West Ham pick up their first point of the season from a losing position in a hard fought but scrappy game at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium. What did we learn?
Scrappy Game, Fair Result
Over the course of ninety minutes it was the fairest of fair results. West Ham deserved no more and probably no less out of what was mostly a very scrappy affair devoid of quality. Judged against pre-match expectations it was another disappointing day on the road for the Hammers who have picked up just five out of a possible eighteen away points. Fair play to Huddersfield though for playing with tremendous spirit, determination and energy. Whether it will be enough for them to dodge relegation for a second successive season remains to be seen but good luck to them all the same. There were more positives for the Terriers to takeaway from the game than there were for the Hammers. Despite the donation of the first goal to be scored by a Huddersfield player at home this season, we managed (with honourable mention to the woodwork) to avoid breaking their twenty-two match sequence of failing to score more than once in any single game.
As with the away trip at Brighton, it was another painfully slow start for Pellegrini’s team. It should not have come as any surprise that Huddersfield would play at high intensity and yet we once again look unprepared for it. There are plenty of other teams in the crowded bottom half of the division whose main tactic is to close down quickly and deny time and space for players to settle. It shouldn’t be met with bewilderment every time it is experienced. There has to be a plan to cope with it and that includes matching the opposition’s effort and demonstrating greater technique to overcome it. Is there something missing in preparation or do we lack leadership on the pitch. Pellegrini suggested in his post match press conference that the team hadn’t stuck to the plan. Either way they are still some way short of being up to the task.
A Lack of Guile
I read a review earlier in the week which suggested that the West Ham midfield was full of guile. In my opinion, the complete opposite is true – it is a sadly lacking attribute! I am not saying the players are not putting in a shift – but that they lack the footballing intelligence, craft or cunning to dominate the central areas. The battle is so often won and lost in midfield and our boys rarely operate well when put under pressure. The number of back passes yesterday was reminiscent of the bad old BFS days. Declan Rice has been doing a very decent job as defensive cover (and is economical in distribution) but the likes of Pedro Obiang, Robert Snodgrass (and Mark Noble) have not done enough offensively this season in the more attritional type of game. They need to be creating space and opportunity that allow front players to threaten in dangerous areas – not forcing them to come deep to search for the ball. For all their possession, West Ham created few true clear cut chances.
The changes made by Pellegrini at half time and shortly after seemed to work in West Ham’s favour. Ironically, neither Javier Hernandez nor Michail Antonio played particularly well and so maybe it was the case of the substitutions changing the mindset of the players and the shape of the game rather than down to new personnel. The Hammers were certainly more positive in the second period and, thankfully, Huddersfield reacted with caution rather than trying to take advantage of their greater numbers in midfield. Antonio looks to be trying too hard to score and the destination of his hopeful wayward shooting is obvious the moment the ball leaves his boot. Apart from an early neat pass which set up Marko Arnautovic for a one-on-one opportunity, Grady Diangana was a peripheral figure. He is a player who needs the ball to feet with space to exploit rather than asking him to chase hopeful passes or win aerial duels. Felipe Anderson was the Hammer’s most influential player and took his goal very well. He did, however, look to have run out of puff by the end of the game. Maybe West Ham could have stolen it with Issa Diop’s header but the clearance off the line showed the value of the player on the post.
The Full Back Connundrum
The full-back situation remains a conundrum. In the Pellegrini setup you would expect that the full-backs need to be mainly defensively focused. Yet three of the four senior candidates are generally suspect in that regard. Aaron Cresswell did adequately yesterday apart from that suicidal attempted back-pass in the closing minutes but, as with Masuaku, his strength is supporting the attack. Having said that, the position of the full-backs (even Pablo Zabaleta) is often puzzling in that they can be regularly seen in more advanced positions than the midfield players even when the opposition have the ball. I don’t fully understand what the manager expects from them and we continue to be most vulnerable along the flanks. Ryan Fredericks opportunity to impress (as a late replacement for Zabaleta) was short-lived and the Hammers were effectively down to ten men for the final minutes following his injury.
West Ham start the winnable phase of the season with a win that was commanding without the score ever being convincing. Nevertheless, there was plenty to be positive about.
Commanding But Not Convincing
What a pleasure it is to watch your team play with stylish attacking intentions; full of energy, movement, invention and just a touch of swagger. West Ham were so dominant that the final score-line should really have been far more emphatic. Seeing the scores level at half-time and the game tied at 2-2 with just over five minutes remaining was difficult to comprehend. To their credit the Hammers kept pressing forward, boosted by adventurous substitutions, to secure a final result that, even if it will look more convincing in the record books that it seemed at the time, will be great for confidence. Even at 3-2 Burnley had a gilt edge opportunity to draw level once again.
Anderson Puts The Win Into Winnable
Very pleased for Felipe Anderson that he finally had an afternoon to remember. The goals were the icing on the cake but his all-round performance and level of involvement was impressive. No West Ham player had more touches during the game. The challenge now is for him to do the business on a regular and consistent basis. Only then can he be considered as a player justifying his transfer fee. There was a touch of fortune about both his two goals: the first squeezing between Hart’s flailing legs; and the second courtesy of a kind deflection. In fact, his best effort was the first half chip headed miraculously from under the bar by Mee. He might also have done better with the shot that hit the bar in the second period. Probably, I am being picky because he did have an excellent game as did Grady Diangana and Marko Arnautovic. There was another goal from Arnie, in his quest to be West Ham’s first ever Premier League 20 goals a season man, and Diang played with a quality of touch, vision and determination that you would expect from a seasoned campaigner. However did the referee miss that penalty!
An Off Day At The Back
Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop have set the bar of defensive competence very high over recent weeks but this was one of their less dominant performances. Perhaps the more direct and physical style of the opposition was new to them and something to learn from. Both goals conceded were disappointing. With the first: Diop failed to deal with the high ball; Burnley were unchallenged as it ran loose; and Balbuena and Aaron Cresswell seemed more concerned with offside than preventing the goal. For the second: it was a routine corner; why was it Robert Snodgrass who had the duty of marking Wood – and no-one on the posts to clear. Wood was also given a free header late in the game. While on the subject of playing to the whistle why did Chicharito (nice goal by the way) ignore the loose ball to claim a handing offence in the box? Credit where it is due and Declan Rice was, once again, very impressive in his defensive midfield role.
A West Ham Way Philosophy
It was pleasing to read Manuel Pellegrini’s post match comments as they confirmed his philosophy is much closer to what many regard to be the West Ham philosophy than any other manager in recent history. With the currently available resources the ‘we’re gonna score one more than you’ approach may not always be successful but it makes for interesting spectating. Instilling a calm, controlled, passing game into the team looks to be paying dividends at last. Encouraging a positive and creative attitude in the players raises everyone’s spirits and generates a feedback loop from the crowd that maintains momentum.
Medium Term Outlook
Funny things can happen in football but it is difficult to imagine any scenario other than a steady rise up the table. Outside of the top six there is not a massive difference in quality between any other teams but maybe West Ham have already lost too many games to threaten for a Europa League spot. Despite the long injury list there are still weaknesses in the squad that need to be addressed if it is to improve. Most immediately, more quality is needed in the heart of midfield and longer term full-backs who fit the system must be found. Perhaps Jack Wilshere can still do a job (if he fully recovers from injury) in there and I wonder how will Manuel Lanzini fit in? I guess like many of us, I would be surprised if the owners dig deep during the January transfer window – they are likely to believe they did all their spending in the summer. In any case, we can all breathe a little easier after this weekend.
With the game overshadowed by the dreadful post-match helicopter crash, what lessons were learned from events on the pitch?
Fatal Helicopter Crash
Ultimately, what happened on the football pitch was understandably overshadowed by the shocking helicopter crash that occurred an hour after the end of the game. A sad and terrible tragedy for those involved, their families and friends. An element of fortune, perhaps, that there were no further casualties among those on the ground.
A Captain’s Tale
The pivotal moment in the game was the needless Mark Noble red card at a time when West Ham seemed to be in full control of proceedings. Difficult to argue against the referee’s interpretation of the laws except from the perspective that inconsistency by officials does sometimes leads to leniency. I am certain that there was no malice involved in the tackle but then that is invariably the case in such situations; it makes it no less dangerous and that is the criteria like it or not. It was a reckless lunge and an out of control tackle, and the captain should have known better. To attempt it at that stage of the game in that area of the pitch was foolish – particularly as his tackles get a little bit later with each passing week. Noble’s best days are some way behind him but his contribution is till required given the length of the injury list and the absence of fit alternatives. It is impossible to know whether it would have been three valuable points gained had he stayed on his feet (and on the pitch) but the odds of it would have been greatly increased.
How to play when reduced to ten men is always a challenge. In the end the tactic was to hang on for dear life by getting as many people behind the ball as possible and defending deep. It was still quite surprising how much room Leicester were allowed, particularly down the flanks. However, the defence was remarkably resolute and well organised managing to lure opposition forwards into offside positions on multiple occasions. Aside from some early dodgy moments dealing with crosses Fabianski, once again, pulled off some smart saves. I had little confidence that the Hammers could repel the Leicester siege for the entire second half but, as I was starting to think it might just happen, the cruellest of luck intervened. The latest in a long line of desperate long range shots, this time from Ndidi, was destined for obscurity until it pinged off the backside of a Hammers defender and deflected into the empty net. Defeat (two points anyway) was snatched form the arse of victory.
Little Pea Fritters Away His Chance
In the absence of sick Marko Arnautovic there was a chance for Javier Hernandez to show what he was made of leading the attack. Sadly, he just reinforced the view that his style of play is a relic of distant age – before football required every player to contribute both on and off the ball. It might well be the case that he is the most gifted natural finisher in the squad but he remains a luxury that the team cannot afford – and we might already have one of those in Felipe Anderson. This reliance on Arnautovic and the lack of any real striking alternatives conjures wistful thoughts about the return of Big Andy – an event that is rumoured to be any day now, it offers a glimmer of hope even though experience suggests it will once more end in disappointment. Maybe Angelo Ogbonna was making his case for an attacking start, demonstrating that he can spurn chances as proficiently as any of our strikers. He could easily have had two goals in his brief ten minute cameo. Any commentator writing off Ogbonna’s last minute effort as a defender’s finish surely hasn’t ever watched West Ham strikers over the years.
The Three Amigos
As in so many of our games this season, the shining lights were the defensive minded trio of Declan Rice, Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena (in no particular order). Great to see ‘The General’ get his name on the score-sheet – what an honest, wholehearted player he is and what a snip in the transfer market. Rice and Diop show immense maturity, and no shortage of technique, skill and application, for such young players. It would be nice to think that we could be watching them in claret and blue for years to come but it is probably wishful thinking, and we should make the most of them while we can. With a quarter of the season now gone it is a three horse race for Hammer Of The Year!
The curse of the half time oranges as the Hammers first lose Yarmolenko and then the lead during five minutes of madness just before the break. The second half sees a more dominant performance but not enough to rescue the points.
Funny Old Game
Never has the phrase “it’s a funny old game” been more appropriate than for yesterday’s defeat at the London Stadium by Tottenham. West Ham didn’t play well nor did they play badly – and the same can be said for the opposition. Neither team had the upper hand and any of the three possible outcomes would have been difficult to argue against. Once again the Hammers were slow out of the traps – lacking any real intensity against what was a makeshift Tottenham lineup as the visitors had one eye firmly on the challenge of salvaging their upcoming European campaign. The Hammers appeared to show Tottenham far too much respect with an approach that lacked bite or an appetite to knock the visitors out of their stride. The game was raised in the second period but not enough to prevent the North Londoners from running down the clock with some ease.
Dreaming Of The Half Time Orange
Not much happened in the opening forty minutes. Even though West Ham demonstrated little threat they remained well organised, working hard to keep their defensive shape. There was little action of note at either end. That all changed in the final frantic minutes of the half. It started with what looks likely to be a very serious injury to Andriy Yarmolenko and was quickly followed by the only goal of the game, courtesy of Lamela’s head. Once again it was vulnerability down the flanks that led to the goal – and it was not too dissimilar to that conceded at Brighton. This time it was Aaron Cresswell who had gone AWOL; Felipe Anderson’s defending wasn’t even close to half-hearted; the two centre backs raced out looking for offside; leaving Pablo Zabaleta floundering in Lamela’s wake. It was Tottenham’s first attempt on target in the game but there was still time for the Hammers to attempt a repeat performance; on this occasion, however, they were rescued by a fine Lukasz Fabianski double save. Although West Ham were far brighter after the break (and with a noisy crowd urging them on) there were only a few real chances created – unfortunately Lloris was equal to challenge and made smart saves to deny Marko Arnautovic on two occasions.
I don’t know what the Brazilian equivalent of green kryptonite is but someone had clearly been lacing Anderson’s coffee with it during the international break- so weak was his performance. In his previous two outings at the London Stadium, West Ham’s record signing had started to show glimpses of what he might bring to the table – even if he had yet to deliver the full forty million quid’s worth. Yesterday, though, he was atrocious. It was not just his feeble defending but also the inability to reach the goal from the corner flag and his general all-round sluggishness. Touch wood this was just a bad day at the office but he has yet to have any outstanding ones to give him a free pass. In modern football it is impossible to carry a player who blows hot and cold. He needs to do much more or be played in a position that suits him better.
Highlights and Lowlights
The injury to Yarmolenko could potentially be a big blow. Although we don’t yet know the full extent of the damage it looked very bad. For any player it would mean a long lay-off but with West Ham’s track record that is probably his lot for this season. Wishing him a speedy recovery. It was encouraging that Manuel Pellegrini opted for Grady Diangana as his replacement rather than Michail Antonio. The youngster looked lively – and not in a Zavon Hines sort of way that involved running very fast but without any control of the ball. Diangana has the look of a real prospect and, although it may be too soon to throw him in as a regular starter, surely we are going to see a lot more of him. I am not the greatest fan of Robert Snodgrass but the energy, effort and appetite in his latest incarnation cannot be faulted – Chicharito and Antonio, please take note! Any game where Kane does not score against West Ham has to be a positive. Both Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena had excellent games once again, as did Declan Rice, and you could easily have forgotten that Kane was on the pitch.
Having enjoyed initial success with his 4-3-3 (or is it 4-1-4-1) formation, it is starting to show some structural weaknesses. In particular the vulnerability to attacks down the flanks and the lack of flair and variety from the midfield. Of the four senior full-backs only Zabaleta is primarily a defender. The others (Fredericks, Cresswell and Masuaku) are more suited to a role where they provide attacking width and give defending a go when needed (not unlike Trippier, Rose et al). I am not yet sure what Pellegrini is expecting from his full backs (they rarely get forward in the way that their Tottenham counterparts do) and who is meant to be providing backup support to them? It is a lot to ask attacking players to do this consistently over the entire course of a match. For example, Chelsea would not expect Hazard and Willian to track back except in an emergency – but then they have a very energetic midfield three to do the hard yards for them. That balance is still missing from the West Ham lineup. With a run of ‘easier’ games on the horizon how capable will that midfield be in unlocking more defensively minded teams? As a final thought, it would be dangerous to rely solely on Arnautovic to score goals. He is a real handful for opposing defenders but there needs to be other options and with Yarmolenko likely to be needing a lengthy lay-off it is difficult to see who can provide them. Perhaps the hot-shot striker currently leading the line for La Liga table toppers, Alaves (at least they were top until Barcelona won yesterday), is worth having a look at – goes by the name of Jonathan Calleri!
Plucky Manchester United fare little better than Macclesfield Town as West Ham extend their rip-roaring, free-scoring unbeaten run to four games at the London Stadium.
Just Like Watching West Ham
Ask the majority of West Ham supporters how they would like their team to play and you might find yesterday’s performance coming closer to that ideal than anything seen for a good many years. The ugly duckling performances of the first four games have metamorphosed into a very fine swan indeed. Suddenly players who had previously laboured and plodded their way around the pitch for ninety minutes are playing on their toes with confidence high and a spring in their step. It brought to mind Arsene Wenger’s original transformation of George Graham’s Arsenal with one-time donkey Tony Adams playing passes with the outside of his boot. It is a wonder what can be achieved when organisation, teamwork and movement are introduced along with a belief that the ball isn’t something that needs to be got rid of as quickly as possible. This was West Ham’s finest show of the season in what has turned into a nice little unbeaten run. We can now look forward with interest to see how the team manages to maintain impetus, flair and hard-work in the next set of fixtures. From the spectre of a long relegation battle I am now looking curiously at sixth spot in the table.
Ten goals conceded in the first four games has been followed up with just two in the next three (comprising tough games against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United) all with largely with the same back-line. If ever there was an example of defence not being only about the back four or five then this is it. Finally, we have the look of a team that attacks and defends as a unit rather than being made up of three discrete components working to a rule book. However, despite the team ethic there were also fantastic individual performances all-round yesterday! Pablo Zabaleta (as with Mark Noble in front of him) seems to have discovered a fresh pair of legs. Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop have exceeded all expectations as a central defensive partnership (already there are envious eyes focusing on the talent and athleticism of Diop). Declan Rice has shown a far greater deftness of touch and eye for a pass than I gave him credit for, and I even spotted a Bobby Moore tackle at one point – neatly complementing the Gordon Banks save made by the flawless Lukasz Fabianski from Fellaini’s header. And how about the effort put in by Robert Snodgrass during his time on the pitch – playing like a man possessed. It was a shame that the goal conceded blotted the afternoon’s copybook resulting, as it did, from a drop in concentration during the visitor’s double substitution.
It’s All About The Pass
Of all the football statistics now thrown at us, it is the ‘Assist’ that I find to be the flakiest of them all. Two weeks ago at Everton, Noble got an assist for Andriy Yarmolenko’s second goal although his actual contribution to it was negligible. Yesterday, without his precise defence splitting pass to Zabaleta to set up the West Ham opener there would have been no goal. Yet as a goal can only have one assist there is no recognition. The biggest positive out of the last three games (apart from the points) has been the quality of the passing. For a good pass you certainly need somebody to execute it but you also need options and for others to take up positions that will provide an advantage. The number of options available to the player with the ball has been pleasing as has the movement and anticipation that allows quick switching between flanks and for balls to played into space for runners. There was some great interplay on show yesterday particularly, although not exclusively, between the front three of Marko Arnautovic, Felipe Anderson and Yarmolenko. The first and third goals were a delight to watch.
That Free Kick Routine…..
I am still a little puzzled by the free kick routine where Player A takes the kick, rolls it a few yards to Player B who stops it and then retreats allowing Player A to cross into the box. It is clearly a routine from the training ground as we have seen it a few times already this season. I suppose it could slightly alter the angle of delivery into the box but does it really make so much difference? Answers on a postcard please …..
Do You Know The Way To Can Jose?
No surprise, given the high profile of those involved, that much of the media attention was on the crisis unfolding at Old Trafford. As well as the Hammers played they were allowed plenty of space and opportunity to do so by an opponent who looked dispirited, disinterested and disorganised – especially in the first half and again after the third goal went in. Mourinho looks to be re-enacting his last days at Stamford Bridge blaming everyone for the collective deficiencies apart from himself. Manchester United look to be a team in turmoil and with very public spats between manager and leading players it is difficult to see how this can be fixed with Mourinho still in place. I had thought they may stumble on for a while longer but now having seen how bad the situation is it could well be a matter of days before Zidane rocks up in Manchester.
What we learned as West Ham happily concede possession, are rarely troubled by a predictable one dimensional Chelsea and end up spurning the best chances of the afternoon.
If Premier League football was a level playing field then you wouldn’t want to see your team playing at home on the wrong side of 28%-72% possession statistics. Although we are now well past the point of believing that possession is everything in football, that is a very one-sided scenario. But football is not a level playing field and, the occasional upset apart, success follows the money including the flip side that is the financial imperative of Premier League survival. Had the Hammers made a more convincing start to the season then maybe Pellegrini could have been more adventurous against Chelsea; but with his team firmly in the recovery position the ends of a hard won, well-earned point jsutified the means of a mostly backs-to-the-wall performance. Even so, the two clearest cut goal-scoring opportunities of the game fell to West Ham and, at the end, we were left imagining what might have been.
A look at the average position of the West Ham players during the game is quite telling. Although Pellegrini has always favoured a back four, the Hammers effectively played with a back five with Declan Rice rarely venturing into the opposition half except at set pieces. Rice had another very good game, as he had at Goodison the previous week, and showed a deft touch as well as intelligent distribution. The data also showed that, on average, Pedro Obiang took up a more advanced position than Felipe Anderson although both played relatively deep on the left hand side – not surprising as Chelsea did most of their attacking down the right wing. Cover for Pablo Zabaleta on the Hammer’s right was provided mainly by Andriy Yarmolenko. The result was that West Ham found it difficult to retain possession with too few players getting forward to mount constructive or sustained attacks. For those interested in statistics, the Hammer’s most accurate passers of the afternoon were surprisingly Issa Diop, Michail Antonio and Arthur Masuaku.
For what is normally a fiercely contested London derby the match was remarkably tame as far as boot flying intensity was concerned; the matter of no added first half minutes was testament to lack of physicality. There were a smattering of fouls but mainly of the niggly variety rather than the vicious or dangerous. Referee, Mike Dean, must have been most disappointed that he was not called upon to make any game changing decisions. In fairness, Dean performed very well with the anonymity preferred in a referee – particularly when ignoring Hazard’s blatant dive on the edge of the area in the first half. There was a period around the two Antonio first half chances that West Ham (and the crowd) got the bit between their collective teeth but otherwise it was more chess match than gladiatorial battle.
Another fine set of performances from Lukasz Fabianski, Fabian Balbuena and Diop with sterling support from Zabaleta in the back line. Their day was made somewhat easier by an apparent lack of ideas and enthusiasm from the opposition. Chelsea had put all their eggs into the Hazard and Willian baskets yet looked uncertain what to do with the ball once they got into dangerous positions and the West Ham defenders were able to clear their lines at will. It was a good lesson yesterday that defence is not just about the back four or five – but is something performed as a team. Everyone did their job in limiting Chelsea to speculative strikes and in the rare event they did break through, Fabianski was more than equal to the threat.
If yesterday was a good example of defending as a team it was a less impressive one of attacking as a team. We can maybe excuse the all-hands-to-the-pumps defending in the context of the match and the season but the team must be able to collectively do more when up against lesser sides. The more creative midfield players cannot have their effectiveness blunted by too great a burden of defensive responsibility; otherwise the front man ends up isolated chasing punts from the keeper. Yarmolenko did well to track back in support of Zabaleta and also find time to miss his sitter (a shame his head is not as sweet as his left foot). Anderson, on the other, needs to step up his contribution from cameo guest appearance to the leading man that his transfer fee demands. From an attacking viewpoint it was crystal clear how much the team rely on the absent Marko Arnautovic. If the Antonio and Yarmolenko opportunities had fallen to Arnie then we may have been celebrating a famous smash and grab victory. No matter it was a point well won, another encouraging performance and several steps in the right direction of mid-table security.
It’s Werther’s Originals all round as Manuel Pellegrini celebrates his 65th birthday with a rare West Ham win at Goodison Park. What did we learn from the latest Hammers shape and improved performance?
A Win, Entertainment & Goals
Great relief at an unexpected victory that finally put some points on the board for West Ham and allowed them to climb to 16th place in the Premier League table. That’s one place higher than Avram Grant’s team managed during the entire 2010/11 season – the last time the Hammers lost the opening four games of a campaign. It was not just the win that was pleasing, however, but the manner in which it was achieved with some great all-round performances plus a spirit and tenacity that had been missing from previous games. What I had envisaged as being a scrappy Sunday afternoon affair turned out to be highly entertaining with plenty of incident at both ends and some excellent well-taken goals (and all from open play for a change).
We Were Good Or They Were Bad?
When any game is analysed these days there is invariably a binary debate as to whether the outcome was down to the superiority of the victors or the shortcomings of the defeated. Most (non-partisan) reports that I read look to have taken the position that the deciding factor yesterday was Everton’s deficiencies rather than West Ham’s performance. As a contrast, when Manchester City beat Fulham on Saturday, the consensus was this was due to City’s impeccability and flawlessness while Fulham’s suicidal tactics were largely ignored. In truth, most games are a mix of the two and we shouldn’t underestimate how, on the day, West Ham’s confident and energetic approach to the game served to rattle their opponents.
The Shape Of Things To Come
The number of changes announced in the West Ham starting eleven took most people by surprise and was seen by some as a sign of panic. It was a puzzle to see how they would eventually line up. Formations should, of course, be flexible but what we saw was something that looked like a 4-1-2-3 where Declan Rice was as close to being a third centre back as possible without becoming a back three. In the event it worked well and both Rice and Pedro Obiang had outstanding games in the centre of midfield and the front three were given an opportunity to flourish. Where the set-up didn’t work so well was in supporting the full-backs, an area where most of the Everton threat came from. Despite the Fabian Balbuena – Issa Diop partnership again being sound, Everton were still presented with three or four good chances from crosses into the box. With Obiang and Mark Noble playing narrow in midfield it looked as though the responsibility for tracking back rested with Andriy Armolenko and Felipe Anderson – a big ask if you also expect them to be the springboard for attacks. Most successful teams do not expect their most advanced players to defend deep (relying on them to press higher up the pitch). It is a problem that needs to be addressed as the next opponents may not be quite as profligate on crosses as Everton were.
It was a first chance this season to see Marko Arnautovic start a game supported by the two expensive summer recruits – Anderson and Yarmolenko. It was a pleasure to watch and to see passes being played into spaces that others were running into; rather than the static triangles that we have become used to. The first and third goals in particular were beautifully worked and featured the swift passing style that I love to see nestling in the back of the net – thirty yard thunderbolts are fine but team goals are football at its best. It was a dream full debut for Yarmolenko who can look somewhat ungainly but what a sweet left foot he has! It was a little worrying seeing Anderson stranded out wide on the left at the start but his influence grew as the game developed. Although not directly involved in any of the goals he showed excellent close control and an ability to retain possession that has eluded generations of West Ham players since Alan Devonshire (or maybe Yossi Benayoun). I am hoping we get to see some true Anderson end product soon rather than later but the prospect of these three having an extended run together is very exciting.
Having conceded late in the first half the initial reaction was that “West Ham’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away” – but in fact they managed the second half very well and the expected Everton onslaught never materialised. The timing of the Arnautovic goal was perfect and went some way to settle the nerves; but long time Hammers supporters will never be fully confident of victory until the game is finally over. My biggest worry was that at the rate Martin Atkinson was handing out yellow cards to our players (four of them for their only foul of the match) we would end up a man down. At least he didn’t show a straight red for Arthur Masuaku’s boot ending up on Walcott’s ducked head as the idiot Clattenburg has been suggesting in the media. Even substitutes Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass acquitted themselves well, although there were flashbacks to Selhurst Park whenever Antonio took the ball to the corner flag. Carlos Sanchez on the other hand ………..what was he doing?