club, and hopefully will continue to be. He has never been blessed with great pace, but increasingly these days he seems to be running on sand (or in treacle!).

But as many have said; let’s not be too hasty. It was one game against a top class side. Hopefully our injury list will disappear soon and we will have a full squad to pick from. Perhaps there is more to come from this transfer window? The Carvalho saga drags on, and some reports suggest we are after other Sporting Lisbon and Benfica players. I don’t know how effective they would be in the Premier League if any of them arrive? Personally I’d love to see us spend the kind of money that is being talked about (for Carvalho) on Oxlade-Chamberlain, but doubt if it will happen (or that he would necessarily want to come!). I’d take a chance on Wilshere too if he was available at a decent price, despite his injury record. We need more creativity than relying on Lanzini.

It will be important to put in better performances against the other 12 teams who are fighting for an eighth place finish in the Premier League. The gulf between the top seven and the rest is unfortunately too wide (I believe) for us to believe we can finish any higher. I’d love to be proved wrong though.

Five Takeaways from West Ham’s thrashing by Manchester United

After all the build up a depressingly disappointing start to the new league season. What went wrong?

Overawed by Potential Champions

There is no doubt that Manchester United are one of the favourites for this season’s Premier League title.  Mourinho has assembled a side that has a pragmatism alongside power and pace that will enable them to grind out results whenever opponents go to Old Trafford to frustrate.  They won’t have many easier days than yesterday’s canter against a feeble and unadventurous West Ham side.  The gulf in class was so great it could have been Premier League versus League 1 in an early round FA Cup tie, although in those circumstances you would have expected the opposition to put up more resistance.  Slaven Bilic may well have selected the best eleven players available to him, as a result of injuries to key players, but it felt that he sent them out with no discernible game plan or belief that they could get anything out of the game.  As has so often been the case in recent seasons it is not the fact that we have lost to a much better side that exasperates and causes concern but the manner in which we have apparently accepted defeat as inevitable .

Repeating Last Season’s Mistakes

It is only one game into the season and so rash judgements should be avoided at least until the transfer window has closed and we have welcomed the respective returns of Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio.  However, the underlying worry is that we have simply picked up where we left off last season.  Persistent concerns from last term surrounding levels of fitness, tactics, selection, organisation and motivation continued to surface in pre-season and were apparent once again yesterday.  Better players may have been signed but that is only one part of the equation in creating a team that will perform week in, week out.  The impression given is of a disjointed side with players who are strangers to each other and any sign of cohesion and collective desire is difficult to spot.  Bilic claimed after the match that they had spent three days on the training ground working on defending set pieces and yet the best that they came up with was to have Arthur Masuaku marking Lukaku at a free kick.  Repeating last season’s mistakes gives no cause for optimism that it will be anything other than another disappointing campaign.  The only way to turn things around is by doing things differently; not doing the same things over and over again.

The Problem of Ball Retention and Unforced Errors

A recurring theme in West Ham’s play for some time is how cheaply the ball is given away.  If you game plan is to sit and back and soak up pressure then one assumes there should be some ambition once you get the ball.  If the only tactic is give it back to the opposition straight away and invite them to try again, then sooner or later something will give.  Accepting that Manchester United have better players does not mean that our players should be unable to execute the most basic of football skills; control, pass, move.  In the opening exchanges yesterday the ball was given away repeatedly even when under little pressure and it was one such unforced error by Pedro Obiang that led directly to the first of Lukaku’s goals.  Equally there is not enough movement off the ball to create space or provide options for the player in possession.  Do West Ham have a patent on the 180 degree turn?  It used to be said that West Ham played ‘on their toes’ in anticipation of pass and to occupy opposition defenders; now it is mostly a case of players remaining flat footed until the ball arrives at their feet losing momentum and allowing opponents to re-group.  Our players seem to want to play in little triangles as if it is a training ground practice drill with the result that the opposition is not stretched and attacks are slow and predictable.

Selections and Substitutions

I had expected West Ham to go into the game with three at the back and so was somewhat surprised when the team was announced.  Our full backs are generally better at going forward (and relatively suspect defensively) while the wide midfield players are not known for paying attention to defensive duties.  Having said that, I am not sure that a back three would have led to a different outcome as we are equally vulnerable to attacks at pace through the middle as we are down the flanks. I would not be too critical of Bilic about the substitutions although arguably it resulted in a heavier defeat than might have been the case.  At 2-0 down it was a gamble to bring on an additional forward but at least Diafra Sakho looked lively and the change was an attempt to give some support to Javier Hernandez, who toiled manfully but was largely isolated.

Declan Rice The Only Positive

The only real positive from the game was the thirty minute contribution by Declan Rice.  I had questioned using him in midfield previously but was very impressed with both his maturity and how comfortable he looked on the ball and in the Premier League.  If you are good enough you are old enough.  Of the new signings, Pablo Zabaleta did OK and at least showed commitment, Hernandez ran willingly and demonstrated good touch, Marko Arnautovic blew hot and cold and Joe Hart should maybe have done better for the last goal.  I wonder if they are starting to wonder what they have let themselves in for at West Ham.  Of the others Edmilson Fernandes and Masuaku were particularly disappointing, Obiang had a bad day, Mark Noble tried hard but is well off the pace and I am still left scratching me head at what Andre Ayew is meant to contribute.  I will leave the summing up of our performance to whoscored.com:

Strengths                  Team has no significant strengths

Styles                         Team showed no specific style of play

Triskaidekaphobia in August? Not West Ham!

Unlucky for some but not for the Hammers.

Triskaidekaphobia is a morbid fear of the number 13. The number 13 has many reasons for people to believe it is unlucky. Many relate it back to the “Last Supper”, and there are examples of the bad fortune relating to the number, such as the arrest of the Knights Templar, and Apollo 13. Quite probably there are reasons to believe that almost any number is unlucky, but 13 seems to be the most popular of them, and properties in many roads and blocks of flats often don’t have a number 13.

But 13 has often been a lucky number for West Ham. West Ham have a good record in matches played on the thirteenth of the month, and in the month of August this is a particularly true fact. We have had a number of victories on this date in history, perhaps the most notable that I can recall being a 2-1 win over bitter rivals Tottenham in 1997. Goals from Berkovich and Hartson, two of our players who didn’t always see eye to eye, led to the victory in what was our second match of the 1997-98 season, both resulting in wins.

In fact we have never lost a competitive game played on August 13 in our entire history. So for any superstitious fans, we can thank the TV companies for the re-arrangement of our opening game this season at Old Trafford. Many believe that the odds are stacked against us today, but history shows that we are unbeatable on this date. So if you are looking for a reason to believe we will do well in today’s game this may be it. Let us hope that we keep up this amazing record.