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)

Last Among Equals: Haller Brace Earns West Ham First Win – Takeaways And Player Ratings

The embryonic league table has an unusually condensed look to it. What can we learn from the Hammers first win of the season that sees them joining a host of ten clubs sitting on four points?

The Will Of The People

Looking back at the game from the final whistle, West Ham looked to be worthy winners.  Despite Watford’s greater shot count, the Hammers were the more creative and carried the greater goal threat throughout 90 minutes.  It was a remarkably open game from the start with neither side concerning themselves too much about the art of defending.  Great to watch in many ways and would fit many observer’s definition of the West Ham way.  As usual, West Ham surrendered possession easily and allowed Gerard Deulofeu far too much space and time.  Fortunately, on this occasion, he was unable to deliver much in the way of end product to round off his trickery.  The pivotal moment in the match was the glaring miss by Will Hughes just before the second half drinks break.  I have seen worse misses (when players have the ball under control) but had he converted, as he should, the rest of the game would have played out differently. West Ham grew and Watford faded from that point on.

The Return Of The Skipper

Mark Noble made a welcome return to the West Ham midfield for his first appearance of the season.  On the 15th anniversary of his West Ham debut, it was fitting that he was able to get on the scoresheet early when converting a 3rd minute penalty – following a definite foul on Manuel Lanzini but which didn’t warrant the Argentinian’s theatrical interpretation.  The goal takes Noble up to 43 Premier League goals (25 from the spot), now only 4 behind West Ham’s leading PL scorer, Paolo Di Canio.  Otherwise, he had a steady rather than a spectacular game; perhaps not surprising after a longish lay-off and curtailed pre-season.  Despite his shortcomings, he remains the best option available to play alongside Declan Rice.  The captain was seen lambasting his forward colleagues for making no attempt to track back in the lead up to Watford equaliser but his remonstrations did little to change behaviour for the rest of the game.  As I have mentioned previously, the defensive responsibilities of forward players must be enforced on the training ground, not by the captain on the pitch.

Haller Off The Mark

It was great to see Sebastien Haller grab two goals to open his West Ham account.  Have we finally got ourselves a real striker; one who is also prepared to work hard for the team?  His second goal was particularly pleasing, and hopefully the first of many to celebrate throughout the season.  Interesting to read that he didn’t feel that he had the greatest of games himself.  Maybe he would liked to have contributed more in open play but that will come once greater understanding is developed with those around him.  There was a lovely piece of improvisation in the first half when Andriy Yarmolenko headed back across goal, but his backheel flick didn’t have sufficient power to worry the Watford keeper.  Apparently, when Haller scored he caused West Ham to become the first club to reach the milestone of 150 different goalscorers in the Premier League.  Seems we are great at sharing  the goals around – just not that many from any individual player.

Masterful Substitution?

Depending which way you look at it, the decision to start with Yarmolenko rather than Michail Antonio was either a shocking selection or a tactical masterstroke.  Yarmolenko is clearly a talented footballer, with a great touch, but a long injury absence has meant he has yet to prove himself in the rigours of the English game.  Having both Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson playing on the wing of their weaker foot is an odd tactic; preventing full use of the pitch as they invariably cut back inside rather than attempting to get behind the defence.  The one time that Anderson got to the bye-line (following excellent work from Arthur Masuaku) ended up with the cross for the first Haller goal.  Once Antonio was introduced, his power and direct approach added a whole host of problems for the Watford defence – he made a real match-winning difference.  The debate will no-doubt continue as to whether the poor defensive shape is down to personnel or the way that Manuel Pellegrini sets up the team.  Could Masuaku or Angelo Ogbonna have done better to prevent the Andre Gray goal, or was the damage done when the 4 forward players made no attempt to win back possession?

An Unusual League Table

League tables this early in the season are fairly meaningless but it is interesting to see so many clubs with identical 1-1-1 won, drawn and lost records, sitting on 4 points.  The heavy opening day defeat to Manchester City means that West Ham are last of the clutch of the 10 teams in that position (technically tied last with Chelsea with whom we also have an identical goals for and against).  A little different this season is that after 3 games, only Liverpool have a 100% win record and that only 4 teams remain unbeaten, including Wolves in 15th place.  No surprise that Liverpool and Manchester City occupy the top two positions and there is nothing to suggest that the league will be anything other than a predictable two horse race.  Defeats for Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham (very ordinary when the want-away Eriksen is not in their side and no doubt Pochettino is already dusting off his CV) must give encouragement to any teams who is organised and talented enough to chase a top six place come the end of the season.  If West Ham are to be one of them they cannot afford to be so open in the middle of the park.

Player Ratings

Fabianski (7), Fredericks (6), Ogbonna (6), Diop (7), Masuaku (7), Rice (8), Noble (7), Anderson (6), Lanzini (7), Yarmolenko (5), Haller (8) Subs: Antonio (8), Fornals (6), Sanchez (6)

West Ham Are All At Sea But Escape With A Stolen Point: Takeaways And Player Ratings

Another colourless and uninspired performance that was saved by a very lucky point. Can we expect any lessons to be learned or will it be rinse and repeat?

A Bounce-back-ability Failure

Any hope that the disappointing opening day defeat to Manchester City would be consigned to history by a storming performance at Brighton was firmly laid to rest on Saturday afternoon.  This was another dismal showing by West Ham, even though they managed to both salvage (steal) a point and prevent Glen Murray from scoring.  Following a similar pattern from the previous week, the Hammer’s started brightly but could only keep it up for less than 20 minutes; by which time they either ran out of puff, ideas or interest.  Despite bossing possession during that period they didn’t get anywhere close to threatening the Brighton goal.  West Ham have no divine right to beat teams such as Brighton but we should at least expect a better effort.  It was fortunate that the hosts were not as clinical as their win at Watford the previous weekend had suggested, otherwise another heavy defeat would have been on the cards.

Wot No Tactics!

Attempting to describe the West Ham tactics for this game would challenge the most creative spin doctor.  Admittedly, the absence of the clubs two most expensive acquisitions, Sebastien Haller and Felipe Anderson, were a major blow but five changes to the starting eleven came as a huge surprise.  It was revealed after the game that Haller and Anderson were never in contention for selection – but that this fact had been kept a secret to prevent Brighton planning accordingly.  The idea that opponents might understand the West Ham tactics when our own players seem to have no idea is an interesting one.  It is likley repetitive to labour the point about lack of options/ weaknesses in central midfield, but these are fundamental to the problems of poor organisation, defensive frailty and maintaining possession.  Whereas most teams endeavour to create space and switch play across the park, the Hammers appear set on heading into congested cul-de-sacs.  Apart from the occasional foray down the left wing there was little success in getting beyond and behind the Brighton defence.  For reasons unknown, Ryan Fredericks looks to be scared to leave his own half.  All in all, a very lucky point from a below par performance.

Oggy, Oggy, Oggy, Out, Out, Out

My heart sank when I heard the lineup an hour before kick-off.  It is bad enough when Angelo Ogbonna has to play as an emergency stand-in but for him to be selected as a conscious decision when there are other options available is an abomination.  It’s a shame because he always comes across as a really nice guy – just not a very good footballer.  Granted, The General has not looked at his best since the summer and his participation in the Copa America but he doesn’t need to be firing on cylinders to better Ogbonna.  The goal that was eventually disallowed thanks to the intervention of VAR was a typical Ogbonna moment.  Having been beaten in the air, his attempt at retrieving the situation involved ambling in the general direction of the Brighton player chasing the ball and allowing him all the time in the world to cross.  He was also implicated, if not solely responsible, for the Brighton equaliser.  Issa Diop looked to have won the initial tussle with Murray but failed to put the ball away to safety.  One again, Ogbonna made only a token attempt to close down the scorer, Trossard as the ball ran free.  It’s enough to make one nostalgic for those James Collins last ditch, body on the line, blocks of old.

You’ve Been VARred.

We have long believed that West Ham were champions of the bad refereeing decision and the early days of VAR have gone some way to vindicating this view.  Two games and two goals against disallowed.  Perhaps teams with the shakiest defences are certain to be major beneficiaries, simply as a consequence of the volume of opposition attacks involved.  The goal checking process is having a weird effect on games as goal celebrations and preparation to re-start have all taken place before decision comes through – particularly confusing for those inside the ground.  The disallowed added-time Manchester City goal against Tottenham was perhaps the perfect example of VAR’s detrimental impact on the spontaneity of the game.  However, rather than have VAR take all the blame, it is the decision to introduce a new rule that disallows any goal that might have involved ball to hand contact, regardless of intention, that needs to be looked at.  If a corner hit a defender’s arm, then an attackers, before a third person slotted home, what would the decision be – goal, no-goal or penalty?  Back to our own game and there were some claims of a possible penalty for a foul on Antonio but apparently this was not deemed worthy of review – even though such incidents were originally the driver for VAR introduction.

Old Dogs And New Tricks

If someone had taken a survey, I would have ticked the Mostly Satisfied box when assessing Manuel Pellegrini’s first season at West Ham – as I had been with Slaven Bilic’s first season a few years prior.  There was a breath of fresh air on the pitch after the dour fare offered by David Moyes, and it felt like a new, more professional and considered approach to player recruitment might be on the horizon.  There was still work to be done of course: weaknesses to be addressed; errors to be eradicated; and missing pieces of the jigsaw to be discovered.  From what we have seen to date, however, there are serious question-marks as to the actual direction of travel and the likely extent of any progress.  It is very early in the season for drastic changes but it is disturbing that fitness, shape and organisation continue to look well below average for a team who believe they are on the up.  There is a new breed of manager in the Premier League now where the emphasis is on high energy levels, compact shape and fluidity of formation.  What worked in the olden days for Pellegrini (and Hodgson maybe) may no longer be appropriate or relevant?  It is not a problem of age but an apparent reluctance to adapt to changing circumstances.  Failure to address his side’s poor all-round defensive performance will prove pivotal to the way the season unfolds.

The Ratings

Supporters often like to cherry-pick stats from sources such Whoscored to support whatever particular point they are attempting to prove.  It is interesting that, according to that website’s rating algorithm, our top performers on Saturday were (in order): Lanzini, Snodgrass, Masuaku, Diop, Ogbonna and Hernandez.  Would you agree?  Probably not!

I was struck though by one statistic on Whoscored and that was a Lukasz Fabianski’s pass success rate of 18% (compare this to Alissons 80% for Liverpool over the course of last season).  I don’t see this as the fault of Fabianski who continues to perform miracles between the sticks.  It is rather a reflection of the collective failure of the team to take individual responsibility and to provide the movement which creates opportunities to pass into .  Too many hurried back passes and too few options to build from the back remain an ongoing feature of our game.

Aside from Fabianski,  Manuel Lanzini and Declan Rice both had encouraging games but  there were few others who earned their corn this week.  These are my ratings:

Fabianski (7), Fredericks (5), Diop (5), Ogbonna (4), Masuaku (6), Rice (7), Wilshere (4), Snodgrass (6), Lanzini (7), Fornals (5), Hernandez (5) Subs: Antonio (6), Yarmolenko (5), Sanchez (5)

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.