Wednesday Wonderland for West Ham, but will it be a Super Sunday at Newcastle?

Was that an enjoyable finish to a game of football or what? On Wednesday night I enjoyed the ending of a game of football more than I have done in ages. When you have supported West Ham for as long as I have (back to the late 1950s) you can probably recall so many occasions when a game of football involving our team has had a dramatic finale. And in the vast majority of those we have been left shaking our heads in disbelief as a late goal has either stopped us from winning a game, or turned a draw into a defeat. And how many times in recent years have teams broken away at pace to score an important late goal against us? Well just for once tonight it was the other way round.

How important was Andriy Yarmolenko’s goal for West Ham? That single goal turned one point into three and gave us a small cushion ahead of our close rivals in the relegation stakes. We are now three points above the drop zone with a superior goal difference over the others involved. But despite only having 29% possession and facing a talented Chelsea team, that goal and the win it produced will (I hope) give everyone at the club massive confidence for the six games to come. You only have to look at the league table and the fixtures remaining to see why bookmakers’ odds, that had us not much better than even money to be relegated before the game, have now changed dramatically. If you still think we will go down you can get odds of 7/1 or bigger, and to stay up we are now quoted at around 1/16.

For me, the whole team, including the substitutes of course, played well. The commitment of the players against a team pushing for a Champions League place was admirable. As the game was drawing to a close I was pleased with the point we were about to get, but the joy of that breakaway winner will stay with me. And fine goal that it was, especially given the importance, it wasn’t even our best goal on the night. That was our second goal. Watch it back if you get a chance. How many West Ham players touched the ball in the build-up? I think I’ve got it right in saying that every outfield player was involved. Goals such as these rarely win goal of the season competitions (that is usually reserved for dramatic overhead kicks or volleys) but for me, this was our best goal of the season. After several viewings I think I’ve got it – Fredericks to Soucek to Diop to Ogbonna to Cresswell to Lanzini to Rice to Lanzini to Rice to Fornals to Rice to Antonio (penalty?) to Fornals to Bowen and finally swept home by the tireless Antonio (my man of the match but so many in contention).

I’m pleased I don’t have to say too much about that ridiculous three and a half minute VAR fiasco where Jonathan Moss, who has been involved in so many controversial decisions against us in the past few years, once again made my blood boil. But we won the game in the end so I’ll forget it for now. Until we come across the same official.

The games come thick and fast now, so how many of our players are fit to play against Newcastle? I was a Newcastle fan the other night when they played at Bournemouth. Actually I quite like Newcastle anyway, more so than many of the other clubs in the Premier League, so even without wanting Bournemouth to lose that game, I was pleased they won so convincingly. My prediction before the resumption was for Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth to go down and I see no reason to change my mind now. The bookmakers now have those three as strong favourites to be relegated with Norwich 1/100, Bournemouth 1/8 and Villa 1/4.

Apparently three of our injured players are back in contention for selection in this game, Noble, Masuaku and Haller. Will there be any changes in the starting eleven? I’ve really no idea, although normally I like to see the same players involved in such a confidence boosting victory retained. But the Chelsea game may have taken more out of the team than we know and there is little chance for a rest prior to the game.

Perhaps Haller will be recalled to play alongside Antonio in attack? If so, whose place would he take? Despite Lanzini’s improved performance the other night, both he, and to some extent Fornals give the ball away too much for my liking. Wilshere has a habit of finding team mates when he has the ball which is a good thing. Of course Yarmalenko made a strong case in his cameo for inclusion, but perhaps a place on the bench with greater trust in bringing him on will be what will happen? In all of this Anderson seems to be the forgotten man. Is there a way back for him? Not at the moment I would suspect.

And I haven’t even mentioned Noble. Before the Chelsea game I thought it would be good for him to sit it out, and as it turned he was injured anyway. I see him playing a part in the games to come, but more often from the bench would be my thinking. Rice did an excellent job as captain, cajoling and encouraging all around him, whilst delivering another imperious performance in midfield. I’m not sure whether or not there is any chance of him still being with us next season, but by giving him the captain’s armband and telling him that the team will be built around him, might be our only remote chance of him staying. I’m afraid that the owners’ eyes might light up if a substantial offer is received for him though.

The thing about being a West Ham fan is that you are never quite sure what you are going to get from one game to another. I hope we don’t see a reaction whereby the players think that the job is done and we are safe. The intensity and commitment from the Chelsea match needs to be maintained for the rest of the campaign, and must continue at least until we are sure of playing Premier League football next season. Perhaps this game will come too soon? Newcastle, despite playing on the same evening, didn’t really have to get out of second gear to beat a poor Bournemouth side, whereas we needed to be in top gear throughout.

So what will happen? I’d like another win of course, but we may need to settle for a draw in this one. With Bournemouth playing at Manchester United, Watford at Chelsea, and Villa at Liverpool in this round of matches, I suspect that a draw might prove to be a good outcome. I’m sure Messrs. Lampard and Klopp will demand better performances from their players after the midweek defeats, and surely Manchester United will thrash Bournemouth?

Hammers’ Limitations Exposed At Tottenham but we are still outside bottom three! Just!

I have written frequently about West Ham’s limitations and there is no need to continue with them here. We were second best to a Tottenham side that had more attacking ideas than we did, but nevertheless we were unfortunate to go behind when VAR once again failed to do its job in spotting that the ball came off an attacking arm before the unfortunate Soucek deflected the ball into his own net. Apparently our manager is in trouble for remarks he made about the VAR referee, but I find it absolutely incredible that the handball was not seen. When you think back to our game at Sheffield United and the decision that went against us there when the ball brushed Declan Rice’s arm in the build-up to an equaliser, you have to say that we haven’t had the benefit of dodgy decisions this season, despite VAR being there to correct them. The second Tottenham goal came as a result of us pushing forward when Kane broke away to score, although in all honesty, we rarely looked like scoring.

Yes the lively Bowen was unlucky with his shot that came back off the post, but for the second game running Fornals missed by a mile when he should have scored with a little composure. Antonio also managed to balloon one over the bar when leaning back as he was clear on goal. But apart from Bowen and Rice, who was once again magnificent, few of our players finished this game with much credit. The manager was also culpable in my view for the way he set us up, and his poor choices and timing of substitutions.

Yet we are still outside the bottom three. But only just! Two tough games to go against Chelsea and Manchester United, who have both resumed after lockdown in good form, but five games remaining that we can certainly get something from against Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich, Watford and a potential last day decider against Aston Villa. Three of those are at home, although in the current circumstances home advantage is not really what it was beforehand. And if we don’t get the results then of course we deserve to go down anyway.

Unlike so many on social media I don’t believe that we will be relegated. Brighton may have done enough to pull away, and their odds on being relegated are now a fairly longshot at 14/1. Norwich are 1/50 to go down and it will take a miracle for them to survive, so it looks like it will be two from Villa, Bournemouth, Watford and ourselves to join them. Despite our shortcomings, I still believe that looking at the games remaining we will have enough to save ourselves. I agree with the bookmakers in that Villa (2/9) and Bournemouth (2/5) will go down because of the difficulty of their fixtures. Our relegation odds are 11/8 and Watford are 5/2.

Liverpool were deservedly confirmed as champions today when Chelsea defeated Manchester City although it was inevitable wasn’t it? They won it with seven games to spare, although by clinching it on June 25th it must be the latest date by a long way. The race for European places is still in force which will keep some of the top teams interested in the remaining games, and I’m confident that they will all be doing their utmost to gain the necessary points. Once again the tussle to stay up will produce the most interesting football for the remainder of the season.

We will need to improve in the remaining seven games, and I believe we will. But I am afraid that next season will be another of the same unless there are radical changes at the club. And I’m not confident of that.

Recovery Position: A Sparkling West Ham Victory Sees Them Climb Out Of The Bottom Three For Now. What Did We Learn?

Everything about Saturday’s performance was just so much better than what’s gone before. What are the takeaways that will help navigate West Ham through the remaining games of the season?

The Wisdom of The Crowd

The wisdom of the crowd concept is that although individual members may not be wiser than a single expert, collectively they are.  It is demonstrated frequently in football where fans often have a more realistic take on the value of a player – no crowd would ever have sanctioned the signing of Carlos Sanchez, for example.  The Crowd largely got that their way on Saturday’s team selection, but with an added bonus of the surprise pairing of Michail Antonio and Sebastien Haller leading the line in an enterprising 4-4-2 formation. Throw in the introduction of Jarrod Bowen, a recall for Pablo Fornals and Jeremy Ngakia keeping his place and suddenly there was a team full of running and purpose. The Crowd had realised ages ago that West Ham were too slow in moving the ball forward, too predictable in opening up defences and hopeless at supporting whoever was the unfortunate lone striker. Amazingly, everything finally come together and delivered a deserved and much needed three points.

The Possession Myth

Despite the fine victory not everybody was happy if social media was to be believed. Those who are invested in their views that David Moyes is a dour, clueless Scot or that Haller is moody, French lump refused to have their opinions changed merely by events. Critics will point out that only having 34% possession in a home game is no cause for celebration. Yet, West Ham were able to outperform the visitors 14-10 on goal attempts. Possession, for the sake of it, is not what it is cracked up to be. On this occasion Moyes got the tactics spot on – by going direct it proved an effective counter to Southampton’s high press. The question, though, of whether this high tempo, hard-working, committed style was a one-off tactic or is to be how we will shape up for the rest of the season is a valid one. It won’t work so spectacularly every week and there is still plenty of work to be done in improving ball retention. Overall though, the change of approach made for a very entertaining, as well as a productive, game.

99% Perspiration

As full debuts go, it could not have gone much better for Jarrod Bowen. It was not just his smartly taken goal, welcome as it was, but also the good work he did in all areas of the pitch. Getting forward quickly to support the strikers; not giving up the chase for loose balls; working hard to regain possession when it was lost; and making a last ditch challenge to deny Bertrand a goal scoring opportunity. He looks just the type of player The Crowd want and love. A good, honest, young professional who is hungry for success and knows that working hard as well as possessing great technique is required. I don’t believe these are attributes that only English players have, but it was a breath of fresh air compared to the complacency shown by some of the big-money signings from overseas in the past. Some may feel that a full debut should have come sooner but, on balance, I think Moyes has handled the situation sensibly, given the nature of the previous two games.

The New Mr West Ham

Watching a re-run of the game on TV yesterday I spotted Declan Rice singing along to Bubbles as the teams walked out onto the pitch at the start of the game. Maybe other players were doing the same but not that I saw. Rice has become the backbone of the West Ham team and it would/ will be a great shame if, and when, he leaves in search of the better things that the Hammers cannot offer. While he is here there is no doubting his commitment to the club and cause. We should appreciate him while we can. If Tomas Soucek were to replace Mark Noble in Saturday’s line-up then it would be a team with a far better balance of ability and athleticism – arguably our strongest eleven, even when everyone is fit. Players such as Noble and Robert Snodgrass can still play a part in the squad but no longer as regular starters. The game is far too quick for them now.

The Race For Relegation

It was another interesting weekend in the battle at the wrong end of the table. West Ham are one of the six teams at greatest risk and as satisfying as the win was, performances like Saturdays need to be sustained if safety is to be assured. With most of the teams involved having ten games remaining it is tempting to compare and contrast run-ins – but this can prove misleading as incentives of opposing clubs change with time  – is home to a relegation threatened Watford an easier game, say, than away to Manchester United if Europa League qualification is the best they can hope for by then? In practice there are only two exceptional teams in the league (Liverpool and Manchester City) and West Ham should now be looking to pick up points in each of their remaining fixtures. The bookmakers favour Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth for the drop but I fancy Brighton to succumb. Survival is not a foregone conclusion, but I am breathing a little easier (despite the threat of coronavirus) after the weekend’s events.

Ratings: Fabianski (7), Ngakia (6), Ogbonna (8), Diop (7), Cresswell (6), Rice (8), Noble (5), Bowen (8), Fornals (8), Antonio (9), Haller (8) Subs: Snodgrass (6), Anderson (n/a)   

Opportunity Knocked – The Five Takeaways As West Ham Once Again Let Points Slip From Their Grasp

The inability to hold on to points continues to hamper the Hammer’s relegation battle. And the unintended consequences of VAR.

Varalysis By Analysis

Varalysis  noun  the loss of the ability to move (or to feel anything) when a goal is scored, due to an uneasy fear of the outcome from the VAR review.

Even when VAR doesn’t throw up anything controversial in a game (unless you include the Ajeti headbutt in the dying minutes) it has made a lasting impact on the match-day experience. When Issa Diop headed the West Ham opener (apparently the Hammer’s first headed goal of the season) just before half-time could we celebrate or not? Had Angelo Ogbonna’s offside stud touched the ball on the way through? Was there a handball incident in the lead up to the free-kick? Celebrations are starting to show signs of the yips, as they do in golf or darts. Not that this mundane game couldn’t have done with something more to liven it up.

A Tale Of Two Footballing Cities

It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves. Having been much the better team in the first period, it was disappointing to concede a soft equaliser before the break before offering little in the second half. We have become poor at defending corners – and an apparent zonal marking system and stay-on-the-line keeper didn’t help matters. It allowed what had been a poor Everton team back into the game. There are many parallels between West Ham and Everton – a sense of misplaced grandeur, a belief that winning games should be an entitlement from the fact that they have big-name signings and are based in big footballing cities. Hard work, effort and application are for the lower classes. Both managers have their work cut out in shaking things up. This was certainly a game that West Ham would have been targeting to win – so it must go down as two precious points conceded.

Encouraging Signs?

Credit where it is due, there have been some encouraging signs on the pitch since the appointment of David Moyes – at least in the context of a team needing to steer clear of relegation. There has been a noticeable increase in intensity and energy levels even if they cannot yet be sustained for a full 90 minutes. Shape and organisation have improved; players are less isolated or exposed with the result that individual errors are less costly – with backup usually available. There is still some way to go and only so much can be achieved from a squad that is short on numbers, deficient in key positions and showing signs of age. Going into the closing stages of the season without quality recruits would represent a huge risk.

Precious Little Creativity

The conundrum with the current side is that those players who put in the most effort are among the least limited; either because of age, technical ability or both. I was pleasantly surprised how well Pablo Zabaleta performed and you can never fault the effort put in by Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass – at least until they start to tire. But it is not always what a player does that is important, but what they don’t. In fact, looking at each of our midfielders on Saturday they all recorded commendable pass completion statistics on paper – and yet there were very few clear cut chances created. Aside from set pieces there is not much threat – if you could bring on a player just to take free kicks and corners then Snodgrass would be invaluable. Sebastien Haller struggles to justify his price tag continue but he still needs better support and service. Manuel Lanzini has completely lost his mojo since his recent injury woes. He had a reasonable amount of the ball but was mostly too deep and did absolutely nothing of note. Why it was Pablo Fornals and not Lanzini who was the first to be replaced is puzzling. The returns of Michail Antonio and Felipe Anderson will be eagerly awaited.

Solid Defence or Poor Opposition Attack?

Defensively, it was a solid performance – but part of that may be down to how lacklustre the opposition in attcking areas. Maybe it would have been a different story had Richarlison been playing. Still Ogbonna and Diop were accomplished, Declan Rice provided excellent defensive cover and both Aaron Cresswell and Zabaleta put in generally competent defensive displays, despite getting caught out on occasion. The two full backs also recorded the most individual touches among the West Ham players – both getting forward frequently to provide a semblance of width that was otherwise missing.

Ratings: Randolph (5), Zabaleta (7), Diop (7), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (7), Rice (7), Noble (6), Snodgrass (6), Fornals (6), Lanzini (4), Haller (5) Subs: Masuaku (5), Ajeti (5)

Since You Gotta Go, You Had Better Go Now! Can Someone Please Put Us Out Of This Misery?

In a low budget, poorly produced sequel to the Avram Grant season, the West Ham board continue to dither over compensation payments in a further blow to the next level credibility.

Baffled Of Santiago

I was expecting to wake up this morning to discover that Manuel Pellegrini had finally been dismissed. Now just a single point away from the relegation places (with an inferior goal difference) and with a manager who: admits he is baffled; has been largely responsible for assembling this current one-paced squad; has seemingly no idea how to set up and organise a team to compete in the modern game; and is completely out of touch with current tactical trends. No-one in their right mind can surely believe that Pellegrini has got what it takes to turn things around; or, based on past performance,  would want to trust him with any further funds in the upcoming transfer window.  The season is a poorly produced, low budget, remake of the Avram Grant Season. There is no footballing rationale whatsoever for keeping him on – compensation payment is the only issue on the table. The longer a decision is put off, the greater will be the imperative to hire a manager specialising in ‘ugly’ tactics to sort it out. Stop the dithering, bite the bullet and pull the trigger – even if it is with a caretaker in charge for the next run of games.

Insider Dealing

The ubiquitous club-insider is suggesting that the manager will be given another two more games (again) to save his job. Also that if he does go then David Moyes is the probable replacement. Now I have no idea whether the insider is just making stuff up like the rest of us or is being fed information from the club (which would be massively unprofessional, but easy to believe) but if it is true then it is a deeply worrying scenario. Not that I don’t think Moyes would be a better option than Pellegrini but that is not the point. He is not the right person for the type of club we need to be. Someone who would be able to take the team in a direction that most supporters want to travel. Ultimately, football is meant to be an entertainment. It has to offer more than just doing enough to hang on to your place at the top table so that we can see the top players in the world come to tear us to pieces every season. As supporters, we need something to believe in, to be proud of, and at least be given a glimmer of hope of an a honest tilt at the occasional cup competition.

Not Fit For Purpose

Yesterday, we looked doomed right from the start. Any side with probably the three slowest players in the Premier League (Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Zabaleta) is going to struggle. Throw in a comedy goalkeeper and whatever hope there was disappeared over the horizon. To be fair, Roberto was not at fault for either of the goals and made a couple of decent saves. The bench looked a little brighter with the return of Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson but neither ultimately made any impression. As usual there was no sign of any young legs and energy among the substitutes. There may have been a desire to ship out what was thought to be deadwood (Obiang, Fernandes, for example) but they were far better than what has been left behind. Is there some kind of collective madness at the club?

Two Poor Sides

The match was, as the one at Southampton, a contest of very poor quality. The Hammers nominally adopted the same 4-4-2 formation that had triumphed just over a week earlier but on this occasion the gaps between each block of players were far too great. Having won one game it was apparently beyond the players to put in the same level of effort for two matches in a row.  Michail Antonio was the only real threat, and the only one to come away with any real credit, but he cannot maintain those energy levels for a full ninety minutes. In a re-run of the past few matches, once Antonio starts running on fumes, the whole team shape collapses and becomes fatally exposed.

New Formation, Same Failings

Although there were now ostensibly two layers ‘up top’ the supply line to them was as ineffective as ever. Snodgrass despite his goal (and almost getting a second) was pedestrian throughout and again demonstrated that perseverance with the winger on the wrong flank is complete madness. Mark Noble’s only notable contribution was a bust up with Angelo Ogbonna (not sure why, but possibly due to Noble’s lazy pass putting Aaron Cresswell under pressure.) The formation, as implemented, doesn’t suit Declan Rice as his ability to break forward is seriously curtailed – he is utilised as a holding midfielder only and gave one of his least effective displays for some time as a consequence. The upshot was that Palace were given acres of space both in the centre of midfield and down their left wing where Zaha ran Pablo Zabaleta ragged all afternoon. If only we had known that might happen. Even at a goal up, it was clearly only going to be a matter of time (and Antonio’s battery running flat) before the home side breached the West Ham defence. I would take one (a defeat) for the team if it meant the end of our bewildered manager.

Ratings: Roberto (5), Zabaleta (3), Ogbonna (6), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (5), Snodgrass (5), Rice (5), Noble (4), Fornals (6), Antonio (8), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (4), Anderson (5), Ajeti (?)

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

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

Oh! What A Surprise

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

In Comes Startin’ Martin

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

The Beast Is Back

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

How do you solve a problem like Felipe?

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

Falling Foul Of Jon Moss

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

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

Should He Stay Or Should He Go: Pellegrini’s Time Surely Up After Spurs Clash?

If he stays there could be trouble, but if he goes will there be double? Is there any way we can rely on the owners to make a sensible decision?

Shattered Dreams

I don’t pretend to speak for all West Ham fans, but would like to think that what most of us are looking for is a club that we can feel rightfully proud of. One that attempts to entertain but even when that doesn’t come off, a team that goes into every match with 100% commitment. So that, whoever the opposition, they know that they have been given a game. It’s not much to ask and, if we are really lucky, there might also be the faintest whiff of success in one of the cup competitions. There are a collection of probable causes at to why we don’t have such a team. Owners who prioritise committing just enough to protect their asset over ambition: who have failed to invest sufficiently in both playing staff depth and infrastructure (such as training facilities, academy and scouting); who have no credible long-term footballing strategy. A manager and coaching staff who are unable to motivate, prepare and organise the team in a way that Premier League football now demands; who have recruited too many players that are unsuitable in meeting those physical and athletic demands. A squad of players who may have technical ability but lack the appropriate level of personal pride – a few notable exceptions aside.

Mark Noble says that if we are not careful, we will be in a relegation scrap. Have I got news for you, Mark – we are already knees-deep in one. At the current trajectory (two points from seven games) and a high probability of three defeats in the next three games, it is not a wild stretch of the imagination to envisage West Ham being rock bottom by Christmas.

If We Only Had A Heart (Or A Nerve)

Saturday’s game was a virtual re-run of the previous home fixture against Newcastle. A late flurry providing an undeserved air of respectability to what could easily have been a rout. Roberto may be the worst player ever to have pulled on a pair of Premier League goalie gloves for West Ham (and I’m including Julian Dicks and Carl Jenkinson in that definition) but he wasn’t the sole reason for such an undignified defeat. Once again, it was a team without plan or shape: too slow in possession; giving the ball away far too cheaply; and creating no space for themselves while allowing acres of it to the opposition. That West Ham relied so heavily on the heroics of Lukasz Fabianski’s for many of their points last season should have been a massive red flag. Skimping on the wages of a backup keeper in the hope that he wouldn’t be called into action was an act of gross irresponsibility. And what sort of cunning plan is it to hope that everything will be OK again once Fabianski returns?

On The Road To Nowhere

Apart from counting down the weeks until the return of Fabianski, the remainder of the current master plan is to “work harder”, “buck our ideas up” and “turn things around”. No need to worry then, everything is all in hand! If anyone can look at the displays served up over the course of the past month or so and conclude that all we need is a bit more effort, then they are fooling themselves. Of course, the players should be putting in a shift but the overriding reality is that the team are a disjointed and stuttering shambles. No-one seems to have a clue as to their respective roles and responsibilities. The captain was also reported on the Official West Ham site as saying the game has not changed in the 15 years that he has playing. I make him absolutely wrong on that score – it is much more team focused game now built around structure and cohesion (almost to a micro-managed level.) Individual flair and expression can still be encouraged but it has to be incorporated into the whole – just look how hard Salah, Mane and Firmino work at Liverpool. Pellegrini’s style belongs to the past. He has no roadmap or project for building a lasting legacy at West Ham. When we needed a unit constructed on solid foundations he wasted all the budget on soft furnishings. Pellegrini has to go and go now. There is no point giving him more time just to repeat the same old mistakes – he has no credible plan. The player’s morale and body language is at a record low and suggests an absence of belief. No player has improved as a result of his coaching – Diop, Balbuena, Anderson, Yarmolenko and others have all gone backwards since their encouraging arrivals. Although all of the other problems at the club will still need addressing, they are are longer term fixes. The only way I can see to avoid a devastating relegation is to replace the manager. Act now and let the new man can assess the strengths and weaknesses in the squad in advance of the transfer window.

Who Comes Next?

If the club should take the sensible decision and switch manager, the big question is who comes in as replacement? As ever, the usual suspects have been banded about in the media. I have no particular insight but would prefer a younger manager; one open to fresh ideas, who can also introduce far stricter discipline – like it or not, the players need it. Some may not want to believe it, but managing West Ham has to be seen as a top job – clearly it is not as glamourous as some others but the club are still top twenty in terms of world football revenues.  There should be no shortage of interest.  I can’t believe that Chris Hughton is a serious or genuine candidate (we may as well go for Mark Hughes or Tony Pulis) and can see Rafael Benitez want to hold out for the Everton job.  To my mind bringing Benitez back form China would risk repeating the mistake of Pellegrini – an older manager looking for his final payday. I don’t see why a new manager has to be British but, would be quite happy if the right candidate was home grown. Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe and Scott Parker would each be interesting options, in their own ways. There are sure to be exciting younger overseas coaches in the European leagues of the right calibre – if our scouting reach extends that far.  What we don’t need is a new manager who can do no more than steady the ship – a team builder is required. The worry in all of this, however, is that it will be the limited imagination of David Sullivan making the final decision.

Player Ratings: Roberto (2), Fredericks (4), Ogbonna (6), Diop (4), Cresswell (4), Rice (6), Noble (5), Yarmolenko (3), Snodgrass (6), Anderson (3), Haller (4). Subs: Antonio (8), Fornals (4), Sanchez (4)

Hope Don’t Live Here Anymore: The Decline And Fall Of Pellegrini’s Hopeless Hammers Episode 6

After another terrible West Ham performance radical changes must be made if disastrous consequences are to be avoided. Hoping that there are three even worse teams is a reckless strategy.

Surprise, No Surprise

It is a sad reflection on the current state of affairs at the club, but what happened on Saturday came as no real surprise. A few weeks ago, I described West Ham’s performance at Everton as abject (adj – something experienced that is bad to the maximum degree; a performance completely without pride or dignity.)  Now it looks like I peaked too early with that description, as the situation has become progressively worse – adjective wise, it has left me nowhere to go. Performances have become above and beyond abject if that is possible. Are wretched and deplorable any worse? Or perhaps we should start adding binary prefixes to differentiate the state of disarray: mega-abject (Newcastle), giga-abject (Burnley)? As predicted, it was Sean Dyche who managed to galvanise his team into a reaction while mild-mannered Manuel Pellegrini continued to dither. A strong and pacey home side demonstrated belief and intent. West Ham were weak and rudderless, seemingly content to drift aimlessly towards the precipice of the relegation places.  Even though Burnley’s strength in the air is well known to all, there was no strategy to cut off the supply of crosses.  In fact, the Hammers offered nothing new – tactics, approach or hope – just what had failed so spectacularly over the course of the last six matches. What is it they say about repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Footballing insanity!

Collective Responsibility For Individual Errors

It is football manager 101 to reel off a whole string of incidental excuses whenever your team has lost – bad luck, refereeing decisions, individual errors, and so on – it is never your own fault.  It is always tempting smokescreen to use when your team have been comprehensively outplayed by what, in theory, is a lesser team – at least in terms of support and resources. Sure, the first goal should not have been a corner and, without doubt, Roberto and Fabian Balbuena contributed enormously to the other two goals conceded. Most goals have some degree of culpability from the defending side but well drilled teams endeavour to minimise the impact of individual mistakes by effective organisation. Pellegrini seems as afraid of organising his troops as Roberto is of crosses. The fact that it was a goalkeeper who was last year’s Hammer of the Year should have been cause of concern, not one of celebration – taking nothing away from Lukasz Fabianski’s heroics. Now his injury, and the decision to make a cheap gamble on a backup, have led to a reckless own goal. As dodgy a keeper as Roberto is, he also made some very good saves. As with the previous week, defeat was not entirely down to him. In fact, for the stat lovers out there, he was the Hammer’s highest rated player according to the whoscored website.

Manuel’s Random Team Selector

This week’s pin sticking team selection lottery comprised replacing Pablo Zabaleta with Ryan Fredericks and Andriy Yarmolenko with Pablo Fornals. Everyone else was deemed to have done well enough the previous weekend to keep their places. Fornals was, sort of, deployed central and in a more advanced role but you might not have noticed but for some half-hearted attempts at closing down when we lost possession. As usual the Hammers faffed about with the ball in no-man’s-land (possibly as a mark of respect for Remembrance Day) and steadfastly refused to move the ball forward quickly – and when they did only down the flanks. Before his injury, Mark Noble had only two touches in the opposition half. His positional replacement, Robert Snodgrass, did get further forward but mainly down the congested left side where Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell also congregated for most of the afternoon. Sebastein Haller managed only two touches in the opposition penalty area during the whole ninety minutes, while Albian Ajeti amassed a grand total of five touches in his thirty minutes on the pitch. This is not a side that plays with any pattern, cohesion or shape.  It is not a jigsaw where there is just an odd piece needed for completion; it is one where none of the pieces seemingly match the picture on the box. From the off, there was never a time when it looked as though West Ham would get anything from the game.  It was just a matter of time before Burnley’s superior aerial threat overwhelmed the Hammer’s inadequate defences.

Here’s Another Fine Mess We’ve Gotten Into

The scale and extent of West Ham’s current woes run deep.  There is no quick fix that will address all of them. The first casualty will likely by Director of Football (DoF), Mario Husillos and although I wouldn’t lose any sleep over his departure it will go now way to resolve any of the pressing, immediate problems. In truth, the DoF should be providing an independent input to player recruitment, not be an old pal of the manager – but that is just another example of the amateurish West Ham way of doing things. Worst case scenario would be the return of David Sullivan (or one of his boys) as the de facto DoF. I am probably more ambivalent towards the owners than many supporters, but ultimately it will only be by investment (in players and in infrastructure such as training facilities and the academy) that can move the club forward. While their ambition is inclined more towards treading water than moving forward, the club finds itself being swept into very dangerous territory. They should not have allowed the squad to become so irresponsibly thin but equally they are not directly responsible for the unmotivated, disorganised rabble that regularly takes the field on a Saturday afternoon. That is down to the manager. You might also argue that the players are not putting in the required level effort or playing for the manager, but much of that is down to poor preparation and an absence of belief in what they are supposed to be doing.

What Happens Next?

Another international break now and there is so much work to be done if there is to be any hope of improvement (not confident, though).  The next run of games sees fixtures against Tottenham, Chelsea, Wolves and Arsenal which would not, on recent performance,  promise a lot in the way of points. This is not a team in a poor run of form but one that has fundamental issues in the way it is set up; and a manager who has admitted to being baffled as to how to fix it. Personally, I find it impossible to imagine how Pellegrini can turn things around.  He is stuck firmly in the past and has few fresh ideas that are relevant in a modern game where pace, fitness and organisation are all important. When the clocks changed recently, they may as well have gone back to the 1990’s. It was mentioned at the weekend that West Ham had covered less ground this season than any other team in the Premier League. That is no surprise. They probably had the lowest average speed as well, if that was measured. As things stand this is not a group of players you would want with you in the trenches of a relegation scrap with – at least not under the current leadership. The board will be reluctant to replace the manager, due to the cost involved, but it is looking increasingly like it will be necessary. West Ham are adrift now, lacking fitness, motivation, cohesion and any structured style or approach. Everything that suggests these are desperate times requiring the most urgent attention. Hoping that there are three even worse teams in the league is a risky strategy (and I can easily see Watford climbing away from trouble now.) The general consensus in the media is that Pellegrini’s job is safe for now. I really don’t see why that should be the case.  It is not a sensible position to take when the stakes are so high and there are so few positive signs to pin your hopes to.

Ratings: Roberto (4), Fredericks (4), Diop (4), Balbuena (3), Cresswell (5), Rice (5), Noble (4), Snodgrass (6), Fornals (4), Anderson (4), Haller (4) Subs: Yamolenko (5), Lanzini (4), Ajeti (3)

Uh oh, we’re in trouble! Something’s come along, and it’s burst our bubble.

The transition from early season optimism to winter of discontent continues with yet another woeful West Ham performance. Takeaways and player ratings from the weekend.

It’s A Perfect Time To Panic

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, West Ham manage to dig deeper to serve up an even more incompetent performance.  New depths have been well and truly plumbed.  This is not a team who just happen to be going through a poor fun of form, but one that doesn’t seem to know what it is supposed to be doing. We have a collage representing the worst aspects of manager’s past: Zola, Roeder, Grant and Bilic. The enigma of an under-performing team and a manager who, it appears, has absolutely no idea what has gone wrong or how to change things.  Manuel Pellegrini admitted as much after the game.  Ironically, most fans have a good idea where the deficiencies lie – pace, width, organisation, fitness, commitment and motivation – even if we wouldn’t really know how to fix them.  But then again, we are not paid millions of pounds a year to do so. How quickly an opportunity to leap into third place has morphed into taking an unhealthy interest in the relegation placings.  Two points from the last five (not particularly difficult) games has to be cause for concern.  If Pellegrini can’t turn things around before Christmas, then someone else has to be handed the baton.

He Thought What?

One of the most perplexing reports that I read during the week was that Pellegrini’s believed that West Ham had played well against Sheffield United.  True, we had a few chances to win the game but then so did the visitors. The consequence of that assessment was the naming an unchanged side for the game against Newcastle.  A decision that set up a confrontation between the fastest winger in the league and the slowest full-back.  Do we actually scout the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition? The modern game is very different now and if a player is not quick, athletic and full of running he needs to have some very special talents to compensate.  Equally a manager needs organisation, tactical and motivational skills in addition to a smart CV.  All of these things are in short supply at the London Stadium right now. When Pellegrini was appointed the one negative assessment that I read from his time at Manchester City was that he had allowed fitness levels to drop off alarmingly in his second season.  Has the same now happened at West Ham?   Has the manager lost the dressing room – after all the London Stadium is a big place and his short term memory is quite possibly starting to fail now!

You’ve got to hold and give but do it at the right time
You can be slow or fast but you must get to the line
They’ll always hit you and hurt you, defend and attack
There’s only one way to beat them, get round the back

Rapper John Barnes on West Ham’s Attacking Limitations

Can We Play You Every Week?

Running through West Ham’s limitation each week’s after the latest disappointment is becoming like a scratched record stuck on repeat.  We must be the easiest team in the world to play against. Stay compact, get back into shape quickly and the Hammers will have no clue what to do.  Then simply hit them on the break and get numbers forward quickly.  The first inclination of any West Ham midfielder is a backwards or sideways shuffle that allows any opposition ample time to regroup behind the ball.  I am sure our pass completion for pointless five yard passes is an amazing stat.  In a well drilled side, players would know exactly what they are going to do before receiving the ball.  That just isn’t happening. Playing the ball into space for a teammate to run into is now a blue moon event with West Ham.  The team has become a band of flat-footed strollers, unable to create even the semblance of a chance in open play – irrespective of the amount of possession. Pellegrini has been talking of a reaction in next week’s game, but with Burnley also being soundly beaten at the weekend where would your money go as to who gets the biggest reaction?

It’s A Team Game

“Rarely, if ever, can a Premiership team have defended so poorly.”

“…. must take some of the blame for poor organisation and questionable selection. West Ham’s marking was shambolic at set pieces”

The above quotes were taken from a report when West Ham lost 4-3 at home to Leeds in November 2002 having been 4-1 down at half time – a match I remember well.  A second half recovery partially disguised the incompetence of the first, just as with Saturday’s game. West Ham could easily have been on course by the break to challenge Southampton’s 9-0 home defeat record, had Newcastle been more clinical in front of goal. There is no doubt that Roberto is well below average for a keeper at Premier League level – a cost saving gamble that backfired due to Fabianski’s injury – but he was not the sole reason we lost the game. Capitulation was the only thing that the team did collectively all afternoon. The team had no idea how to deal with pace and movement of the visitor’s attacking players. There was a definite improvement in the latter stages of the second half, but it never turned into an onslaught – even in those five minutes of added time where an equaliser was a possibility.  For most of the game the only attacking threat was Fabian Balbuena at corner kicks. Still no-one wanted to play anywhere near to Sebastien Haller. I agreed with much of Danny Gabbidon’s post match assessment.  The problems are as much about system as personnel – but then I have though the same for a long time. Sure, better players would be great, but the core competence of a manager is to find a system that gets the best results with the resources available.  This is just not happening and there is not even the slightest hint West Ham are attacking, defending or working together as a team. There is no direction, no ideas and no leadership.

Player Recruitment And The Academy

Having said that our problems are as much about system as personnel I do believe that the club’s recruitment policy is flawed – probably as a result of using agents rather than old-fashioned scouting to target recruits. Over the years there has been a procession of players who may be technically competent, but who lack the work ethic that a club like ours (in fact any club) needs these days to compete.  Players who believe that a move to a Premier League club (and the bright lights of London) on lucrative contracts is the pinnacle of their ambition. Successful players need the right mix of talent and application – not one or the other.  The West Ham academy has also failed to deliver consistently for many a long year. As fans we love to see youngsters coming through, but it is tempting to believe that successive managers have not given youth a chance.  There haven’t been that many who have slipped through the net, only to build successful careers elsewhere – so why are we not developing youngsters with right attributes.  I feel that there is some hope with the new academy guy,  Dmitri Halajko, who has been doing a great job in charge of the U23’s.  He seems to have the kind of progressive outlook that is sadly missing in the first team. It is quite unusual that a club doesn’t play the same style of football throughout all age groups – but maybe the youth coaches refuse to go shambolic.

Ratings: Roberto (4), Zabaleta (3), Diop (5), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (4), Rice (5), Noble (3), Yarmolenko (4), Snodgrass (6), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (6), Ajeti (4), Fredericks (5)

Pellegrini Shuffles The Pack But Still Has A Handful Of Jokers: Takeaways and Ratings

A point won or two points lost? Takeaways and player ratings from another below par West Ham performance against resolute opponents.

Crumbs From The Table

Just as a starving man might regard a stale crust of bread as a fine feast, there is a temptation to seek comfort from this marginally improved performance that ended a losing run and put one more point in the bank. A game where the Hammers dominated possession and, but for the spurning of several chances, would have ended as a deserved victory?  At least, that is how Manuel Pellegrini saw it – a spot of bad luck rather than the continuation of the previous poor run of performances.  From where I was sitting, however, it looked like the same uninspiring fare, but served up with slightly more enthusiasm. Sure, we might have scored one or two more on a better day but then so could the opposition. Had Sheffield been more adventurous in the first half, then who knows what might have happened? Once their confidence grew, an equaliser was always on the cards – even if, when it came, Roberto’s attempt to save Mousset’s Barnes-Wallis volley reflected his preference for the spectacular over the functional.   West Ham still have the look of a team in need of overhaul rather than fine tuning.

Nothing Ever Changes

Learning from Marko Silva’s recipe for success from the previous weekend, Pellegrini decided that the road to victory lie in making five changes to the starting eleven. It was close to all change at the back where Angelo Ogbonna and Ryan Fredericks would have been mightily miffed at their exclusion. The rationale, I guess, is that the underlying problems are defensive personnel rather than an inability to compete in midfield, which to me is more apparent. Naturally there was no change to formation where old-dog Pellegrini will have no truck with trying new tricks such a back three. No matter what happens, we are stuck with his 4-1-4-1/ 4-2-3-1 (or whatever it is) for the foreseeable future. Of the players who came in, Robert Snodgrass was the pick of the bunch and made a whole-hearted contribution capped with a smartly taken goal.  His level of effort compensating for an overall lack of creativity – even if his best work was as an auxiliary winger and not in the central areas expected from the team sheet.  It was a huge surprise when he taken off, as Andriy Yarmolenko was clearly struggling by that point. Equally baffling was the substitution of Felipe Anderson who, frustrating as he is, remains the best outlet and only player capable of breaking forward at speed – although admittedly his final delivery was wayward throughout.  Manuel Lanzini seems to have finally perfected the art of hiding in plain sight – I saw him come on but then he simply disappeared.

Five Guys Named Slow

Pace is not necessarily the ‘be all and end all’ for a modern Premier League footballer but it has become increasingly important over the years. If a player does not have pace then there has to be other very special qualities to make them standout. The starting eleven contained at least five players unfortunately blessed with below average pace for their positions: Pablo Zabaleta, Mark Noble, Snodgrass, Yarmolenko and Sebastien Haller. The same could be directed at substitute Pablo Fornals. That is far too many for any one team. To be fair to Zabaleta (and his ageing legs) he did cover a lot of ground and was always willing to get forward. Yarmolenko showed some lovely touches – his pass for the goal, the through ball to Anderson and the cross to Cresswell – being arguably the most incisive moments of the match. I do believe that Haller possesses great attributes but he is no Jamie Vardy and expecting him to chase long balls is pointless.  Unless someone is playing close to him (which didn’t happen all afternoon) he is not going to deliver on his transfer fee.  The skipper again had a poor game but the sad truth is that there are no known alternatives in the squad.

Rice With Everything

Snodgrass may well have made a valuable contribution but Declan Rice was my West Ham man of the match by some distance. He is a special player who, as well as his energy and defensive capabilities, has a good eye for a pass – always looking to switch play and preferring to use the ball progressively.  Not for him the instinct to go backwards before going forwards that has come to characterise Noble’s game and was later imitated by Fornals after his introduction.  Rice is carrying the team right now and we need to make the most of him.  With the club not making any progress and his international exposure he will soon become frustrated and open to offers.  Difficult to see him still being a Hammer next summer.

Expectations Lowered

At the current run rate (13 points from 10 games) this would result in a total of 49 come the season end.  Slightly below last year and a total that would suggest a top of the bottom half finish – typical West Ham territory and not the kind of progress that we were hoping for. Perhaps the manager can turn it around but he doesn’t have the look of someone able to make the best of limited resources through motivation, organisation and technical nous.  That is surely what he is paid big bucks for. The situation is surprising in the light of his track record from earlier in his career. Maybe the game has moved on and he hasn’t kept pace.  Time to prove us wrong, Manuel.

Ratings: Roberto (5), Zabaleta (5), Diop (6), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (5), Rice (8), Noble (4), Yarmolenko (6), Snodgrass (7), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (4), Fornals (5), Ajeti (5)