Pellegrini’s West Ham v “The Special One’s” Tottenham – who would have predicted that?

A season which began with high hopes for both teams appears to have gone wrong for both West Ham and Tottenham as they approach Matchday 13. By the end of this London derby, one third of the season will have been completed. Prior to the game the teams occupy 16th and 14th places in the Premier League, not what was expected of either when the campaign began. But whereas Manuel Pellegrini will, according to reports, apparently be given time to turn round the club’s alarming slump in form, the same is not true for our unpopular North London neighbours, who sensationally sacked Mauricio Pochettino as manager on Tuesday. Jose Mourinho was appointed as his replacement almost before the Argentinian had cleared his desk, so we face a team with a new manager on Saturday lunchtime.

Despite occupying such lowly positions in the Premier League table, both teams can take comfort in the fact that with 13 points (West Ham) and 14 points (Tottenham), they are not far points-wise behind the team who surprisingly are currently fifth in the table (Sheffield United) who have 17 points. A good run could see a rapid climb up the table. With the exception of the teams at the very top and bottom the Premier League is a tight affair at the moment. Liverpool at the summit are eight points clear of the second team, and Manchester City in fourth are eight points clear of the fifth placed team. You would get long odds against the teams in the top four not being the ones to claim the Champions League places at the end of the season.

It is less than six months since Pochettino took Spurs to the final of the Champions League, and he will be coveted by many of the top teams in the world. In my opinion he performed miracles in his five seasons in North London, with four top four finishes in the last four seasons following a fifth place in his first season at the helm. Before his arrival Tottenham had finished in the top four just twice in the previous 24 campaigns. He did this without the spending power of his rivals in the elite six of the Premier League. However, Tottenham have slumped in 2019, and have been beaten 18 times in the calendar year. The board under chairman Daniel Levy obviously felt that a change was necessary and have appointed Mourinho, a proven winner, but I see this as a backward step. Not that I am concerned about our North London neighbours going backwards, and I will be interested to see if my view is borne out. Mourinho has had a lot of success and won trophies at all the clubs he has been at, but only when given a lot of money to spend. I wonder if Mr Levy has promised the “Special One” a big kitty to strengthen the team and squad?

Looking at our own form though, the manager is obviously under scrutiny following a disastrous run which has seen us pick up just one point in our last five games, a comparable figure to Norwich and Southampton at the foot of the table. Even Watford, currently occupying the third relegation slot, have collected six points from the last five games, and look as though they are potentially ready to climb out of trouble.

In the opinion of the writers of this blog, the reasons behind our decline in recent games have been well documented in the last few articles, and we can only hope that the manager has used the enforced two week international break to try to work out for himself what the problems are, and how they can be remedied, given the shortcomings of the squad at his disposal. My main gripe is his inability to make changes to either tactics or personnel when things are obviously going badly wrong. One thing is for certain though, and that is a continuation of recent form will soon see us embroiled in a relegation dogfight when a few weeks ago we were being touted as possible top six contenders. The manager himself was quoted after the miserable loss at Burnley as saying that we must improve, as he was angry and upset and the performance was unacceptable. As fans we all felt the same way, and in my view it was just a case of him stating the bleeding obvious. He is one of the most highly paid managers around and he is paid to sort problems such as the ones he is facing. It remains to be seen if he can.

Based on recent performances the long term injury to Lanzini, whilst being a blow to him personally after his long lay-off, will not be a big loss to the team, as he was performing well below the standards he reached prior to the injury, when he was selected as part of the Argentinian national squad. The loss of Fabianski, and the poor judgement in failing to recruit a suitable back-up keeper have been instrumental in recent results. Apart from the obvious errors, Roberto seems to have lost any confidence that he may have had, and worse than that, the rest of the team would appear to lack confidence in him too. I doubt that David Martin is of sufficient quality to replace him, so we must hope for the speedy return of Fabianski, and the purchase of an experienced keeper of the necessary quality in the transfer window to come in if he gets injured again. Saving some money by not doing so could have dire consequences if Fabianski is out of the team for an extended period.

Personally I am hoping that Antonio gets back sooner rather than later. We must get somebody to play alongside (or at least much closer to) Haller as he continues to be an isolated figure so far detached from the rest of the team. Our Development Squad has been in terrific form this season with several players catching the eye of seasoned observers. Whilst I accept that you can’t just throw in a load of youngsters is one go, I am amazed at the reluctance of the manager to even try to blood one or two by finding places on the bench and getting them used to being part of the first team squad. I despair at seeing Sanchez in the squad every week, and if none of the youngsters are considered good enough then what is the point of the Development Squad? I’d like to see Diangana recalled from his loan spell at West Brom too, where he has been performing well. We can then see if the loan experience has helped to turn him into a player of sufficient quality for our first team.

The important thing is that when things have been as bad as they have been in recent games the manager has to try something new. If I turn up to the game Saturday lunchtime and see the same group of players in the 18 with no attempt at trying something new, then I will not be in the least surprised to see a poorly performing Tottenham team beat us. And unless results start to improve, and we have a relatively tough set of fixtures coming up, then I can see Mr Pellegrini on his way through the exit door. I seem to recall the owners being very keen on Rafa Benitez in the past, and after his none too successful start in China, I wonder if they would want to try to tempt him back for another go as a Premier League manager? Money is of course the big issue in these moves, but unless the situation is turned around soon I fear the worst.

As I’ve written before, I love surprises. I just hope the manager can surprise me with some new ideas, and that the team can surprise me by beating Tottenham on Saturday.

Hope Don’t Live Here Anymore: The Decline And Fall Of Pellegrini’s Hopeless Hammers Episode 6

After another terrible West Ham performance radical changes must be made if disastrous consequences are to be avoided. Hoping that there are three even worse teams is a reckless strategy.

Surprise, No Surprise

It is a sad reflection on the current state of affairs at the club, but what happened on Saturday came as no real surprise. A few weeks ago, I described West Ham’s performance at Everton as abject (adj – something experienced that is bad to the maximum degree; a performance completely without pride or dignity.)  Now it looks like I peaked too early with that description, as the situation has become progressively worse – adjective wise, it has left me nowhere to go. Performances have become above and beyond abject if that is possible. Are wretched and deplorable any worse? Or perhaps we should start adding binary prefixes to differentiate the state of disarray: mega-abject (Newcastle), giga-abject (Burnley)? As predicted, it was Sean Dyche who managed to galvanise his team into a reaction while mild-mannered Manuel Pellegrini continued to dither. A strong and pacey home side demonstrated belief and intent. West Ham were weak and rudderless, seemingly content to drift aimlessly towards the precipice of the relegation places.  Even though Burnley’s strength in the air is well known to all, there was no strategy to cut off the supply of crosses.  In fact, the Hammers offered nothing new – tactics, approach or hope – just what had failed so spectacularly over the course of the last six matches. What is it they say about repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Footballing insanity!

Collective Responsibility For Individual Errors

It is football manager 101 to reel off a whole string of incidental excuses whenever your team has lost – bad luck, refereeing decisions, individual errors, and so on – it is never your own fault.  It is always tempting smokescreen to use when your team have been comprehensively outplayed by what, in theory, is a lesser team – at least in terms of support and resources. Sure, the first goal should not have been a corner and, without doubt, Roberto and Fabian Balbuena contributed enormously to the other two goals conceded. Most goals have some degree of culpability from the defending side but well drilled teams endeavour to minimise the impact of individual mistakes by effective organisation. Pellegrini seems as afraid of organising his troops as Roberto is of crosses. The fact that it was a goalkeeper who was last year’s Hammer of the Year should have been cause of concern, not one of celebration – taking nothing away from Lukasz Fabianski’s heroics. Now his injury, and the decision to make a cheap gamble on a backup, have led to a reckless own goal. As dodgy a keeper as Roberto is, he also made some very good saves. As with the previous week, defeat was not entirely down to him. In fact, for the stat lovers out there, he was the Hammer’s highest rated player according to the whoscored website.

Manuel’s Random Team Selector

This week’s pin sticking team selection lottery comprised replacing Pablo Zabaleta with Ryan Fredericks and Andriy Yarmolenko with Pablo Fornals. Everyone else was deemed to have done well enough the previous weekend to keep their places. Fornals was, sort of, deployed central and in a more advanced role but you might not have noticed but for some half-hearted attempts at closing down when we lost possession. As usual the Hammers faffed about with the ball in no-man’s-land (possibly as a mark of respect for Remembrance Day) and steadfastly refused to move the ball forward quickly – and when they did only down the flanks. Before his injury, Mark Noble had only two touches in the opposition half. His positional replacement, Robert Snodgrass, did get further forward but mainly down the congested left side where Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell also congregated for most of the afternoon. Sebastein Haller managed only two touches in the opposition penalty area during the whole ninety minutes, while Albian Ajeti amassed a grand total of five touches in his thirty minutes on the pitch. This is not a side that plays with any pattern, cohesion or shape.  It is not a jigsaw where there is just an odd piece needed for completion; it is one where none of the pieces seemingly match the picture on the box. From the off, there was never a time when it looked as though West Ham would get anything from the game.  It was just a matter of time before Burnley’s superior aerial threat overwhelmed the Hammer’s inadequate defences.

Here’s Another Fine Mess We’ve Gotten Into

The scale and extent of West Ham’s current woes run deep.  There is no quick fix that will address all of them. The first casualty will likely by Director of Football (DoF), Mario Husillos and although I wouldn’t lose any sleep over his departure it will go now way to resolve any of the pressing, immediate problems. In truth, the DoF should be providing an independent input to player recruitment, not be an old pal of the manager – but that is just another example of the amateurish West Ham way of doing things. Worst case scenario would be the return of David Sullivan (or one of his boys) as the de facto DoF. I am probably more ambivalent towards the owners than many supporters, but ultimately it will only be by investment (in players and in infrastructure such as training facilities and the academy) that can move the club forward. While their ambition is inclined more towards treading water than moving forward, the club finds itself being swept into very dangerous territory. They should not have allowed the squad to become so irresponsibly thin but equally they are not directly responsible for the unmotivated, disorganised rabble that regularly takes the field on a Saturday afternoon. That is down to the manager. You might also argue that the players are not putting in the required level effort or playing for the manager, but much of that is down to poor preparation and an absence of belief in what they are supposed to be doing.

What Happens Next?

Another international break now and there is so much work to be done if there is to be any hope of improvement (not confident, though).  The next run of games sees fixtures against Tottenham, Chelsea, Wolves and Arsenal which would not, on recent performance,  promise a lot in the way of points. This is not a team in a poor run of form but one that has fundamental issues in the way it is set up; and a manager who has admitted to being baffled as to how to fix it. Personally, I find it impossible to imagine how Pellegrini can turn things around.  He is stuck firmly in the past and has few fresh ideas that are relevant in a modern game where pace, fitness and organisation are all important. When the clocks changed recently, they may as well have gone back to the 1990’s. It was mentioned at the weekend that West Ham had covered less ground this season than any other team in the Premier League. That is no surprise. They probably had the lowest average speed as well, if that was measured. As things stand this is not a group of players you would want with you in the trenches of a relegation scrap with – at least not under the current leadership. The board will be reluctant to replace the manager, due to the cost involved, but it is looking increasingly like it will be necessary. West Ham are adrift now, lacking fitness, motivation, cohesion and any structured style or approach. Everything that suggests these are desperate times requiring the most urgent attention. Hoping that there are three even worse teams in the league is a risky strategy (and I can easily see Watford climbing away from trouble now.) The general consensus in the media is that Pellegrini’s job is safe for now. I really don’t see why that should be the case.  It is not a sensible position to take when the stakes are so high and there are so few positive signs to pin your hopes to.

Ratings: Roberto (4), Fredericks (4), Diop (4), Balbuena (3), Cresswell (5), Rice (5), Noble (4), Snodgrass (6), Fornals (4), Anderson (4), Haller (4) Subs: Yamolenko (5), Lanzini (4), Ajeti (3)

Burnley v West Ham – Who Will Have The Claret Blues After the Game?

At the start of the season, as a West Ham fan, would you have been happy that, after eleven games had been played, the team were level on points with Manchester United, Tottenham and Wolves? Almost certainly the answer would have been yes. But if you were asked a different question, such as, after eleven games have been played, would you be happy to be sitting below Sheffield United,  Bournemouth, Brighton and Crystal Palace in the Premier League table? The answer would definitely have been most certainly not. Such is the nature of the Premier League after eleven games with approaching a third of the season completed. Together with the Red Devils, Wolves and our friends from North London, then compared to last season’s finishing positions, then so far we are under-performing, unlike the other four teams mentioned who are currently occupying positions in the table which are exceeding expectations.

I always like to look at current form (say the last five games), and based on that then we would be in a relegation position with just two points, with only Southampton and Norwich below us on one apiece. Even Watford, who have been rooted to the bottom all season, have picked up three points from the last five games. Our opponents this weekend, Burnley, sit immediately below us trailing us by just one point. Their recent form has not been good either, collecting just four points in the last five games. But if they beat us, they will leapfrog us, and in fact all of the teams down to 17th in the table could go past us with wins this weekend if we lose, as we are only two points above Everton who are 17th.

So what exactly has gone wrong? It wasn’t that long ago when we were being touted (alongside Leicester) as one of the teams that could push ahead and perhaps challenge for a place in the top six, or even top four according to some. My friend and co-blogger Geoff wrote an article after the Newcastle game where he highlighted a number of the deficiencies in the team. In particular he mentioned a lack of pace, width, organisation, fitness, commitment and motivation. It is difficult to argue with those. He also mentioned (and I may have added one or two of my own) a slow pedantic build up when attacking, sideways and backwards passing to no real effect – this was particularly galling as the final whistle approached, a selection of an ageing right back to face one of the fastest wingers in the Premier League, the lack of strategy in not having faster players defending against counter attacks launched by the opposition from our corners, a manager with an apparently strange selection policy by not changing an underperforming team, an apparent reluctance to try something different when things are not going right, including a reluctance to try a different formation, the lack of chances given to in-form younger development players, the inability to recognise the need for the club to have at least two goalkeepers of the right quality for the Premier League, the apparent lack of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of opponents prior to games, and perhaps the most worrying of all, a manager who admits that he has no idea where things are going wrong, and no idea what he needs to do to turn it around. That’s quite a list!

On the plus side we do have some talented players. We are one of a number of teams that are probably not good enough to break into the elite six club at the top, but hopefully too good to become embroiled in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table (I hope!). The fact that Sheffield United in sixth place have 16 points and Everton in seventeenth have 11 points demonstrates how closely matched so many of the Premier League teams are. But we cannot become too complacent, and a continuation of the recent poor run would mean that we do get involved at the wrong end of the table. The theory of averaging one point a game throughout the season to avoid the drop usually applies, and this season doesn’t appear to be an exception at the moment with just three teams falling short of that level at the moment. Bookmakers’ odds in respect of relegation reflect the league table to some extent, although we are only tenth favourite to go down (and Everton are 12th), whereas Sheffield United are seventh. I guess the closeness of this season’s Premier League to date (ignoring the clubs at the top and bottom) makes it more interesting for the neutral observer, but how many neutral observers are there?

Burnley are favourites at around 5/4 to win the game, our odds are around 21/10, and the draw is about 13/5. But when you look at the correct score odds, a 1-1 draw is favourite at 5/1, very short odds for predicting a correct score in a football match! The overall head to head record between the two clubs is slightly in our favour, a fact bolstered by recent times. In the last 40 years we have won 15 of the 23 meetings, with 4 draws and 4 defeats. However our last visit to Turf Moor, just before 2018 drew to a close, resulted in a 2-0 defeat with an abject performance, despite coming off the back of a good run at the time. Burnley had suffered a heavy defeat just before they met us, and the same applies this time! This followed the game at the London Stadium a few weeks before then where we came out on top 4-2.

I’ve absolutely no idea about what the manager will decide regarding team selection. If he sticks with the same starting eleven as last week with no discernible change in how they approach the game, then I fear for us against a strong physical Burnley side. My best hope is for West Ham to do what they have done in the past and surprise me. I like surprises of a good kind!

Get Up, Stand Up! Don’t Give Up The Fight! West Ham Badly Need Bottle For Burnley Battle

Husillos is fingered as the convenient fall-guy the for current Hammer woes, but can anyone provide the much needed motivation and organisation to bring an end to the current freefall?

Every poorly performing project needs to have a properly identified scapegoat ready for when things really start to fall apart. In West Ham’s case the responsibility for the recent disastrous run is apparently all down to Director of Football (DOF)/ Recruitment, Mario Husillos.

On the face of it there is damning evidence for this view of the world in the shape of recent recruits Roberto, Carlos Sanchez and Pablo Fornals – but the extent of his culpability is surely dependent on the scope of his actual brief. In my own simple view of how recruitment might work, it is the manager who decides what types of players and needed and for what positions. The board determine what funds are available for each deal (and that includes transfer fees and wages) while it is the DOF’s roles to identify options for each position.

If Husillos had been asked to find the best keeper he possibly could, and the name he came up with was Roberto, then that would indeed be a worry.  If on the other hand he was asked to find an experienced but cheap option as backup, because the club didn’t want to continue paying Adrian’s wage demands, then responsibility is a a more collective one.  If his task was to find the type box-to-box midfielder that has eluded the club for an eternity, and his answer was Fornals, then he would be clearly certifiable. If it was to find a young, creative attacking midfielder then his pick would be easier to understand – even if he looks too slow for the English game.  It would not be his fault if the player was subsequently played out of position. It is difficult to believe that the manager wouldn’t have the final say on signings and for him to be happy that their abilities were a good fit with his preferred style of play.

Aside from a lack of funds, the areas where recruitment has regularly fallen short (and where Husillos must take some share of the blame) are: not being able to scout and develop young talent; ignoring the physical demands and pace of the modern Premier League game; focusing too much on players from the Hispanic world; and signing players with questionable attitude.

According to a ranking of Premier League squads produced at the start of the season, West Ham were valued at £313m (and that allows for the view that the squad was deemed to be irresponsibly thin). In contrast, the weekend’s opponents, Burnley, were valued at £179m. With the two clubs occupying 13th and 14th positions in the table, the logical conclusion is that it is Sean Dyche who is doing the better job. Disregarding a few of the top teams, all managers operate under financial constraints and the ability to meld, organise and motivate players is why they can command big salaries.

With both teams having suffered bad defeats last week, whom I wonder, will do the better job of motivating his team into a reaction.  I wouldn’t risk that much money on it being Manuel Pellegrini.  The memory of last season’s feeble display at Turf Moor is still fresh in the memory. Burnley had been on the wrong end of a 1-5 Boxing Day home humbling by Everton, while the Hammers went into the game having won five of the last six. What transpired was the meekest of all surrenders in a 0-2 defeat against a fully fired-up home side.  Can we expect anything different this time?  It is up to Pellegrini and the players to prove my pessimism misplaced. No mistake this is going to a physical test as much as anything else.

I have long wanted to see Pellegrini at least have a try at a 3-5-2 formation. It would seem to suit our players better, but I don’t anticipate seeing anything that radical when the team is finally announced. It will be the usual tinkering with the core squad of fifteen or so players that leaves us with an unbalanced starting eleven and an uninspiring bench.

In the defence, it would be a huge surprise if Ryan Fredericks doesn’t replace Pablo Zabaleta after his struggles last week, but maybe there will also be recalls for Angelo Ogbonna and Arthur Masuaku. Unfortunately the defensive high line preferred by the manager and the tactic of allowing as many crosses to come in as possible – in the hope that we are strong enough aerially to deal with them – will likely play to Burnley’s strengths – especially when you add a suspect keeper who is low on confidence into the mix.

Will there be any surprises in midfield? There is little chance of Jack Wilshere starting even if he is fit enough for the squad.  That means there is no realistic alternative to Declan Rice and Mark Noble for the more defensive minded duties. Will we still have the two wide-men playing on their wrong side – a tactic, not unlike that weird short free-kick routine, that has fooled absolutely no-one yet. Unlike other observers I thought Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini did OK (at least in the second half) against Newcastle and would persevere with them in the absence of anything more creative available. By default, the last place would go to Robert Snodgrass – mainly for the effort he brings to what is likely to be a robust encounter. Somehow one of Anderson, Lanzini or Snodgrass needs to be deployed far closer to Sebastien Haller if he is not to end up as Billy-No-Mates once again.

This weekend’s referee is Kevin Friend from Leicester. Whispering into his earpiece and picking up the clear and obvious offside armpit calls will be Lee Mason from Lancashire. Friend has been something of a red card enthusiast this season, and there is a good chance of him adding to tally here.

Both Lawro and Charlie Nicholas got it badly wrong last time in predicting a West Ham win over Newcastle, and now both have eyes on a Burnley victory – by 2-0 and 2-1 respectively. I wish I were able to inject a little positivity into proceedings, but now find myself looking nervously down at the foot of the table and hoping that games like Norwich v Watford ends in draws to preserve as much daylight as possible. After this week, the games only get tougher.

I think a hard fought draw is the best we can hope from the game, and even then, the caveat is that it would rely on putting out a team that is up for the fight and able to maintain the intensity for ninety minutes. Recent evidence suggest that this requires a massive improvement in attitude.

With all the weekend focus on Liverpool playing Manchester City no-one is really going to take much notice of this match, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. Otherwise, we got into another international break in a very bad place. COYI!

Uh oh, we’re in trouble! Something’s come along, and it’s burst our bubble.

The transition from early season optimism to winter of discontent continues with yet another woeful West Ham performance. Takeaways and player ratings from the weekend.

It’s A Perfect Time To Panic

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, West Ham manage to dig deeper to serve up an even more incompetent performance.  New depths have been well and truly plumbed.  This is not a team who just happen to be going through a poor fun of form, but one that doesn’t seem to know what it is supposed to be doing. We have a collage representing the worst aspects of manager’s past: Zola, Roeder, Grant and Bilic. The enigma of an under-performing team and a manager who, it appears, has absolutely no idea what has gone wrong or how to change things.  Manuel Pellegrini admitted as much after the game.  Ironically, most fans have a good idea where the deficiencies lie – pace, width, organisation, fitness, commitment and motivation – even if we wouldn’t really know how to fix them.  But then again, we are not paid millions of pounds a year to do so. How quickly an opportunity to leap into third place has morphed into taking an unhealthy interest in the relegation placings.  Two points from the last five (not particularly difficult) games has to be cause for concern.  If Pellegrini can’t turn things around before Christmas, then someone else has to be handed the baton.

He Thought What?

One of the most perplexing reports that I read during the week was that Pellegrini’s believed that West Ham had played well against Sheffield United.  True, we had a few chances to win the game but then so did the visitors. The consequence of that assessment was the naming an unchanged side for the game against Newcastle.  A decision that set up a confrontation between the fastest winger in the league and the slowest full-back.  Do we actually scout the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition? The modern game is very different now and if a player is not quick, athletic and full of running he needs to have some very special talents to compensate.  Equally a manager needs organisation, tactical and motivational skills in addition to a smart CV.  All of these things are in short supply at the London Stadium right now. When Pellegrini was appointed the one negative assessment that I read from his time at Manchester City was that he had allowed fitness levels to drop off alarmingly in his second season.  Has the same now happened at West Ham?   Has the manager lost the dressing room – after all the London Stadium is a big place and his short term memory is quite possibly starting to fail now!

You’ve got to hold and give but do it at the right time
You can be slow or fast but you must get to the line
They’ll always hit you and hurt you, defend and attack
There’s only one way to beat them, get round the back

Rapper John Barnes on West Ham’s Attacking Limitations

Can We Play You Every Week?

Running through West Ham’s limitation each week’s after the latest disappointment is becoming like a scratched record stuck on repeat.  We must be the easiest team in the world to play against. Stay compact, get back into shape quickly and the Hammers will have no clue what to do.  Then simply hit them on the break and get numbers forward quickly.  The first inclination of any West Ham midfielder is a backwards or sideways shuffle that allows any opposition ample time to regroup behind the ball.  I am sure our pass completion for pointless five yard passes is an amazing stat.  In a well drilled side, players would know exactly what they are going to do before receiving the ball.  That just isn’t happening. Playing the ball into space for a teammate to run into is now a blue moon event with West Ham.  The team has become a band of flat-footed strollers, unable to create even the semblance of a chance in open play – irrespective of the amount of possession. Pellegrini has been talking of a reaction in next week’s game, but with Burnley also being soundly beaten at the weekend where would your money go as to who gets the biggest reaction?

It’s A Team Game

“Rarely, if ever, can a Premiership team have defended so poorly.”

“…. must take some of the blame for poor organisation and questionable selection. West Ham’s marking was shambolic at set pieces”

The above quotes were taken from a report when West Ham lost 4-3 at home to Leeds in November 2002 having been 4-1 down at half time – a match I remember well.  A second half recovery partially disguised the incompetence of the first, just as with Saturday’s game. West Ham could easily have been on course by the break to challenge Southampton’s 9-0 home defeat record, had Newcastle been more clinical in front of goal. There is no doubt that Roberto is well below average for a keeper at Premier League level – a cost saving gamble that backfired due to Fabianski’s injury – but he was not the sole reason we lost the game. Capitulation was the only thing that the team did collectively all afternoon. The team had no idea how to deal with pace and movement of the visitor’s attacking players. There was a definite improvement in the latter stages of the second half, but it never turned into an onslaught – even in those five minutes of added time where an equaliser was a possibility.  For most of the game the only attacking threat was Fabian Balbuena at corner kicks. Still no-one wanted to play anywhere near to Sebastien Haller. I agreed with much of Danny Gabbidon’s post match assessment.  The problems are as much about system as personnel – but then I have though the same for a long time. Sure, better players would be great, but the core competence of a manager is to find a system that gets the best results with the resources available.  This is just not happening and there is not even the slightest hint West Ham are attacking, defending or working together as a team. There is no direction, no ideas and no leadership.

Player Recruitment And The Academy

Having said that our problems are as much about system as personnel I do believe that the club’s recruitment policy is flawed – probably as a result of using agents rather than old-fashioned scouting to target recruits. Over the years there has been a procession of players who may be technically competent, but who lack the work ethic that a club like ours (in fact any club) needs these days to compete.  Players who believe that a move to a Premier League club (and the bright lights of London) on lucrative contracts is the pinnacle of their ambition. Successful players need the right mix of talent and application – not one or the other.  The West Ham academy has also failed to deliver consistently for many a long year. As fans we love to see youngsters coming through, but it is tempting to believe that successive managers have not given youth a chance.  There haven’t been that many who have slipped through the net, only to build successful careers elsewhere – so why are we not developing youngsters with right attributes.  I feel that there is some hope with the new academy guy,  Dmitri Halajko, who has been doing a great job in charge of the U23’s.  He seems to have the kind of progressive outlook that is sadly missing in the first team. It is quite unusual that a club doesn’t play the same style of football throughout all age groups – but maybe the youth coaches refuse to go shambolic.

Ratings: Roberto (4), Zabaleta (3), Diop (5), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (4), Rice (5), Noble (3), Yarmolenko (4), Snodgrass (6), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (6), Ajeti (4), Fredericks (5)

West Ham versus Newcastle: Looking Forward Looking Back

At half-time in last weekend’s fixtures we reached the point where a quarter of the season had been completed. Had the half time score been the full time score then we would now be sitting on 15 points after 10 games, averaging 1.5 points per game and sixth in the Premier League table. 1.5 points per game over a whole season would result in 57 points. Sadly, the half time score was not the same at full time, and instead we have 13 points from 10 games which would give us 49 points over the course of a full season.

Looking back on the ten games played, and if my calculations are correct, we have thrown away 9 points from winning positions in games. Had we not done so, and instead held on to our leads in those games, then we would now have 22 points and be third in the table, level on points with Manchester City, with only City and Liverpool ahead of us. Apart from all our other shortcomings, which my co-blogger Geoff has written about on more than one occasion in recent times, the inability to hold on to a lead has proved to be very damaging to our prospects of finishing in a high position in the table. How many other teams have relinquished as many points from winning positions?

Our opponents today, Newcastle, are just one of four teams who are not yet averaging a point a game, which is roughly what is needed to retain a position in the top flight. They are 17th in the table, sitting immediately above the three teams currently occupying the relegation slots, Southampton, Norwich and Watford.  Of course they can put that right with an away win today, and move up to within a point of ourselves. That is something we must not let happen.

Up to date form (say, the last 5 games) shows our visitors have the same record as ourselves, with 5 points, from one win, two draws, and two defeats. Only Tottenham (4), Everton and Watford (3), Southampton and Norwich (1) have fewer points in this period. If you ignore the top 4 teams in the table (and Watford) then every other team has won either 2, 3 or 4 of the 10 games they have played. Conversely if you ignore Liverpool, and the bottom 6 teams, then every other team has lost either 2, 3 or 4 games to date. This demonstrates how closely positioned most of the teams are, and how either a good run or poor run can significantly alter a team’s place in the table.

Of course, apart from any other factors, the fixture list, and more particularly the order in which the games are played can have a significant impact on a team’s position in the league table at any point throughout the season. Based upon current positions in the table, Newcastle would appear to have had a tougher group of games than we have had so far. They have played against four of the teams currently in the top 5, whereas we have only faced one of them (Manchester City). Also, if you add up the current positions in the table of our opponents so far, then our total is 116 compared to Newcastle’s 82, once again reinforcing that they have so far faced much stronger opposition than we have.

So perhaps the disparity in our relative positions in the table is not so great after all, and it is not really worth making comparisons, or assessing progress throughout a season, until at least 19 games have been played and all teams have faced each other for the first time. But even that situation will be slightly altered this season as we have not yet faced league leaders Liverpool and don’t yet know exactly when we will. Our game against them scheduled for 21 December has been postponed due to their participation in the FIFA World Club Cup, so we will begin playing against some teams for a second time before we have even faced the Merseysiders once. As such we will have a game in hand in league tables published from Christmas onwards.

Our overall record against Newcastle in history is a negative one with more defeats than wins.  However, the memory is selective and I remember particularly the big wins and the games with lots of goals. When I was young I have a hazy memory of us drawing a game 5-5 at their ground, and other games I can specifically remember watching at Upton Park include a 4-3 win in the mid-1960s which included a hat trick from Geoff Hurst, a 5-0 win about 50 years ago when Trevor Brooking scored a hat trick, another 5-0 win about ten years after that, and the most memorable of all in 1986, as we were chasing the league title. That was the game when we won 8-1, including an amazing hat trick from Alvin Martin with each goal scored against a different keeper. I seem to recall a certain Glenn Roeder in the Newcastle side and he scored an own goal in that game.

One game I remember us losing was when we went down 2-0 at Upton Park and both Newcastle goals were scored by Bryan Robson. We signed him shortly after that, and he scored a lot of goals for us in his two spells here. “Pop” was a superb player and goalscorer. It was amazing that he never played for England. Of course, Robson is not the only player to have represented both ourselves and Newcastle. Others that I can recall off the top of my head include Paul Kitson, Stuart Pearce, Norbert Solano, Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy, Kevin Nolan, Demba Ba, Shaka Hislop, Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer, Rob Lee, and of course another who could potentially be facing us today, a certain Andy Carroll. Although if recent history is anything to go by no doubt he will be injured and unable to line up against us! But seriously I reckon he will be desperate to play, and of course it would be ironical if he scores against us, and possibly even more ironical if he plays the full 90 minutes and avoids injury. Those of you with long enough memories will recall that he has only played two games against West Ham (both for Newcastle in games at St James Park around 10 years ago), and he scored in each game, so I definitely wouldn’t bet against it happening for a third time. Goalscoring has been Newcastle’s problem this season with only six scored in the ten games so far, a statistic bettered only by Watford with five.

When I previewed last week’s game I wrote that the last six goals scored by West Ham had all been left-footed shots. But the run of “only left-footed goals” that stretches back to August was extended further when our only goal in the game was scored by the left foot of Robert Snodgrass. I may be wrong, but I’m not sure that we scored a single left-footed goal this season before the run began.

The betting has West Ham as odds on favourites to win the game, despite our indifferent recent form. I’ve gone for some small stake fun bets that involve West Ham winning the game and Andy Carroll scoring either the last goal, or scoring anytime in the match. The one that I hope will happen (from a financial viewpoint) is that West Ham win the game 3-1, and Andy Carroll scores the last goal of the game. The odds on that happening are 150/1. But, I’ll be happy if we win the game, and even happier if we perform well. I’ll be setting off for the game soon after the Rugby World Cup final finishes, and of course I’m hoping for an England win over South Africa in that. Hold on to your hats; both games could be tight affairs. What odds an England / West Ham double?

Panto Season Kicks Off At The London Stadium As Cinderella Takes On The Sleeping Beauty

As Rugby World Cup and Election fever sweep the country, can the listless Hammers be woken from their slumbers and climb away from a winter of discontent? We’re behind you, now it’s up to you!

It’s November, the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in. It can’t be that much longer before the shops are welcoming their customers with the traditional seasonal chant of “It’s Chriiiistmaaaas!”

Equally, panto season will also be upon us and today’s game provides a suitable introduction as the two Baron Hardups of the Premier League’s (in the form of Mike Ashley and the Two Daves) sit back to watch their respective investments do battle at the London Stadium. A riches to rags story of great promises that always end up broken.

There are few British owners remaining in the top flight of English football and no-one divides opinion more than those in the hot seats at West Ham and Newcastle. Ask us fans where the glory days of our clubs are and we are guaranteed to answer “they’re behind you.” Oh, yes they are!

For most of the Premier League era, I have mentally bracketed Newcastle as the club that is the most similar to West Ham. Both can boast a passionate and loyal support, who continue to get behind their teams in large numbers despite having “won buggor aaal fo’ a lang time leek.”

Newcastle did enjoy a run of Premier League nearly years in the late nineties/ early noughties, and they certainly have a more impressive back collection of honours than the Hammers. But the 1969 Inter Cities Fairs Cup was the last time they won  trophy of any note – with a team that included one of my all-time favourite ex-Hammers, Pop Robson. A good job they have Texaco and Anglo Italian Cups to fill out the gaps in the trophy cabinet.

The two clubs have also shared several managerial misadventures – with both having elected, at some point, to engage Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew. Fortunately, the Hammers finally steered clear of Steve McClaren (in the same way that the Toon ‘missed out’ on Avram Grant) and, as much I am disillusioned with Manuel Pellegrini at the moment, he is still a more attractive option than Steve Bruce. The lack of imagination shown by boards when making manager appointments is astounding.

So, what of this weekend’s game? In theory, West Ham in 10th place should be favourites against their 17th placed visitors but there are only four points that separate the teams. The Hammer’s form has been mediocre to desperate for much of the season and it will require a huge improvement in attitude, organisation and application (or a particularly poor Newcastle showing) to end the day with all three points.

It is impossible to know what is in the manager’s mind.  It is true that he doesn’t have the strongest squad to play with but his past behaviour suggests he believes that the answer lies in tweaking his existing approach rather than trying something different, that might better suit the resources available.  The football under David Moyes may not have been the brightest but he was prepared to experiment – Arnie up front, Declan Rice in midfield, a back three – in an attempt to freshen things up.

My own preference would be to have a look how a back three (Balbuena, Diop and Rice) could work out. My sense is that it could address some of the ongoing problems: it would shore up the middle of the park; allow the full-backs greater freedom to provide the width that the midfield don’t offer; allow the opportunity for someone to get closer to Sebastien Haller. Haller has taken a bit of stick recently but it is no surprise that his frustration has increased in proportion to his isolation. I don’t expect Pellegrini to do any of this.  He is too wedded to his back four and hasn’t shown that he is one for new ideas.

Assuming he sticks with his preferred formation there is little room for manouevre. Maybe some like for like changes in defence, but the only decision of note is likely to be which two out of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals are in the starting eleven.  My money would be that Snodgrass is a definite starter (for all his limitations he will at least put in the effort).  Then it is a toss up between Anderson and Lanzini – I can’t remember which of those combinations Pellegrini has ye to try. By a long chalk, my own preference would be to stick with Anderson. Perhaps he isn’t showing 30 million quids worth of quality but he is one of the few players to possess both a second gear and the ability to open up a defence. As I read once in a fortune cookie: It is better to be diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one.

A warm welcome to matchday referee Stuart Attwell from Staffordshire and g’day to Aussie VAR maestro, Jarred Gillet, in the war room. Now that VAR has expanded its role into awarding penalties it could make for a long and interesting afternoon.

The punditry planets have aligned this week with both Lawro and Charlie Nicholas opting for a 2-1 home win.  It is Newcastle’s weakness in attack that is the deciding factor for their predictions.  The Toon have only scored six times in ten games this season, although such damning statistics rarely bring comfort to regular West Ham watchers.  I have been rubbing all the pots in the kitchen this afternoon but, so far, no sign of a genie appearing to offer three wishes. If he does show up, wins for England in the rugby and for West Ham will be the first two wishes.  If he can pull those two off, I will keep the third one secret – but I wonder if the Hammerettes are busy on Saturday night?