Matchday 1: West Ham’s Typically Tricky Trip to Old Trafford

West Ham face what is usually a tricky task at the Theatre of Shattered Dreams.

Football is back and at last the weekend routine can return to normal subject to international breaks permitting.  In the last of the weekend’s Matchweek 1 fixtures the Hammers travel north to face Manchester United at Old Trafford.  After last season’s frustrations the slate is wiped clean as Slaven Bilic resumes his place in the hot seat with what looks to be a much improved and better balanced squad.  Time to get behind the manager and team for the highs and lows of what we can only hope will be an exciting, enjoyable and entertaining season.

West Ham do not hold many Premier League records but the highest number of opening day defeats (with ten) is one of them, while today’s opponents are joint leaders in the collection of opening day victories, with sixteen.  Throw in the fact that Jose Mourinho has never, as a manager, lost a season opener or lost a home league match on a Sunday then the omens do not look very promosing.  Still there are always a handful of surprises on the opening weekend and hopefully these were not all used up yesterday.

Head to Head

Of the last twelve meetings between West Ham and Manchester United that wonderful and memorable last game at the Boleyn is the only win that the Hammers have recorded.  The remainder have seen six defeats and five draws.

Old Trafford has never been the happiest hunting ground and despite some notable successes West Ham have only won fourteen times out of seventy visits (nine draws and forty seven defeats).  The most recent victory was on the final day of the Great Escape season (May 2007) and in the twelve encounters since that day the record is lost nine and drawn three.  Both the last two league meetings at Old Trafford have ended in draws including a scoreless one in December 2015 where the Hammers were clearly the better side.

“It’s not ideal playing against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the first game of the season, but on the other hand, it is brilliant and one of the greatest away games in the league.”

Slaven Bilic on the opening day fixture

You have to go back to the early days of the 1986/87 season for the last time that West Ham scored more than one goal at Old Trafford when two goals from Frank McAvennie and another from Alan Devonshire earned a 3-2 win to put West Ham top of the table.  If Javier Hernandez is unsure whether or not to celebrate any goals that he scores then history suggests that he will only need to agonise about it one time.

Team News

Once again West Ham are pace setters on the Physio Room injuries table with several key players not available for selection.  The probable absence of Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio are the biggest blows particularly with respect to any attacking aspirations that the Hammers may have.  Cheikhou Kouyate, Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll are all missing and Aaron Creswell is a doubt.

My expectation is that Bilic will start with the back three of Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna and Jose Fonte supported by Pablo Zabaleta and one of Arthur Masuaku or Cresswell as full/ wing backs.  A probable midfield will see Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble at its heart with Marko Arnautovic and Andre Ayew wide and Herndandez a lonely figure up top.

“Everyone is available except the injuries that everybody knows, so the injuries that come from the previous season with surgeries.  Every one of the 22, plus the goalkeepers, that started the pre-season is ready for Premier League match one.”

Jose Mourinho on his fully fit squad

Manchester United have no new injury concerns and will parade a host of expensive new signings including bogey man Romelu Lukaku.

Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire.  We enjoyed Atkinson’s company four times last season: the home defeat to Watford; away wins to Crystal Palace (where he sent off Cresswell for two alleged yellow card offences) and Middlesbrough; and the away defeat to Arsenal (where he denied the Gunners a penalty or two to prevent an even more comprehensive scoreline).

Prediction

Both Lawro and Paul Merson see the game as a stonewall 2-0 home win for the hosts.  Mourinho’s teams are never flamboyant or packed with flair but rely on strength and relentless pressure to break teams down.  West Ham will likely take several buses to park on the edge of the area and the danger will be giving away too many free-kicks close to goal.  How well Zabaleta deals with the threat of Rashford could be a decisive individual contest.  The shortest odds this afternoon must be for a Lukaku goal and I fear that if one goes in it could lead to several more.  Difficult to see the Hammers fashioning too many quick breakaways but maybe Arnie and the Little Pea can conjure something up.

I would like to think that we can snatch a draw but deep down feel that we could lose by two or three.  It would be nice to get off to a flying start to the season but with three away games on the bounce it will be tough to get many points on the board before the international break.

 

 

Manchester United versus West Ham Preview

West Ham travel to Old Trafford for their 2017/18 season opener.

So there we have it. The pre-season fixtures have been done and dusted and we now get down to the nitty gritty of the Premier League. Of course because of the World Athletics Championships we face three fixtures away from home to begin with while they put the stadium back together again. In reality though, only one game had to be re-arranged, and that is our second match which is now a visit to the South Coast, instead of a home game against Southampton.

The opener though is just about as tough a game as we can expect, and nothing we’ve seen in pre-season leads me to expect that we can create a surprise here. The bookmakers don’t anticipate an upset, with the home side at odds of between 1/3 and 1/4, and a West Ham win quoted at between 10/1 and 12/1. You can get 4/1 on a drawn game.

Although friendly games very rarely give an indication of the real business to come, our final pre-season game in Iceland against Manchester City demonstrated very clearly the gulf in class between the very top teams, and those, like ourselves, who can really only hope to be contending for an eighth place finish. Our hosts have had an excellent pre-season including a win over City, and their only defeat was a single goal loss to Barcelona.

But you never know. Perhaps a visit to Old Trafford for the first game in the season is as good a time to visit there as any. Mourinho has added to what was already a strong squad, with their big signings of Lindelof, Matic, and our old friend Lukaku, who will be looking for his customary goal against West Ham, although to be fair we stopped him from scoring the last time he played against us for Everton in April.

The opening game can throw up some surprises, however; none more so than our visit to the Emirates the season before last when we shocked everybody with a 2-0 win. Last season we only just lost to Chelsea with a late goal from Costa, who shouldn’t really have still been on the field at the time, and they of course went on to win the league comfortably. But Manchester United began last season well with three straight wins, and every indication is that they might be even stronger contenders to finish at the top this time around.

I am writing this preview a few days in advance, as I will be watching the game in a bar in Camp de Mar in Majorca, and as such I am not sure of the likely make-up of our team, and how many injuries we will have before the season gets underway! I have a feeling that we will go into the game with a defensive 3-5-2 formation, with Fonte, Reid and Ogbonna in front of Hart in goal. Zabaleta and Masuaku could well be the wide (defensive) players in the middle (back?) five, and I would expect that Noble, Obiang and Lanzini will be the others. I would anticipate the two strikers to be Arnautavic and Hernandez. This would not necessarily be my choice of formation, but I am not paid to manage the team. If we do line up in this way then I can see us being on the back foot from the start.

Nevertheless I have dusted down my optimistic hat, and for no logical reason predict a 1-0 win, courtesy of a goal by Hernandez against the club that let him go.

West Ham Ten Years Ago Today

Memories of starting the season full of hope in August 2007 following the ‘great escape’.

Ten years ago on this day, Saturday 11 August 2007, we began our Premier League campaign with a home game against Manchester City. Just a few weeks earlier we had completed the “Great Escape” with a final day win at Old Trafford, and now under the continued management of Alan Curbishley we were embarking upon a new season with high hopes. Although Carlos Tevez had gone to Manchester United, we had made what were considered to be impressive signings in the transfer window, with new recruits Scott Parker, Freddie Llungberg, Julien Faubert, Kieron Dyer, and Craig Bellamy, who became our record signing at the time at £7.5 million. Dean Ashton was about to return after a year out with injury, and many believed a much better season would follow.

Tevez played less than 30 games for us and scored just seven goals but to many he was almost a legend. Of course, the controversy surrounding him joining us meant that we had allegedly broken third-party rules, which led to us paying an initial fine of £5.5 million pounds. Then, eighteen months later, just days before an independent FA arbitration panel was due to meet to consider a claim by Sheffield United that Tevez was instrumental in their relegation, we agreed to settle the claim by paying £30 million in instalments to the Blades. The “Tevez affair” had a profound impact upon the club for years.

Sven-Goran Eriksson, the ex-England manager, had taken over at Manchester City. Their owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, had bankrolled a big spending spree, and they had a host of new, mainly foreign, signings who made their debut that day, along with a keeper making his first appearance, Kasper Schmeichel. Two of their new signings scored the goals which beat us that day. In the first half, Elano ran through our half barely challenged, and then slid the ball across goal for Bianchi to slide in and score from about two feet. And just a couple of minutes from the end, Onuoha ran half the length of the field, evading a couple of half-hearted challenges, and laid the ball back for substitute Geovanni to hit a low drive beyond Robert Green from the edge of the area.

It was generally a rather flat performance for the opening game of the season, and although Zamora, Llungberg, Etherington, and finally Ashton had decent efforts and might have scored, City were good value for their win. After scoring the opening goal they sat back, and were relatively comfortable.

Our team that day was: Green, Spector, A. Ferdinand, Upson, McCartney, Boa Morte, Bowyer, Noble, Llungberg, Bellamy, Zamora.

Mullins and Etherington were introduced as substitutes at half time replacing Bowyer and Boa Morte, and then with just under half an hour remaining, Dean Ashton replaced McCartney.

The poor start to the season led to some changes for the next game which was won at Birmingham with a Mark Noble penalty. We went on to pick up ten points from the four games that followed the opening day defeat, and eventually finished the season in tenth place, which was one place below Manchester City and one above Tottenham.

How the make-up of the Premier League can change in ten years! Eleven of the clubs we faced that season will not be seen at top flight grounds this season. Villa, Blackburn, Portsmouth, Wigan, Bolton, Fulham, Reading, Birmingham, Derby, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland are all now in lower leagues. The only eight clubs that we faced in 2007-08 that we will meet this season, just ten years later are the teams who finished as the top seven last season, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Everton, plus newly promoted Newcastle. It would be hard to bet against those same seven clubs occupying the top seven places again this season, albeit perhaps in a slightly different order.

Ten years on, and I believe  that Mark Noble and Kasper Schmeichel are the only two players who played that day who are still plying their trade in the Premier League.

Dreaming Dreams of a Top Eight Finish for West Ham

Today Under The Hammer’s Richard Bennett looks forward to the new Premier League season.

The 2017-18 season has arrived. Being a bit of a traditionalist, in the past the opening day was always one I looked forward to. All teams in the top flight would kick off at 3pm on the first Saturday, and by 5 o’clock you could see the first league table with all the teams having completed their first game. Of course, because of television that is not now the case, and this season the opening games begin on Friday evening, and continue through until Sunday, when our game at Old Trafford is the last one.

I had to smile when I saw the BBC league table where we were showing in 20th place (because of alphabetical order) before a ball has been kicked. By Saturday evening we will have moved off the bottom provided all the games on Friday and Saturday haven’t ended in draws! And when we kick off we will know what we have to do to be top of the table at the completion of matchday 1, or alternatively what we need to do to avoid being bottom of the pile.

This is written in jest of course, because the league table doesn’t really begin to take shape until at least half a dozen games have been played by each side. But by then, it is important not to be close to the bottom, as psychologically you feel that you are in a relegation scrap from the outset if you are. By the time we reach the third international break early in November, 11 games will have been played, five at home and six away, and by then we will have a good idea how our season will pan out.

By Christmas Day we will have reached the half-way point in the season (19 games played), but unusually we won’t have played all the other 19 teams at this point. The fixtures computer usually (in recent years) arranges it so that we have played them all, but by Christmas we will have played Newcastle home and away, but not played Bournemouth at all. We play them on Boxing Day.

But is it really that difficult to predict the eventual outcome in the Premier League by the end of the season? Last season my co-weblogger Geoff Hopkins and I made a forecast before the first games were played as to where each team would finish at the end. Our predictions were relatively accurate, as we predicted the top six (though not in the correct order), and not one of our finishing positions was more than six places out from the eventual outcome. This was no great achievement because it is not hard to know roughly what will happen before a ball has been kicked. Of course we were all taken by surprise with Leicester the season before, but that was a one-off which is extremely unlikely to happen again. Going back a few years it was much harder to forecast what would happen each season.

The Premier League is actually more open than almost all the other leagues in Europe, in that before the season starts there are likely to be anything up to six teams who may be in contention for the title. Compare that to other countries where the champions will come from perhaps two or three teams at the most.

Nevertheless despite the apparent predictability, Geoff and I will forecast the finishing positions of each team in the Premier League in the form of a friendly competition (see Geoff’s prediction here.). We score 0 points if we get the finishing position spot on, or one point for each position that we are out. Like the quiz Pointless the lowest score wins. Last year our scores were 54-57, so on average we were less than three positions out for each team, confirming the predictability of the league.

Last time I predicted a seventh place finish for West Ham to match the successful season that preceded it. We eventually ended up in 11th, although of course we were only one point behind the eighth placed team. Only six points separated 8th from 17th in the Premier League, so it can be close for the teams vying for the 8th spot, which if it follows last season, will be a competition in itself, because I believe the top seven spots will already be taken. Of course I hope I am wrong, and that our pre-season fixtures are not a true indication of how we will perform. Perhaps we can do a Leicester? If you believe that then the majority of bookmakers will offer you odds of 500-1.

My forecast for 2017-18 is as follows:

  1. Manchester City
  2. Manchester United
  3. Chelsea
  4. Arsenal
  5. Tottenham
  6. Liverpool
  7. Everton
  8. West Ham
  9. Leicester
  10. Newcastle
  11. Crystal Palace
  12. West Brom
  13. Bournemouth
  14. Southampton
  15. Swansea
  16. Stoke
  17. Burnley
  18. Brighton
  19. Huddersfield
  20. Watford

Can The Hammers Enjoy a Season in the Sun?

A review of the West Ham and the upcoming 2017/ 18 Premier League by Under The Hammer’s Geoff Hopkins.

As we prepare for the start of another Premier League season I find myself in a similar position to the one that heralded the final year of Fat Sam’s reign.   Unfortunately, I don’t believe we have a manager that can deliver in the long term and yet, regardless of circumstances, I always want the team to win every game, and so could take no pleasure from being proved right about the manager’s limitations.  In fact, I would be more than happy for him to prove me wrong by as much as he likes.  The trouble is I see little to suggest that anything has changed in the management and coaching mindset to address the many problems that we witnessed in team performance and organisation last year.

I understand it is a reasonable argument to put forward that Bilic has had one good season in charge and one poor one; and so deserves a third as an opportunity to prove himself; but it leaves everyone in a rather precarious and uncertain situation of a manger in the final year of his contract where safety first will be the order of the day.

Two years ago when West Ham faced Arsenal away on the opening weekend of the season and came away with a stunning 2-0 victory it seemed we had struck gold with a tactically astute manager playing attractive football at the helm at last.  This was quickly followed up with a run of other unexpected wins against top clubs before performances started to gradually fall away despite the emotion generated from the last season at Upton Park.  In a season where the big clubs largely under-performed the Hammers were inspired by the flair and free-kicks of flawed Frenchman Dimitri Payet.  Yet a system and passion that worked well against elite clubs often failed to deliver, at least on a consistent basis, against the lesser teams where the team lacked shape, pace and penetration.  With poor recruitment the following summer and once Payet had downed tools, the underlying cracks in organisation and tactics were revealed for all to see.  It would not be the first time that a manager had done well in his first season built on a predecessor’s foundation but then faded badly.

The general consensus is that West Ham have had a spectacular summer transfer window.  In contrast to last summer, and the bizarre January recruitment, that may well be the case but it seems premature to pat ourselves on the back too enthusiastically just yet.  Let’s wait and see how the new signings perform before getting too carried away.  Does Zabaleta still have the legs and motivation?  Can Hernandez deliver as a regular lone striker starter?  How consistent will Arnautovic be?  Does it make sense for your first choice keeper to be only on loan?  Will Bilic, given his uncertain position, take the risk of blooding any young players?   We can all speculate but only time will tell for sure.  I would like to believe in my heart that we could be competing for a best of the rest seventh but my head says mid-table at best.

As for the squad itself, it looks stronger on paper when compared to how we know the team performed last season.  But a performing team needs to be more than the sum of its parts and in modern football attack and defence must be conducted as a unit and requires organisation, pace, mobility and fitness in addition to the underlying technical skills.  Too often West Ham teams have a disjointed look with the merest hint of cohesion between the constituent parts of the formation. In a Premier League awash with money every team has good technical players and so how those talents are utilised and integrated becomes even more important and is the true measure of coaching.

In goal, Hart is an upgrade (but not a massive one) on Adrian and if the rumours of Adrian wanting out are true then we could be left with a bit of an embarrassing hole between the sticks.

The defence says old, frail and error prone to me unless it is strengthened before the transfer window closes (and not with Kone!).  Reid is a top quality defender but is not without injury concerns.  Ogbonna has a tendency to switch off and allow opponents too much room, Collins is decent as emergency cover but Fonte looks something of a dud, at least in a back four.  It is a case of wait and see as far as Zabaleta is concerned while Cresswell, Masuaku and Byram are all better when going forward than defending.  Will Rice be given a chance?  Maybe, but most likely as a defensive midfielder from the bench.

The squad is packed with midfield players of one type or another but the optimum combination is difficult to identify.  West Ham rarely dominate a match these days and that is a direct consequence of poor ball retention, options and movement, particularly in the midfield areas.

Any team needs to be solid at the centre of midfield where defensive and pressing responsibilities are key.  Obiang is a class act but Noble, bless his claret and blue cotton socks, is too slow in movement and distribution these days while Kouyate, despite his athleticism, lacks the required discipline and is a poor passer of the ball.  Fernandes is sometimes mentioned as an option but, for me, needs a more attacking role that suits his physique and range of passing.  An additional defensive/ holding midfielder would be another at the top of my priority list.

The realistic attacking midfield options are Lanzini (assuming we keep hold of him), Antonio and Arnautovic backed up by Ayew, Fernandes and possibly new signing Haksabanovic.  I suppose there is also Feghouli and Snodgrass until we hear otherwise.  Hopefully Arnautovic can assist Lanzini in the creativity department but can he help out his full-back when required?  Will Antonio get a long run in his preferred and most effective wide right position or does Bilic have different plans for him?  Will Haksabanovic be given a chance and what exactly is Ayew’s position?

The troublesome striker position now has a potential solution with the recruitment of Hernandez.  On the assumption that he will be the main striker playing up front on his own it will be interesting to see how he adapts.  His goals scored per minutes on the pitch record at Manchester United was impressive and came courtesy of some very clinical finishing off the bench; his role at West Ham will be a whole new challenge for him.  At the moment the only back-up is from perennial sick-notes Carroll and Sakho.  Could a Hernandez/ Carroll partnership work?  Possibly in certain circumstances but taking a player out of a fragile midfield would create its own problems.

I don’t expect a season of struggle but I do foresee an unspectacular one with a disjointed team that relies heavily on set pieces for its goals.  I don’t disagree with Bilic that individual errors need to be eliminated but that is by no means the extent, or even the most important, of the shortcomings.

Mentally, I would include West Ham in a group of teams who should be capable of grabbing seventh spot with the help of a good following wind and good fortune with injuries and refereeing decsions; alongside the likes of Everton, Leicester, Southampton, Newcastle and even Palace.  Everton have lost Lukaku and have the distraction of European Thursday night football, Leicester have bought and retained well, Southampton and Palace have new managers inexperienced in English football and Newcastle need to adapt to life back at the top.  There is a chance but do we have the confidence, desire and discipline to take it?  I really hope we give it a go and can show the same commitment as if we were playing Tottenham every week.

In time honoured fashion I will end with my prediction for the final Premier League table season 2017/18:

1          Manchester United
2          Manchester City
3          Tottenham
4          Arsenal
5          Liverpool
6          Chelsea
7          Everton
8          Leicester
9          Southampton
10       Crystal Palace
11       West Ham
12       Newcastle
13       Watford
14       Bournemouth
15       Stoke
16       Swansea
17       West Bromwich Albion
18       Burnley
19       Huddersfield
20       Brighton

West Ham’s Not Yet Settled Squad and the Homegrown Player Dilemma

With the season starting before the transfer window closes, West Ham have a few extra weeks to get their squad in order.

It seems an oddity to me that the transfer window stays open for a further two weeks after the season has started.  It would be far tidier if they slammed it shut on the eve of the new season so that all of our predictions could be based on the precise knowledge of which players are in each particular team’s squad.  A last minute sensational rabbit out of the hat signing or a bewildering ‘too good an offer to refuse’ departure could well define the season for some clubs, including our own.

As it is, clubs have until the day after the window closes on 31 August to name their twenty five man squads, which, of course, must include eight homegrown players; or to put it another way can only have seventeen foreign players.  The make-up of the actual West Ham squad for the start of the 2017/18 remains pure speculation but, for the sake of argument, I will use that currently listed on Wikipedia (as at 7 August 2017) with the names of the homegrown players underlined:

Reid, Cresswell, Zabaleta, Feghouli, Kouyaté, Carroll, Lanzini, Snodgrass, Adrián, Obiang, Sakho, Noble, Hernández, Collins, Ayew, Ogbonna, Byram, Fonte, Hart, Masuaku, Antonio, Fernandes, Arnautović and Hakšabanović

The Homegrown rule is an odd one as for a player to be qualify he must, regardless of nationality have been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh FA for a period of three seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday.  According to my interpretation of the rule the above squad (which, by the way, only includes twenty four players) has just seven that qualify as homegrown.  More interestingly, many supporters preferred starting eleven would probably include just one or two homegrown players.

We can reasonably expect there to be changes to the squad before the end of the month with the potential (fingers crossed) departures of Feghouli and Snodgrass, leaving a few extra places available in a squad that remains thin in all key areas; striker, central midfield and centre back.  There have been a few potential recruits linked (Gray, Wilshire) that would qualify as homegrown but the majority of the names mentioned continue to be johnny foreigners. Any shortfall would need to be made up by including at least one qualifying academy player in the named squad, even though technically any number of players under twenty one can be included in the squad without actually being part of the named twenty five.


The signing of Sead Hakšabanović was a surprise addition to the ranks this week and has all the hallmarks of a Tony Henry signing.  Hakšabanović has only recently turned eighteen but has almost fifty appearances under his belt in the top tier of the Swedish league, as well as being a full international for Montenegro.  An attacking midfielder he could, in theory, provide backup to Manuel Lanzini but time will tell whether his youth will once again prove a barrier to selection by manager Slaven Bilic.


Just a few days to go before the 26th Premier League season gets underway.  For the first time there will be three south coast clubs in the competition (it is probably the first time ever in the top flight).  There will be five London clubs, three from the Midlands, five from the North West, one each from Wales and the North East plus two others (Watford and Huddersfield).  In total only nine of the twenty teams are from north of Watford (Professor Google assures me that Swansea is slightly south of Watford) and so the need to travel well to cold and desolate northern wastelands is not as acute as it has been in previous seasons.

For amusement only, here is a selection of cumulative all-time statistics from West Ham’s previous twenty one seasons in the Premier League.

10th in Number of Victories (265; 1st = Manchester United, 604)
3rd in Number of Defeats (332; Everton, 336)
8th in Number of Draws (209; Everton, 277)
10th in Goals Scored (964; Manchester United, 1856)
4th in Goals Conceded (1004; Tottenham, 1231)
12th in Number of Own Goals (32; Everton, 47)
6th in Number of Red Cards (69; Everton, 86)
7th in Number of Yellow Cards (1321; Chelsea, 1536)
10th in Number of Clean Sheets (216; Manchester United, 418)
1st in Number of Penalties Saved (13)
2nd in Clearances Off The Line (63; Sunderland, 66)

West Ham: Friendly Mis-Fire and the Debt Smokescreen

West Ham fail to impress in what turns out to be an attack versus defence friendly in Iceland.

Is the gulf in class between West Ham and Manchester City greater or less than that between ourselves and FC Altona 93?  This thought occurred to me while watching the Hammer’s struggle in their final pre-season friendly yesterday.  Whereas the German fourth division side had been able to produce a spirited display to make a game of it in Hamburg our attempts to compete against City in Reykjavik were disturbingly feeble in comparison.

While I can understand the argument that results do not matter in these friendly matches surely there is some expectation or benefit required from them; or else what is the point?  In what turned out to be an exhibition of attack versus defence what did we learn other than confirmation that there is a tower block of next levels between West Ham and the Premier League elite clubs?   Was the game an essential step in building fitness?  Did we witness tactical experimentation or fine tuning in readiness for next week’s main event?  From what I saw I don’t believe so!

To me our performance had all the hallmarks of so many of last season’s disappointments.  An inability to keep possession for more than two or three passes, minimal movement off the ball, a first instinct to go sideways or backwards, a side that neither attacks nor defends as a unit and players prone to individual errors.

I may be paraphrasing manager Slaven Bilic but I got the impression from his comments that were it not for individual errors then everything would have been alright.  If nothing else changes I think we are in for a mostly unremarkable season, not necessarily a struggle, but where scraping into the top ten would be a reasonable achievement.  There may be an upgrade on personnel in the squad but in terms of the basics of formation, fitness and tactics there continues to be cause for concern.

In mitigation the team was without such influential players as Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio and Winston Reid and we were up against a side that traditionally has a storming start to the season.  There was even a harshly disallowed goal from Andre Ayew and, at the final whistle, we had fared no worse than Real Madrid or Tottenham against the same opposition.

If there were positives to be taken it was in the second half performances of Javier Hernandez and Declan Rice.  Hernandez gave an enthusiastic display and looks to have energy, pace and mobility.  We can only hope that Little Pea doesn’t eventually get a little pee’d off by a lack of service and support from his team-mates.  Rice looks a very assured player for one so young but I’m not convinced of the wisdom of using him in midfield; better to see how he would have acquitted himself in his preferred central defensive position.  It could be construed as typical Bilic thinking that centre back and defensive midfield are inter-changeable activities.

An honourable mention also to Joe Hart, not only for some smart saves but also for not shutting up during the whole game in an attempt to organise the wayward defenders in front of him.

It was strange to see two players brought on as 85th minute substitutes in a friendly game but at least wasting a little time may have contributed to keeping the score almost respectable.


There was a spirited defence of the Board and the debt position in some quarters during the last week.  I do not doubt that the debt exists but the club’s position on it seems to be rather selective depending on what point they are trying make at the time.  It reminds me of  those unfathomable logic problems with two doors (one leading to certain death and one to freedom) that are protected by two guards; one who can only tell the truth and one who always lies.  You are only allowed to ask one question.

So, David is it true that you have done a magnificent job in eliminating external debt by replacing it with loans from yourselves while the underlying value of the club appreciates spectacularly?  Or is the fact that you have been unable to reduce the debt (which there is no incentive to do in any case) a reason why the club cannot invest more into new players?

I’m not particularly a Board basher but there has tended to be a disconnect between words and actions from the Chairmen that has led to a sense of mistrust or disbelief on their ambitions for the club.  In a period of extreme revenue growth there is an understandable sense of frustration that our transfer activity, although widely acclaimed (over hyped even), has been relatively modest.  Clearly there is more to football club finances than headline grabbing transfer fees but supporters have yet to see a level of  investment action that matches the fine words of next level ambitions.