Matchday: Man City v West Ham

Pre-match tension as West Ham look to pull off another shock at the Etihad Stadium.

Man City AwayThey used to say that lightning never strikes the same place twice.  Although our friends from Giurgiu have already dispelled that particular myth there is little confidence that the same repeat performance will apply to our game against Manchester City this afternoon.

When we visited the Etihad last September, City had won all 5 league games that season without conceding a single goal.  Against all odds and expectations goals from Moses and Sakho saw the Hammers take a splendid 2 goal lead and despite City pulling one back in first half added time, through debutant Kevin De Bruyne, we were able to hang on doggedly adding one more away-day scalp to those already collected at Arsenal and Liverpool.  I didn’t expect victory then and I don’t expect it again today.  Hope, on the other hand, is always a constant companion.

Head to Head

We have won 11 times in 50 away fixtures to Manchester City and just once since their move to the Etihad.  The overall record between the two clubs was fairly equal until the injection of Abu Dhabi money tilted the balance firmly in City’s favour.  We have won just 2 of the last 12 encounters as the one time working man’s club from Manchester became a Middle Eastern money pit.  Having invested a further £100 million + during the current transfer window to mould the team in Pep’s image, the total spending since the  takeover is now nudging towards £1 billion.  City could most likely field a complete team who individually cost more than our new record signing.

The full head to head record is as follows:

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 48 24 12 12 81 52 LDLLWD
Away 50 11 7 32 64 102 LLLLLW
98 35 19 44 145 154

Team News

Definitely sitting this one out are Sakho, Cresswell, Carroll, Ayew, Feghouli and Nordtvelt who are all injured.  Mark Noble is expected to return while it is reported that the fitness of Payet and Lanzini are yet to be assessed.  With an extra week for an international break on the horizon I doubt either will start with only one on the bench.  There are unconfirmed rumours that Payet has not travelled which is likely to raise speculation once more about his future.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it this season. We know it’s a big challenge, not only regarding our injury situation, but we are hoping and our whole plan is to have a good game and to get something out of it.”

– Super Slav

The signing of Simone Zaza was too late for today’s match but it will be interesting to see whether Edimilson Fernandes features or is regarded merely as one for the future.  Fortunately Zaza has been omitted from the Italy squad and so will not be able to pick up an injury while on international duty.

With no proven striker available and the creative players still missing it is difficult to see how we could possibly surprise City again today.  My own suggested would include starts for both Oxford and Fletcher:

Team Man City

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Andre Mariner from Birmingham.  Mariner officiated in two of our home games last season; the goalless draw with Stoke in December and the derailing of Spurs title aspirations in March.  We should hope that he has a quiet game and does not feel he has to get in on the dubious penalty award at a corner bandwagon.

Preview: West Ham v Manchester City

I Have a Dream! West Ham make the trip north to face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

West Ham at Man CityI had a strange dream last night. No, not that kind of dream! I was appearing on a quiz show and was just being asked the £1 million question. The quiz show itself was a mixture of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, A Question of Sport, Mastermind and Deal or No Deal. One minute I was facing Chris Tarrant, then Sue Barker, then Magnus Magnusson and then Noel Edmonds. I was sitting on a chair in front of an audience, then I was part of a team with Phil Tufnell, then I was on a black chair in darkness, and finally Noel Edmonds was asking me the question, Deal or No Deal, only to be interrupted by a telephone call from the banker, who then wanted to make me another offer.

The question I was being asked was “What Happened Next?” Four football matches were being described to me and I had to select the correct answer to win the money. In the first game West Ham were playing Manchester City and were winning the game 4-1, then in the second game West Ham were again playing City and once again were leading 4-1. In the third game I had the same situation, West Ham were beating Manchester City 4-1 close to the end of the game. And yes you’ve guessed it, the fourth game was exactly the same, we were beating them 4-1.

I was confused. I kept telling them there were four different answers. Chris Tarrant wanted to know if I wanted to phone a friend, Magnus said he’d started so he’d finish, Matt Dawson was in fits of laughter, Jeremy Paxman was telling me I’d have to hurry (how did University Challenge get in?), Noel Edmonds wanted to know if I wanted to swap my box, and the phone was ringing. I told them there were different occasions when we were beating City 4-1, how could I know what one they were referring to? Thankfully, at that point I woke up in a sweat. Yes, it has been very warm at night lately.

I can only blame myself. I was thinking about this week’s game at the Etihad and before going to bed I was looking back on previous memorable encounters with City that I remember well. There was the game at Maine Road in 1970 at Maine Road when Jimmy Greaves made his debut for us and scored twice, Ronnie Boyce scored from the half way line and we won the game 5-1, to gain our revenge on a 4-0 home defeat to them just three months earlier.

Then there was a game at Upton Park about twelve years later when Sandy Clark scored a brace (don’t you just love that phrase) in a 4-1 win. Then in 1996 Iain Dowie scored a couple of goals as we thrashed them 4-2, again at Upton Park, with Niall Quinn scoring City’s second as the referee blew the final whistle. Lastly in November 2000, we recovered from a half-time 1-0 deficit, with goals from Steve Lomas, Stuart Pearce, Trevor Sinclair (all three of whom ironically have a City connection) and finally a penalty from Paolo in the last minute to record another 4-1 victory.

So what will happen on Sunday? We have a mounting injury crisis which shows little sign of ending. Last September when we surprisingly won the away game 2-1 we had the following starting line-up: Adrian, Jenkinson, Tomkins, Reid, Cresswell, Noble, Obiang, Lanzini, Payet, Moses and Sakho. The goals were scored by Moses and Sakho. Antonio, Jelavic and Collins were second half substitutes. It was one of our famous away victories in the last campaign. How times change. How many of that starting line-up will begin Sunday’s game?

When the return fixture was played at Upton Park in January, Valencia scored twice in a 2-2 draw, making it four goals that he scored in under a fortnight. How many goals has he scored since that game?

In my lifetime I can only ever recall one goalless draw in an away league game at City (in 1994) and I don’t expect another this weekend. I have a feeling that the score may be 4-1, and that we will be on the losing end. I hope not, but our performances to date have not been encouraging. But even if we do lose the game we will still be on three points, exactly the same tally as we had after three games last season. And this time, two of the season’s toughest away games will have been played, whereas last season two of our first three games were at home.

Despite Thursday’s poor show, it’s not all doom and gloom. We can dream that it will get better. And congratulations to Adrian on his first call up to the Spanish squad. Perhaps he can keep a clean sheet to celebrate?

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 5

Let’s Try An Acca (with money back guarantee).

Fancy A BetLast week I was massively confident of a victory over Bournemouth and staked 10 points on a West Ham win at 21/20 (20.5). Antonio’s late goal saved us when it was beginning to look like we might lose out. So this brought our balance up to 100.6, giving us a small profit on the season to date.

Today we’ll try an accumulator bet, where if one of our selections is wrong we get the money back as a free bet, as offered by some bookmakers.

The selections are:

Everton to beat Stoke 8/11

Southampton to beat Sunderland 8/13

Bradford to beat Oldham 4/5

Accrington to beat Morecambe 19/20

Doncaster to beat Yeovil 4/6

I’ll put 1 point on the accumulator which gives odds of 15.3/1.

I’ll also try to select the result of three other games:

1 point on West Brom to draw with Middlesbrough @21/10 (3.1)

1 point on Brentford to draw with Sheffield Wednesday @21/10 (3.1)

1 point on Bristol City to draw with Aston Villa at 21/10 (3.1)

1 point on a treble of the above three matches at 28.8/1 (29.8)

Total spend is 5 points bringing our balance down to 95.6.

5 Things We Learned From WHExit.

The summer excursion to the continent is over for another year. Here’s what we learned from the inglorious campaign.

Europa League LessonsFormations are not set in stone (…….unless they are rock formations).

Among the rush to hasty conclusions following the Europa League debacle there has been earnest debate about formations. Have we now changed shape from a 4-2-3-1 to a more defensive minded 4-1-4-1. It is possible for people to become anally retentive about formations as in a good team players should be fluid in reacting to changed situations. The concept of the formation is mainly of concern to TV producers for  the pre-match build up; for heat map geeks from the statistics community; and for Italians seeking to confuse with talk of false-nines, false-tens, nine-and-a-halves and liberos. Perhaps Slav’s innovation is the false-fullback!

Most often we utilise 3 central midfielders no matter exactly how we position them – this does not make them defensive midfielders as many seem to claim. The signing of Nordtvelt looks like an attempt to deploy a specialist DM in order to cut down goals conceded as neither Noble nor Kouyate are cut out for this role. Whether Nordtvelt’s other attributes (i.e. passing) allow him to make an overall positive contribution has yet to be proven. Apart from goalkeeper I’m not sure the modern Premier League is the place for one-trick specialist ponies.

It’s a Game of Four Halves.

Embarrassing is an overused word and much favoured by the knee-jerkers who find that so much about the club causes them embarrassment; whether it is young Jack’s transfer gossip, David Gold’s tweeting or that Sullivan Senior made his money from adult entertainment. However, losing at home on Thursday to a team from Romania in a match where a 0-0 draw would have been good enough is probably about as close to embarrassing as it gets.

If there is one thing we know from last year it is that we are not good at breaking down teams that come to defend and rarely batter teams that we should beat easily. OK, that might strictly be two things! Astra didn’t come bursting with ambition and damage limitation may well have been at the top of their agenda. Perhaps there was pressure for us to entertain in the new stadium but the truth was that our main priority should have been to not concede. You only have to look at the Astra goal, and how many players were AWOL as Teixeira was given freedom to waltz through the middle, to wonder what on earth we were thinking in that regard. At times tactics in two legged European ties need to be pragmatic and we got it badly wrong.

Slav the Great and Powerful?

Last year when we failed to qualify for the Europe League group stages it was in the context of a new manager, a fairly thin squad and an approach that said “OK we’ll give it a go but it’s not a top priority!” This season everyone had been quite clear that the intention was to take it seriously and start to make a mark on the European stage. This desire may have been obstructed by a raft of unfortunate injuries but nevertheless we now had a stronger squad – at least that is the received wisdom – and a stated intention to give it our best shot.

So, whereas last year’s elimination passed with merely a shrug of the shoulder this year it risks rubbing a little of the sheen off the reputation of the “can do wrong “ manager. If there were such a thing as a Manager’s Rating Agency there could be a risk of downgrade from Super Slav to just plain Slav. Of course, as players return from injury and with a few inspiring league victories all will be quickly forgotten in the short term memory of the supporter on the Clapton omnibus.

How Deep is Your Squad?

There has been a lot of talk that we were building a squad to take account of a Europa League campaign (i.e. the minimum of 6 additional matches that group stage qualification would have brought). To date there have been 9 arrivals during the transfer window (if you include Manuel Lanzini again) with Tomkins the only notable departure. On paper the squad is much stronger but, as the recent injuries have demonstrated, there are still gaps in cover in some important areas; most notably right back, creative midfield and striker.

We have since signed Edimilson Fernandes and there is continued speculation about Zaza so the fat lady can still belt out a few tunes before the window closes. There is no doubt that the squad looks far healthier than a few years ago but then so do those at most other clubs frantically spending the new TV money. We should not need to be in a position of asking players to be ‘humble’ and play out of position any more. Keeping everyone happy, however, might be the new challenge.

No Place for a Seat Fighting Man.

I have an idea for a dystopian movie which I will call Intransigent. Set in a post-apocalyptic east-end borough, people are divided into distinct factions; the ‘Perchers’ and the ‘Uprighters’. In the finale, these factions come together in a great stadium to fight an angry  battle between themselves much to the amusement of the rest of the world.

This is clearly an issue that has to be resolved. The right to stand cannot trump the right to sit and it lacks consideration to deny others a view simply because you were allowed to stand previously. Likewise you have no more rights as a long term supporter than a young child going to their first match. I have no issue in principle with a designated area for safe standing and hope it is something that can be addressed amicably.

The Lawro Challenge Week 3

We continue to do battle with the thatch headed one.

Lawro Crystal BallLawro may be “steamrollering” his invited guests, band members, comedians etc. (none of whom seem to be particularly skilled in the art of predicting football matches) in the first two weeks of the season but he’s not having his own way against us. This week on the BBC website he faces Laura Trott, the well-known football tipster.

Early days of course, but last week’s scores were Rich 8, Lawro 8, and Geoff 5.

This makes the cumulative totals after two weeks, Rich 17, Lawro 14, Geoff 13.

This week’s Lawro:-

SATURDAY

Rich

Lawro

Geoff

Tottenham v Liverpool

2-1

1-1

2-1

Chelsea v Burnley

3-0

2-0

3-1

Crystal Palace v Bournemouth

1-0

2-1

2-2

Everton v Stoke

2-1

2-0

2-0

Leicester v Swansea

2-1

2-0

2-0

Southampton v Sunderland

2-0

1-1

1-0

Watford v Arsenal

1-2

0-2

0-3

Hull v Man Utd

1-3

0-2

0-2

SUNDAY

West Brom v Middlesbrough

1-1

2-0

2-1

Man City v West Ham

4-1

2-0

3-1

West Ham 0 v 1 Astra Giurgiu

Just Not Good Enough! When you set out for a walk in the park and end up flat on your face.

Angry Slaven BilicAs Super Slav sat down to select his team and squad to face Romanian champions Astra Giurgiu, he was fully aware of the delicate balancing act needed to win the game and hence qualify for the Europa League group stage, whilst at the same time not compromising his team selection for the difficult away Premier League game at Manchester City on Sunday. He was unable to do this last season but now had a much stronger squad to pick from despite the injuries and unavailable players. Or so we thought. He stated this was his strongest possible team. Captain Mark Noble had a slight knock and was not risked. It was disappointing to see Randolf displayed on the scoreboard instead of Randolph. It was even more disappointing to see Bilic start with just one forward in a home game against a team as poor as this.

On eight minutes Calleri, following a superb through ball from Burke, found himself one on one with the keeper and should have scored, but just like the last minute of the Bournemouth game, failed to do so. Full backs Byram and Burke caught the eye early on, and a superb strike from Obiang on 14 minutes came close to breaking the deadlock. But we weren’t showing enough urgency. We were moving the ball too slowly. Surely we weren’t playing for a 0-0 draw?

The German referee tried to keep the game flowing when Romanians were committing fouls, but seemed to be pulling us up regularly. Half time had almost arrived when the 35 year old ex-West Brom player Teixeira finished off a slick move reminiscent of one of the Juventus goals a couple of weeks back. Unfortunately the Astra counter attack was created by Byram and Burke perhaps revealing their inexperience. Oh how we longed for the creativity of a Payet, Lanzini, or Feghouli to come off the bench in the second half, but of course none of them were available.

Astra had only kept one clean sheet in twelve previous away games in Europe and that was in Scotland at Inverness. Surely it was only a matter of time before we equalised? We raised the tempo early in the second half and Calleri missed a header that Sandra Redknapp would have scored. Fletcher, who was one of the only players who could be happy with his performance, could have had a penalty, and should have scored from six yards but aimed straight at the keeper. But he was only the second choice attacking substitute and had barely half an hour to make his mark.

Valencia had come on at half time, but apart from one half decent free kick, just did his usual running down blind alleys. Antonio missed a header, albeit not as easy as you might think, from about four yards out. We continued to press forward, but a long time before the end of the game you just knew we weren’t going to score. And we didn’t. In some ways it was reminiscent of watching England play Poland in 1973. Just as then we thought we only had to turn up to win.

The German referee fell for all the Astra spoiling tactics and had a shocking game. But so did so many of our team who just weren’t good enough. If you could have seen that coming you could have made a lot of money. Astra were 8/1 with the bookies at the start. Some West Ham fans were fighting each other. The stewards let them get on with it. The crowd were getting very hostile. If only we’d seen more fight from the players, especially in the first half. According to reports Simone Zaza is expected to sign for us on Friday. I wonder if he was watching tonight?

Match Scene: West Ham v Astra Giurgiu

Surely a walk in the Olympic Park tonight and guaranteed Europa League group stage qualification.

Home to AstraTonight the nomads of FC Astra Giurgiu are the visitors to the London Stadium for the Europa League Play Off Round second leg match. With the tie finally balanced at a goal apiece from the away leg in Romania it will be an evening high on expectation but no doubt with a drop of typical West Ham nerve-wracking tension thrown in.

Many an old timer will be more than pleased to tell you for the price of half a pint of stout and an arrowroot biscuit that their favourite Upton Park night was the European Cup Winners Cup (ECWC) semi final second leg against Eintract Frankfurt in 1976. (I always maintain that the ECWC was a superior and far more difficult competition to succeed in than the old European Cup; contested as it was by teams proven to be good at winning cups.)

Going in to the game 2-1 down from the first leg it was a night where Sir Trev imperiously glided over the sodden pitch surface; scoring twice as the Hammers raced into a 3-0 lead. Fearing that this lacked the requisite drama, the Germans were gifted a late goal meaning that if they scored again it would be they to go through on the away goals rule. Cue a whistle blowing, nail biting, nervous hopping finale.

“They beat us last year and it is not job done. We have had enough time to recover from Sunday and I am optimistic.”

– Super Slav

I fully expect something similar to happen tonight. Cruise into a two goal lead, take the foot off the pedal, concede a sloppy goal, followed by an exhibition of sloppy slapstick defending before scoring a breakaway third in added time.

Head to Head

This is our fourth encounter against the current Romanian champions and, to date, we have yet to beat them (2 draws and 1 defeat). I have seen many reports stating that we lost to Astra at the same stage last year but this is not the case – we have progressed a whole round further so far this time around. Romainian champions they may be but I fully expect us to get the win that secures group stage qualification – but then I have been disappointed (and wrong) before.

Team News

The usual suspects of Cresswell, Carroll, Ayew, Sakho and Feghouli remain absent injured. Masuaku and Lanzini are not registered to play tonight but Dimitri Payet may now be available. Slaven Bilic has suggested that it will be a strong side and it will be a balance between doing what is necessary and keeping fresh legs for Sunday’s trip to the Etihad.

In the unlikely event that I were asked to pick the team I would start with Payet, to give him some match time and look for an early advantage, but leave Noble and Kouyate on the bench until needed; as both could do with a breather. This is how I would line-up (subject to availability):

My team v Astra

The Man in the Middle

We have a German referee tonight in the shape of Manuel Grafe from Berlin. Grafe was the ref for the goalless Euro 2012 qualifier between England and Montenegro where he was ‘blasted’ by Wayne Rooney for giving England’s players “no protection whatsoever” – and for not awarding any penalties.