West Ham’s Sorry City Surrender: Takeaways And Player Ratings

Another new season gets off on the wrong foot as West Ham’s early endeavour gives way to a familiar thrashing by Champions, Manchester City. Where did it all go wrong?

Nothing But Shattered Dreams

As opening days of the season go this couldn’t have been much worse.  The last three openers have now seen 13 goals conceded without reply.  This year hopes had been built a little but the dreams have faded and died just as rapidly.  Sure this was against a Manchester City side, the league’s finest, who have now extended their London Stadium record to played 5, won 5, goals for 22 and goals against 1, but that is not a reason to not compete.  There is undoubtedly a huge gulf in class but why such a large difference in fitness, spirit and organisation?  I doubt many really expected West Ham could win the game but we didn’t expect capitulation.  To go down fighting is one thing; to meekly wave the white flag of surrender is unforgivable.  The Hammers staked their runaway claim for the most incompetent performance of the weekend despite honourable mentions from Watford and Chelsea.  The only positive I can come up with is that at least we have got this fixture out of the way early doors (© Big Ron).

From The Beginning

West Ham actually started the game quite brightly and for 20 minutes or so seemed to unsettle their opponents by their enterprise, although without really threatening.  The physical presence of Sebastien Haller and Michail Antonio created an uncertainty in the visitor’s defence leading to an uncharacteristic sloppiness on the ball.  The danger, though, was that the approach left too many claret and blue shirts forward as spectators when possession was lost.  The Hammer’s daring appeared not only to surprise supporters but also Manchester City.  However, once they got into their stride and started to exploit the space left in front of our defence the warning signs were too apparent.  It may have been an admirable gamble by Manuel Pellegrini but trying to out-play City was always going to be extremely long odds.  The Sky Blues rare defeats are usually as a result of packed defence and snatched goals from breakaways or set pieces – not be playing them off the park.  Once the first goal went in the result was not in doubt – only the margin of defeat.

The Dark Side of The (Blue) Moon

As I had highlighted in my match preview, Manchester City are masters of the cynical tug and shove in preventing opponents the opportunity of rapid counter attacks – something that has featured widely in post match analysis.  That the fouls are largely innocuous and committed in safe areas of the pitch means they rarely garner any serious attention from the referee.  On Saturday, Mike Dean allowed Rodri to get away with several such challenges and Fernandinho has been doing it for years.  It is as much a City tactic as their sweet passing and movement.  Pellegrini mentioned after the game that his own midfielders needed to be a little nastier in that respect.  Maybe this is part of our manager’s laissez-faire approach to defending allowing players to act they see fit rather than under instruction.  I am fairly certain that cynical fouls and the art of diving in the area, are part of the training regime at the majority of top professional clubs.  The line between fair play and naivety is a fine one.

Style Over Substance

Reading through our list of midfield players and it is easy to believe that it is mightily impressive.  One can imagine it full of the type of silky Latin skills that personify the beautiful game.  If only that were the reality of what we saw this Saturday.  The promised passing, interplay and movement didn’t show up.  Decision making was poor and there was no width or penetration.  On those rare occasions where an opportunity to cross was engineered, delivery was shockingly bad.  The first decent cross didn’t arrive until the introduction of Robert Snodgrass in the second half.  Manuel Lanzini buzzed around to no effect, Felipe Anderson was anonymous apart from an early foray down the right wing and Jack Wilshere is not athletic enough for a deeper lying role and it removes him from areas where he can do the most damage.  Collectively the team were unable to create space and our play became condensed in pointless triangles well away from the danger areas.  Declan Rice and the central defenders were left exposed time and again as City were given the freedom of the park.  Ryan Fredericks defending has improved but the there was little evidence of the electric pace going forward that is meant to be his strength.  Aaron Cresswell was run ragged all afternoon.  Bags of flair without hard work and organisation is not going to win many games and even though Pellegrini must have known how City would play he could do nothing to resist it.

New Kids On The Block

It is impossible to judge any player on one game but Haller showed that he could have the right physical attributes and a good enough touch to thrive in the Premier League.  Of course, he is there primarily to score goals and there was limited opportunity to see what he has to offer from that perspective.  Pablo Fornals, on as a second half substitute, made little impression and I don’t recall any significant contribution.  Apparently, he had 23 touches with a 85% pass completion rate but there was nothing noteworthy out of those statistics.  Not a dream debut but obviously needs to be given time to adjust and show what he can do.

Don’t Mention The VAR

The jury is out for me on VAR and the impact it will have on flow of the game.  Some interesting decisions at the weekend with Sterling’s armpit being caught offside and the Wolves goal ruled out at Leicester for accidental handball in a penalty box melee from the preceding corner.  At least the disallowed City goal gave the London Stadium faithful one thing to cheer on Saturday.

Player Ratings

Fabianski (6), Fredericks (5), Diop (5), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (3), Rice (6), Wilshere (5), Anderson (4), Lanzini (4), Antonio (5), Haller (6). Subs: Fornals (5), Snodgrass (6), Hernandez (5)

Rice and Nasri Provide The West Ham Polish As Emery Papers Over The Arsenal Cracks: Five Weekend Takeaways!

A West Ham win against Arsenal, a clean sheet, record attendance and a first Declan Rice goal are just a few of the surprises served up at the London Stadium this weekend.

Professional And Efficient Performance

A first home win against Arsenal since 2006 was earned through an efficient, professional and controlled performance.  In front of a record home crowd West Ham triumphed in a match that never reached the levels of passion, excitement and entertainment often associated with this encounter.  It is fair to say that the threat from the visitors lacked any edge and it appears that their long unbeaten run earlier in the season has hidden some deep seated problems – at least as far as top four ambitions are concerned.  Until the introduction of Ramsey Arsenal offered little energy or urgency and neither Aubameyang nor Lacazette really bothered the Hammers defence.  West Ham were deserved winners and, at times, played some delightful football – only failing to remember that not all of their players are accomplished enough  to execute intricate, quick passing movements.  It was a little disappointed that Lucas Perez was considered more deserving of a place on the bench than Xande Silva; all clubs make mistakes with transfers and the sooner that Manuel Pellegrini files the recruitment of Perez as an unfortunate blooper the better.

Rice Opens His Goalscoring Account

In an early draft of my match preview I had included a comment to the effect that, if Declan Rice wanted to be considered as a top level midfield player, he needed to start scoring goals.  Fortunately, I removed it before publication.  I did have an inward smirk  when he missed a presentable headed chance in the first period but there was ample compensation when he swept home the only goal of the game early in the second half.  The delight on Declan’s face after the goal was a priceless momnet.  Like most Hammers I am a huge fan of Rice but admit to being in the camp that felt his future would be as a central defender rather than in midfield.  His ability to read the game, his stamina, agility, the deftness of his passing and the quickness of his feet have both surprised and amazed me.  Undoubtedly he is a top talent who will want to go on and play at the top level of the game – which begs the question: can the club’s ambition ever match his own?

The Reincarnation Of Nasri

It may only have been three-quarters of a match – and with the added incentive of it being against one of his former clubs – but Samir Nasri’s contribution to the West Ham cause on Saturday was outstanding.  He brought an intelligence, touch and degree of inspiration to the middle of the park that has been missing for much of the season in the absence of Manuel Lanzini.  He has that rare knack of creating space and time for himself and for picking out the right pass at the right time.  On Saturday, all this was backed with the effort of putting in the hard yards and it was fitting that he provided the assist for Rice’s goal.  If Nasri can repeat this level of commitment and performance it will have been a recruitment masterpiece by Pellegrini and co.  The prospect of Nasri linking up with Felipe Anderson for the remainder of the season is a mouth-watering one.  It was also great to see him playing with a broad smile on his face – clearly elated at being given another chance in a top league.

A Rare Clean Sheet

The other rarity of the weekend (other than a home win against the Gunners) was a West Ham clean sheet – and one that didn’t need to rely heavily on the heroics of Lucasz Fabianski.  Apart from a near miss by Iwobi, Arsenal rarely threatened and, although that was in part due to the visitor’s lack of guile, the West Ham defence did everything that was asked of them.  Each of the defenders had a sound game and deserve a firm pat on the back, including the much maligned Angelo Ogbonna.  The problem with Ogbonna is that he can be at the top of his game for long periods only to let himself down by inexplicably switching off at a vital moment.  The Hammers are short of defensive options and, even if backup is secured during the transfer window, it is probable that Ogbonna and Diop will now be the main partnership for much of the remainder of the season.

Will He Or Won’t He Be Back?

There has been plenty of speculation concerning the future of Marko Arnautovic and how to interpret his body language during the match.  Did he try, was he still injured, was he sulking, did he wave a long good-bye?  I think it is difficult to reach any firm conclusions given that he is prone to spending much of the game complaining to team-mates.  Based on the comments made by Michail Antonio on TV, it is apparent that Arnie is more than tempted by the Chinese millions and would be keen on the opportunity to finally have something to put into his empty trophy cabinet.  Ironically, the presence of Nasri and adoption of a more measured attacking approach may not suit the Arnautovic style, where he is at his most effective using pace and power to chase down longer balls and hassle defenders.  His departure would, nonetheless, be a huge loss even though keeping a player whose mind is elsewhere is a risk.  Surely a £35 million price tag is way below market value and we should have learned a lesson from the Payet episode.  That sort of money cannot buy an established replacement and in the current market the fee is not a good deal for West Ham.

Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Humbling At Turf Moor

Injuries, fixture congestion, travel difficulties and invisible grey shirts? West Ham surrender the points to Burnley because they just didn’t want them enough.

I Can Take The Despair, It’s The Hope I Can’t Stand

We wanted a return to the West Ham Way and that is what we’ve got.  Periods of exciting, free-flowing football, purple patches of form and heightened expectations – only for it all to come tumbling down just as a tantalising glimpse of glory is beckoning.  In reality, the return from the December fixture list is more than acceptable and the club appears to be in much better shape than it has been for some time.  That hardly softens the blow, though, of what was a massive disappointment in Sunday’s performance.  That the final score wasn’t by a margin of five or six goals in the host’s favour was due to the Clarets wayward finishing rather than the efforts of the Hammer’s defence.  At the other end the threat was so lame that even Joe Hart could have kept a clean sheet.

They Don’t Like It Up ‘Em

Various mitigating circumstances have been put forward to explain the inadequacies of West Ham’s performance: the lengthy injury list; a day less to recover than Burnley since their previous matches; and travel difficulties associated with the timing of the return flight (!) from Southampton.   Had the Hammers began proceedings with a fighting display, but faded in the last half hour, then a claim of tiredness could be more acceptable.  The fact of the matter was that West Ham were never at the races and gave the impression that in the aftermath of the hosts capitulation to Everton, they only had to turn up in order to snaffle the points.  As with the Watford game, Burnley bullied the Hammers out of it.  The Clarets were superior all over the pitch as our boys were out-thought, out-fought and out-played.  It must be a worry that many other teams will come to realise that the way to beat West Ham is to rough them up a bit.  Something I haven’t seen mentioned is that perhaps it was the light grey 3rd kit that was to blame – making our players invisible to each other as it had done for Ferguson’s Manchester United back in 1995.

Unnatural Selection

Manuel Pellegrini made two changes from the team that started against Southampton.  Mark Noble replaced Pedro Obiang in the centre of midfield and Marko Arnautovic returned in attack in place of Grady Diangana.  The return of Arnie was eagerly anticipated although, with his most effective work done as a lone striker, would he struggled to adapt to a role alongside Lucas Perez?   The Noble for Obiang switch came as a surprise.  With Pablo Zabaleta still absent through illness, Obiang would have been a more solid option and better suited to supporting stand-in right back, Michail Antonio – as he had at St Mary’s.  At least, we managed to fill all the seats on the bench this time.

Past Performance and Future Success

With the exception of Declan Rice and Lucasz Fabianski few came out of the game with any credit.  Perez, Noble and Angelo Ogbonna were particularly poor with Noble even trying a repeat of the tackle that got him a red card at Leicester.  Robert Snodgrass looked totally spent while Felipe Anderson rarely got a kick under the close supervision of the Burnley defence.  Antonio had some decent moments going forward in the second half but Cresswell was mostly anonymous.  Ogbonna had one of those games where his attention is mysteriously elsewhere and that lack of focus also crept into Issa Diop’s display.  Arnie was off-the-pace and possibly a start came too early for him.  The net effect was that, despite plenty of the ball, there were few cohesive passing movements, no penetration and minimal goal threat.  At the other end Burnley opened up the Hammer’s defence at will.  Of the substitutes: Diangana showed enterprise during the brief period of the game where West Ham applied late pressure; Andy Carroll did at least test the Burnley keeper with one header; and debutant Xande Silva also had a decent attempt on goal.

Looking Through The Transfer Window

The majority of the long term injured will not make any contribution to the remainder of this season and so, with the January transfer window about to open, it will be telling whether any new recruits make their way to the London Stadium.  With the manager wanting to play a passing game, attack with pace and defend narrow and high, there are several pieces of the jigsaw that are missing.  The team is badly deficient in central midfield where no-one has the necessary pace, vision and passing range to orchestrate play.  Better alternatives at full-back and other mobile striker options are also needed.  The recruitment of Samir Nasri seems to be a done deal but will there be any more than that?  Will it be a case of muddle through to the summer with what you’ve got, or will there be further recruitment to push-on during the second half of the season?  The conundrum is that if the season fizzles out then some of the better players will start to look elsewhere.  Contracts really are no guarantee once a players head is turned.

Stuck In The Middle With MU: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Rapid Rise Up The Table

As winning becomes a habit with victory at Fulham, West Ham have their sights set on sixth place and Europe. How far and how long can this unusual situation go on for?

The High Fives And Middle Eight

At completion of the latest round of Premier League matches, the two horse race continues to pull clear in the top five while compression in the middle eight becomes more congested.  Just five points separate sixth from thirteenth with barely any daylight between the goal differences – West Ham are one of four clubs with a zero goal difference as they effortlessly moved to within two points of sixth place.  The Hammers are currently one of the league’s form teams and their record, following the opening four match wipeout, is approaching an impressive two points per game.  A comparison with the 2015/16 season shows that West Ham are one point worse off at the same stage this time around – although back then the team were right in the middle of a seven game Payet-less win-less streak.  The weekend also saw the Hammers surrender their position at the top of the Premier League most defeats ever table as Everton once again regained the lead.

Funny Old Game

It was an unusual game on Saturday and one from which it is difficult to draw too many conclusions.  A better team than Fulham may well have punished the Hammers during the opening exchanges where the hosts were gifted a handful of acceptable chances which were fortunately squandered.  West Ham then scored two breakaway goals against the run of play, both set up by Felipe Anderson, which effectively ended the game as a contest.  Having earned the two goal cushion West Ham were in complete command and the second half was a monumental non-event.  Anderson’s late effort being, I believe, the only shot on target during that period.  Manual Pellegrini said that the team had played well, but they had taken the lead without playing particularly well and then managing the game without needing to play well – keeping a clean sheet through efficiency rather than enterprise.   As they say, though, “you can only beat what is front of you”, and a fourth successive win is more than welcome as a pre-Christmas gift.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In 2015/15, the team had reached 29 points by the halfway stage and 62 by the end of the season.  It is going to be interesting to see how Pellegrini’s boys perform against this benchmark.  A relatively benign set of fixtures continues for a few games yet until they come up against Arsenal in mid-January.  Extrapolating the current points to games ratio for the entire season would take West Ham to 53 points but to 70 points if the first four games were disregarded.  Now that the side has become much more settled and the players understand better what is expected of them, there is cause for optimism – but whether it is sufficient for the Hammers to claim a best of the rest sixth place, only time will tell.  At the moment it is West Ham and Wolves who are the form teams in the chasing pack but previously it had been Everton, Watford and Bournemouth.  No doubt Manchester United will again be throwing the cash around during the transfer window (in a desperate attempt to hold on to sixth) but their problems look too deeply embedded to be solved by a few extra high priced signings.

Through To The Transfer Window

With only fourteen shopping days left until the transfer window it is time for the reckless and unfounded speculation to ramp up once again.  Pellegrini has been reported as saying that he is happy with squad (which must be music to the owner’s ears) but it is still a squad that is heavily hit by injuries.  It is highly unlikely that we will see anything of Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko or Winston Reid this season, leaving only Marko Arnautovic and Jack Wilshere of what I would call regular first-teamers to return to the fold.  January is always a notoriously difficult time to get good value and a team sitting comfortably in mid-table might be disinclined to invest heavily.  It may well depend on how important for the Board’s income and egos the securing of European football is seen to be.  Burnley are a fine example of why getting into Europe isn’t always the bonus it might seem for clubs with fewer resources.  While a case could be made for strengthening both in central midfield and at full-back it would be no surprise if these challenges were deferred to the summer.

Football Is Fun Again

Although myself (and others) occasionally find Pellegrini’s selection decisions and preferences somewhat surprising, I doubt that we can genuinely question his wisdom based on how the season has gone for him so far.  The team is set up to play with enterprise and is a far more entertaining watch than for many a long year – possibly back to some of the more cavalier Harry Redknapp days.  There is, however, always room for improvement.  The defence is prone to being caught square – evidenced by Kamara’s early glorious chance – as they endeavour to play very narrow and set the offside trap.  The narrowness of the defence is not consistently matched by an equivalent compactness elsewhere on the pitch – a necessity if opponents are to be denied space to pick out a pass.  In possession, we also give the ball away far too cheaply and far too often.  Although possession and passing accuracy stats can be misleading I believe the team should be doing better with the players available.  On the plus side we have started to score freely and the goals are being shared around.  Great to see Robert Snodgrass sweep another one home and have Michail Antonio back on the scoresheet twice in recent weeks.  Antonio is looking more like the players from a few seasons back.  Life is good, long may it continue.

NOW That’s What I Call Football!: 5 Takeaways From Victory Over Palace

A three match winning run for West Ham but more importantly the fun is back in football. What did we learn from the Hammer’s victory over Crystal Palace?

They’re Flying So High

Three consecutive wins and scoring three goals in each and the team being described as free scoring, maverick, weird and wonderful!  It is like West Ham’s Marty McFly moment having traveled back in time to the unpredictable but entertaining days of Greenwood and Lyall.  A cornucopia of silky skills, glorious goals, inconsistency, sloppy defending and nervously bitten nails.  Periods of rampant, full throttle dominance interspersed, in the blink of an eye, with others of careless, lost concentration.  In all probability it will not bring any greater success but after the dark days of the recent past, it is, at last, worth getting out of bed for on a chilly morning to brave the hazards of public transport.  Welcome back West Ham!  All of a sudden it is great to be a Hammer again with plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 1

The central defensive partnership of Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena continues to look sound.  In fact, they had little to bother them against Palace who lacked any out and out striker.  There are concerns, given our vulnerability at set pieces, as to who is meant to be marking who, in that our shortest players are often assigned to deal with the greatest aerial threats.  Nevertheless, Diop and Balbuena are developing into one of the best central defensive pairings since Alvin Martin and Tony Gale.  The full-back positions remain a priority upgrade, but more likely in the summer than next month.  Pablo Zabaleta shows tremendous commitment and is a truly great professional but his legs are not a long term solution.  I love to see Arthur Masuaku when he gets forward (some delightful interchanges with Felipe Anderson on Saturday) but we know he is suspect defensively – although suggestions that he is single-handedly responsible for all goals conceded are entirely ludicrous.  Following a succession of fine displays, Lucasz Fabianski is so solidly cemented in the number one shirt that there is never any debate as to whether there are other options.

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 2

Looking at the defensive and central midfield area, the standout successes of the season so far have been the performances of Declan Rice and Robert Snodgrass.  Both have surprised me and proved my initial judgements on them to be wildly wrong.  I was sceptical that Rice could do an effective job in midfield – seeing him an emergency central defender conversion who might be able to provide protective cover but offer nothing creatively.  He has proven to be a far more technical, adaptable and accomplished all-round player than I imagined – even if he was the cause of the failed offside trap for the opening Palace goal.  There was one tackle in the first half that was outstanding.  Snodgrass has been a revelation.  He had never really been on my radar before signing for West Ham and his performances under Bilic were uninspiring to say the least.  I fully expected him to return to what I assumed to be his more appropriate level, in the second tier, during the summer.  But the new slimmer, fitter, faster Snoddy now fully deserves his starting place on merit and it was great to see him get on the scoresheet.  Mark Noble has been a mixed bag for most of the season.  The effort is still there but the legs are very heavy.  There have been great passes but too many careless ones.  This is the position I see and the number one priority if the club are going to spend in January.

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3

As suspected the Little Pea/ Lucas Perez partnership lacked the necessary pizzazz.  It was no surprise to see Andy Carroll appear after the break although the timing could equally have been due to the hole in Perez’s foot than as a tactical change.  Although Carroll still looks too rusty to play for more than parts of a game, his presence certainly shook up Palace and gave them a more difficult problem to deal with.  Felipe Anderson is now demonstrating what a super player he is.  Far more involved, getting used to the pace and physical aspects of the English game and growing in confidence all of the time.  An excellent performance topped off with an amazing goal – when he shaped up to shoot I wondered how he would manage to get it through the goalkeeper’s legs from there but I needn’t have worried.  Chicharito remains an enigma.  He does very little in the game apart from score but it is goals that win matches.  At what point does the balance of goals scored outweigh the absence of team play contribution?  A conundrum for Pellegrini to ponder!  His goal on Saturday was a perfect example of the poacher’s goal and followed up with a perfect goal celebration.  However, despite another three goal haul the return of Marko Arnautovic cannot come soon enough for me.

The Twitterati

Having dragged ourselves up, albeit temporarily, into the top half and accumulated a points tally that would have been unthinkable at the start of September, we can now forget all about the situation at the foot of the table.  I also get the impression that an excellent team spirit has been created in the squad and that it is a very together group of players.  A tussle for sixth spot with Everton and Manchester United should at least be the new target – even if it will be a difficult one to achieve.  The new found optimism has largely muted the long running criticism of the Board and the stadium – even though both may never be loved actually.  Despite all the recent positivity there are still those who can’t help themselves but take to Twitter to slag off individual players.  I suppose there have also been lunatics, the opinionated and even opinionated lunatics but in the past these voices were laughed at and lost in the crowd.  Now the internet and social media gives them a limitless audience (just like me on here, really).  The usual, possibly drunken insults are along the lines of ‘waste of space’, ‘stealing a living’, ‘get out of my club’ to whoever this weeks scapegoat is.  Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion but the degree of vitriol about the team you are meant to ‘support’ is difficult to fathom.  And shame on the so-called fan pages who chase readership and advertising revenue by cutting and pasting to give oxygen to such inanities.

Howay The Lads: Five Takehoways From West Ham’s Win At Newcastle

West Ham defy expectations to record a rare win on their travels to St James’ Park. What did we learn from the experience?

Just Like Watching …….. West Ham

I have to admit it, my confidence gauge was close to empty at the start of this game and hearing the starting lineup did nothing to improve the situation.  During the opening ten minutes it looked as if the players had left their passing boots back in the dressing room as the ball was repeatedly given away far too cheaply.  But then on the cusp of the feeble Mike Ashley protest moment, a teasing cross from Robert Snodgrass was shrewdly anticipated and skilfully dispatched by Chicharito; and the character of the game changed completely.  Following below par performances against Huddersfield and Manchester City, the Hammers were unexpectedly professional and competent against a Newcastle side who had spirit but little quality.  Will a rare win in the north-east be a springboard for a surge up the table between now and Christmas or will it be yet another false dawn of inconsistency that we have witnessed so often in the past?

What Are The Chances?

Viewing only the MOTD highlights might well  have left the impression of an afternoon of Newcastle domination disrupted by three West Ham breakaway goals.  It wasn’t anything like that and had West Ham won the game by a four of five goal margin it would not have been a surprise or undeserved.  It seems that there are only two types of goal-scoring opportunity: the chance and the half chance.  It’s about the time that the nerdy football Statto’s and their overblown algorithms came up with a percentile system for the rating of chances.  Had they done so, the conclusion would surely have been that only one of the attempts by Perez broke the 50% half chance barrier – whereas both Little Pea and Felipe Anderson were presented with 80% plus chances which really should have added to their eventual goal tallies.  There were also several occasions where Marko Arnautovic might be wondering how he didn’t do more to extend the Hammer’s lead.  Having seen Son Heung-min’s outrageous dive at Arsenal yesterday I wonder what would have happened if Arnie had tumbled over the keeper rather than jumping to avoid a collision?

Dynamic Duo

I doubt many of us expected Snodgrass and Chicharito to make much of a contribution to West Ham’s season after failing to impress during their early careers at the club.  But both played a major role in Saturday’s victory.  It was a surprise when Snodgrass didn’t make a permanent move to Aston Villa in the summer and the thought of his return to the squad was not an inspiring one.  However, under Manuel Pellegrini’s tutelage there has been an amazing metamorphosis from plodding journeyman to bustling dynamo.  It is a rather different story with Chicharito in that the dilemma is how to accommodate his undoubted low input/ high output scoring prowess without weakening an already under-strength midfield.  This will continue to be a challenge for the manager and likely to be managed on a game by game basis where he feels that a numerical disadvantage in midfield can be outweighed by the superior goal threat provided.

Favourite Andersons

Felipe is fast becoming my all-time favourite Anderson.  He is right up there with Ian (the singer from Jethro Tull) and Pamela (Baywatch era) but ahead of Sylvia and Gerry of Thunderbirds fame.  The pundits definitely love him and a few of them have already been saying that he is too good to be playing for West Ham – the arrogant b*st*rds!  I am sure that Pellegrini is right in saying that it will take him some time to fully adjust to the rough and tumble of English football but the signs are becoming increasingly encouraging.  Some of his thoughtful passing is a delight and I am excited that there could be more to come.  To date, his best performances have been in games where the team has been well on top anyway – taking advantage rather than creating advantage.  It would be good to see him exerting more control and influence in the tighter encounters.  He still looks inclined to pull out of challenges although he did make use of his strength when bursting through to score with his trademark scuffed shot through the keeper’s legs.

Left Back Where He Started

Issa Diop was rightly singled out for praise for his performance at Newcastle.  He is a special talent who will become a big players if he continues to develop.  Rondon may not be the greatest goal-scorer but he is a real handful and Diop matched the physical challenge with aplomb.  The General also continues to impress, both in his defensive duties and as the springboard for launching attacks.  However, it was Aaron Cresswell who caught the eye on Saturday with a defensive performance reminiscent of the early days at the club which had brought him England recognition.  He also found time to get forward to great effect.  It was a big shame to see him limp off and hopefully there will be a quick recovery.  We know that Arthur is not the most alert of defenders but he looked to possess added jitteriness when he came on as Cresswell’s replacement – or else it was just me getting the jitters on his behalf.

Mind The Gap: Five Takeaways As Manchester City Ease Past West Ham

A massive gulf in class is on show as an adventurous West Ham are given the run around by the cruise control champions.

Reality Bites

Saturday’s game confirmed the things we already knew rather than teaching us anything new.  That even if, by some miracle, West Ham were able to step up to the next level then it would still leave them a long way below the space occupied by Manchester City (and several of the other big six clubs, most probably).  Bridging that gap and becoming a club realistically chasing Champion’s League football on a regular basis is a nice fantasy; but an impossible dream (no matter what the stadium capacity) without the assistance of deep pocketed benefactors.

Selection Surprises

Once again, Manuel Pellegrini raised eyebrows with his team selection.  The expectation was for repeat of the backs-to-the-wall tactics used to earn a draw against Chelsea back in September.  Digging in deep with massed defence and hoping to nick a goal from an occasional counter attack – something which could have become reality but for that misdirected Yarmolenko header.  What we got, however, was a lineup that promised a far more adventurous approach.  The major surprises were no automatic return for Mark Noble following suspension and the preference for Arthur Masuaku over Aaron Cresswell at left back.  As a defender Masuaku leaves a lot to be desired and even though he has plenty to offer offensively his forays forward have become quite rare in Pellegrini’s system.  Although Cresswell can also be inconsistent, Pellegrini’s preference for Masuaku is puzzling.

Going For It

There was a general consensus that West Ham ‘went for it’ on Saturday.  Whether this was a brave or naive tactic is a matter of opinion.  It reminded me of the way Fulham were playing under Jokanovic before his dismissal.  On the other hand the result was inevitable anyway so why not go out all guns blazing.  Several decent goal-scoring opportunities were created and on another day the score could have been more respectable.  Yet City were always in charge; well in control.  They breezed into a three goal half-time lead and were able to ease up during the second period.  There were several more gears in reserve should they have been needed.  For all West Ham’s adventure there was never any doubt about the outcome and I sensed that everyone involved knew this.

The Press

Part of the West Ham plan was to employ the much discussed Press – not something generally seen in the Hammer’s play.  Given that it is a tactic requiring all players to play their part at all times it has to be well drilled and second nature.  Picking and choosing when to deploy it is problematical.  Manchester City found it far too easy to bypass and the first goal was a great example of that.  The ball was given away cheaply, City were quick to transition; switching play to exploit the acres of space on the opposite flank.  The damage was pretty much done once that first goal went in and as usual the Hammers were vulnerable down the wings all afternoon.  Masuaku was implicated in goals two and three but even Zabaleta (who admittedly shows tremendous commitment) was regularly embarrassed defensively.

Outlook Changeable

Although West Ham are only four points off the bottom and averaging less than a point a game I do not believe it will turn into a relegation threatened season.  There remains plenty of room for improvement, however.  Upgrades to both full-backs and better options to support the impressive Declan Rice in the centre of midfield would be high on my shopping list.  Up front, much will depend on the future of Marko Arnautovic but, even if he stays, goals are also needed from elsewhere.  Javier Hernandez looked a little livelier this weekend but still has the look of an individual contributor rather than an integral part of a well-oiled machine.  I really don’t get Lucas Perez – this wasn’t a player looking to make an impression when given his chance as substitute.  Grady Diangana’s emergence has been a bonus but his development needs to be carefully managed but the player I would like to see given a first-team opportunity sooner rather than later is Nathan Holland.  He could prove a useful understudy for Felipe Anderson.  To paraphrase the Prime Minister “I believe that West Ham’s best days lie ahead of us” – maybe!