Burnley v West Ham – Who Will Have The Claret Blues After the Game?

At the start of the season, as a West Ham fan, would you have been happy that, after eleven games had been played, the team were level on points with Manchester United, Tottenham and Wolves? Almost certainly the answer would have been yes. But if you were asked a different question, such as, after eleven games have been played, would you be happy to be sitting below Sheffield United,  Bournemouth, Brighton and Crystal Palace in the Premier League table? The answer would definitely have been most certainly not. Such is the nature of the Premier League after eleven games with approaching a third of the season completed. Together with the Red Devils, Wolves and our friends from North London, then compared to last season’s finishing positions, then so far we are under-performing, unlike the other four teams mentioned who are currently occupying positions in the table which are exceeding expectations.

I always like to look at current form (say the last five games), and based on that then we would be in a relegation position with just two points, with only Southampton and Norwich below us on one apiece. Even Watford, who have been rooted to the bottom all season, have picked up three points from the last five games. Our opponents this weekend, Burnley, sit immediately below us trailing us by just one point. Their recent form has not been good either, collecting just four points in the last five games. But if they beat us, they will leapfrog us, and in fact all of the teams down to 17th in the table could go past us with wins this weekend if we lose, as we are only two points above Everton who are 17th.

So what exactly has gone wrong? It wasn’t that long ago when we were being touted (alongside Leicester) as one of the teams that could push ahead and perhaps challenge for a place in the top six, or even top four according to some. My friend and co-blogger Geoff wrote an article after the Newcastle game where he highlighted a number of the deficiencies in the team. In particular he mentioned a lack of pace, width, organisation, fitness, commitment and motivation. It is difficult to argue with those. He also mentioned (and I may have added one or two of my own) a slow pedantic build up when attacking, sideways and backwards passing to no real effect – this was particularly galling as the final whistle approached, a selection of an ageing right back to face one of the fastest wingers in the Premier League, the lack of strategy in not having faster players defending against counter attacks launched by the opposition from our corners, a manager with an apparently strange selection policy by not changing an underperforming team, an apparent reluctance to try something different when things are not going right, including a reluctance to try a different formation, the lack of chances given to in-form younger development players, the inability to recognise the need for the club to have at least two goalkeepers of the right quality for the Premier League, the apparent lack of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of opponents prior to games, and perhaps the most worrying of all, a manager who admits that he has no idea where things are going wrong, and no idea what he needs to do to turn it around. That’s quite a list!

On the plus side we do have some talented players. We are one of a number of teams that are probably not good enough to break into the elite six club at the top, but hopefully too good to become embroiled in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table (I hope!). The fact that Sheffield United in sixth place have 16 points and Everton in seventeenth have 11 points demonstrates how closely matched so many of the Premier League teams are. But we cannot become too complacent, and a continuation of the recent poor run would mean that we do get involved at the wrong end of the table. The theory of averaging one point a game throughout the season to avoid the drop usually applies, and this season doesn’t appear to be an exception at the moment with just three teams falling short of that level at the moment. Bookmakers’ odds in respect of relegation reflect the league table to some extent, although we are only tenth favourite to go down (and Everton are 12th), whereas Sheffield United are seventh. I guess the closeness of this season’s Premier League to date (ignoring the clubs at the top and bottom) makes it more interesting for the neutral observer, but how many neutral observers are there?

Burnley are favourites at around 5/4 to win the game, our odds are around 21/10, and the draw is about 13/5. But when you look at the correct score odds, a 1-1 draw is favourite at 5/1, very short odds for predicting a correct score in a football match! The overall head to head record between the two clubs is slightly in our favour, a fact bolstered by recent times. In the last 40 years we have won 15 of the 23 meetings, with 4 draws and 4 defeats. However our last visit to Turf Moor, just before 2018 drew to a close, resulted in a 2-0 defeat with an abject performance, despite coming off the back of a good run at the time. Burnley had suffered a heavy defeat just before they met us, and the same applies this time! This followed the game at the London Stadium a few weeks before then where we came out on top 4-2.

I’ve absolutely no idea about what the manager will decide regarding team selection. If he sticks with the same starting eleven as last week with no discernible change in how they approach the game, then I fear for us against a strong physical Burnley side. My best hope is for West Ham to do what they have done in the past and surprise me. I like surprises of a good kind!

Get Up, Stand Up! Don’t Give Up The Fight! West Ham Badly Need Bottle For Burnley Battle

Husillos is fingered as the convenient fall-guy the for current Hammer woes, but can anyone provide the much needed motivation and organisation to bring an end to the current freefall?

Every poorly performing project needs to have a properly identified scapegoat ready for when things really start to fall apart. In West Ham’s case the responsibility for the recent disastrous run is apparently all down to Director of Football (DOF)/ Recruitment, Mario Husillos.

On the face of it there is damning evidence for this view of the world in the shape of recent recruits Roberto, Carlos Sanchez and Pablo Fornals – but the extent of his culpability is surely dependent on the scope of his actual brief. In my own simple view of how recruitment might work, it is the manager who decides what types of players and needed and for what positions. The board determine what funds are available for each deal (and that includes transfer fees and wages) while it is the DOF’s roles to identify options for each position.

If Husillos had been asked to find the best keeper he possibly could, and the name he came up with was Roberto, then that would indeed be a worry.  If on the other hand he was asked to find an experienced but cheap option as backup, because the club didn’t want to continue paying Adrian’s wage demands, then responsibility is a a more collective one.  If his task was to find the type box-to-box midfielder that has eluded the club for an eternity, and his answer was Fornals, then he would be clearly certifiable. If it was to find a young, creative attacking midfielder then his pick would be easier to understand – even if he looks too slow for the English game.  It would not be his fault if the player was subsequently played out of position. It is difficult to believe that the manager wouldn’t have the final say on signings and for him to be happy that their abilities were a good fit with his preferred style of play.

Aside from a lack of funds, the areas where recruitment has regularly fallen short (and where Husillos must take some share of the blame) are: not being able to scout and develop young talent; ignoring the physical demands and pace of the modern Premier League game; focusing too much on players from the Hispanic world; and signing players with questionable attitude.

According to a ranking of Premier League squads produced at the start of the season, West Ham were valued at £313m (and that allows for the view that the squad was deemed to be irresponsibly thin). In contrast, the weekend’s opponents, Burnley, were valued at £179m. With the two clubs occupying 13th and 14th positions in the table, the logical conclusion is that it is Sean Dyche who is doing the better job. Disregarding a few of the top teams, all managers operate under financial constraints and the ability to meld, organise and motivate players is why they can command big salaries.

With both teams having suffered bad defeats last week, whom I wonder, will do the better job of motivating his team into a reaction.  I wouldn’t risk that much money on it being Manuel Pellegrini.  The memory of last season’s feeble display at Turf Moor is still fresh in the memory. Burnley had been on the wrong end of a 1-5 Boxing Day home humbling by Everton, while the Hammers went into the game having won five of the last six. What transpired was the meekest of all surrenders in a 0-2 defeat against a fully fired-up home side.  Can we expect anything different this time?  It is up to Pellegrini and the players to prove my pessimism misplaced. No mistake this is going to a physical test as much as anything else.

I have long wanted to see Pellegrini at least have a try at a 3-5-2 formation. It would seem to suit our players better, but I don’t anticipate seeing anything that radical when the team is finally announced. It will be the usual tinkering with the core squad of fifteen or so players that leaves us with an unbalanced starting eleven and an uninspiring bench.

In the defence, it would be a huge surprise if Ryan Fredericks doesn’t replace Pablo Zabaleta after his struggles last week, but maybe there will also be recalls for Angelo Ogbonna and Arthur Masuaku. Unfortunately the defensive high line preferred by the manager and the tactic of allowing as many crosses to come in as possible – in the hope that we are strong enough aerially to deal with them – will likely play to Burnley’s strengths – especially when you add a suspect keeper who is low on confidence into the mix.

Will there be any surprises in midfield? There is little chance of Jack Wilshere starting even if he is fit enough for the squad.  That means there is no realistic alternative to Declan Rice and Mark Noble for the more defensive minded duties. Will we still have the two wide-men playing on their wrong side – a tactic, not unlike that weird short free-kick routine, that has fooled absolutely no-one yet. Unlike other observers I thought Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini did OK (at least in the second half) against Newcastle and would persevere with them in the absence of anything more creative available. By default, the last place would go to Robert Snodgrass – mainly for the effort he brings to what is likely to be a robust encounter. Somehow one of Anderson, Lanzini or Snodgrass needs to be deployed far closer to Sebastien Haller if he is not to end up as Billy-No-Mates once again.

This weekend’s referee is Kevin Friend from Leicester. Whispering into his earpiece and picking up the clear and obvious offside armpit calls will be Lee Mason from Lancashire. Friend has been something of a red card enthusiast this season, and there is a good chance of him adding to tally here.

Both Lawro and Charlie Nicholas got it badly wrong last time in predicting a West Ham win over Newcastle, and now both have eyes on a Burnley victory – by 2-0 and 2-1 respectively. I wish I were able to inject a little positivity into proceedings, but now find myself looking nervously down at the foot of the table and hoping that games like Norwich v Watford ends in draws to preserve as much daylight as possible. After this week, the games only get tougher.

I think a hard fought draw is the best we can hope from the game, and even then, the caveat is that it would rely on putting out a team that is up for the fight and able to maintain the intensity for ninety minutes. Recent evidence suggest that this requires a massive improvement in attitude.

With all the weekend focus on Liverpool playing Manchester City no-one is really going to take much notice of this match, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. Otherwise, we got into another international break in a very bad place. COYI!

West Ham versus Newcastle: Looking Forward Looking Back

At half-time in last weekend’s fixtures we reached the point where a quarter of the season had been completed. Had the half time score been the full time score then we would now be sitting on 15 points after 10 games, averaging 1.5 points per game and sixth in the Premier League table. 1.5 points per game over a whole season would result in 57 points. Sadly, the half time score was not the same at full time, and instead we have 13 points from 10 games which would give us 49 points over the course of a full season.

Looking back on the ten games played, and if my calculations are correct, we have thrown away 9 points from winning positions in games. Had we not done so, and instead held on to our leads in those games, then we would now have 22 points and be third in the table, level on points with Manchester City, with only City and Liverpool ahead of us. Apart from all our other shortcomings, which my co-blogger Geoff has written about on more than one occasion in recent times, the inability to hold on to a lead has proved to be very damaging to our prospects of finishing in a high position in the table. How many other teams have relinquished as many points from winning positions?

Our opponents today, Newcastle, are just one of four teams who are not yet averaging a point a game, which is roughly what is needed to retain a position in the top flight. They are 17th in the table, sitting immediately above the three teams currently occupying the relegation slots, Southampton, Norwich and Watford.  Of course they can put that right with an away win today, and move up to within a point of ourselves. That is something we must not let happen.

Up to date form (say, the last 5 games) shows our visitors have the same record as ourselves, with 5 points, from one win, two draws, and two defeats. Only Tottenham (4), Everton and Watford (3), Southampton and Norwich (1) have fewer points in this period. If you ignore the top 4 teams in the table (and Watford) then every other team has won either 2, 3 or 4 of the 10 games they have played. Conversely if you ignore Liverpool, and the bottom 6 teams, then every other team has lost either 2, 3 or 4 games to date. This demonstrates how closely positioned most of the teams are, and how either a good run or poor run can significantly alter a team’s place in the table.

Of course, apart from any other factors, the fixture list, and more particularly the order in which the games are played can have a significant impact on a team’s position in the league table at any point throughout the season. Based upon current positions in the table, Newcastle would appear to have had a tougher group of games than we have had so far. They have played against four of the teams currently in the top 5, whereas we have only faced one of them (Manchester City). Also, if you add up the current positions in the table of our opponents so far, then our total is 116 compared to Newcastle’s 82, once again reinforcing that they have so far faced much stronger opposition than we have.

So perhaps the disparity in our relative positions in the table is not so great after all, and it is not really worth making comparisons, or assessing progress throughout a season, until at least 19 games have been played and all teams have faced each other for the first time. But even that situation will be slightly altered this season as we have not yet faced league leaders Liverpool and don’t yet know exactly when we will. Our game against them scheduled for 21 December has been postponed due to their participation in the FIFA World Club Cup, so we will begin playing against some teams for a second time before we have even faced the Merseysiders once. As such we will have a game in hand in league tables published from Christmas onwards.

Our overall record against Newcastle in history is a negative one with more defeats than wins.  However, the memory is selective and I remember particularly the big wins and the games with lots of goals. When I was young I have a hazy memory of us drawing a game 5-5 at their ground, and other games I can specifically remember watching at Upton Park include a 4-3 win in the mid-1960s which included a hat trick from Geoff Hurst, a 5-0 win about 50 years ago when Trevor Brooking scored a hat trick, another 5-0 win about ten years after that, and the most memorable of all in 1986, as we were chasing the league title. That was the game when we won 8-1, including an amazing hat trick from Alvin Martin with each goal scored against a different keeper. I seem to recall a certain Glenn Roeder in the Newcastle side and he scored an own goal in that game.

One game I remember us losing was when we went down 2-0 at Upton Park and both Newcastle goals were scored by Bryan Robson. We signed him shortly after that, and he scored a lot of goals for us in his two spells here. “Pop” was a superb player and goalscorer. It was amazing that he never played for England. Of course, Robson is not the only player to have represented both ourselves and Newcastle. Others that I can recall off the top of my head include Paul Kitson, Stuart Pearce, Norbert Solano, Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy, Kevin Nolan, Demba Ba, Shaka Hislop, Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer, Rob Lee, and of course another who could potentially be facing us today, a certain Andy Carroll. Although if recent history is anything to go by no doubt he will be injured and unable to line up against us! But seriously I reckon he will be desperate to play, and of course it would be ironical if he scores against us, and possibly even more ironical if he plays the full 90 minutes and avoids injury. Those of you with long enough memories will recall that he has only played two games against West Ham (both for Newcastle in games at St James Park around 10 years ago), and he scored in each game, so I definitely wouldn’t bet against it happening for a third time. Goalscoring has been Newcastle’s problem this season with only six scored in the ten games so far, a statistic bettered only by Watford with five.

When I previewed last week’s game I wrote that the last six goals scored by West Ham had all been left-footed shots. But the run of “only left-footed goals” that stretches back to August was extended further when our only goal in the game was scored by the left foot of Robert Snodgrass. I may be wrong, but I’m not sure that we scored a single left-footed goal this season before the run began.

The betting has West Ham as odds on favourites to win the game, despite our indifferent recent form. I’ve gone for some small stake fun bets that involve West Ham winning the game and Andy Carroll scoring either the last goal, or scoring anytime in the match. The one that I hope will happen (from a financial viewpoint) is that West Ham win the game 3-1, and Andy Carroll scores the last goal of the game. The odds on that happening are 150/1. But, I’ll be happy if we win the game, and even happier if we perform well. I’ll be setting off for the game soon after the Rugby World Cup final finishes, and of course I’m hoping for an England win over South Africa in that. Hold on to your hats; both games could be tight affairs. What odds an England / West Ham double?

Panto Season Kicks Off At The London Stadium As Cinderella Takes On The Sleeping Beauty

As Rugby World Cup and Election fever sweep the country, can the listless Hammers be woken from their slumbers and climb away from a winter of discontent? We’re behind you, now it’s up to you!

It’s November, the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in. It can’t be that much longer before the shops are welcoming their customers with the traditional seasonal chant of “It’s Chriiiistmaaaas!”

Equally, panto season will also be upon us and today’s game provides a suitable introduction as the two Baron Hardups of the Premier League’s (in the form of Mike Ashley and the Two Daves) sit back to watch their respective investments do battle at the London Stadium. A riches to rags story of great promises that always end up broken.

There are few British owners remaining in the top flight of English football and no-one divides opinion more than those in the hot seats at West Ham and Newcastle. Ask us fans where the glory days of our clubs are and we are guaranteed to answer “they’re behind you.” Oh, yes they are!

For most of the Premier League era, I have mentally bracketed Newcastle as the club that is the most similar to West Ham. Both can boast a passionate and loyal support, who continue to get behind their teams in large numbers despite having “won buggor aaal fo’ a lang time leek.”

Newcastle did enjoy a run of Premier League nearly years in the late nineties/ early noughties, and they certainly have a more impressive back collection of honours than the Hammers. But the 1969 Inter Cities Fairs Cup was the last time they won  trophy of any note – with a team that included one of my all-time favourite ex-Hammers, Pop Robson. A good job they have Texaco and Anglo Italian Cups to fill out the gaps in the trophy cabinet.

The two clubs have also shared several managerial misadventures – with both having elected, at some point, to engage Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew. Fortunately, the Hammers finally steered clear of Steve McClaren (in the same way that the Toon ‘missed out’ on Avram Grant) and, as much I am disillusioned with Manuel Pellegrini at the moment, he is still a more attractive option than Steve Bruce. The lack of imagination shown by boards when making manager appointments is astounding.

So, what of this weekend’s game? In theory, West Ham in 10th place should be favourites against their 17th placed visitors but there are only four points that separate the teams. The Hammer’s form has been mediocre to desperate for much of the season and it will require a huge improvement in attitude, organisation and application (or a particularly poor Newcastle showing) to end the day with all three points.

It is impossible to know what is in the manager’s mind.  It is true that he doesn’t have the strongest squad to play with but his past behaviour suggests he believes that the answer lies in tweaking his existing approach rather than trying something different, that might better suit the resources available.  The football under David Moyes may not have been the brightest but he was prepared to experiment – Arnie up front, Declan Rice in midfield, a back three – in an attempt to freshen things up.

My own preference would be to have a look how a back three (Balbuena, Diop and Rice) could work out. My sense is that it could address some of the ongoing problems: it would shore up the middle of the park; allow the full-backs greater freedom to provide the width that the midfield don’t offer; allow the opportunity for someone to get closer to Sebastien Haller. Haller has taken a bit of stick recently but it is no surprise that his frustration has increased in proportion to his isolation. I don’t expect Pellegrini to do any of this.  He is too wedded to his back four and hasn’t shown that he is one for new ideas.

Assuming he sticks with his preferred formation there is little room for manouevre. Maybe some like for like changes in defence, but the only decision of note is likely to be which two out of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals are in the starting eleven.  My money would be that Snodgrass is a definite starter (for all his limitations he will at least put in the effort).  Then it is a toss up between Anderson and Lanzini – I can’t remember which of those combinations Pellegrini has ye to try. By a long chalk, my own preference would be to stick with Anderson. Perhaps he isn’t showing 30 million quids worth of quality but he is one of the few players to possess both a second gear and the ability to open up a defence. As I read once in a fortune cookie: It is better to be diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one.

A warm welcome to matchday referee Stuart Attwell from Staffordshire and g’day to Aussie VAR maestro, Jarred Gillet, in the war room. Now that VAR has expanded its role into awarding penalties it could make for a long and interesting afternoon.

The punditry planets have aligned this week with both Lawro and Charlie Nicholas opting for a 2-1 home win.  It is Newcastle’s weakness in attack that is the deciding factor for their predictions.  The Toon have only scored six times in ten games this season, although such damning statistics rarely bring comfort to regular West Ham watchers.  I have been rubbing all the pots in the kitchen this afternoon but, so far, no sign of a genie appearing to offer three wishes. If he does show up, wins for England in the rugby and for West Ham will be the first two wishes.  If he can pull those two off, I will keep the third one secret – but I wonder if the Hammerettes are busy on Saturday night?

Dust down your Carlos Tevez masks to watch West Ham entertain Sheffield United in a league match for the first time in over twelve years.

West Ham began the Premier League season 2006-07 with high hopes. We had unluckily lost the 2006 FA Cup final to Liverpool on penalties after conceding a goal in time added on to the infamous Steven Gerrard strike, and then on transfer deadline day it was announced that we had signed Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, two highly sought after Argentinians who had starred in that summer’s World Cup. What could go wrong? This was West Ham remember.

In the opening week of the season we comfortably despatched of Charlton 3-1, and then drew 1-1 at Watford. A 2-1 reverse at Liverpool was followed by a 1-1 draw at Villa. Five points from four games and we were in the top half of the table. Bobby Zamora had scored in all four of those games (a total of five goals) and at the time few predicted what was about to happen. I doubt that Bobby Zamora himself would have believed that he wouldn’t find the net again until mid-January despite playing in almost all of the games.

A home defeat to Palermo of Italy in the UEFA Cup was just the first of eight consecutive defeats which included a run of seven games where we failed to register a single goal. When we did eventually score we had been dumped out of the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle, we’d gone out of the Football League Cup to lowly Chesterfield (2-1), and tumbled down the league to 19th place.

Two consecutive wins against Blackburn (2-1) and Arsenal (1-0 on Bonfire Night), the latter sparking a touchline spat between Pardew and Wenger when Marlon Harewood’s late strike won the game, seemed to have halted the slide, but these were followed by two 1-0 defeats at Middlesbrough and Chelsea. We were still above the relegation places at this time when we faced Sheffield United at Upton Park on November 25th. A first half Hayden Mullins goal was the only score of the match, and at this point we were 15th in the table with Sheffield United 18th.

However three consecutive defeats in the first nine days of December followed (all to nil), and the last one of those (a 4-0 loss at Bolton) resulted in the sacking of manager Pardew just two days later. Two days after that Alan Curbishley was appointed and in his first game in charge we beat Manchester United 1-0 with a goal from Nigel Reo-Coker. But just three points from three draws in the next eleven league games, the last of which was an unlucky 4-3 home defeat to Tottenham, meant that with just nine games of the season left we were effectively 11 points adrift of safety with virtually no hope of escape. The Tottenham game was Tevez’s 20th appearance and brought his first goal!

The rest is history as we won seven of our final nine games, including the last-day 1-0 win at Manchester United which ensured safety (although a draw would have been enough). The two defeats in that winning sequence included a 3-0 reverse at Sheffield United, and a 4-1 loss at Chelsea. Incredibly we then won the final four games. Sheffield United lost at home to Wigan on the final day when a draw would have been OK and this sent them down.

The Blades insisted they were victims of a relegation rival gaining an unfair advantage by breaching the rules that barred third parties such as agents, or a company or investors, from holding a stake in the financial rights to a player. To many of us it seemed ridiculous. Mascherano had barely featured all season, while Tevez only started scoring towards the very end.

West Ham were found guilty in April 2007 of acting improperly and withholding vital documentation, but Tevez was allowed to continue playing and his part in the Hammers’ survival rankled with the Blades. Sheffield United subsequently slid into League One before their recent resurgence, while West Ham, in contrast, have only spent one season since outside the top flight. West Ham eventually paid £20m in compensation, having initially being fined £5.5m rather than being docked points. An arbitration panel said “the club had not only deliberately breached the rules but committed a grave breach of trust and been responsible for dishonesty and deceit”. The teams have only met once since, in a League Cup tie five years ago, which away side Sheffield United won on penalties.

I’m always amazed at some of the statistics that are dragged up these days before Premier League matches but the following are some of what I have read. Firstly we haven’t won a league fixture in the month of October since beating Sunderland in 2016. In that time we have drawn three and lost six matches. Secondly, including cup games, after four clean sheets in a row we have conceded at least two goals in four consecutive games since. And thirdly, since Haller scored with his right foot in the first half of our game against Norwich at the end of August, the next six league goals we have scored have all been left foot strikes.

Did you know that Sheffield United could become the first newly-promoted side for over ten years to remain unbeaten in their first five away games in the Premier League? Also, they have not kept three consecutive clean sheets away from Bramall Lane in the top flight for over 48 years, a record they would equal if they do not concede a goal today. Plus, this is their best performance in the first nine games of a top division season. One statistic that I really hate repeating though is that they have not won once in their last 16 games in the top division in London!

My co-blogger Geoff Hopkins wrote an excellent article published yesterday where he set out his expectations for today’s game. I have to agree with most of what he wrote, and I don’t believe his prediction of a goalless draw will be far away. However I don’t want to travel all the way to the London Stadium to see us come away with just a single point without seeing a goal being scored. For that reason I will dust off my trusty optimistic hat, and predict a 1-0 win with the sequence of left-footed goals being broken by a Sebastien Haller header. What are the chances? Another prediction – we will once again be the last game on Match of the Day!

The Best A Fan Can Get: Hammers Encounter With Blades Likely To Be Close Shave

A probably not-that-thrilling mid-table clash will no doubt be overshadowed by memories of Tevez-gate. Which team will have the greater motivation to win?

If the evidence of the last few matches is anything to go by, wearing a Carlos Tevez mask at the London Stadium on Saturday afternoon might be a useful way of hiding your embarrassment come the end of the game.  After two consecutive dismal performances, West Ham will need to face an energetic Sheffield United in a game that will have added spice due to the acrimonious events of 2007.

Other than the long embittered memories of the respective supporters, there are few remaining links back to the last to-flight meeting on 14 April 2007, when the Blades dispatched Alan Curbishley’s West Ham 3-0 to open up a five point gap over the visitors – with just five games to play.  Mark Noble and Phil Jagielka were both involved that day and may feature again this weekend; and the visitors rent-a-quote owner Kevin McCabe is still involved despite having exchanged half of his interest for a handful of Saudi shillings.

The Tevez affair has created an unlikely rivalry between the two clubs – at least in supporter’s minds.  Even though it was the Blades own incompetence (and in particular an inexplicable handball by Jagielka) that cost their Premier League status, it is always handy to have somewhere else to lay the blame.  Not unusually typical administrative blundering by West Ham did nothing to help matters. No doubt, if the roles were reversed, West Ham fans would have felt equally aggrieved but, hopefully the rivalry can be expressed in a good-natured rather than menacing way.

Manuel Pellegrini has been quoted saying that “enough is enough” as his team prepare to put an end to their feeble run of games.  Not just two defeats but two shocking performances as well. Given the apparent player disinterest in those two games, it is questionable whether the Chileans famous mild-mannered persona is exactly what is required right now. Rockets and backsides would be a more effective motivation strategy.

Following the defeat at Everton last week, Marco Silva described how he set up his team to be exploit the space around Declan Rice – something they achieved with great success.  Many commentators saw this as a criticism of Rice himself – but I see it as something very different.  It is a consequence of the poor structure and shape that continues to blight performances.  Pellegrini’s Hammers have long been generous at gifting space in front in central areas, a result of the half-hearted attempts to regain possession once it is lost.  That is not one player’s responsibility, it is a team one. Too slow, too disjointed and too rigid.

Defensive frailties would pale into insignificance if the promised swashbuckling style of play was rattling in the goals at the other end of the pitch.  But it isn’t.  The opposition penalty area as a restricted no-go zone – so rarely do we touch the ball inside its confines.  Some attempt has been made to mix up the personnel, but nothing has looked close to working as a potent unit.  Sebastien Haller has been isolated and width or penetration have been hard to find.  Certainly, plenty for Pellegrini to work on.

Most probably we will see recalls for Aaron Cresswell and Andriy Yarmolenko from the team that started at Goodison – but will there be any other changes? Felipe Anderson continues to be an enigma – mostly indifferent but still the most likely to offer something different. Manuel Lanzini flatters to deceive – a few promising flurries disappears for large portions of the game or elects to run into blind alleys. Perhaps it could be another opportunity for Jack Wilshere to prove he can still perform at (and still has the legs for) this level.  One of Lanzini or Wilshere must take on the role and responsibility of playing behind and getting much close to Haller.

There has again been talk of Nathan Holland being promoted to the matchday squad, on the back of a string of exciting performances for the table topping U23’s. It is interesting to hear that the current U23 success is based on the type of high intensity game conspicuously missing from the first team.  A young player or two on the bench would be preferable (in my opinion) to the usual uninspiring options.

Chris Wilder has worked wonders since his appointment as Sheffield United manager in May 2016, enjoying promotions in 2017 and 2019 as the Blades climbed two divisions back into the top flight. He has put together a primadonna free squad  that is, with only a few exceptions, made up of British and Irish players.  They play with a unity, spirit and cohesion that is sadly missing with West Ham. Their system is refreshingly fluid  with everyone appearing to know what is expected of them at any particular point in time. Their style  may be pigeonholed as direct, but this is not BSF hoof-ball. There is much to admire in making the best of limited resources.

There have been fewer goals in Sheffield United matches this season than any other Premier League side.  They have the division’s best defensive record (joint with Liverpool) but only Watford and Newcastle have scored fewer goals.  It does not require a tactical genius to know what to expect from the opposition – and the physical challenge that Pellegrini has to prepare his team for. How successful can he be in extracting a performance?

Part-timer referee, David Coote from Nottinghamshire will be taking charge of only his fourth Premier League match of the season.  Hopefully, he is aware of how VAR works but there to guide him in the control centre will be the experienced Martin Atkinson from Leeds.  Why are so few of the select group referees from London and the south?

Surprisingly both of our pundit friends are expecting a West Ham home win – Lawro by 2-0 and Charlie Nicholas by 2-1. Surprising that both see more than one goal being scored in what surely will be the tightest game.  Many observers will cite West Ham’s inconsistency but there have been several worrying consistent flaws throughout this season (and for much of the last as well).  Among them are the inability to breakdown resolute and organised defences and a susceptibility to rapid counter attacks – both will be put to the test by the visitors.  To get anything from the game the Hammers will need to up their game considerably from that of recent weeks.  In a fantasy world, I can imagine the game being settled by Robert Snodgrass, complete with Tevez mask, coming off the bench to score a last minute winner.  Failing that, I can see it ending 0-0.

Super Scallies Go Ballistic West Ham Are Atrocious: Takeaways and Ratings From The Latest Hammer Horror

Borrowing the classic football headline seems appropriate in summing up a diabolical West Ham performance at Goodison Park.

A Road To Nowhere

How to sum up that performance: abject, disgraceful, wretched, miserable, hopeless, pathetic, pitiful, sorry, woeful, atrocious, appalling, the west-ham-way? It was a carry over from the Palace game – only far worse. I would hate to think what might have happened had they not had the extra week to prepare and work things out. On the evidence of these last two games this is a bottom half of the table squad. A benign set of opening fixtures mixed with good fortune had provided a warped impression of the Hammer’s qualities – but gravity has returned them to a more realistic next level. The manager had a stinker and few players came away with any credit. Roberto made some smart saves, although he should have done better for the first goal. Declan Rice showed early energy but even he was waving the white flag by the end.  Issa Diop was the one player seemingly up for the physical challenge. Sebastien Haller worked manfully as a one-man attack.  The rest ranged from anonymous to useless and should feel mightily embarrassed at what transpired over the ninety minutes.

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New West Ham Shirt Design

It’s Now A Pellegrini Team

Several months into his second season in charge and this is now definitely Manuel Pellegrini’s team.  He has had three transfer windows to freshen up the squad, plenty of time to assess strengths and weaknesses and run the rule over the academy players.  I am ambivalent towards the owners but am aware that many die-hard board haters continue to pin the blame on the two Daves. Perhaps they could have dug deeper into their pockets but any manager knows he has work within the budget available – and optimising what is available is what good managers are paid for .  Effective teams are a combination of talent, physical attributes, organisation and motivation. On paper, the talent is there (even if not in depth) but you have to question the whereabouts of the other components.  Where is the motivation and desire to win?  At this level, a team should never be soundly beaten simply because the opposition has a greater desire to win.   Was it a surprise that Everton came out battling and on the front foot?  Had there not been any preparation?   Pellegrini may have been justified in lambasting the players but he needs to have a long hard look at his own part in the proceedings. Expecting players to express themselves may be a good thing – ignoring the detailed planning is not.

The Slowest Team In Town

West Ham have to be the slowest team in the Premier League.  Perhaps someone from the home camp had snuck into the Hummer’s dressing room before the match and spread extra sticky toffee on their boots. Not just that there are few players with genuine individual pace but there is a collective inability to move the ball quickly, create space, switch play and pressure opponents when possession is lost.  There is no intensity in our play.  When possession is won it generally takes three or four backwards and sideways passes before even considering engaging a forward gear.  We get sucked into playing in congested triangles and seem reluctant to use the full width of the pitch. There is no-one pulling the strings in midfield.  When balls are finally played forward it is far too easy (Haller apart) for opponents to physically dominate against the lightweight midfield operatives – none of whom are anywhere near close enough to Haller. A patient build up is fine in practice but without pace, movement and guile you end up, as on Saturday, with hardly a touch in the opposition box.

Off The Ball

Out of possession we are equally weak.  No pressing and no getting back in numbers.  There is a slow retreat and that is happy to concede acres of space in the midfield.  Walcott was given so much room he could have been mistaken for Messi.  I think I heard that Roberto had made more saves in the game than any other keeper in any Premier League match this season.  It is no surprise.  The score remained at 1-0 for so long, not because of the efforts of West Ham, but due to the lack of composure in front of goal by Everton.  There could have been no complaints if the match had finished four or five to nil.

Big Changes Needed

Saturday’s game was like watching a re-run of the game at Burnley last season. A team on a bad run who had been galvanised into action against an always accommodating West Ham side.  Early domination of possession, an apparently disinterested and unmotivated opponent and freedom of the park bred confidence – and from then on it was one-way traffic.  Despite the brightish start to the season the warning signs have been apparent for some time – although these had been buried beneath encouraging results.  The team did acquit themselves well for large parts of the games against Manchester United and Norwich – but otherwise performances had not been convincing.  The concerns that I had mentioned pre-match – lack of passion, leadership, cohesion and penetration were all worryingly apparent.  Significant improvement is now essential, or else it will be yet another season going through the motions towards a (lower) mid-table finish.  As things stand there are few obvious signs of sustained team building taking place. I don’t expect West Ham to win every game but I do expect to see a team that knows what it is supposed to be doing – and does it with 100% commitment.

Ratings: Roberto (5), Fredericks (4), Ogbonna (4), Diop (7), Masuaku (4), Rice (5), Noble (3), Anderson (3), Fornals (4), Lanzini (4), Haller (5). Subs: Yarmolenko (4), Wilshere (4), Ajeti (4)