Everything Is Average Nowadays: A Typically Inconsistent West Ham Season

The 2018/19 Premier League season was close to average for West Ham. Slightly below where we might have expected to finish but slightly better than we have typically done in the past.

The 2018/19 season finally ended on a positive note with West Ham recording a third successive win that allowed them to sneak into the top half of the table at the expense of Watford.  Better than anticipated a few weeks ago but no open topped bus parade! A first run of back to back victories since December allows us to go into the summer break with an unexpected sense of optimism.

The general consensus in the media was that it was a good first season in charge for Manuel Pellegrini and but for a disastrous start (and the usual collection of dubious refereeing decisions) it could have been even better.  In truth, pundits don’t pay detailed attention to clubs outside of the ‘big six’ and their views are often superficial and patronising.  Which players from the likes of West Ham, Leicester, Wolves or Everton could attract interest from the elite is the usual extent of their insight.

The exciting last day finish together with the dominance of English clubs in the European finals has reignited claims that the Premier League is both the best in the world and the most competitive.  It certainly has the best players money can buy but, in reality, it is largely predictable.  If you rank and compare finishing positions with the revenues of each club you will find a very high level of correlation.  In any year there will be over-achievers (Wolves, Watford) and under-achievers (Manchester United, Southampton) but the majority of clubs finished the 2018/19 season within two places of what their revenue ranking would suggest.  My research suggests that West Ham are 8th highest revenue earners suggesting that a 10th place finish is just below average.  Of course, it is not just about having money – you need to use it and use it wisely!

Looking at West Ham’s performance against their Premier League history you might conclude that it was a slightly above average season.  The following table shows how this season compares with the average for the 21 seasons in which the Hammers have competed since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches (eagle eyed observers will note that points does not tally with the results for the average season – this is due to rounding) :

P W D L F A W D L F A Pts
Average 38 8 5 6 28 24 4 5 10 19 31 47
2018/19 38 9 4 6 32 27 6 3 10 20 28 52

The 9 home wins was the best return since the move to the London Stadium.  The last time West Ham won more than 9 games at home during a season, however, was back in 2001/12 (12) while the most successful season was 13 home wins in 1997/98.  That same season also saw the fewest home defeats (2) with the worst being 9 in both 2006/07 and 2010/11.

Away from home, 6 victories is towards the top end of West Ham’s on-the-road achievements and has only been bettered in 2005/06 and 2015/16.  However, the move away from the cautious ‘respect the point’ philosophy saw a below average number of away draws.

Aside from the record points haul of 62 in 2015/16, this year’s total was the highest since 2005/06 and the 7th highest out of the 21 seasons reviewed.  The 2015/16 season is famously the only Premier League one where West Ham have finished with a positive goal difference and this season’s total (-3) was in the top six outcomes and bettered the 21 season average of -9.

If goals are what you like then the best teams to follow in 2018/19 season would have been Bournemouth (126), Arsenal (124) and Manchester United (119).  West Ham matches saw 107 goals awarded – ranking in 10th position.

Most would agree that the style of football has improved significantly this season, even though a shocking inconsistency has frequently overshadowed this.  Excellent performances in matches against top sides were balanced out by some shockers with struggling sides.

In summary, there are enough positive signs to believe that Pellegrini is moving the club in the right direction but recognising there is plenty of work to do and plenty of additional investment necessary if the club is to consistently achieve its expected position of 7th or 8th.  Unfortunately, any progress beyond that (unless there is another collective top six blip as happened in 2015/16) would require massive external investment – the idea of a next level without that happening is really wishful thinking.

That leaves us with looking forward with interest at how the summer player recruitment and sales pan out.  How much money can be made available, can we hold on to our better players and will the club be able to make further astute signings that suit Pellegrini’s style of play and ensure that relegation battles are a thing of the past?

2018-19 – Was this a campaign for West Ham to move to the next level, or one to consolidate under a new regime?

A new manager, new backroom staff, many new players, and hope for a better season. But was it enough to move on to the next level? How accurate were the bookmakers in predicting how this season would end?

So many people begin so many sentences with the word “so” these days. I was thinking this when trying to evaluate the season that is coming to an end today, as the phrase that came into my head was “so so”! So what does “so so” actually mean? Neither very good nor very bad, middling, all right, respectable, satisfactory, indifferent, mediocre, ordinary, passable, run of the mill, adequate, acceptable, tolerable, moderate, modest, unexceptional, OK, undistinguished? Have I got it right or am I being too harsh?

At times the football we have played has been very good, especially with victories over some top teams. We managed to beat three of the elite top six teams, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Tottenham, and drew with both Chelsea and Liverpool, two games that with better luck and better officials we could easily have won. Only Manchester City of the top teams were just too good.

Of the five teams that have been chasing that seventh spot for much of the season, we have held our own with equal points in games against Everton and Leicester. Wolves, like Manchester City, were just too good for us in both games, and we suffered a home defeat to Watford. That game put an end to a four match winning run in December which gave us high hopes of chasing a European place. It also resulted in an injury to the General when giving away the penalty for Watford’s opening goal. In my opinion that was a key factor in many performances that followed in that his partnership with Diop was broken, and we never quite looked the same at the back. Can we balance the books against the Hornets today? If so, a top half finish is achieved, but if not then we are consigned to the bottom half of the table.

Disappointingly, we only picked up one point in the four games against Bournemouth and Brighton, and suffered away defeats at Burnley and Cardiff where our performances were definitely unacceptable. Once again I don’t believe that we got the points we might have done due to some dubious refereeing decisions and poor line calls that robbed us, whereas very few close calls went in our favour. I very much welcome the use of VAR next season which hopefully will eliminate some of these diabolical errors.

When writing this piece today I had a look back at my first article this season written shortly before the season began. The next part is an extract that shows how predictable the Premier League has become.

But can we reach the “next level”? What exactly is the “next level”? If you study the odds on offer among the vast array of bookmakers throughout the country then there is a certain similarity of where they all believe clubs will finish in the Premier League. Not surprisingly, Manchester City are odds on to retain the title and Liverpool are clear second favourites at 4/1. Then come Manchester United 7/1, Chelsea 12/1, Tottenham 14/1 and Arsenal 25/1. So that’s the top six sorted. Same as last time, the same top six elite, the clubs with the biggest revenues will fill the top six places again. As predictable as ever according to the odds makers.

Following hot on the heels of the top six, well not exactly on the heels but trailing behind at a distance, bookmakers have four clubs all priced in the region of 250/1 to fill places 7-10. Those clubs are (in no particular order, because the order varies from bookmaker to bookmaker) Everton, Wolves, Leicester, and West Ham. So we are well fancied to finish in the top half, and even as high as seventh place, but will not realistically be challenging the elite six. I suppose you could call that the next level?

As a matter of interest the next four clubs are priced generally in the 500/1 to 750/1 bracket – Palace, Newcastle, Southampton and Burnley. And finally the bottom six in the betting market at odds of between 750/1 up to 2000/1 are Bournemouth, Brighton, Fulham, Watford, Huddersfield and Cardiff.

Of course the aim of all fourteen clubs that make up the “also-rans” in the Premier League should be to break into the top six, but unfortunately the aim of many is to secure at least seventeenth place for a return visit next season. I’d like to think that our goal is to consolidate a position comfortably in the top half of the table, with a target of finishing in seventh place, and hopefully finishing as close to the top six as possible. If you believe that we can force our way into the elite group then you can get odds of between 9/1 and 12/1 to achieve this. Now that really would be the “next level”!

The bookmakers were spot on with the top six teams, although not exactly in the correct order. The four teams they predicted to chase the top six was a good shout too, as was the four to follow them. And they were very accurate in that their forecast of the bottom six had the bottom four teams in it. The only teams that really outperformed the bookmakers’ odds were Watford (significantly), and to a lesser extent Bournemouth. Manchester United underperformed their odds, but in reality the bookmakers virtually knew the outcome before the season began. Of course there is always the chance of a few unlikely results but I’m afraid the Premier League has become much too predictable.

The Championship on the other hand, whilst not being of quite the same quality, is a much more open competition each season, and in many ways more enjoyable as a result. You would have got long odds on Norwich and Sheffield United gaining automatic promotion. Not many would have predicted that before the season began. The holy grail for all teams is to be in the Premier League because of the money involved, but does that mean entertainment for the fans?

When West Ham have been playing away this season I have often gone along to Ram Meadow, the home ground of my local club, Bury Town. They play in step four of non-league football in the Bostik Isthmian League North and finished the season in sixth place just outside the play-offs. Incidentally Julian Dicks is the boss of the team that finished fifth, Heybridge Swifts. I can honestly say that, although the football was obviously not on the same level as the Premier League, the entertainment on offer matched what I saw at the London Stadium this season. That does not mean that I am about to bring an end to over sixty years of going along to watch West Ham, as I have already renewed my season ticket for next season. I will go along and hope that we can improve and move on to “the next level”.

West Ham in August

What does history tell us about the games West Ham play in the month of August? How important is it to get off to a good start? We look at a few seasons from the past to see if they give us a clue, mainly concentrating on those with an eight at the start such as 1958-59, 1968-69, right up to the present 2018-2019.

As August moves into September, summer begins to turn into autumn, and schoolchildren prepare for a new year at school. The new football season is already underway and, although the league tables mean little at this stage, we begin to get a feel for how the next nine months are likely to unfold. In just a couple of months I will be “celebrating” (if that is the right word) sixty years of following West Ham. My first visit to Upton Park was in November 1958, and my interest in following the team had already begun as that season had got underway in August. Promotion had been achieved the previous May when we finished at the top of Division Two and our return to Division One would be our first season in the top flight since we were relegated in 1932. That disastrous season (1931-32) had begun so well with winning the two games played in the month of August to take us into third place in the league. It ended with losing our last seven games, only picking up one point in our last ten matches and plummeting to the very foot of the table.

So after more than a quarter of a century outside of the elite, we began season 1958-59 with high hopes. There were three games to be played in the month of August, beginning with an away fixture at Portsmouth, followed two days later when we welcomed the champions from the previous season (Wolves), and then a home game against Aston Villa. Three games in a week and we won them all. The 2-0 win over Wolves (who would go on to be league champions again) was particularly satisfying, although the 7-2 slaughter of Aston Villa meant that we finished the month with nine points and eleven goals from the first three games. Incredibly we were only second in the league. An excellent season followed with a final league position of sixth. John Dick was my first favourite player and he ended the season as top scorer with 27 league goals (out of the 85 league goals scored by the team). We were fun to watch as we conceded 70 that season too.

Moving forward ten years to one of my favourite ever seasons (1968-69), we played seven league games in the month of August. Fifty years ago. This was the era of Moore, Hurst, Peters, Bonds and Brooking. The Beach Boys topped the music charts with Do It Again as the first month of the season drew to a close. We’d won five and drawn one of these fixtures, including wins of 5-0 and 4-0 to sit third in the league. We were just about to play our opening league cup game that season where we despatched Bolton 7-2. Despite remaining unbeaten throughout September we couldn’t keep it up but still finished eighth at the end of May. More draws than any other team in the division (18) and failure to win any of our last nine games stopped us from finishing higher.

Jumping ahead another ten years and 1978-79 finds us in Division Two after relegation the previous May. We still had Bonds and Brooking, together with Cross, Devonshire, Lampard (snr) and Pop Robson. Two wins and a draw from the league matches in August put us second in the league, but an inconsistent season followed and we finished fifth, just missing out on promotion, despite the strength of the team.

After our last major trophy winning the FA Cup in 1980 as a second division team, and a record-breaking promotion winning season that followed, we remained in the top flight for a few years but in 1988-89 we finished next to bottom and were relegated once again. Only one league match was played in August that season and we lost it 4-0. Moving ahead ten years again and 1998-99 had three August games, and again we were unbeaten with one win and two draws. And finally ten years ago in 2008-09 we won three of our four August games (two of them by a 4-1 scoreline) to lie fourth in the table.

This season has bucked the general ten year trend in that we have lost all three league games and sit at the foot of the table. I’ve looked back through (my) living memory and find that in the last sixty years our league position at the end of August is better than where we finish up in May roughly half of the time, and not as good as the final league position the other half. One thing is for certain; our final league position next May cannot be any worse than where we are now!

On eleven occasions in the past sixty years we have been in the top three at the end of August, and in two of those we have been top (1983-83, 1989-90). But some of our best ever seasons have not started particularly auspiciously. In our record breaking promotion season of 1980-81 we were seventh at the end of August, before running away with Division Two by the end. And two other second division promotion seasons (1990-91 and 1992-93) found us in 14th and 18th respectively at the end of the first month before the final finishing position of second. In our best ever season (1985-86) when we finished third in the table and came close to becoming champions for the only time, we were languishing in 17th by 31 August.

What does all this prove? To borrow and amend a financial phrase, past performance in the month of August is not necessarily indicative of future results throughout the remainder of the season. So don’t press the panic button yet as hopefully there is still plenty to be optimistic about for this season!

We’re Gonna Score One More Than You!

Dusting of my bobble hat and polishing the rattle for a season where attempting to outscore the opposition makes a welcome return over hoping not to lose.

With the transfer window slamming shut and the Premier League season starting in the course of two days, the scene is set for the mother of all media frenzies – Sky sources will be going beserk.  As usual, the close season has witnessed a host of managerial comings and goings and vast sums of money exchanged for both exciting and mediocre players.  Some are certain to shine while others are sure to fail.  Everyone has spent big, optimism is widespread but ultimately three clubs will still be relegated.  At the top the slate is wiped cleaned, but there is almost universal consensus for a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool.

Meanwhile at the London Stadium something very strange has been happening – as if the owners suddenly discovered the PIN for their ATM card and decided to dip deeply into their pockets.  Even the most curmudgeonly anti-Board critics must find it difficult to complain about the scale of the summer’s transfer activity; although there is still the stadium, the design of the third kit and the sleeve advertisements to moan about.

At last, the much needed and belated squad overhaul has taken place with a vengeance.  Whether this is a one-off reaction to keep the season ticket cash register ticking over or part of a longer term investment strategy remains to be seen.  Rumours persist, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, for several more arrivals before Thursday’s deadline but, even now, looking at the attacking talent available in the squad makes some of us moist with anticipation.

New manager Manuel Pellegrini promises a new expansive approach and style of play that could prove the perfect antidote to the dour pragmatism of recent seasons.  How quickly the Hammers can adjust to these changes (and the new arrivals to the frenetic pace of the Premier League) will only become apparent over time.   Can the new boys hit the ground running, will it take a while to build telepathic understandings, and what is a realistic expectation for West Ham in the 2018/19 Premier League season?

There is a very strong correlation between the wealth of a club and their probable finishing position in the league.  On that basis, the top six places are already spoken for – although it is not unknown for any individual club to experience a wobble in a given season.  That would leave the Hammers fighting it out with the likes of Everton and maybe Leicester (or Wolves) as leaders of the chasing pack.  If it was me setting targets then I would be looking at between sixth (with the most favourable of following winds) and tenth; worse than tenth would be a failure and the idea of another relegation haunted season is unthinkable.

However, I think many of us would prioritise entertaining football, a good cup run and being prepared to give it a go against the big boys above any particular league position.  From what I saw of pre-season I am confident that can look very good in possession but fear a continued vulnerability without the ball – particularly exposed through the middle against marauding or fast breaking attacking sides.  Defensive midfield has become the new right-back where the club and management have been slow or reluctant to address a long perceived weakness.  Perhaps a solution can be found in the next day or so.  In any case we are in a much better position now in attempting to outscore the opposition, even if it means conceding a few in the process.  Hoping not to lose should no longer be the game plan.

From experience, we know that any discussion about the Hammer’s strongest line-up when everyone if fit is a purely theoretical exercise.  Nevertheless, speculation is always fun.

I see little between the two keepers but suspect the Number One spot will be Fabianski’s to lose.

In defence, Pellegrini prefers a back four and I will be interested to see which of the various permutations best suits this set up.  On the left both Cresswell and Masuaku have been better at going forward than in defending and are possibly more suited to a wing back role than as traditional full-backs.  Across the other side of the park, Fredericks looks certain to be first choice and has looked electric going forward (I am, as yet, unfamiliar with his defensive prowess) while Zabaleta is a useful backup.  The centre of defence would then be any two of Ogbonna, Diop, Balbuena and Rice.  It may take some time to establish the optimum pairing but believe it will be Ogbonna and Diop who get the shout from day one.

Defensive midfield options are currently a choice from Obiang, Noble and Rice and I expect Pellegrini to be looking to select two of these.  Each has their own limitations in a role expected to protect the back four, win possession cleanly and move the ball forward quickly.  Noble will continue to be an important figure around the squad but unless he can be fitted with a new pair of legs before the weekend I am not convinced that he can still operate effectively at this level – more than happy to be proved wrong though.  Rice is a great prospect but it would be a case of a central defender playing, out of position, in midfield to my view.

This year’s attacking options provide some mouth-watering options.  Pole positions (subject to any late additions) must be Wilshire, Anderson, Yarmolenko and Arnautovic with Hernandez and Antonio (if he stays) as backup.  There may be a case for starting with Hernandez as part of a two up top on some occasions but only in matches where one of the two defensive midfielders can be sacrificed.  A prediction from all of that is for Arnie to set a new Premier League goals in a season record for the Hammers – eclipsing the current 16 by Di Canio in 1999/2000.

Of the departures it was sad to see Reece Burke go.  He is the modern day Eliot Ward and I can see him making a return to the top level later in his career. It was also time for Kouyate to move on, even though he was nowhere near as bad as some made out – who will replace him as the whipping boy?

I have very high hopes for the season but then again this is not a brand new sensation.  This time, more than any other time, maybe they can be at least partially fulfilled.

2018-19 – A new campaign for West Ham to move to the next level?

A new manager, new backroom staff, many new players, and let us hope for a better season. But is it enough to move on to the next level? What are the odds?

We ended last season at the London Stadium in style with an emphatic win over Big Sam’s Everton. It was the end of Big Sam and also signalled the end of David Moyes following his short tenure as our manager. He did what he came here to do (to ensure we were not relegated) and was no doubt paid handsomely for it. The owners felt that we needed a change to “take us to the next level” and Manuel Pellegrini was installed as the new boss.

Premier League clubs voted for a shortened transfer window this time around, and may have shot themselves in the foot with the window elsewhere remaining firmly open whilst the weather remains warm until the end of the month, enabling foreign raids on our clubs until then. The general consensus among Hammers fans is that this has been one of our better windows, and the owners certainly seem to have dug deeper in their pockets this time around with the hope of avoiding the calamities of the last two seasons. Who would have thought when the last season ended that West Ham would buy more players than there would be days when it rained in the close season?

But can we reach the “next level”? What exactly is the “next level”? If you study the odds on offer among the vast array of bookmakers throughout the country then there is a certain similarity of where they all believe clubs will finish in the Premier League. Not surprisingly, Manchester City are odds on to retain the title and Liverpool are clear second favourites at 4/1. Then come Manchester United 7/1, Chelsea 12/1, Tottenham 14/1 and Arsenal 25/1. So that’s the top six sorted. Same as last time, the same top six elite, the clubs with the biggest revenues will fill the top six places again. As predictable as ever according to the odds makers.

Following hot on the heels of the top six, well not exactly on the heels but trailing behind at a distance, bookmakers have four clubs all priced in the region of 250/1 to fill places 7-10. Those clubs are (in no particular order, because the order varies from bookmaker to bookmaker) Everton, Wolves, Leicester, and West Ham. So we are well fancied to finish in the top half, and even as high as seventh place, but will not realistically be challenging the elite six. I suppose you could call that the next level?

As a matter of interest the next four clubs are priced generally in the 500/1 to 750/1 bracket – Palace, Newcastle, Southampton and Burnley. And finally the bottom six in the betting market at odds of between 750/1 up to 2000/1 are Bournemouth, Brighton, Fulham, Watford, Huddersfield and Cardiff.

Of course the aim of all fourteen clubs that make up the “also-rans” in the Premier League should be to break into the top six, but unfortunately the aim of many is to secure at least seventeenth place for a return visit next season. I’d like to think that our goal is to consolidate a position comfortably in the top half of the table, with a target of finishing in seventh place, and hopefully finishing as close to the top six as possible. If you believe that we can force our way into the elite group then you can get odds of between 9/1 and 12/1 to achieve this. Now that really would be the “next level”!

The struggle for Premier League survival will resume this weekend when West Ham visit Anfield

How many more points will we need?

At the beginning of each Premier League season you will often hear managers quoted as saying that their aim is to reach 40 points which will ensure that they remain in the top flight for another year. It is a sad state of affairs that, although there are 20 clubs taking part in the competition, only 6 of them at the most have any realistic chance of coming out on top. The remaining 14, which include ourselves, have no chance whatsoever. It is the same (or even worse) in all the top leagues in Europe. That is why I advocated in my previous article that all the top European teams take part in a European league and do not take part in their domestic league. Would we miss playing the top teams? I for one would not.

Take this season for example. If you ignored the top six sides then all of the remaining 14 (plus another six from the Championship) would believe at the beginning of the season that they had a chance of winning the league. It would make for a much more interesting competition when most of the teams involved could win. But that is not the case (yet) although I remain hopeful that one day it will happen.

In the meantime the most interesting aspect of the Premier League for me is the competition to finish 7th, and at the same time the battle to avoid finishing in the bottom three. West Ham fans will remember that in 2002-3 we were relegated despite attaining 42 points in a 38 game season. But that was 15 years ago. In the 14 seasons since then 42 points would have comfortably been enough to retain top flight status. Only once (in 2010-11) would it have been necessary to reach 40 points to stay up, and in fact in the season before that just 31 would have done. If you look at the last 5 years (or 10 years) then 36 is the average figure needed to avoid the drop.

According to the BBC website, data analysts Gracenote Sports have apparently run over 1 million simulations to estimate the chances of all teams being relegated. They came to the conclusion that West Ham have a 6% chance of being relegated; in other words the odds are around 16-1. After all these 1 million simulations they concluded that 40 points will definitely be enough to avoid the drop, 38 points will more than likely be enough, and any team with 34 points or less will definitely be relegated.

Without running all these simulations I have produced my own forecast based upon how all of the teams in the bottom 11 of the table have performed for the season to date, and then projected their finishing points if they attain points at the same rate. Now not all of the teams will do that; some will do better and some worse. But I believe that it is reasonable to assume that, on average, the bottom 11 clubs will pick up the same number of points per game in the run-in that they have achieved for the season to date.

The table below sets out the results of my calculations (it took me approximately 5 minutes to do this). I think I could have saved Gracenote Sports from running one million simulations, as the results of my projection suggest that 40 points will definitely be enough to avoid the drop, 38 points will more than likely be enough (but only just), and any team with 34 points or less will definitely be relegated. Pretty similar to their conclusions!

So on this basis, 10 more points from our last 11 games will definitely be enough, 8 more points will probably be OK, but 7 points or less could mean that we are playing in the Championship next season. That assumes, of course, that we don’t get a repeat of the 2002-03 season, although the closeness of the teams in the bottom half of the table suggests that will not be the case.

The bottom 11 teams in the Premier League after 27 games Points after 27 games Projected Points from last 11 games Total
10. AFC Bournemouth 31 13 44
11. Watford 30 12 42
12. West Ham 30 12 42
13. Newcastle 28 11 39
14. Brighton 28 11 39
15. Crystal Palace 27 11 38
16. Swansea 27 11 38
17. Huddersfield 27 11 38
18. Southampton 26 11 37
19. Stoke City 25 10 35
20. West Brom 20 8 28

So where will we collect the necessary points from? Six of our final eleven games are at home, although the next two (At Liverpool and Swansea) are away. That means that our performances at the London Stadium will be vital in ensuring our safety. So far this season we average 1.46 points per game at home, and 0.79 on out travels, so continuing with this average would almost certainly be enough. But we have to bear in mind that 8 of our final 11 games are against teams in the top nine in the table, and of those 8 teams the only one that we defeated in our first game against them this season was Chelsea.

The three “crunch” games would therefore seem to be the home games against Southampton and Stoke, and the away game at Swansea. Failure to win these (or at the very least pick up 7 points) would mean that it is likely that it will be necessary to get results on one or more of our travels to Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester, or at home to the two Manchester clubs, Burnley, and Everton. It will be nerve-racking if it goes down to the wire, and we need something from our final game at home to Everton. I hope it doesn’t come down to that! Based on our recent form we should be OK.

The Carvalho saga lingers on for West Ham

As if we didn’t have enough of the William Carvalho saga for the whole of the last month of the transfer window, we find that it continues even though the window has slammed shut.

I dislike the international breaks that disrupt the domestic football season. It is a bit like starting off any activity and then finding that it continually gets interrupted. It wouldn’t seem so bad if the breaks were spread more evenly throughout the season, but no, we have to have a break for World Cup qualifiers (or Euro qualifiers) every year. The first one has arrived (as usual) just as the season has got underway, this time after just three games. We play four more games before the next break, and then a further four prior to the following one. So we will have only played eleven games and had a weekend off three times! At least it might help West Ham’s players to combat the tiredness that was put forward as a lame excuse following the disastrous performance in our last match in Newcastle.

The transfer window itself was seen by many, before a ball had been kicked, as being a relatively successful one for West Ham, although the evidence of the first three games has suggested to quite a few of us that the jury is out on our new recruits, with the possible exception of Chicarito. Lots of theories are put forward as to why we are currently bottom of the table, and the real reason is probably a mixture of all of them.

But one glaring weakness (of many) in the team from where I sit, is the number of goals that we are conceding. Poor defending is just part of that, which may be down to the individuals themselves that occupy those positions, or may be down to the way that they are organised, and the lack of consistent selection which suggests that the manager doesn’t really know his best defence. Of course this was not helped by the injury to Reid, but nevertheless we have a whole range of international defenders at our disposal.

But a modern football team needs to defend as a whole unit, and this means everyone in the side playing their part when we don’t have the ball. And this happens a lot as we have a tendency to give the ball to our opponents more easily than we should. A vital position in most successful teams is that of the central midfielders, and the ideal players in this position are those that can give cover to the defence whilst at the same time being comfortable in possession, and able to launch attacking moves. Last season’s champions, Chelsea, had Kante and Matic fulfilling this important role. They’ve lost Matic, but bought Drinkwater to resume the partnership with Kante that was an integral part of Leicester’s title winning season the year before. This season’s early leaders, Manchester United, have Pogba and Matic. The great Arsenal side of a few seasons ago had the dream pairing of Vieira and Petit.

In my opinion our best two players in this position in the current squad are Obiang and Kouyate. They haven’t yet started a game as the central pairing this season, with Obiang inexplicably only starting one of our three games, and Kouyate playing just twenty minutes as a substitute at St James Park. Incredibly we began the game at Newcastle with Rice and Noble as the partners in the middle. Now I see Rice as a very promising central defender, and Noble has looked a shadow of his previous self for over a year now. Both Obiang and Kouyate were warming the bench. I just didn’t get it myself, but the manager picks the team and stands or falls by his decisions. The way things are going then falling might come sooner rather than later.

According to the multitude of transfer news in the media during the window, our key target for the last month was William Carvalho, an experienced Portuguese international footballer, who would presumably fill one of the two central midfield slots. And from what I’ve seen of him he would be a perfect addition to the team. I would compare him in style of play to Patrick Vieira. Allegedly we continued to make bids for him, never quite reaching the figure that Sporting Lisbon supposedly wanted us to pay. As time went on I could see that it was unlikely that it would happen, and I was genuinely disappointed when we failed to land him as he looked to me just the type of player we needed.

At the last moment, just as it appeared the transfer wouldn’t happen, we apparently switched our target to Gomes from Barcelona, yet another Portuguese international midfielder, who at 24 (a year younger than Carvalho) was another who might satisfy the demands of fans as an exciting new recruit. Now while this may be the case I would question our strategy in the transfer market. Did we really want a (primarily) defensive midfielder (Carvalho), or one who fulfils a more attacking role? Whilst both would have been excellent acquisitions, we seem to be just trying to get good footballers, rather than looking to fill specific positions in the line-up.

Some West Ham fans have taken to social media slamming the board (in particular David Sullivan) for once again failing to bring in another top level signing, and at the same time Sporting Lisbon are now claiming that we didn’t even lodge a bid for Carvalho. Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems destined to fill some pages during the international break, and will continue to do so until the Premier League resumes next weekend and we can once again concentrate on football. The whole saga though just seems to me to be a typical West Ham transfer scenario, and doesn’t shed a good light on the club.

We must move on now, and if rumours are to be believed, then we need to start performing and picking up points very quickly if we are to move away from the bottom, and for the manager to keep his job. Mr. Sullivan issued an unusual statement last week saying that the manager got exactly the players he wanted in the window, and that to me suggested he was preparing to show him the exit door very soon if the results don’t arrive very soon. We shall see.