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!