Isn’t Life Strange?
I think we can all agree that we are currently living through the strangest of times, and the early season Premier League results have been no exception to that rule. Whether a consequence of empty stadiums or the truncated nature of the summer break (particularly for those involved in Europe) the early rounds of matches have thrown up a succession of surprises. Who would have expected West Ham’s superb win at Leicester to be immediately and comprehensively overshadowed by the Liverpool and Manchester United games that followed it?
We have reached the first international kickabout weekend with exactly 10% of the leagues 380 scheduled games completed. Of course, it’s early doors (© Big Ron) but several interesting comparisons with previous seasons are emerging:
- Goals scored per game is 3.79 compared to 2.72 for 2019/20 and 2.82 in 2018/19
- Only 3 games (8%) have been drawn – 24% in 2019/20; 19% in 2018/19
- There have been 16 home wins (42%) – 45% (2019/20); 47% (2018/19)
- There have been 19 away wins (50%) – 31% (2019/20); 34% (2018/19
Maybe, the forces of equilibrium will return but on the evidence to date, it could be a memorable season for upsets as the usual suspects stumble. At the top of the table, Everton look best placed to gate crash the party, while neither Manchester United nor Chelsea look anywhere near convincing – expect some managerial changes there before too long. It pains me to even think it, but I can see T*tt*nh*m making a serious bid for glory this year. Unlike Leicester, who rely too much on Vardy, they have goals from all over the place. Our next match, in north London, will be a huge test.
At the bottom, the early runners in the relegation stakes are West Brom (red hot favourites), Fulham, Sheffield United and Burnley. Fulham have made some interesting signings (Lookman and Loftus-Cheek) which could give them fresh hope while I have a sneaking feeling that the lack of imagination at Palace will cause them to struggle big-time this year.
There’s Something Happening Here, But What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear
I can’t lie but after the Newcastle game I had expected West Ham to reach this break with “nul points” on the board. Yet stunning victories, at home to Wolves and away at Leicester, have painted a very different complexion on to the season. Anguish has turned to astonishment. Where did that committed, well organised, hard-working, disciplined, skilful and quick breaking football suddenly come from? How reassuring to be finally playing to a system – and one that suits the players available? And all achieved despite the best efforts of the Board to create turmoil, despondency, and ill-feeling around the club. Full credit to the players and coaching staff for maintaining their dignity in such circumstances.
The Achilles heel, though, is a paper thin squad that threatens multiple single points of failure in the cohesion and stability of the team. In a West Ham context, Archilles has vulnerabilities in the knee, groin and hamstrings, as well as the heel. An injury to any one of Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Angelo Ogbonna and even Arthur Masuaku and the wheels could easily fall off. David Moyes is often criticised for his reluctant use of substitutes but I wouldn’t have wanted any of last Sunday’s bench on the field until we were safely 3-0 up with less than 5 minutes to go.
The bubble could so easily burst and the Hammers dragged into the relegation fray. Clearly the squad needs greater depth but whoever is brought must be able to fit the system. Players picked by the manager – not special offers or clearance items touted by favoured agents.
Around The Transfer Window In 80 Days
They may have slammed the international transfer window shut last Monday night, but it immediately bounced back open to allow Premier League clubs to trade with those below them in the pyramid – until next Friday. When it does finally close it will have been after 81 days of potential deals. Despite being linked with several squads worth of new recruits the Hammers went beyond the ‘preparing a deal’ and ‘weighing up options’ stage just once, to sign Vladimir Coufal. A last minute, desperate sounding attempt to secure the loan signing of Fikayo Tomori fell through leaving West Ham with even fewer resources as Felipe Anderson took his floundering to Porto, and space was cleared on the treatment table by finally paying off Jack Wilshere.
I’m not sure that a player who can’t get a place in Chelsea’s defence is any great loss. But then again nor would one who can’t get into Watford’s. I sincerely hope that the stories about Craig Dawson are just another humorous fabrication. Off all the players mentioned in recent days I am most encouraged by the prospect of Josh King. He is much closer to an Antonio alternative than anyone else we have, and can perform in wide areas up front as well. That doesn’t mean other defensive reinforcements aren’t also badly needed. Experience suggests that with the window open for another 6 days, any moves will be again be left to the very last minute in another stunning display of Sullivan’s failed brinkmanship.
When the window finally does close, there will be just 80 days until it re-opens – and the madness can start all over again!
Not All Goals Are Created Equal
I have always found the recent trend to obsess on football statistics as interesting rather than meaningful. I’m sure there are very talented performance analysts at the more professionally run clubs who perform a pivotal role in assessing individual players at a far more granular level than we get presented with on TV and the internet. Apart from goals scored, the rest bear little relation to the outcome of a match. One stat that always bewilders, but which the pundits love is the Assist. Always giving credit to the last person to touch the ball before the goal-scorer seems a nonsense to me. Just looking at our previous two games throws up several examples of how inconsistent a players contribution to a goal might be.
On Sunday, you could imagine Aaron Creswell studiously working out his angles, velocity, wind speed and trajectory before executing his sublime cross for Antonio to convert. An obvious assist in anyone’s eyes. Later in the same half, he executed a clearance plucked directly from the Ginger Collins box of tactical punts. There was no intent and the fact that Fornals anticipated it, then controlled and dispatched it with aplomb was all down the Spaniard. A week earlier, there was no assist given for Cresswell because Soucek’s header from his corner happened to hit a defender on the way in – a consequence of the dubious goals rule, not the acuuracy of Cresswell’s corner. Equally, there was also no assist credited to Bowen’s second goal, as Fornal’s goal creating shot had hit the post before he netted the rebound.
Dear Santa, New Owners For Christmas Please
Interesting (and excited) to read the continued speculation that the Gold and Sullivan era could soon be coming to an inglorious end. Their relationship with the fans has broken down so badly that recovery is impossible. Most fans don’t want them around and I wonder why, at their stage in life, they would want to stick around. If it is just a matter of agreeing price then hopefully something might happen in the coming weeks. I can’t say there has ever been a time where West Ham have been blessed with likeable, ambitious, level-headed or visionary owners but the loyalty of the support deserves better. Nothing is yet known on the identity of any supposed bidder but it couldn’t be any worse, could it?