The Fourth International Break

With a quarter of the season remaining we project where West Ham will finish in the Premier
League based upon current form.

bpl

Here we are roughly three-quarters of the way through the season and we have the fourth international break. Only three league games had been completed when we had the first, seven games for the second, and just eleven when we had a free weekend for the third. I guess it is about time for another one! Due to the EFL Cup and FA Cup, the number of league games played by Premier League clubs varies between Manchester United and Southampton on 26, and a few teams like ourselves on 29. We therefore have just nine games left to finish in as high a position as possible. But how high will that be?

Pts.

Left

1

Chelsea

69

10

2

Tottenham

56

11

3

Man City

56

11

4

Liverpool

55

10

5

Arsenal

50

11

6

Everton

50

9

7

Man United

49

12

8

West Brom

43

9

9

Stoke

36

9

10

Southampton

33

12

11

Bournemouth

33

9

12

West Ham

33

9

13

Burnley

32

9

14

Watford

31

10

15

Leicester

30

10

16

Palace

28

10

17

Swansea

27

9

18

Hull

24

9

19

Middlesbrough

22

11

20

Sunderland

20

10

Looking at the current league table above, which shows the points achieved so far and the number of games left in the season, then nobody could possibly bet against Chelsea coming out on top, although the fight to get into a top four position is not yet cut and dried. At the bottom, then the three most north-easterly clubs in the country look in trouble. We are in that cluster of clubs fighting for a ninth-place finish, as the top eight are now well clear barring a significant change of fortune.

Of course we don’t know what will happen between now and the end of the season, but one possible indicator is to look at the recent form of all the teams, and project this forward to the season’s end. As they write in all financial services advertisements, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but companies nevertheless still provide projections to enable potential investors to consider what might be achieved. So for this prediction exercise I looked at the number of points per game that all the teams have achieved in the most recent 10 games, and then multiplied this by the number of games that each has to play, to come up with a forecast of the final positions based on the form showed in their last ten games. And this was the result.

End of Season Predicted Points Tally Based on the form of the last 10 games

1

Chelsea

92

2

Tottenham

81

3

Man City

78

4

Man United

75

5

Everton

71

6

Liverpool

70

7

Arsenal

68

8

West Brom

58

9

Stoke

50

10

Southampton

47

11

Leicester

43

12

West Ham

43

13

Bournemouth

41

14

Swansea

41

15

Burnley

40

16

Watford

40

17

Palace

40

18

Hull

34

19

Middlesbrough

26

20

Sunderland

26

No great surprises here, although Manchester United would achieve a top four finish. We would finish in twelfth spot (as now) and the bottom three teams would be unchanged. Somebody I showed this to suggested that to look at the form of the last ten games would not be as accurate as considering the most recent results achieved, and it might be worth looking at a shorter time frame. So I carried out the same exercise looking at the most recent six games, and then projecting the end of season points totals from that, and this was the result:

End of Season Predicted Points Tally Based on the form of the last 6 games

1

Chelsea

92

2

Man City

82

3

Tottenham

76

4

Liverpool

72

5

Everton

70

6

Man United

69

7

Arsenal

61

8

West Brom

58

9

Southampton

51

10

Palace

48

11

Stoke

47

12

Leicester

45

13

Bournemouth

44

14

Watford

43

15

West Ham

41

16

Burnley

37

17

Swansea

36

18

Hull

35

19

Sunderland

28

20

Middlesbrough

26

This table produces greater variation than the previous one because we are looking at a smaller time frame. Some will argue that this could be more accurate as it is based upon more recent form. But as West Ham fans, we know that form can change. When we go along we never quite know what West Ham team will turn up, or what we can expect. Our form fluctuates more than many others. Nonetheless, this projection is more worrying in that we end up down in 15th place. Palace, on the other hand, finish in the top half of the table.

Mischievously, partly because I have a good idea what the results will be, I did a final calculation of end of season positions, based upon form in the last three games only. This is, perhaps, too narrow a time frame to be realistic. Or is it? The result is shown below.

End of Season Predicted Points Tally Based on the form of the last 3 games

1

Chelsea

99

2

Man City

82

3

Tottenham

78

4

Man United

77

5

Liverpool

75

6

Everton

68

7

Arsenal

61

8

Leicester

60

9

Palace

58

10

Southampton

57

11

Bournemouth

54

12

West Brom

52

13

Stoke

48

14

Swansea

36

15

Burnley

35

16

Watford

34

17

West Ham

33

18

Hull

33

19

Middlesbrough

26

20

Sunderland

23

I knew roughly what this would show, as we are the only team in the Premier League without a single point in our last three games. But if this did prove to be an indicator of the end of season position, then it would be a matter of goal difference as to whether or not we play in the Premier League next season! One thing is for sure. Our current form needs to improve, and we probably do need a few more points to be safe.

Down with the Christmas decorations?

We look at whether the West Ham reputation of coming down with the Xmas decorations is fact or myth.

Christmas Decorations

I first went to Upton Park in the 1958-59 season. That means that this is my 59th season of actively supporting the team. Of the 58 completed seasons, 49 have been spent in the top flight of English football, and just 9 in the second tier. I have seen us relegated five times and then promoted back five times.

We’ve always had a reputation for coming down with the Christmas decorations. So I thought I’d conduct some research to ascertain whether this is a fact or a myth. Looking at those 49 seasons at the top table I found that on 22 occasions we finished the season in a lower position than we held on Christmas Day. And 22 times we actually finished up in a higher position at the end than we were at Christmas. Five times we ended up in exactly the same position. So in reality, on average the second half of the season has been equally as good as the first.

It is true that in the 1960s and 1980s the trend was to fall in the league table after Christmas more often than not. But since 1993-94, our first season in the newly formed Premier League, we have been in the top flight for 20 seasons, and in that time we have only finished the season in a lower position than we were at Christmas on three occasions. In 1993-94 we dropped from 11th to 13th, in 2000-01 we fell from 10th to 15th, and the biggest fall was in 2014-15 when in Big Sam’s final season we went from 4th at Christmas to finish 12th. In every other year we have either retained or improved our position in the second half. So apart from Big Sam’s swansong, we have never fallen to a lower position at the end of the season than we held at Christmas in our last 12 seasons in the top flight.

Our Christmas Day position this year is 13th. Our average finishing position in the 49 seasons in the top division in my lifetime is 13th. Of course 3rd was our best performance of all in 1985-86. That season we were 3rd at Christmas too. And on the five occasions when we were relegated, our positions on Christmas Day were 21, 20, 18, 20, 20. So if history (especially recent history) is anything to go by, what is there to worry about?

Of course we have played indifferently in quite a few games this season. But our five 1-0 victories, and four draws, leave us on 19 points from 17 games. It has not been a good season, especially compared to the last one. Our manager and the players still have a lot of work to do to ensure that we keep our distance from the relegation places, and hopefully push on upwards towards the top half of the table. We must stop throwing away points when we are leading in games too. The 12 points we have dropped from leading positions, would have seen us in 5th place in the table if we had held on to the lead in those matches.

It’s not all doom and gloom as some articles in the media would suggest. It hasn’t been the best, but trust me we’ve been here before. We’ve never been relegated from this position in the table at Christmas, and it won’t happen this season either. We are only five points behind seventh place in the table, which is where we finished last season. I’m looking for us to move upwards after Christmas, just as we have done in most seasons in the twenty-first century.  The generally held belief that we come down with the Christmas decorations is a false one.

Who is to blame for our poor start to the season?

Who is in the firing line as disappointed fans look for someone to blame for the current shortcomings.

Board, manager, playersThe move to a new stadium often results in some people being unhappy. Most clubs when they move take a little while to settle. It’s the same as moving house. It takes a while to get used to your new surroundings. A trawl through social media reveals how when results are going against us, or when we are not playing well (to put it mildly), then individuals want to blame someone, or a group of people, or an inanimate object as to the reason for it. Sometimes it’s the players, or the manager, or the board, or the stadium. Sometimes it is all of them added together.

I can understand the disenchantment with players, especially when sometimes they don’t appear to be giving their all. I can understand that the buck stops with the manager when he is responsible for picking the team, devising tactics etc. If he is unhappy with the effort being put in by players at training, then it is his responsibility to do something about it. When things are not going well then the board will inevitably come in for criticism from some fans too. Certainly the summer transfer dealings which resulted in some very average recruitment, the proposed payments to Tevez, and anticipation of a “marquee” signing, would have been better kept in-house rather than discussed with media outlets. But the vitriolic personal attacks by some on social media are totally unnecessary, although I guess are just a consequence of the computer age, and happen in other spheres of life, too.

The one that really gets me is the criticism of the stadium. It’s just a football pitch surrounded by stands. I understand all the talk about it not being a football stadium, further from the pitch etc., so how comes we turned in the performance we did against Chelsea in the League Cup? Did we play it somewhere else when I wasn’t looking? The atmosphere at that game was at least equal to anything ever produced at Upton Park. The decibel levels when Antonio nodded in the late winner against Bournemouth, or when Payet scored his wonder individual goal to equalise against Middlesbrough went off the scale. And if you study the statistics, Upton Park was rarely a “fortress”.

I’m not one of the new breed of plastic supporters that I see written about. I spent 58 years going to Upton Park. I loved it in the old days when we stood on the terraces and were close to the pitch. Yes, sometimes a crowd of 20,000 would generate a fantastic atmosphere, but only at times when we were lifted by the players on the pitch. When we weren’t playing well you could almost hear a pin drop at times. And with the redevelopment of Upton Park into an all-seater stadium following the Taylor report, we weren’t that close to the pitch either. I am more than happy with the new stadium, as are most of the people I’ve discussed it with who sit nearby. But everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I always respect other opinions.

But I personally don’t understand why fans keep going on about it. There is no going back I’m afraid. There is no point in posting pictures of the Boleyn Ground in various states of demolition. I’ve even read pleas to wealthy West Ham fans to come forward, and put together a new team, a bit like what has happened in Manchester, and even try to buy the Boleyn Ground from the developers and build a brand new purpose built football stadium there. Quite a project to undertake.

Perhaps the reason for our poor start is a mixture of players, injuries, the manager and coaching staff, the training facilities, the board, and the stadium. I believe that with a good run of results, much of the negativity will disappear. Everyone has to pull together to turn things around. But if we are still hovering around the relegation zone at the turn of the year, then I am afraid that the current discontent will continue. Let’s hope that everyone involved does their bit to ensure a big improvement in the remainder of the season.

The Vote of Confidence and the Midway Point

As we approach the midway point of the season is the manager on borrowed time?

League TableAccording to newspaper reports Slaven Bilic has received the dreaded vote of confidence from joint-chairman David Sullivan who cited last season’s achievements and the Croat’s passion as reasons why his position as manage is not currently under threat.  Sullivan also claimed that there was a great spirit among the playing staff.

Last night’s result at Middlesbro ensured that West Ham kept out of the bottom three for the time being but there is no doubt that the club are part of the relegation battle.  With a trip to Liverpool on the immediate horizon the chances of being below the line after the next round of matches are high.  After that there will be a run of theoretically easier matches which will take us to the halfway point of the season.  It is not unreasonable to suggest that the outcome of those matches may well lead to a reappraisal of Sullivan’s position on Bilic.

The table below shows West Ham’s record at the midway point in those more recent seasons where we have flirted with relegation.

Season

After 19 Games

Final Table

P

W

D

L

F

A

GD

Pts

Pos

Pts

2002/03

19

3

5

11

18

35

-17

14

18th

42

2006/07

19

5

3

11

11

24

-13

18

15th

41

2009/10

19

4

6

9

28

35

  -7

18

17th

35

2010/11

19

3

7

9

19

32

-13

16

20th

33

2013/14

19

3

6

10

18

28

-10

15

13th

40

 

2016/17

14

3

3

8

15

29

-14

12

 

 

In each of these seasons we had failed to average a point a game by midway and so were behind the curve for the supposed 40 point survival barrier. In every season apart from 2009/10 (Zola) the second half worked out better than the first but in two of those 2002/03 (Roeder) and 2010/11 (Grant) we ended up being relegated; in 2002/03 with a record 42 points for a relegated club.

in 2009/2010 West Ham only collected a paltry 35 points but were still 5 points clear of relegation and in 2013/14 (Fat Sam) a 40 point haul saw us end up as high as 13th while 41 points in the 2006/07 (Curbishley) great escape season left us in 15th courtesy of the unexpected win against the champions at Old Trafford.

After the Grant experience Sullivan was reported as saying that they had stuck with Avram for too long and that it wasn’t a mistake that they would repeat. Now he appears to be willing to give the manager another transfer window in order to turn things round; suggesting that there will be no decision before some time in February. I am not convinced that this makes sense and, if it were me, I would be setting a target of 20 points by the end of the year. Achieving this would require a return of 8 points from the following 5 games:

11 December     Liverpool (A)
15 December     Burnley (H)
17 December     Hull (H)
26 December     Swansea (A)
31 December     Leicester (A)

This should not be an unrealistic if we have an experienced manager who is able to get his team to perform.  Our season must not simply depend on the hope that there are 3 worse performing teams in the league than us.

More Statistics!

Crunching the numbers to unravel football’s cause and effect.

Football statistics

At the beginning of the season we questioned the use of statistics in football, and challenged their increasing use. Is there any meaningful relationship between the plethora of statistics available these days and the actual outcome of games? Or are they just an interesting addition to our football watching experience?

I am indebted to the website WhoScored.com, plus other resources, when considering the statistics widely available in respect of football these days. I have looked at a variety of statistical data whilst we are in the third international break after eleven games of the season, some of which is reproduced below.

League (Points)

 

League (Home Pts)

 

League  (Away Pts)

1

Liverpool

26

 

1

Chelsea

15

 

1

Arsenal

13

2

Chelsea

25

 

2

Liverpool

13

 

2

Liverpool

13

3

Man City

24

 

3

Burnley

13

 

3

Man City

12

4

Arsenal

24

 

4

Man City

12

 

4

Tottenham

10

5

Tottenham

21

 

5

Leicester

11

 

5

Chelsea

10

6

Man Utd

18

 

6

Everton

11

 

6

Man Utd

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17

West Ham

11

 

12

West Ham

8

 

17

West Ham

3

Shots per game

 

Goals Scored

 

Possession %

1

Liverpool

19.1

 

1

Liverpool

30

 

1

Man City

61.1

2

Man City

17.9

 

2

Chelsea

26

 

2

Liverpool

57.9

3

Tottenham

17.7

 

3

Man City

25

 

3

Arsenal

56.4

4

Man Utd

17.4

 

4

Arsenal

24

 

4

Tottenham

56.0

5

Chelsea

16.9

 

5

Man Utd

16

 

5

Man Utd

55.0

6

Southampton

16.5

 

6

Crystal Palace

16

 

6

Southampton

54.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9

West Ham

14.5

 

15=

West Ham

11

 

11

West Ham

50.7

Pass Success %

 

Yellow Cards

1

Man Utd

86.0

 

1

West Ham

30

2

Man City

85.3

 

2

West Brom

29

3

Chelsea

85.2

 

3

Watford

28

4

Arsenal

84.0

 

4

Man Utd

24

5

Liverpool

83.2

 

5

Sunderland

24

6

Southampton

82.6

 

6=

Several Clubs

23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9

West Ham

81.0

 

 

 

 

A Few Observations

  1. Only one of the statistical tables is really important, and that is the total points attained at the end of the season. When we went into the third international break last season we were sixth, and eventually ended up seventh.
  2. The same six teams appear (though not in the same order) in respect of points attained away from home, compared to total points, so far this season.
  3. Five of the six teams at the top of the league have also had the most shots per game so far. The missing team is Arsenal, who, as we all know, tend not to shoot as often as some other teams, preferring to try to walk the ball into the goal. The team who have crept into the top six in this table is Southampton, although they only occupy eleventh place in the league at the moment.
  4. Once again, five of the six top teams in the league also appear at the top in the goals scored table. Tottenham are the missing team, but whilst they are just outside the top six in terms of goals scored, they have conceded fewer goals than any other team in the Premier League this season. Incidentally, there have also been the least number of goals scored (by both sides) in games involving Tottenham this season. So, statistically at least, we shouldn’t expect many goals on Saturday.
  5. The possession percentage also shows five of the six teams at the top of the league table, the missing team this time being Chelsea. Southampton, once again, creep into this table.
  6. The passing success percentage figures for the season to date also has five of the six teams in the league, Tottenham missing out once again, and Southampton appearing.
  7. I have added the West Ham data in the tables, and in virtually all respects, the statistical data suggests that we should perhaps be higher in the league? The fact that we are not is mainly due to our failure to turn shots into goals, and our defensive record, where only three clubs have conceded more goals than we have.
  8. The three teams who have scored the least goals, are the same teams who have conceded the most goals, and are also the same three teams that occupy the relegation positions at the moment, namely Hull, Swansea and Sunderland.
  9. I was determined to find a statistic where we appeared at the top of the league and found one. Yes, we have picked up more yellow cards (30) than any other team in the league after eleven games. There is very little correlation between yellow cards and league position, unlike most of the other statistical data.
  10. Whilst not claiming any meaningful relationship between the statistics in a particular match (after all Liverpool had 81% possession against Burnley and still lost the game), there would appear to be distinct similarities between a number of the statistical tables and league position over the course of several games. The amount of possession that a team has, how accurate it passes the ball, the number of shots and goals scored, all bear a striking similarity to the league position. Like all statistical data, there are exceptions to the rule, but these days it is big business, employing many people.
  11. I have only included a small selection of the statistics that are available. One that always makes me smile (that I haven’t included) is the distance covered by every player on the pitch. Quite how this is calculated cannot be an easy task, and you wonder how much relation it bears to the league table. But the last one I saw had Liverpool at the top for covering the furthest distance. Co-incidence?

The Fixtures Computer

Can we blame the fixtures computer for the fact that we sit seventeenth in the Premier League table after a quarter of the season?

Season Fixtures

In modern times in the Premier League era, fixtures divide very neatly into two halves of the season. What I mean by this is that we play games against each of the other nineteen teams in the league in the first half of the season, which concludes very neatly on 31 December, and then play them all again between January and May. As there are twenty teams, we play nineteen matches in each half.

From August to December our nineteen games comprise nine at home and ten away. The situation is reversed in the second half with ten at home and nine away. All very logical you might think, but this has not always been the case.

My support of West Ham goes back almost sixty years, and in the first season that I remember (1958-59), our second league game of the season on 25 August was at home to the previous season’s champions, Wolves. Then our fourth game was a visit to Wolves on September 3. So, just four games into the season and we had played our quota of games against the best side in the country. Incidentally we won at home and drew away. In 1964-65 a similar situation arose when we played Manchester United at home and away on August 24 and September 2.

So, in those days there was no real balance to the season, and the league table could therefore be potentially misleading if you fulfilled all your fixtures against the top clubs early on. I’m not sure when exactly this was rectified, but the current situation of playing all nineteen teams once, before playing them all again would seem to be fairer.

If we look at this season in detail then our nine home games in 2016 are against Bournemouth (16), Watford (13), Southampton (6), Middlesbrough (P), Sunderland (17), Stoke (9), Arsenal (2), Burnley (P) and Hull (P). The figures in brackets denote last season’s league position, plus “P” for the promoted clubs. That is just three teams who finished in the top half, three in the bottom half, and all three promoted teams. On paper you would have to conclude that our home games in the first half of the season should yield a substantial points total.

Conversely the ten away games in 2016 are against Chelsea (10), Man City (4), WBA (14), Palace (15), Everton (11), Tottenham (3), Man United (5), Liverpool (8), Swansea (12), and Leicester (1). Eight of the ten games are against teams that finished in the top twelve in the league. On paper, the conclusion we can draw from this, is that it is a very tough set of away fixtures in the first half of the season.

Of course, the situation is reversed in 2017, so that in the second half of the season we have easier away games and tougher home fixtures (on paper). I’m not sure how randomly the fixtures computer allocates fixtures, but there is certainly an imbalance in the apparent strength of our opponents in our home and away fixtures in the two halves of the season. For that reason perhaps we should not take too much notice of the league table until we are a long way into the season.

Surely it wouldn’t take too much computer programming skill to ensure a much more balanced fixture list. The fixtures computer should come up with an end result such that in each half of the season we play roughly half of our home games against teams that finished in the top half in the previous season, and half against teams from the bottom half. The same should be true of the spread of away fixtures.

This would be fairer to all teams, both top and bottom, and would ensure that the league table is more representative of the strength of clubs throughout the season, and give an indication of finishing positions much sooner. As it stands, teams with tough early fixtures could find themselves in a relegation dogfight early on in the season, which then inhibits the way that they play for the remainder.

So does this explain why we sit in seventeenth place after ten games of the season? No. It may be a partial factor, but we are there because of poor defending, plus the fact that we are as weak as I can remember at scoring goals. We have only found the net ten times in ten games, and conceded nineteen at the other end. Only Sunderland and Hull have conceded more goals than we have, and have poorer goal difference statistics.

Over a whole season an average of one goal a game would give us just 38 goals. In the last twenty-five years we’ve only managed such a poor scoring record twice. In one of those seasons we were relegated, and in the other we escaped relegation on the last day of the season. And conceding 19 goals in ten games or 1.9 goals a game would equate to 72 in 38 games. When did we last concede that many goals or more in a season? Fifty years ago in 1966-67. But in that year we scored eighty!

Where Does It Go From Here?

The devil sent his advocate to keep me awake last night and this is what he told me.

Embed from Getty Images

Deep down the football supporter is generally an optimistic creature even if this is concealed under a self preservation fear the worst, hope for the best cloak. Most West Ham fans with any mileage on the clock will have experienced disappointment, false dawns and exasperation on numerous occasions but even allowing for this only the most pessimistic would have predicted such a woeful start to the current season.

Notwithstanding the emotional and operational issues with the move from Upton Park to the new stadium; forgetting that, for the second season running, we were eliminated in Europa League qualification by an obscure Romanian side now anchored to the bottom of Group E; it is the fact that we sit third from bottom of the Premier League that is the primary concern.  All else will soon enough be a part of history whereas (dare we say it) relegation would be a disaster; and the signs are not good so far.  A benign set of opening fixtures having seen us concede more goals than any other team (only Stoke having a worse goal difference) and with no striker yet having found the net.

Men in sharp suits often remind us that “Past Performance is Not Necessarily Indicative of Future Results” and maybe we can take some comfort from that, but it will take some significant changes on the pitch to drag us out of the current rut. You cannot say, with any honesty, that we are playing well but not getting the results. In general we have got what we deserved; possibly even more when you consider the slightly fortunate Bournemouth victory. Leaking goals at one end and no strikers at the other can only end one way with the only crumb that there might be three teams worse than us.

On paper our squad looks reasonably strong. On the pitch it lacks balance and hasn’t been improved by the summer signings. There have been comments made before and after the last game that overseas players may need time to adjust to the Premier League. There may be some truth in this from the point of view of a player delivering maximum performance but it is a forlorn hope to expect a Morris Marina (or a Vauxhall Zaza) to suddenly turn into a Rolls Royce. It may have taken Bergkamp a while to start scoring regularly but he wasn’t playing like a donkey (that was Tony Adams) before it happened.

For some reason fans are often able to make better and quicker judgements about players than coaches. From the assorted duds that have shown up at West Ham each transfer window I don’t recall ever being surprised by an ugly duckling turning into a swan. On that basis I am happy to predict that none of Zaza, Tore and Calleri are potential Premier League players and accordingly see no benefit in playing them in preference to an untried youngster. My assertion is that they could be no worse.

So far in this season’s League games we have used 23 players in total with 20 different players in the starting line-up. Only Sunderland have used more players (25 and 22). Of the 77 starting berths 18 have been filled by new arrivals comprising Masuaku (5), Nordtveit (4), Zaza and Tore (3 each), Fletcher, Arbeloa and Ayew (1 each). With a fully available squad you would imagine only Ayew to be a probable starting candidate; in retrospect the outcome of the summer transfer business was very poor although maybe there was some good potential that was recruited at the same time.

Without new creativity or goal threat and other sides getting wise to how we play (i.e. the reliance on Payet and crosses) we have to find a way to adapt if performances are to be improved. There is some hope from returning players. We have missed Cresswell as an attacking option, Carroll is an upgrade to Zaza even though he is not the complete answer, Sakho is a better all-round option as a lone striker due to mobility and workrate (but has other issues), and Ayew looked good at Swansea. It is rumoured that Cresswell, Carroll and Sakho are all possibles for the next game at Crystal Palace.

Oddly I do not see the defence as a massive problem despite some stupid individual mistakes that we have witnessed this season. Don’t play players out of position all the time and provide better midfield cover, especially if the full-backs are expected to push forward, and it should be competent enough.

The centre of midfield is the bigger conundrum for me at present. On paper there are plenty of options competing for 3 places (assuming Payet and Antonio are the preferred wide players). Hopefully Obiang will now get a chance as the much needed defensive midfielder but after that it becomes difficult. The Noble – Kouyate partnership seems to be a large part of the problem and on current form neither deserves a place. For all his commitment Noble is too slow both in movement and thought and with a tendency to go sideways and backwards rather than forwards.  Kouyate can be great for the occasional surging burst forward but it is not enough and his passing skills are very limited. It is the deficiencies in central midfield that dictate our low tempo, low penetration style and its resultant predictability; Dimitri Payet apart. To mix things up I would like to see Lanzini and Fernandes given the opportunity to show what they can do.

It is only 7 games in and not yet a crisis but swift and decisive action is required to stop the rot. Carrying on regardless with more of the same and hoping it will be better is a foolish and short-sighted strategy.