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)

It’s A Fools Game: Takeaways And Player Ratings From West Ham’s Latest Failure To Deliver

Manuel Pellegrini’s cunning plan to lull Palace into a false sense of security by refusing to attack them falls flat at the London Stadium. What did we learn?

Plus ça Change

Owners, managers and players may come and go but there is one thing remains the same at West Ham – the ability to disappoint. To build up expectations, then dash them just us quickly. The tantalising prospect of finishing the day sitting third in the Premier League was still intact at kick-off, courtesy of a last minute penalty winner at Anfield.  The omens felt good.  All that was needed was the right attitude and West Ham would put their workmanlike visitors to the sword.  High energy, high intensity, quick passing and good movement – that is all we needed.  We had seen it in the previous two home matches, so what could possibly go wrong?  We had heard earlier in the afternoon about what it means to be ‘Spursy’ – well, this was classic ‘Hammersy’.  Just when we needed the team to turn up, they collectively went missing.  As fans, we really should know better by now, but blind optimism tricks us into believing it can be different this time.  What fools we are.

A Poor Advert For The Premier League

In truth this was a very poor game and one where most of the uncommitted watching on TV across the world would have sensibly switched off sometime during the opening twenty minutes.  It had the pace of a training match that was being played in excessive heat.  It could easily have been mistaken for a game from a couple of divisions lower in the pyramid.  The onus was on West Ham to dictate the pace of the game but they seemed prepared to coast, confident that victory would emerge through osmosis.  Playing a patient style of football is one thing – this was verging on comatose.

Tactics, What Tactics?

It was impossible to make out what the Hammer’s tactics were meant to be.  Or what instructions the players had been given.  In the first half the entire team were lethargic, sloppy and passive.  Crystal Palace are a dull and predictable team but they did what they had to do.  In the second half there was a marginal improvement but apart from a delightful goal (totally out of character with the rest of the game) there was little joy as players bunched and failed to create space.  It was a team performance lacking motivation and leadership, both on and off the pitch.  There was far too much pointless passing in the middle third that achieved nothing other than allowing the opposition to regroup behind the ball.  The focus of attack was down the flanks but we rarely got behind the Palace defence or delivered anything special into the box.  There was the rare searching pass but no dangerous through balls to a runner or rapid counter attacks (other than for the goal). Only four corners in the entire game says a lot about how lacking in action it was.  If it wasn’t for the VAR controversies, there would be little to remember the game for.

Not A Case Of Missed Chances And Bad Luck

I don’t believe that we lost the game because of bad luck. The VAR decisions, that some might argue went against us, were correct according to the current interpretation of the laws of the game.  That the laws of the game might not be particularly sensible is a different matter altogether.  If anything, VAR has highlighted how ridiculous the offside rule is since the more recent changes.  Just imagine how many wrong decisions are being called in the lower leagues.  Neither do I believe that we lost because we didn’t take our chances.  Other than the Sebastien Haller chance in the first half (was that a bad miss or a great save?) nothing else was clear cut.  More half chances – and few of those are routinely converted.  We lost because we played poorly, lacked conviction and did not have the wit to unlock a disciplined Palace defence.  The enigma is that we have creative players in the squad but the slow and patient system (which I think is what we saw yesterday) stifles that creativity.  We have long struggled to breech stubborn defences and on this showing we are in line for another mid-table season (8th to 10th) – not a top six one.

Credit Rating Downgrade

I have read a few player ratings from yesterday’s match that gave several West Ham players a smattering of 7’s and 8’s for their performances.  Now we all have our own rating definitions but I do wonder what game they were watching.  I saw a team of under performers with Ryan Fredericks probably the pick of the bunch.  Roberto came through without any howlers.  Felipe Anderson had a lot of the ball but equally gave it away cheaply and delivered little.  Manuel Lanzini was anonymous.  Declan Rice was tidy but his afternoon was spoiled by the penalty award.  Mark Noble ran around a lot but apart from one pass he contributed little that was positive.  The rest were much of a muchness, ranking from mediocre to barely competent,

Player Ratings: Roberto (5), Fredericks (6), Diop (5), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (4), Rice (5), Noble (5), Yarmolenko (5), Lanzini (4), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Fornals (4), Wilshere (5), Zabaleta (5)

There Was Only One United: Takeaways and Ratings From West Ham’s Well Deserved Win Over The Red Devils

In case you missed it, when Manchester United lost on Sunday, the team that beat them was West Ham.

They Are All Looking The Other Way

The problem with beating Manchester United was that all the non-partisan observers wanted to discuss were the shortcomings of the Red Devils and the latest in a long line of managerial crises at Old Trafford.  It happened last season with Jose and now it is happening again with Ole.  Poor old Ole – the only manager in the league whose plans are thwarted by injuries.  By the end of the game, it looked like he was about to burst into tears and scream “It’s not fair”.  What a ludicrous decision it was to appoint him in the first place.  Even at Manuel Pellegrini’s post-match press conference there was little interest from the assembled media in what West Ham could take out from the game and a fourth clean sheet on the bounce.  Only questions regarding his thoughts on the developing situation up in Manchester.  We will need to celebrate this one, a thoroughly deserved victory, quietly by ourselves, while the pundits continue to view everything through the lens of the rich six.  At least more time out of the spotlight might help keep the Hammer’s feet firmly on the ground, allowing the team to build further on their fine start to the season.

An All Round Team Performance

This was a competent, professional performance rather than a spectacular one.  Finally, we appear to be attacking and defending as a team.  Attempting to win the ball back as quickly as possible and denying the space that was previously gifted to opponents by the acre.  Manchester United were not allowed or were unable to create many chances – although Mata was presented with a gilt-edged opportunity equalize at 1-0.  Otherwise, the visitor’s attacking play was mostly channeled wide and generally defended with ease.  There were no major stand-out West Ham performances and everyone played their part.  Declan Rice was again the pick of the midfield for me, but ably assisted by the busy Mark Noble in putting in the midfield graft and yards.  Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna were sound while Ryan Fredericks had maybe his best game in a West Ham shirt (hopefully it is not a serious injury).  Aaron Cresswell defended well and although he was a little wasteful going forward what a peach of a free kick that was for the second goal.

Make A Chance For Me (Come on, give me a break, will you?)

Over the course of the ninety minutes, the Hammers created few clear cut chances of their own.  Other than the two goals, there were only a handful of routine saves to disturb De Gea’s afternoon.  The Andriy Yarmolenko goal was a thing of beauty and seemed rather out of place in a mainly uneventful first half. Yarmolenko is a difficult player to work out.  He has a deft touch, a wonderful left foot – but a right one that is only any use for standing on. Playing wide right, it is obvious that he will want to cut inside yet he still somehow manages to create shooting opportunities.  The pass from Felipe Anderson for the goal was the Brazilian’s best moment of the afternoon.  He is frequently the one player on show likely to produce the unexpected but unfortunately, he had one of those lazy Sunday afternoons.  He could have done better in trying to pick out Sebastien Haller rather than attempt that shot, blocked by De Gea, from the tightest of angles.  Haller must have had a most frustrating afternoon.  He showed some excellent touches and layoffs but most of his work was in the wrong areas of the pitch.  I’m not sure whether he eventually got any touches in the opposition penalty area but he is badly in need of better service if he is to do what he is paid for.  They may be old mantras of mine but more width, the ability to get in behind defences and more incisive passing in the final third all need further work.

Passing The Back

On the topic of mantras, the number of backpasses to the goalkeeper that West Ham players make continues to frustrate. It is not that we use the keeper as an extra defender, building from the back in the style of Manchester City or Liverpool.  The pass back to Lukasz Fabianski is usually as last resort when all other ideas have been exhausted or there are no options available.  I can’t find the stats (and I wasn’t counting) but there must have been close to a dozen backpasses in the first half alone.  When you consider that Fabianski’s pass success rate was below 40%, there has to be a better way of using the ball.  Even a hopeful upfield clearance by the last man would  be just as productive, if not more so.  Outfield players need to take more responsibility in making themselves available.  Perhaps Manuel Lanzini was missed in that respect – being someone who can receive the ball and move forward with purpose.  I thought Pablo Fornals (his replacement) had a steady enough game and getting a full league match under his belt would have done him the world of good.  Plus another promising cameo from Jack Wilshere – a performance that needs to be upgraded to a more prominent role.

Premature Exhilaration – the ANTIVAR movement

It was pleasing to go through an entire match free from the  invasive interference of the poorly implemented eye in the sky VAR system.  Whenever a goal is scored now there is always a thought at the back of your mind that the crazy, crowd celebrations and the carefully choreographed player ones will all be for nothing.  Naturally, I can see the funny side of the disallowed Aurier goal for Tottenham but it was a ludicrous decision.  How could they seriously apply such a spurious level of accuracy to the Son offside from the information available.  Time to go back to the drawing board I think.

Player Ratings: Fabianski (7), Fredericks (7), Diop (7), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (6), Rice (8), Noble (7), Yarmolenko (7), Fornals (6), Anderson (6), Haller (6). Subs: Wilshere (6), Zabaletta (6), Snodgrass (N/A)