Matchday: Palace v West Ham

Can West Ham pull an unlikely iron out of the fire at Selhurst Park?

Palace West HamToday the stuttering Hammers make the short trip across the river to take on Crystal Palace at the boisterous Selhurst Park. Somewhere in there is an interesting comparison between our perceptions of the Boleyn and London Stadium experience and the type of atmosphere that is currently created by Palace’s self-styled Holmedale Ultras. It has often been dismissed as ‘Happy Clappy’ but has certainly contributed to the team’s performance and helped them preserve top flight status longer than their usual tenure.

I have always pigeonholed Palace with their South London neighbours, Charlton and Millwall, as a lower league club who only occasionally visit the top table before returning to their natural level. However, their current leadership appear to be doing a reasonable job of bringing the yo-yo under control having secured more stable investment.

“I have to make a decision on Zaza over Saturday, that is the only decision I am thinking about: the game against Palace. The only thing I am thinking about Saturday is not about the situation in his contract or around his contract but is he going to be the one I will put at centre-forward? The only objective is can he do it against Palace?”

– Bilic on Zaza

Traditionally Palace were one of the other claret and blue sides and, like us, can trace this back to an association with Aston Villa; although theirs was a more formal relationship rather than being the recipient of some kit that fell of the back of a cart. It was former Hammer, Malcolm Allison, who prompted the change to the current red and blue strip.

My last visit to Selhurst Park was in January 1984 for an FA Cup 4th round tie. This ended 1-1 but all I can remember from the trip into the badlands is that it was the same day that Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial.

Head to Head

Historically we have done well against Palace although more recent encounters have been more even.  We have won on the last two visits to Selhurst Park although the odds will not be be good on an unlikely hat-trick.

P

W

D

L

F

A

Sequence

Home

15

6

8

1

22

13

DLLDWW

Away

16

6

7

3

29

18

WWLDLD

Neutral

1

0

0

1

0

1

32

12

15

5

51

32

Team News

There have been several stories in the week about West Ham having received double or treble injury boosts. Unfortunately, the only good news is that Aaron Cresswell is available for selection; the others returning from injury being Nordtveit and Calleri who would be better to advised to go shopping on a Saturday afternoon. The only other positive injury news is that Gokhan Tore is unavailable. With no imminent return of long term absentees Carroll, Sakho or Ayew we still have no useful striker to call on and so our best bet for a goal will continue to be from a Payet free kick; so expect a lot of falling over outside the box.

The return of Cresswell is very welcome and his absence has been significant; not so much for his defending but in providing variety and penetration in attacking areas. It will be interesting to see if he gets a start or is only on the bench. Convention is that returning players no longer go straight into the starting XI but this seems a waste to me. If fit enough then make him a starter and replace if and when tiring.

‘But he’s an experienced manager – an experienced international manager – and he’ll know how to deal with it. Better than I will. I have no doubt he’ll get it right sooner rather than later.’

– Pardew on Bilic

Palace are likely to have former Hammer James Tomkins in their lineup together with plenty of other tall men with beards. Hint: they score a lot of goals from set pieces. Hopefully, we will have Obiang starting in midfield and that we compete much better in the central midfield areas (and don’t pair Kouyate and Noble together again). I would leave Noble out on this occasion and go with Kouyate simply because of his height. Up front I see no benefit of enduring with Zaza and how can Ashley Fletcher possibly do any worse. So my team is:

Adrian
Arbeloa Reid Ogbonna Cresswell
Antonio Lanzini Kouyate Obiang Payet
Fletcher

The Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire.  This is his second West Ham games this season having previously officiated at the home game against Watford.  He has yet to issue a red card this season – may be worth a bet?

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 12

Looking for a quick return on those devalued pounds?

Fancy A BetLast time we tried out the Betfred “Goals Galore” bonus coupon for the second time. It pays fixed odds based on both teams scoring at least one goal in a match. Depending upon the number of games you choose, fixed odds are paid at varying rates. On their Goals Galore Bonus coupon, which we tried, they pay 9/2 for 3 correct, 9/1 for 4 correct, and 16/1 for 5 correct, going right up to 5000/1 for 15 correct.

We tried two batches of four games, each at 9-1, and then all eight games at 100-1. So we needed both teams to score in the following games:

Group One:
West Ham v Middlesbrough, Leeds v Barnsley, Preston v Villa, Sheffield W v Brighton

Group Two:
Reading v Derby, Rotherham v Newcastle, Bury v Scunthorpe, Chesterfield v Bradford C

We staked one point stake on each group, and one point stake on all eight games. Total = 3 points. Just three teams let us down by not scoring; Villa, Rotherham and Chesterfield.

And to finish we staked five points on West Ham to end their poor run in the game against Middlesbrough, at 11/10 on a win, but despite Payet’s wonder goal we only drew.

So we lost 8 points on the day which brought our balance down to 103.1.

This week we’ll try a couple of accumulators, which have a guarantee that with just one incorrect result we get our stake returned.

Firstly, we’ll stake 1 point on the following 5 teams to win this weekend at accumulated odds of 9.69/1: Chelsea, Arsenal, Bournemouth, Manchester City, Stoke.

Secondly, we’ll try a more adventurous bet by staking 1 point on the following 10 teams to win this weekend at accumulated odds of 55.54/1: Brighton, Newcastle, Norwich, Bolton, Charlton, Carlisle, Doncaster, Aberdeen, Celtic, Hearts.

And finally a fun bet on the Palace v West Ham game. On so many occasions recently there have been 4 goals in the game when we’ve met Palace, so I’ll stake 1 point on a 2-2 draw at 11/1.

Total stake = 3 points. New balance = 100.1 points. Potential return = 76.23 points

What are the chances?

The Lawro Challenge – Week 8

Where we attempt to out-predict the BBC predictor.

Lawro Crystal BallAfter seven weeks Rich has extended his lead at the top to ten points. Both Rich and Geoff scored eight points in week 7, compared to Lawro’s six points. Rich managed 5 correct results plus one correct score, Geoff had 2 correct results plus two correct scores, and Lawro brought up the rear this week with 3 correct results and one correct score. In our competition we award one point for a correct result and three points for a correct score.

On the BBC website Lawro has now lost three of his seven weekly prediction encounters. Firstly he was beaten by WWE star and Hollywood actor, Dave Bautista, who hadn’t heard of some of the Premier League teams, then it was the turn of the world number one darts player, Michael van Gerwen to beat him, and finally in the last round of matches he lost to comedian and actor, Elis James.

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 6 weeks

52

37

44

Score in week 7

8

8

6

Total after 7 weeks

60

45

50

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 8

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

SATURDAY

 

 

 

Chelsea v Leicester

2-1

2-2 

2-0

Arsenal v Swansea

3-1

3-0

2-0

Bournemouth v Hull

2-1

1-0

2-0

Man City v Everton

2-1

3-1

1-1

Stoke v Sunderland

2-0

1-1

2-1

West Brom v Tottenham

0-2

1-3

0-2

Crystal Palace v West Ham

2-2

1-0

1-1

SUNDAY

 

 

 

Middlesbrough v Watford

2-1

1-1

1-1

Southampton v Burnley

2-0

3-0

2-0

MONDAY

 

 

 

Liverpool v Man Utd

2-1

2-2

2-0

Palace Preview: Another Four Goals?

Heading south of the river for the late Saturday kick-off!

Embed from Getty Images

After winning the away game at Palace last October (on exactly the same weekend as this season) by three goals to one, with goals from Jenkinson, Lanzini, and Payet, we looked well set to repeat the feat when we met them at Upton Park in the return fixture in April. In the home fixture, after conceding an early goal following a mistake from Adrian,  Lanzini scored our first, and then Payet scored with one of his sublime free-kicks, this one going to the same side where the Palace keeper was standing. The match changed when Kouyate was sent off in the second half, and then Palace equalised a few minutes later. The decision was harsh and was later rescinded on appeal. But it was too late then for us to win this game!

The referee in both of the games was Mark Clattenburg. At Selhurst Park he sent off a Palace player, so he evened it up by sending off one of our players in the return. In fact he has quite a record of dismissing players in games when he referees us, although he is not on a par with Jonathan Moss.

Last season was a season of two halves for Palace. At Christmas they sat in fifth place in the Premier League, but in the New Year they came down with the Christmas decorations (a feat we have managed once or twice, though not as often as some people believe). By the time we met them at the beginning of April they had plummeted to fifteenth and were on the verge of getting involved in the relegation dogfight. But they were OK in the end, and also reached the Cup Final where they (unluckily?) lost to a late goal against Manchester United, a game remembered for the Pardew dance when Palace scored.

We’ve only met the Eagles 22 times in league games in the top flight of English football, mainly because they have not often been in the top division until recent times. We have won nine of the games, drawn eight, and lost just five. Only two of those five defeats have been at Selhurst Park, in 1995 and 2013, on both occasions by the only goal in the game. This will be our sixth top flight game against them in the month of October and they have never beaten us in this month of the year; in fact they’ve only drawn once. So that’s a good omen. Or perhaps it is not?

I’ve been to Selhurst Park twice. The first time was in October 1970 when we drew 1-1 thanks to a goal from Bobby Howe. I was back there the following October when Rod Stewart topped the charts with Maggie May. We won the game comfortably 3-0, with goals from Ade Coker, Billy Bonds and Clyde Best. Back in those days the Palace colours were actually claret and blue, but shortly afterwards they changed to the red and blue you see today.

Do you know what the most popular score in West Ham league matches last season? Very unusually it was 2-2. We drew more matches 2-2 than any other team in the Premier League. It happened seven times. Manchester United didn’t manage a single 2-2 draw. In three seasons in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce we only had four 2-2 draws. In total in 2015-16 we drew 14 of our 38 games (37%), which was more than any other team in the Premier League.

Last season against Palace we won 3-1 away and drew 2-2 at home. The season before that we won 3-1 away and lost 3-1 at home to them. Where is all this leading to? Well for a start in recent times we seem to favour 2-2 draws. In addition, the last four games against Palace have all had four goals in them. This is leading me towards believing that we are destined to draw 2-2 at Selhurst Park this weekend. Based on the early games of this season for both sides, then this would seem to be a good result for us, and certainly one that is not anticipated by the pundits. Nevertheless getting my optimistic hat out once again I am hoping for even more. Perhaps there will be four goals in the game, and we will win 3-1?

Counting Sheep – 9 – The Letters P and Q

Another combined team in the alphabeti spaghetti tangle of Hammer’s dream teams.

Counting SheepI’ve really enjoyed putting my thinking cap on and trying to come up with West Ham all-time football teams where the players surnames all begin with the same letter. When I began I thought that I would be able to make teams out of most of the letters of the alphabet, but it has proved to be a little more difficult than I envisaged. The original aim was to help me drop off to sleep instead of the more traditional method of counting sheep, but now it has turned into a brain training exercise (always useful when you reach my age!).

So far I’ve picked eight teams, “B”, “C”, “D”, “F”, a combined “G” and “H”, a combined “J”, “K” and “L”, a combined “M” and “N”, and “Vowels”. P is next and I was able to think of enough names to form a team. But thinking ahead to Q, that was one letter where I knew I would fail. I realised that I would have few options there, so once again I decided on a combined team, this time the P’s and Q’s. So I’ll mind my Ps and Qs, combine my Ps and Qs, and hope you don’t mind!

My all-time West Ham “P” plus “Q” Team in a 4-4-2 formation are:

Parkes
Parris
Pearce (I)
Potts
Pearce (S)
Paddon
Parker
Peters
Payet
Pearson
Quinn

I think you’ll agree I have picked a very strong midfield. Players left out include Pantsil, Pike, Powell, Poyet, Parks, Piquionne, Pogatetz, Porfirio and Quashie.

Have I forgotten someone really good who is a must for the P/Q team? And I can only remember one P/Q manager; Alan Pardew.

Ponchos For Goalposts: Part deux!

There’ll always be an England (as long as we can find eleven players).

England TeamA few weeks back I used the tedium of the international break to take a look at the composition of the squads in the Premier League in relation to nationality. Overall it showed that only 35% of Premier League players were English although this increased to 40% if you included the other home nations. I wondered at the time whether if you looked at those actually making it onto the pitch the situation would be even worse and so have used this recent break to undertake further research in the context of the continued underwhelming performance of the England national team.

England appear to be in a Groundhog Day cycle where they generally qualify with some ease (usually from a group where even a mid-table Championship would hope to do well) and then disappoint when it comes to the finals. We then replace the manager and start the cycle again. In truth this has been going on for almost 50 years (well before the Premier League and the foreign invasion) but it does remain a conundrum whereby England has the most famous and cosmopolitan league in the world but a extremely ordinary and uninspiring national team. Are the two related in anyway?

So far this season we have had seven rounds of Premier League matches; a total of 70 games in total which have featured 414 different players of which 342 have started at least one game. Bournemouth and Burnley have been the most frugal with fewest different starters (14) while Sunderland have had the most different starters (22). Chelsea have used fewest players if you included substitute players (18) while Sunderland have been the most lavish with 25.  (It is an interesting contrast with Aston Villa winning the First Division in 1981 using only 14 players all season; how the game has changed.)

Of those starting and featuring (i.e. including substitute appearances) in a Premier League the proportion that are eligible to represent England is 34% and 33% respectively; this is consistent with the overall squad make-ups and so my assumption that it would be lower was not correct.

Bournemouth are the most English team with 72% of starters while Watford have had the least at 9% (just Troy Deeney). Only 3 clubs achieved over 50% of English starters (Bournemouth, Burnley and Palace) while Watford, Arsenal and Chelsea were all below 15%. The equivalent figure for West Ham is 25%.  Collectively, the ‘so-called’ Big 4 (two Manchester Clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal) managed to scrape together 18% of Englishmen.

The average Premier League side then has less than 4 players eligible to represent England in any given lineup. In total that is somewhere over 70 playing Premier League football on a regular basis (allowing for injuries) giving them a 1 in 3 chance of being selected for an England squad.  To my knowledge, Joe Hart is the only English player of note performing overseas.

The big ‘chicken and egg’ question that this raises is: Does the lack of quality English players lead to the recruitment of so many overseas players or does the number of foreign players restrict the development of good young home grown talent?  Whatever way it is difficult not to conclude that the the declining number of English players in the Premier League must have had an adverse effect on the national side.  How to fix this without impacting the ‘brand’?

Far be it from me to defend the largely clueless England manager’s that we have seen over the years but there has not really been the depth of talent for them to work with. All the more reason, in my opinion, to find someone (like Sir Alf) who has a system and will then find the players to fit it; rather than the other way around.

No wonder my interest in the England team is going down quicker than sterling (the currency not the Man City player that is)!

Does Size Matter? Pitch and Goal Dimensions

Running the rule over the grounds to see who measures up!

Big and LittleIt is a misconception that all football pitches are the same size. They are not. Can you imagine this applying to some other sports? What if the distance between the stumps was different at Lords compared to the Oval? But the distance between the goals at the London Stadium is greater than it is at White Hart Lane.

The FA has followed the lead of UEFA and FIFA in recommending standard pitch dimensions. I wonder how many people know what the recommended size is? The Laws of the Game permit quite a big variation in the size of the pitch. The length of a pitch can be anywhere between 90 and 120 metres. The permitted width has an even greater range, and can be between 45 and 90 metres. These dimensions came into force in the 1897 draft of the Laws of the Game.

For “official matches” the length should be between 100 and 110 metres, whereas the width can vary between 64 and 75 metres. In an attempt to achieve consistency, the recommended dimensions are 105 metres x 68 metres. The Premier League wants all teams to have a pitch of this size, but does allow exceptions if it is impossible to comply due to the construction of the ground.

The pitch sizes at Arsenal, Hull, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton, Sunderland, Swansea, West Brom, Middlesbrough, Watford, and now West Ham, are all identical at the recommended size. Wembley is the same, as are all the major stadiums throughout Europe. But that is only eleven of the teams in the Premier League. The pitches at Burnley, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester, Crystal Palace, Everton, Bournemouth, Tottenham and Stoke are all smaller than the standard size. In fact depending on which teams are in the Premier League at any given time, there can be up to 9% difference between the areas of the largest and smallest pitches.

Stoke has the smallest pitch of the current Premier League teams at 100m x 66m, and I guess this relates back to the Tony Pulis days when they wanted the pitch to be as narrow as possible for the benefit of Rory Delap’s long throws. The Tottenham pitch is the same length as Stoke but just one metre wider. The Upton Park pitch measured 100.58m x 68m.

Now I have a problem with the size of pitches. Bearing in mind that they have remained unaltered for around 120 years, the size, speed and power of human beings has increased significantly in that time. If you consider the average height of men, the 100 and 1500 metre running times, and high jump and long jump distances, to take just five examples, then we have seen increases in size and performance between 7% and 20% in those five categories. The same is true for females. So in relative terms the pitch was much bigger in years gone by. With the size, speed and athleticism of modern man (and woman), the pitch is now relatively congested compared to the past.

To allow for this, pitches should probably be at least 10%-15% bigger than they are. In order to compensate for the increases in human performance then the length of pitches should be increased to around say 115-120 metres, and the width to 75-80 metres. Of course most stadiums could not cope with this (although ours could possibly get close!). The authorities could, perhaps, order clubs to increase the size of their pitches to the maximum possible that their ground would allow. They could, alternatively give clubs a period of time, say ten years, to construct new stadiums that the revised pitch sizes would fit into. With the billions of pounds of TV money around then this shouldn’t be a problem.

The alternative is to reduce the number of players on the pitch from 11 to 10 to achieve the same effect. 11 may have been appropriate some years ago, but 10 would now allow for the human performance increases. We’ve all seen games where two players have been sent off leaving 10v10 on the pitch. There is more room for everyone to express themselves, and less congestion. I urge the authorities to move to a 10-a-side game if they don’t proceed with an increased pitch size.

And while we are at it, the size of the goals has not changed in the period either. As a result I believe we should increase the height of the goal from 8 feet to 9 feet, and the width from 24 feet to 27 feet. Modern goalkeepers must find the goals relatively small to defend when compared to the custodians of years gone by, and these increases will mean that the number of goals scored will perhaps return to the levels of 100 years ago.

Like other aspects of life, football needs to adapt to the times. It has never recognised the increases in human size and athleticism throughout the history of the game, and these changes would undoubtedly be beneficial to the entertainment value.