The Lawro Challenge: Week 4

Where we attempt to show Lawro how predictions should really be done.

Lawro Crystal BallI am currently living in Asia and, at just a shade under 6 foot, happen to be rather taller than most of the local population.  This is just as well, for at the moment, I am unable to look anybody straight in the eye.  The reason for this discomfort is that it seems I am worse at predicting the results of Premier League matches than even Lawro.

However, fresh from warm weather training during the international break I am determined to claw back some of the disadvantage between myself and the early pacemakers.  This week’s naval-gazings are shown below and see Lawro depart from his usual cautious tradition by actually predicting a team to score more than two goals.  In the circumstances, I am quietly confident that my redoubled efforts will see me far better placed following this current round of matches.

   Rich    Geoff    Lawro
Cumulative Points     28     22     26
Saturday
Man United v Man City     1-1     1-0     1-0
Arsenal v Southampton     2-1     2-0     3-0
Bournemouth v WBA     1-0     1-1     1-1
Burnley v Hull     2-2     1-0     2-1
Middlesbro v Palace     2-1     2-2     0-2
Stoke v Tottenham     1-1     1-2     1-1
West Ham v Watford     3-1     2-1     2-0
Liverpool v Leicester     2-1     1-1     2-1
Sunday
Swansea v Chelsea     1-2     0-2     0-2
Sunderland v Everton     1-1     1-2     1-1

* Our scoring system is one point for a correct results plus two bonus points for the correct score.

West Ham v Watford Preview

Slaven’s Selection Dilemma?

Embed from Getty Images

If we are really serious about mixing it with the big boys in the Premier League, and at least matching our seventh place finish last season, then this is a game we really should be winning. Of course no games are that simple to win in the top flight; we have to make sure that we don’t believe that we simply have to turn up to be sure of winning (as per Astra Giurgiu for example), but this should be considered one of the easier ones.

At the time of writing this preview I have no idea how many of the players on our lengthy injury list are ready to return, but I am assuming that the number available has increased somewhat. One thing I do know is that the manager is going to have quite a problem trying to keep all of the squad happy when the majority have returned to fitness. It’s always described as a nice problem to have, and that is true, but how is he going to fit them all in?

We now seem to have a squad where we have at least two quality players vying for every position and that is healthy. We know we have two very capable keepers, and following the last day of the transfer window, two right backs, Byram and Arbeloa, which should finally end the need to put one of the most potent attackers in the Premier League, Antonio, in a position that he very clearly was not comfortable in. Masuaku has slotted in well at left back and Cresswell should have a fight for his place. At centre back we have Reid, Ogbonna, Collins and Oxford. I think the manager believes that the first two are his favourite pairing but I’m not so sure that they play well together. Personally I’d like to see Oxford given more chances; I’m convinced that he is going to be even better than Ferdinand.

We have one of Nordtveit and Obiang in the defensive midfielder position (I prefer the latter, but I don’t think the manager does), Noble and Kouyate (almost guaranteed picks) slightly in front, and that leaves just three more spaces for attacking players to fill if he stays with the 4-1-2-2-1 formation. And what a choice we have to fill those three places. Antonio, Feghouli, Tore, Lanzini, Payet, Ayew, Zaza, Carroll, Fletcher, Calleri. Ten into three doesn’t fit comfortably! And to think I read that some people weren’t comfortable that we let Valencia go! And of course we still have Sakho at the club. Paddy Power has him at 9-2 favourite to score the first goal in the Watford game! Do they know something we don’t? Or are they just totally out of date?

We have to remember that it was the results against “lesser” sides that let us down last season, and we have to put that right.

And one player I haven’t mentioned yet is our young Swiss signing Edimilson Fernandes (sounds Brazilian but is Swiss). Despite his age he has played 66 games in the Sion first team, including eight matches in last season’s Europa League where Sion finished second in their group to Liverpool, and only lost narrowly 4-3 to Braga of Portugal in the round of 32. Braga reached the quarter final. He therefore has much more recent European experience than most of our players! I would liken him most in style and position to Kouyate. I think we have a real prospect here, but like Oxford, and other promising youngsters not even mentioned above, I wonder if they will ever get the chance to break through.

Our opponents Watford are already sitting in the drop zone, albeit after just three games, and relatively difficult ones at that. They have lost at home to both Arsenal and Chelsea (1-3 and 1-2) and drawn 1-1 at Southampton. Notably, they have scored in each game played, and were unlucky to lose to a late goal against Chelsea when many believe that the scorer, Costa, shouldn’t have been on the field. Where have I heard that one before? They will be desperate to record their first win of the season and not get embroiled in the relegation dogfight so early. Of course if they beat us they will go ahead of us. However I am confident that we will finally get our season really underway with a good performance and win the game 3-1. This would take us up to six points from four games played which would match last year’s opening.

The fixtures running up to the next international break (yes only four league games until we break again!) are ones that will begin to define whether or not our season can match the success of the last one. Three home games (Watford, Southampton, Middlesbrough) and a visit to West Brom does not constitute the toughest run of fixtures that we will have. If we really mean business then I’d like to see 12 points (or at the very least 9 or 10). Anything less than that will not really be good enough to push towards a top eight place. We have to remember that it was the results against “lesser” sides that let us down last season, and we have to put that right.

More Damned Statistics

Studies have shown that accurate numbers aren’t any more useful that the ones you make up!

stats

For a while as a young boy I collected London bus numbers; not route numbers but the fleet number that was painted next to the driver’s cab. It was the budget version of train spotting because you didn’t need to buy a platform ticket. I would carefully write the numbers down in a small notebook but I didn’t stick at it very long before realising the whole exercise was a complete waste of time.

Nowadays any millennial geek fascinated by collecting and recording pointless information can ‘monetise’ their proclivity through gainful employment with an organisation such as Opta, the sport’s data specialists. Football, like most sports, is now awash with data that provides a minute by minute analysis of every action and incident so that at any time we can know how far Mark Noble has run today. My assertion, however, is that while the resulting statistics might be interesting they are nothing more and there is no cause and effect between the data presented and the actual outcome of a game i.e. that the stats are basically meaningless. I have written about this previously and undertook to keep a watchful eye as the season progresses to see if I could be proved wrong.

For the purposes of my study I am using the data presented on the Whoscored website, which despite my scepticism over the usefulness of the stats is an excellent resource. The Whoscored data is, I understand, sourced from Opta and fed real-time to a large number of media companies . For each game, the website provides a match report showing summary details for possession, passes completed, shots on goal, aerial duels won, tackles made and dribbles won. I am making an assumption here that having selected these categories the folks at Whoscored consider them to be the most pertinent to the outcome of a game.

Of the 30 Premier League matches played to date there have been 22 which have had a positive outcome (with 8 drawn games). Of these, the winning team had the advantage in possession, passes completed, shots and dribbles won while the losing side more often came out on top for aerial duels won and tackles made. In only 1 of 30 games (Burnley v Swansea) did the winning side dominate every category while there was also 1 game (Palace v WBA) where the losing side was on top across the board.

So are there any conclusions that we can make? Should managers tell their players that losing aerial duels and tackles is the best way to win the game? Or is it obvious that more shots on goal increase the chance of winning? Or that if you are forced to defend it is likely that you will need to make more tackles?

There was a school of thought last year that conceding possession bore some relation to winning the game; probably because it was a prevalent feature of Leicester’s season (and our own to some extent). This has not been reflected in the games so far this season although I am still not convinced as to how possession is actually measured; the only time I have seen it explained (a few years back) it was suggested that possession is, in fact, derived from passes completed. That in all 30 games the team with most possession also completed most passes may confirm this.

Maybe the only purpose for the stats is the fun of collecting them in a similar vein to the bus numbers and I am over-thinking them.  But I don’t believe that is how they are used by TV producers and pundits who present them as if they define the game. For now it remains case unproven as far as I am concerned but I will keep on tracking developments.

The Language of Football – Number 2

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (and even more emotions when we lose a game!)

Language Cloud

Paul Simon sang in 1975 about 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. “Slip out the back, Jack”, “make a new plan Stan”, “you don’t need to be coy, Roy, just set yourself free”, “hop on the bus, Gus”, and “drop off the key, Lee” were his fifty ways. More like five to me!

How many different emotions can you feel if your lover has actually left you? How many different feelings will you have when we lose a game that we should have won? Take the game against Astra Giurgiu for example. Without resorting to bad language, how or what did you feel that night when you were leaving the ground? Or how do you feel about all that effort to qualify for European competition last season, only to be eliminated with such a poor performance?

angry, annoyed, appalled, bad tempered, bothered, bleak, bitter, cross, crestfallen, disapproving, devastated, disheartened, disenchanted, dejected, despondent, disillusioned, dismayed, dreadful, displeased, depressed, disgruntled, dissatisfied,

enraged, exasperated, empty, furious, fed up, frustrated, grumpy, gutted, gloomy, humiliated, irked, ill-tempered, irascible, indignant, infuriated, incensed, inconsolable, irritated, irate,

livid, let down, mad, moody, melancholic, needled, nauseated, outraged, put out, piqued, rotten, resentful, raving, shattered, scathing, sad, sick as a parrot, sombre, sorrowful, subdued, unhappy, vexed, wrecked.

There are more than 50 here. The list is not exhaustive. How many others can you come up with?

The Boy Never Quite Made It: Roger Cross.

Firs in a series of Hammer hopefuls that didn’t quite make the grade.

Boy Never Quite Made ItThere is nothing more satisfying as a supporter than seeing a young player come up through the youth system (or academy in modern parlance) and establish himself in the first team. Over the years we have been blessed with golden ages of plenty from our academy but there have also been periods of famine. In the Premier League age it is becoming increasingly rare for youth players to make it through the ranks and academies have become multi-cultural establishments; much different from bygone days when a youngster from Kent would have been considered exotic in our youth setup.

Roger CrossFor every successful youth team product there are many more who simply fade away. Among these there are those who are hotly tipped for stardom but who ultimately do not deliver. We shall be taking a look at some of these ‘Boys Who Never Quite Made It‘.

As a young teen in the late 1960’s it was not uncommon to arrive at the game two hours before kick-off on a Saturday afternoon in order to get the favoured view from the North Bank terrace. This allowed plenty of time to read the match programme from cover to cover to discover, not only what the current state of play was in the unofficial London championship, but also what was happening in the Football Combination (reserves) and South East Counties League (youth teams).

For several years running the name of Roger Cross repeatedly appeared in the back of the programme as he rattled in the goals for youths and reserves. He scored when he wanted to even before that idea was born.

Cross was part of the same youth intake as Trevor Brooking (they were born just a few weeks apart in October 1948) and Sir Trev mentions Cross as one of his pals at the club in his autobiography, My Life in Football. Strange to think that I had never heard of Trevor Brooking before his debut but was eagerly awaiting a first sighting of Roger Cross.

Cross made his debut as a substitute (for John Sissons) in August 1968 during a 5-0 home win against Burnley and later that season went out on loan just down the road at Leyton Orient. The start of the 1969/70 season saw Cross get a brief run of games in the first team, scoring his only goal in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Upton Park; but that run came to an end by October and he was transferred to Brentford.

His playing career then took him to Fulham, Brentford (again), Seatle Sounders and Millwall before going into coaching with QPR. Cross renewed his association with West Ham in 2001 and held a number of coaching and scouting roles before parting company in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure during the Avram Grant revolution.

West Ham Heroes –Number 1: John Dick

Remembering a legendary inside-forward and 3rd highest West Ham goalscorer.

John Dick PhotosWhen we are growing up most of us have heroes. As a young boy, once I had outgrown the nursery rhyme wallpaper, my walls were adorned with pictures of my first heroes. Photographs of West Ham footballers and pop stars filled my bedroom walls from the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s. Pride of place was an action photograph of my first West Ham hero, John Dick, in a mid-air tussle for the ball in a game at Upton Park. It was taken by a press photographer who my uncle knew.

West Ham were promoted to the top flight at the end of the 1957-58 season. John Dick, who always wore the number 10 shirt (no names on them in those days), netted 26 times in that season, and scored 29 goals in Division One the following term. It was around this time that I began to take an interest in football and West Ham. I was only four at the time but I have memories, albeit hazy ones, of this period. 

I remember my first visit to Upton Park to see the Malcolm Allison testimonial game in November 1958, the delight when opening my Christmas present of a claret and blue short-sleeved V-neck West Ham shirt with a hand-sewn number 10 on the back on Christmas Day 1958, the excitement of seeing my first league game the same morning (yes Christmas Day 11am kick off!), and the first John Dick goal I recall when he netted a rebound off the Spurs keeper in front of the North Bank that day. We won the game 2-1 as well!

In a West Ham career that started before I was born and ended when I was eight, John Dick was leading scorer most seasons he was with us, scoring 177 goals at a rate of almost exactly one in every other game. His partnership with Vic Keeble for three years at the end of the 1950’s produced abundant goals (Keeble himself scored 51 goals in 84 games before injury curtailed his career).

Ted Fenton, our manager, spotted 22 year-old Dick when he was doing his National Service in Colchester, after watching him play for Crittall Athletic, now known as Braintree Town. He had a lethal left foot and was almost unplayable in the air. He was similar in a way to Andy Carroll, but with the added bonus of being more mobile, a prolific goal scorer, and a player who rarely missed a game through injury. In 1959, John, who was born in Glasgow, also won his first and only cap for Scotland against England.

My favourite game was in November 1959 when he scored a hat trick in a 3-2 win over champions Wolves. I remember the time well – we were top of the league and I went into hospital the following week for removal of my adenoids. The following weekend when I was still in hospital, despite leading Division One, we managed to lose 7-0 at Sheffield Wednesday! That’s West Ham for you.

I cried when we sold him to Brentford at the start of the 1962-63 season. I just couldn’t understand it. He was only 32 and had scored 23 goals the previous season. He was even more prolific at Brentford scoring 45 times in just 72 games.

John Dick AutographHis autograph took pride of place at the top of my West Ham 1959 team signatures. So many West Ham legends signed that page for me and I added some miniature pictures cut out of programmes alongside some of them. In addition to John Dick my book was signed by Noel Dwyer, Harry Obeney, Malcolm Musgrove, Andy Malcolm, Phil Woosnam, Ken Brown, Mike Grice, Vic Keeble, John Bond, and Noel Cantwell.

John Dick died in 2000 aged 70. A seat in his memory stands in Hainault Forest near to where he lived and his ashes were scattered nearby. I will always remember my first footballing hero.

Counting Sheep – 3 – The Letter D

Difficulty Sleeping These Warm Nights? And now a complete team of D’s!

Counting SheepPreviously I came up with a cure for when you can’t sleep. Forget those counting sheep theories and try to select a West Ham team of players that you have seen whose surnames all start with the same letter.

I’ve so far selected the “B” and “C” teams. Today it is my “D” team.

So here is my all-time West Ham “D” Team, selected in a 3-4-3 formation so that I could include players I wanted to be in it:

Day
Demel
Dailly
Dicks
Dyer
Downing
Devonshire
Dickens
Defoe
Di Canio
Dick

And what other players did I consider but leave out? Two keepers, De’ath and Dwyer, Davenport, Diame, Deane, Diamanti, Diop, Dowie, Dumitrescu, Dear and Dunmore.

I’ve probably forgotten someone really good. Can you pick a team of “D”s to rival mine? Who would you pick in place of any of my selections?

And who would manage the “D”s? I can’t recall a manager beginning with D so I’ll go for Dicks who has managed the West Ham Ladies Team and is also on the current coaching staff (and he made my team, too).