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.

Seven games played, four points!

A review of the season to date as we go into the second international break of the season.

Embed from Getty Images

The first four home games of the season have been played. Bournemouth, Watford, Southampton, and finally Middlesbrough. Three games away at Chelsea, Manchester City and WBA. Before the season began, when we looked at the seven games that the fixtures computer gave us in the run-up to the second international break, how many points were we hoping for at this stage? If we were going to be making a realistic challenge towards the top, as we did last year, then I would have said a minimum of 11, and possibly anything up to 15, based on those games.

So our return of 4 is way below expectations, puts us into the relegation places, and leaves us with a fight to climb the table from this point. Our only realistic aim in the league this season is to obtain a comfortable mid-table position. Even at this early stage it would be unrealistic to even contemplate the possibility of a finishing position similar to that attained last year. Last season we had 20 points after 11 games, so we can measure ourselves against that position after the four games that come up following the resumption after this international break.

Those four games are away at Palace, who currently sit eighth in the table, and Everton who are fifth, both of whom have had good starts to the season. With our current form we wouldn’t expect to get anything out of those two games, but we really need to start to win away from home. Last season we won both of those away games, scoring three goals in each, and we must really be hoping for a repeat, however unlikely it seems at the moment.

Our run of “relatively easy” home games, you know the ones that look easier on paper, continues with the visits of Sunderland and Stoke who occupy the bottom two places in the table after seven games, with neither having managed a win yet. Of course these are games where we often don’t perform as well as we should, and in the comparative fixtures last season we only scored one goal (in the 1-0 victory over Sunderland, the Stoke game being an entertaining 0-0 draw).

So who knows what this year will bring? To bring us up to the level of averaging a point a game (which is something we need to do as soon as possible) then we would need 7 points from the four games between this break and the next, and this is the minimum that we must hope for. Because even if we have 11 points after 11 games, our next four fixtures are away games at Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool, and a home game against Arsenal, four of the teams currently occupying the top six places in the league.

We then return to four of the easier games on paper against teams currently in the bottom half, with home matches against Burnley and Hull, and visits to Swansea and Leicester. At that point we will be exactly half way through the season, having played 19 games, including every other team once, by 31 December. We really need to have at least 19 points by then, giving us an average of a point a game. Even with this tally we would still be in a lowly position, so let’s hope we are above that level.

Last season only the three clubs who were relegated didn’t achieve a point a game. Newcastle, who finished third from bottom had 37 points and were relegated, Sunderland just escaped with 39 points. Even a point a game is no guarantee against going down, so we must really start to improve very quickly if we don’t want to be in that position.

The Middlesbrough game was an improvement defensively, although in a creative attacking sense there is a lot more needed. Let us hope with the return to fitness of more players, and a nearly full squad to choose from, that we can start to climb the table sooner rather than later. Once teams become embroiled in the relegation dogfight, then psychologically it becomes more difficult as fear of losing inhibits performances.

On paper, when you look at our squad of players, then most people would say we are too good to go down. But that’s what they said in 2002-03. In the 2001-02 season we finished seventh, and hopes were high for the following season. But we finished third from bottom and were relegated.

Last season we also finished seventh, and hopes were high for a repeat performance this time. Let’s hope we don’t get an exact repeat of what happened following our seventh place finish in 2003!

Don’t Panic! (How Could We Possibly Recover From That?)

More difficulty starting than an Austin Allegro!

West Ham 1970sFollowing on from my “Don’t Press the Panic Button” article, for any readers that are younger then me (and most will be), I thought I would relate my “beginning of each season” experiences as a young supporter of West Ham in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Traditionally, of course, we have always had a reputation for performing badly in the second half of the season (down with the Christmas decorations?), but how did we fare in our opening games?

I’ll start with the 1965-66 season. I was eleven years old and had been at Wembley when we had just won the European Cup Winners Cup in May, after winning the FA Cup the season before that. Hopes were high that we would push on in the league. So what happened? We won just one game out of the first eight (a 2-1 victory over Leeds who were to finish runners-up at the end of the season). Five of those games were lost, including three consecutive games (two of them at home!) in one nightmare week where we conceded five goals in each of them (15 in total!). How could we possibly recover from that?

I’ll move on to the following season, 1966-67. England had just won the World Cup and, as we all know, West Ham were very instrumental in that. Hopes were high once again. So what happened? This time we won just one of our opening seven games, including defeats in the first three. How could we possibly recover from that?

The next season, 1967-68, we won just one of our first six games, conceding 18 goals in the process. Four of the games were lost. How could we possibly recover from that?

Let’s move on to 1969-70. We won our first two games to go top of the league, and then didn’t win any of the next seven, including five defeats, to plummet almost to the bottom. How could we possibly recover from that?

The following season (1970-71) we were at it again. This time we didn’t win any of our first ten league games. That’s right, ten games, no wins! How could we possibly recover from that?

Moving on to the following season (1971-72) we lost our first three games and drew the fourth 0-0. One point, bottom of the league, and not a single goal scored. How could we possibly recover from that?

By 1972-73 we were improving very slightly in our early season performances. This time we incredibly managed to win two of our opening seven league games, which included three consecutive defeats. How could we possibly recover from that?

But by the following year (1973-74) we were back to our old opening form. We didn’t manage to win a single match out of the first eleven league games played, drawing four and losing seven. We were bottom of the league at this point. How could we possibly recover from that?

And finally 1974-75, the season that ended with us winning the FA Cup. We won just one of our opening seven league games, and at this stage once again sat rock bottom of the league. How could we possibly recover from that?

The observant readers among you will have noticed that I missed a season out. Nine seasons out of ten we had dreadful starts. But one year was an exception. In 1968-69 we only lost one of our first eleven league games and were challenging at the very top.

So there you are, ten consecutive seasons taking me from age 11 through to age 21. In nine of the ten our start was equivalent to what we’ve seen this year. So which of the ten seasons do you think we finished highest in the league? Just looking at the bare facts you would probably opt for 1968-69. But you’d be wrong. In 1972-73 we finished in sixth place. And for all those poor starts, how many times did we get relegated in those ten seasons. That’s right, we didn’t. Not once!

And what about all the excuses that are being put forward for our poor start to this season? Did they apply then? Time and time again I keep hearing the same thing. Our poor start wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t moved to a new stadium. Well as you know, throughout those ten seasons we played at Upton Park. Fans citing that as an excuse for our poor start this year need to remember that Upton Park was not always the intimidating fortress that they remember.

Yes, our start is disappointing, especially after all the optimism following last season. Perhaps we set our expectations too high? The performances have been poor though. Throughout the years that I covered above we had players of the calibre of Moore, Hurst, Peters, Brooking, Bonds, Byrne, Boyce, Lampard, and Pop Robson. And we played at Upton Park! But we still had some appalling starts to seasons and recovered.

“Don’t Panic” is a Coldplay song. “Don’t Panic” is a famous phrase from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. “Don’t panic” is one of Lance Corporal Jones’ famous catchphrases from Dads Army. “Don’t panic” is my message. We’ve been there so many times before. I could be wrong but give it a bit longer. I’m confident we’ll be OK.

5 Points From The Recent Weekend

Sorting through the garbage from the Premier League weekend and wondering how our on-loan players are faring.

Five Things EPLCity Slickers 2: The Sequel

At this stage last season Manchester City sat at the top of the Premier League with a 100% record from the first 5 games before successive defeats to West Ham and Tottenham took the spring out of their step and resulted in an indifferent (by their expectation) 4th place finish, and snatching the final Champion’s League spot. This year they are again top of the pile with a flawless record and even though it is “early doors” (©Big Ron) it is difficult to see who is going to stop them this time around. In Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero they have probably the best player and best striker in the league backed up by a very deep and talented squad and a manager who really does look like he is making a difference. Their city neighbours, on the other hand, resemble a cross between the Harlem Globetrotters and a circus freak show without any real tactical plan; a little like Chelsea last year you might say. Chelsea themselves require a lot more rebuilding before they can mount a serious title challenge while Liverpool and Arsenal will veer from the sublime to the unconvincing. Tottenham will act all mouth and no trousers again and along with Everton, as the new Southampton, will be tussling for Europa League qualification.

Light Blue Touch-Paper and Retire

On Guy Fawkes night, the 5th of November, the fixtures computer has paired West Ham with Stoke City and on the evidence of recent defensive performances we could well see some fireworks that day. There has been much debate on West Ham forums as to whether our own poor defending is down to individual blunders or collective incompetence. I tend to believe that the two are related and that haphazard organisation is often (but not always Arthur) the catalyst for mistakes. One imagines that having already conceded 4 goals twice this season Mark Hughes would have spent much of the week preparing his side to stand firm against the expected Crystal Palace aerial threat from set pieces and yet they surrendered two routine goals in the first eleven minutes. Unless both the Stoke and West Ham defenders get a rocket before the two teams meet the game might yield a whole youtube bloopers compilation by itself.

Goals with a Lustrous Finish

Speaking of rockets that is how a shot from outside the box that whistled into the back of the net was once described. Or else it might have been a screamer, unstoppable or a piledriver. These were all good masculine sounding words that conjured up the image of a glove free warrior with no shinpads, crepe bandage barely concealing a gash on the head, ploughing through the mud and letting one rip with his Gola Speedster boots. Now a commentator feels that they are allowed to describe a goal as ‘sumptuous’ as with the Jordan Henderson strike at Stamford Bridge; what next – gorgeous, luscious, lavish, opulent, orgasmic, splendiferous….? The long range shot is more often than not top contender in the goal of the week/ month/ season compilations but give me a slick passing, quick movement team goal any day. It was good to witness a few of these over the weekend. Also good to see converted Right Back, Michail Antonio still leading the goal scoring charts which in the absence of the illusory 20 10 goals a season striker is most welcome. For teams that do have functioning strikers there were further goals for Costa, Lukaku, Deeny, Kane, Rashford and Iheanacho while Leicester look to have done shrewd business in recruiting Slimani from Sporting Clube de Portugal.

The Not-So Special One

I was among many who believed that Manchester United under Jose Mourinho would be a force to be reckoned with this season. Instead they appear to be a ramshackle assortment of spare parts that have been assembled without access to the necessary instructions. If you scan through the list of names of the teamsheet it might look impressive at first glance but it is not a team rather a collection of individuals, some of whom are well past their best. The manager gives the impression of being perplexed about the whole business. There was a perfect description of Jose’s demeanour in a recent Guardian article which I repeat below:

“More recently José Mourinho seems to have decided the best approach at Manchester United is to spend his first few weeks standing on the touchline looking crumpled and sad and heroically betrayed, like a man on the hard shoulder of the M6 staring balefully across the nearside lines above his raised bonnet, rain gluing his shirt to his back, phone dead, credit card maxed out, kids living in Bicester, golf clubs repossessed, 800 units of polyester carpet samples scattered across the back seat.”

Naturally, the 3 defeats in a week for Manchester United are not the fault of Jose himself but are down to poor refereeing and Luke Shaw. In the game against Watford (good team!) they were second best in the first half and it looked ominous when Watford surrendered the initiative during the second period yet the Hornets showed great spirit and resilience to claim all 3 points from their largely uninspiring opponents.

Loans and Miscellany

Most Premier League teams have players out on loan at other clubs. This can be to give younger players experience or simply to remove some cost from the wage bill. It is well known that at any time Chelsea have something like 30 players loaned to other teams. As far as I know West Ham have 10 players out on loan so let’s take a look at what they were up to at the weekend. Enner Valencia had his first run out for Everton as a 66th minute replacement for Lukaku and was caught offside just the once, so encouraging signs so far. Neither Reece Burke nor Kyle Knoyle took part in Wigan’s goalless draw with Fulham (my assumption is that Burke was injured); Martin Samuelsen was a 90+3 rd minute time-wasting substitute for Blackburn in their 4-2 win against Rotherham but there was no place in the squad for Stephen Hendrie. Josh Cullen played 90 minutes for Bradford as did Lewis Page for Coventry in their respective drawn games but there was no game time for George Dobson (Walsall), Luca Belic (Motherwell) or Doneil Henry (AC Horsens in Denmark). The most notable action from any of these games being a hovering drone stopping play for several minutes in the Bradford – Bristol City game.

The First International Break (A Review of the Season To Date)

A look back at the season so far before it all stopped for the Internationals.

EPL TeamsSome things in life just don’t seem to make sense when you analyse them in the cold light of day. Last season’s Premier League season ended in the middle of May. We then had a three month break before resuming mid-August. Almost ninety days without playing a Premier League game. So we start again, play for three weekends, and then we have a fortnight break just as we seem to be getting into it again!

Of course for West Ham, we began a little earlier because of our Europa League involvement. But from the date of our first league game on 15 August we then played five competitive games in a fourteen day period. And now we have a fortnight without a game! At best it could be described as disjointed, in reality it is madness. But from our point of view, because of our lengthy injury list, very welcome madness, and relief that we have the opportunity to get some of our first choice players back from a horrendous injury list.

The stop-start nature of the Premier League season continues such that we will hit the third international break early in November! And from the Manchester United away game at the end of that month we will then have a period of eight league games in 37 days. And some people are calling for a winter break on top of all the other breaks. I’m absolutely certain that the fixture list could be managed much more effectively!

As last year, we were handed two of the most difficult away games possible in our first four games of the season. Against all the odds we won them both last time, but this term we lost them both. Also, last season we lost our opening two home games. This time we won our first home game. And if we don’t win the next one at home to Watford then I suspect we may be in for a difficult season. The upshot is we have three points after three games, exactly the same as a year ago.

Even at this very early stage the Premier League table has a predictable feel about it. Three teams have won their opening three games, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. Three other teams haven’t been beaten yet, Tottenham, and perhaps more surprisingly, Middlesbrough and Everton. Hull will also be delighted with their start. With two wins and a defeat to a very late goal from Manchester United, their six points puts them above teams like Middlesbrough and Tottenham, who despite achieving the much praised “unbeaten” tag, have both only got five points from one win and two draws.

In addition to the seven teams mentioned above, a further six clubs have yet to record their first win, Stoke, Bournemouth, Watford, Palace, Sunderland and Southampton. It’s much too early to draw conclusions but even now, I can see the teams in the relegation dogfight being those latter six with the addition of Hull, Burnley and perhaps West Brom. I predicted a seventh place finish for us before the season started and I’ll stick with that although we’ve not really justified it yet.

With thirty games of the 380 in the Premier League completed, eleven have been won by the home team, eleven by the away team, and there have been eight draws. Thirty-six goals have been scored by the home team and an equal number by the away side. In the whole of last season, around 41% of games were won by the home side, and 31% by the away team, with 28% drawn. So away wins are up this time, although it is too early and the sample is too small to draw conclusions yet. With 2.4 goals average per game this season to date, then goals scored are more than 10% down on last season’s average of 2.7, but once again it is perhaps too early to predict a continuation of the downward goal scoring trend. In an average round of matches last season 27 goals were scored, so three fewer goals have been scored on average each week so far.

Last season, of course, we were the favourite team of the “neutral” supporter who likes to see goals in games from either side. The 116 goals scored in our games (3.05 per game) put us on the top of that particular “league” with only Everton’s matches achieving an average of 3 per game. After three games of this season our games have had eight goals, but unfortunately we’ve only managed three of them, one in each. Manchester City, apart from being top of the Premier League, have also had the most total goals with twelve in their three games (4 per game).

So we have a band of seven teams at the top who have all won at least two of their games or remain unbeaten (on 5 points or more), and six clubs without a win at the foot (with two points or less). No team has drawn all three of their games. We therefore sit in the middle band of seven teams on 3 or 4 points, where the result of the next games will start to decide if we are heading towards the top or bottom groups, or remaining in mid-table.

Transfer Deadline Day

Oh What A Circus! (with apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber)

Oh what a circus, oh what a show
Sky Sports has gone to town
Over the transfer of footballer David Luiz
They’ve all gone crazy
Reporting all day and rumours all night
Falling over themselves to get helicopters in sight

Transfer WindowOh What A Circus is a song from the 1976 musical Evita, written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. David Essex (a West Ham fan, but more famous as a pop idol of the 1970’s, and very recently an actor on Eastenders) later recorded the song, which uses the same tune as the more well-known Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. It was a commercial success for him going close to the top of the UK singles chart in 1978 at a time when his career and teenybopper appeal appeared to be on the wane. The song compares the life of Eva Peron to a circus. I make the same comparison with Sky Sports coverage of transfer deadline day to a circus. Some might call it a pantomime.

The circus comes to town twice a year when Sky Sports cancels leave for all reporters and sends them to stand outside training grounds, hiding behind bins, to be attacked by sex toys, to be drowned out by excitable teenagers keen to show themselves up on TV, whilst trying to grab interviews through car windows with players and managers or indeed anyone driving past them.

Jim White, rumoured to be soon taking over the prestigious 10am morning slot on Talk Sport from Colin Murray, wearing his bright yellow transfer day tie, anchors the infamous evening shift in the Sky Sports studio as the clock in the corner of the screen ticks down second by second. You’d think a rocket would be taking off for the moon, but no, it’s just the countdown to the window slamming shut at 11 pm. The window is open for the whole of the summer, but come the last day of August it has to be slammed shut as the cooler nights of Autumn approach. And even though they’ve had three months or so to conduct their business, the clubs have to go mad in the last few hours, panic buying and frequently paying over the odds for any player they can lay their hands on, hoping they’ve got a bargain, but unable to return any goods that turn out to be faulty or unfit for purpose.

To be quite frank just watching for a few minutes can drive you mad, as reporters in front of cameras confirm what “Sky Sources” ticker-tape says running across the bottom of the screen, and then breaking news highlights what everybody has just been going on about for the last couple of hours. And then a sidebar on the screen tells you exactly the same thing. So much repetition and for what? You can look on the internet later in the evening or in tomorrow’s newspapers and see all the transfers listed there.

But apart from the window slamming shut we get all the final day drama with all the usual jargon, last minute dramatic swoops, pictures of helicopters that may or may not contain David Luiz, phones buzzing, alleged sightings at motorway service stations or petrol stations anywhere, Ronaldo or Messi shopping at the Westfield shopping centre, Valencia in the back of a cab in Swansea or Liverpool (or putting his feet up in Ecuador), everyone with their sources, players spotted at training grounds, Jack Wilshere driving his car to Bournemouth, last minute intervention by Daniel Levy who suddenly decides he wants Sissoko, and descriptions of transfers or done deals or rumours using words like amazing, dramatic, sensational, shocking, exciting, impressive or incredible. How Sky Sports and the media in general can make so much out of nothing is amazing / sensational / incredible! And of course we have the usual social media where people in their millions are reacting (mostly in the most negative way you could imagine with expletives galore about transfers that may, or more likely may not, happen)

Poyet is going but Payet is staying (was there ever really any doubt?). World Cup winning, 33 year old, ex-Liverpool and Real Madrid right back Arbeloa has apparently signed. I started to follow him on Twitter and noticed he has 4.5 million followers! Wow that must more than the rest of the West Ham squad combined! It was reported that the move was instigated by David Sullivan who wanted to buy anyone who has ever worn a number 2 shirt to be absolutely certain that Michail Antonio never has to play in this position ever again.

And what’s this? 10.45pm – it is being reported that Valencia has signed for Everton on loan with a view to a permanent deal. £14.5 million? Have they watched him lately? Plenty of new blind alleys for him to find in Liverpool.

Oh what a circus, oh what a show!

5 Things Learned From MatchWeek 3

Our collection of random observations from Premier League Matchweek3

Five Things EPLThe Super Sunday Contractual Obligation Match

It is difficult to believe that some high powered TV people actually sat around in a meeting room with white boards, flip charts and Powerpoint presentations and selected WBA versus Middlesbrough to be a live televised match. Ordinarily the only purpose of such clubs on TV is as opposition for one of the big boys to dispatch with ease except, on rare occasions, where they met each other in an end-of-season relegation six pointer.

The Premier League still has a number of these underwhelming contests but they are normally buried among the left over Saturday 3 pm kick-offs. The game certainly delivered what it said on the tin and even the referee seemed reluctant to tag on any added time.

You Don’t Always see them Given

Last year I watched a Development Squad game where Shay Given was between the sticks for Stoke City in front of a few hundred supporters. This week he was back in the big-time of the Premier League where his notable contribution was heading in Leighton Baines penalty after it had come back off the post.

The Baines penalty was one of those awarded under the new Grappling interpretation of Law 12. As usual there is much inconsistency between different referees in how the rule is interpreted causing apparent confusion with players, pundits and supporters alike. In some situations a penalty is awarded straight away while in others players have escaped punishment and let off with a warning. Personally I have always taken a possibly naive view that a foul is a foul no matter where it is committed and that there should be some form of intent, bad timing or negligence involved. It seems nowadays a simple collision, expecting a tackle or tripping over your own feet is sufficient justification.

Last year there were 91 Premier League penalties awarded (equal to an average of 2.4 each week).  The first 3 rounds this season has seen 13 penalties (or 4.3 per week).

Terry and the Pace Setters

With just 3 games gone and we are already into an enforced international break in which the latest new dawn of English football will rise from the mixed metaphor ashes of Roy’s Euro disaster. After the first 3 games what can we deduce about the destination of the Premier League title?

There are 3 teams remaining on maximum points and each will expect to be in the running next Spring. The two Manchester clubs are the most likely champions in my view and it is difficult to choose which is now the lesser evil. Prepare for the over the top build up to their derby meeting immediately after the international break. Chelsea are only level on points due to cheating but with Hazard looking on top of his game and no European distraction they are probable candidates for 3rd or 4th.

Of the other teams Tottenham have been the most encouraging in how flat and uninspiring they look as if they haven’t recovered from last season’s blow-out. Liverpool look very workmanlike which is what you would expect from a midfield that includes Milner, Henderson and Lallana. Koeman’s Everton are undefeated and will be unspectacularly efficient in picking up points. Arsenal are like every other Arsenal team of the last decade only increasingly less-good; they may even miss out on a top 4 finish this time. We need to start getting players back and getting our act together. Losing away at two of the top three is no disgrace in itself but performances need to be far better.

Relegation or The HSmell of Success

History tells us that in all probability 2 of the promoted clubs will be relegated. Despite Hull’s promising start I can’t see them keeping this up given the turmoil that the club is in. I also expect Burnley to struggle massively whereas Boro might do enough to bore the opposition into surrender. The other suspects include Watford, Bournemouth, Sunderland and Swansea. I am relying on Eddie Howe to do enough to keep Bournemouth afloat and, although Watford looked very poor in the first half against Arsenal, they brightened up considerably after introducing new signings Isaac Success & Roberto Pereyra – two players we will need to keep an eye on when we meet them in 2 weeks.

Isaac Success is one of the best footballer names since Danny Invincible

A Substitute for Another Guy

Finally, a very strange occurrence in the Tottenham versus Liverpool game at White Hart Lane where in the very last of 3 added minutes at the end of the second half both teams brought on a substitute for their league debuts. I didn’t spot whether the respective number 2’s had given the players detailed instructions from the notepads as to what to do for the remaining 10 seconds.