West Ham at Anfield, plus abuse of officials setting a poor example to the junior game

I thought that Jurgen Klopp was very restrained on the touchline in our game at Liverpool on Wednesday night. He had previously “lost it” last weekend at assistant referee Gary Beswick and was sent off for his outburst. He did apologise and has vowed to try to contain his behaviour. To be fair he hadn’t been sent off before, but this time he really overstepped the mark. Some of his fellow managers, including our own gave him support. Frank Lampard for example does not seem to believe there is a link between the behaviour of managers at the top level and the abuse that referees get at junior levels. David Moyes believes that managers can “lose their heads” in a game and change their character from their true selves.

As someone who watches junior football I believe Klopp has a responsibility to set an example like all elite managers and players should. Like it or not, young players copy what they see the professionals doing. And parents on the touchline will copy what they see too. The abuse given to referees at junior matches can be quite appalling. Klopp’s conduct leads to parents reacting in the same way, because I guess, they think it’s OK. It’s not. Referees at grassroots level are giving up in droves because they can’t stand the abuse. The FA revealed that last season 380 players were banned for attacking or threatening officials in English grassroots football. I hope Klopp gets a significant touchline ban.

Players surrounding the referee when a decision goes against them is another issue that needs addressing. In the days of Alex Ferguson Manchester United players were notorious for this kind of behaviour. The same is true of their players today, and the club have been charged for failing to control them in last Sunday’s game against Newcastle when they surrounded the referee like a pack of dogs. Their current manager doesn’t agree believing it wasn’t that aggressive. Of course West Ham have now been charged with failing to control players after they too surrounded the referee (Peter Bankes) during last Sunday’s draw at Southampton when he body checked Jarrod Bowen as he attempted to tackle Perraud just before he scored. I’m not sure we can learn too much from the game of rugby, but the insistence that only the captain can approach the referee to question decisions is one that perhaps we could follow. Similar situations surrounding referees happen in junior football too. Would it happen if they didn’t see players at elite levels doing it? I don’t believe it would.

Back to Wednesday night’s game at Anfield. To only lose 1-0 and miss a penalty in the process is a sign that we are, perhaps, not too far away from getting back towards our form of the last two seasons. We restricted Liverpool to a handful of chances, and Fabianski was equal to the challenge when necessary. The amazing statistic that we are the lowest scoring Premier League team in the first half of games this season (only scoring 2 so far) was maintained during a first half where we were threatened to be overrun in the early stages. But a much improved second half performance could have, and perhaps should have resulted in us getting a point out of the game.

I thought that Declan Rice had a tremendous game, doing his usual stuff, plus thrusting forward and setting up attacks more than he has done in recent times. I believe that one of the reasons for this was the inclusion of Flynn Downes from the start. Every time I see Downes he impresses me with his strength when tackling and challenging for the ball, his positional sense, and his great habit of finding a team-mate when passing the ball, unlike one or two others in the team. I hope he gets a run in the starting eleven.

We still find ourselves in the bottom half of the table two points above the relegation zone, but only five points below seventh place where we finished last season. Three of the next four games before the break for the World Cup are at home to Bournemouth, Palace and Leicester with a trip to Old Trafford sandwiched in between. We have a good opportunity (on paper) to move into the top half before the break. Ten points from those four games would be good. What are the chances?

Hammers Have Hope In Their Hearts For Annual Anfield Altercation

Will the dreams be tossed and blown or will they fade and die as West Ham make the annual pointless trip up north to play Liverpool

According to popular wisdom: “it is better to travel in hope than to arrive”. That has certainly been the case for West Ham visits to Liverpool in the past. A contest that has seen the visitors accumulate a paltry three away wins in ninety-nine years of competition. Recent experience provides no greater comfort with a run of five straight defeats since the Hammers last came away with a point in December 2016. Famously, a 50+ year hoodoo had been broken the previous season – but that was not to be start of a new era and the fixture continues to carry the hallmarks of a contractual obligation.

The ‘travel in hope’ quotation is said to have been coined by by Robert Louis Stevenson. Quite appropriate then that it would require a monstrous Jekyll and Hyde type transformation from last weekend’s respective performances for the visitors to improve on their sad record.

Following Liverpool’s stuttering start to the season, where their problem has been far too many drawn games, it was a shock to see them stifle and defeat a free-scoring Manchester City side, who I had earmarked as potential Invincibles material. Perhaps they were fortunate that Haaland had gone ‘off the boil’ by extending his goal drought to a whole match! Still it was a far more energetic and purposeful performance by the hosts in which the only straw clutching hope is that it may have taken a lot out of them – and resulted in one or two more injuries.

True to form, VAR once again found itself at the centre of attention when it went into overdrive to disallow what might heve been Manchester City’s opener. Had Haaland pulled Fabinho’s force with sufficient grippage (is that a word?) ; did Haaland subsequently kick the ball out of Alissons hands; if not, should that have constituted a new phase of play; does anyone understand the rules; do they make them up as they go along? Suffice to say, we shouldn’t expect any favours from the VAR team this evening.

As for the Hammers, it was a case of two points dropped at St Marys Stadium on Sunday. The absence of four recognised central defenders from the West Ham line-up set the scene for the game with David Moyes opting for an unusual all-full-back back three of Ben Johnson, Thilo Kehrer, and Aaron Cresswell. As I have written before, my aversion to playing three at the back is not that it is negative, but because there’s no-one in the squad capable of playing effectively as wing-backs. Vladimir Coufal and Emerson went on to prove that point perfectly. Sad to see that Coufal received abuse on social media. Whatever the shortcomings or poor form of various players, I don’t see any that are not giving 100%.

The makeshift defence started like a group of strangers and although understanding steadily improved, the Hammers found themselves a goal down by then. It was a goal conceded in bizarre circumstances when hapless referee, Peter Bankes, body checked Jarrod Bowen to present Perraud with a shooting opportunity. Bankes, and his VAR minder, would later go on to miss a penalty area judo throw on Tomas Soucek – the type of challenge that was penalised at every other ground over the weekend.

If the starting line-up that Moyes opted for could be seen as understandable in the circumstances, his substitutions were once more beyond perplexing. His team had been well on top for most of the game. Possession, goal attempts and corner kicks were off the scale, and Southampton had given up any pretence of trying to score. Only one team were capable of going on to win the game. Surely, time to give it a real go – an opportunity to see Giancarlo Scamacca and Michail Antonio terrorise the Saints defence for the final ten or fifteen minutes? But no, that’s just what they would have expected us to do. Far better to take off your biggest goal threats and tamely play out the remaining minutes to bank the point. A lovely goal by Declan Rice, by the way!

This week’s episode of Centre Back Crisis season 2 is the subject of conflicting reports. Wishful thinking says that at least one of Kurt Zouma and Craig Dawson should be available to play, while past performance indicates that recoveries always take longer than anticipated from the West Ham sickbay. It’s good news that Nayef Aguerd is nearing first team action and it can’t come soon enough. Relying on the ageing bodies of Dawson and Angelo Ogbonna in a packed programme of fixtures is never going to end well.

Even in perfect conditions, a trip to Anfield is a daunting task for West Ham. Having to play the same defence that took the field at Southampton would bring the pessimism level down several more notches. A silver lining is that Liverpool have their own injury problems, except they are still able to throw the combined talents of Salah, Firmino and Nunez at our depleted defences. The confirmed team news will be viewed with interest. If Antonio is preferred to Scamacca it will be obvious what sort of evening we are in for. An ultra-low block with hopeful punts up-field as the one and only outlet.

Perhaps Moyes will pull a surprise for once. But his record and deference against the ‘big six’ is well known. Over the past two seasons of relative West Ham success, his teams have lost sixteen of twenty-four games played against the ‘elite’. Away from home the record is poor in the extreme: played twelve, won none, drawn one, and lost eleven. Only Manuel Lanzini’s very last minute strike at Tottenham preventing an outright whitewash.

In the interests of travelling hopefully though, perhaps there’s an outside chance we can escape with a point. COYI!

Double Trouble: West Ham Facing Daunting Trips To Liverpool And Sevilla. How Will They Fare?

Following FA Cup elimination, West Ham now face two crucial games in a week to determine if they can continue fighting on two fronts for Premier League and Europa League glory

A week is a long time in football, especially one that will have such a defining effect on the entire season. The West Ham’s week started with the high of a win against Wolves, sunk to the low of defeat in the FA Cup at Southampton, and must now rise to the challenge of a game where, historically, we rarely come away with anything more than a ticket stub and an empty pie wrapper.  

The decision by David Moyes to change formation to a back three with wing backs worked well against Wolves. It drew a much better performance from of the team and brought back a touch of the swagger that had gone missing. It was surprising how many decent chances were created against what is one of the meanest defences in the league. And to cap it off there was a fine man-of-the-match performance from Kurt Zouma to enjoy.

I do wonder, though, what might have happened had Wolves started with their strongest side and shown greater adventure. It was the strangest decision from Bruno Lage to leave all of Jimenez, Podence, and Neto on the bench for so long.

When the starting lineups were announced at St Marys it appeared history might be repeating itself in a matter of a few days. Ralph Hasenhüttl opting to field a second string while David Moyes selected nine of the eleven that had played most of the game three days earlier. It can’t have gone unnoticed that the Saints have far greater squad depth than us.

Ultimately, for the second time this season, a Southampton victory hinged on the eccentric interpretation of tussles taking place between Craig Dawson and Armando Broja inside and outside the area. On each occasions the outcome was Ward-Prowse blasting home emphatically from the spot. Disappointingly, the FA Cup years-of-hurt clock will now tick over to 43. A shame the FA don’t take a leaf out of the UEFA book and allow defeated clubs to drop down into the FA Trophy. I could fancy our chances against Needham Market in the last eight.

In the six meetings at Anfield since the Dmitri Payet inspired win in 2015 – the game that ended a 52-year drought – the Hammers have reverted meekly to type, losing (the last) four and drawing the other two. It would take something really special to disrupt that new sequence today. We are habitually reminded that Moyes has never managed a team to victory at Anfield, from seventeen previous attempts. Another record that will need to be shattered if West Ham are to register a season win double over the Merseysiders this evening.

I consider the win over Liverpool at the London Stadium in November as the Hammers finest performance of the season. Sadly, the international break intervened, and the same heights were never reached again. In previewing that game, I mentioned a grudging respect for Jurgen Klopp, but he lost me that day revealing himself as a poor and ungracious loser. Just because they missed out on a club record unbeaten run. Fortunately for him, his side have lost just one league game since.

There is little need for debate over the Hammer’s line-up. The team pretty much picks itself. Not the result of outstanding performances all round, but due to the absence of realistic alternatives. If there is to be a debate, it is whether Moyes will stick with the same formation that won at Wolves. The team did look better balanced, but we really don’t have the personnel capable of excelling in the wing-back roles. Normally, they are the ones meant to be the providing attacking width and getting behind the opposition defence. Ben Johnson is a fine defender who has the energy to get forward, but he lacks the composure to deliver when he gets there. Pablo Fornals works as hard as anyone and can show great vision with his passing, just not often enough. But he is not a wing-back and is not strong on his left foot. Square pegs in round holes.

There is a chance, I suppose, that Moyes will rest a few today with the Thrilla in Sevilla looming on the horizon. It would be a surprise to me, but it is possible. As things stand the likes of Nikola Vlasic, Alex Kral, Andriy Yarmolenko are best left on the bench. With Said Benrahma still sitting on the naughty step after last week’s outburst.

Liverpool have a few injury problems of their own and may be without Firmino, Matip, Thiago, Keita, and Jones. It is a strong squad, though, and they have plenty of attacking options to pick from: Salah, Jota, Diaz, Mane, and Origi. Read that and weep, Moysie.

The Hammers are hardly likely to register on the Oracle Cloud Win Probability for this one. The only glimmer of hope is that Liverpool won’t be sitting back and expecting us to break them down. Our twin threats of counter-attacking goals and set-pieces could cause Liverpool concerns, as they did at the London Stadium. But the game will be more about keeping Liverpool quiet and keeping their full backs occupied at the back. That will be the key to any success. COYI!

  

All You Need Is Rice: West Ham Focused For Fab Four Battle With Liverpool

An intriguing encounter at the London Stadium sees the Hammers continue their magical mystery tour up the Premier league table and looking for a first win over Liverpool for almost six years.

The last Premier league fixture before the inevitable international break sees West Ham and Liverpool jockeying for position among the top four. It’s a scenario that would have been unimaginable Hammer’s fan not so long ago and is testimony to how far the club has progressed under the David Moyes revolution.

There have been complaints by supporters on social media that West Ham do not get the credit they deserve on TV and in the press – the last game on MOTD syndrome. I’m not sure that is justified as I have found a good deal of both positive and complementary coverage. Having said that though, the framing of today’s game is very much one of title contenders visiting top six hopefuls. Come the end of the season that may well be the case, but lets just enjoy rattling a few cages. The results, yesterday, mean that the dizzy heights of second place is now out of the question. But we can still end the weekend, and go into the break, just three points behind the leaders.

They say that winning can become a habit. The same apparently applies to expecting your team to win, and it was disappointing to see the Hammers pegged back in Genk on Thursday evening. It was another of those inexplicable slow starts – can someone tell me why that happens – that set the tone for much of the first half, where Genk were a little unfortunate not to extend their lead. The home side were able to carve through the Hammer’s rear-guard at will and deservedly took an early lead when Issa Diop (who had previously been demonstrating something of a renaissance in the European games) played the role of nowhere man in defence. A similarly slow start today could prove disastrous.

The Hammers, though, are nothing if not resilient these days though and with the help of two fine Said Benrahma goals appeared to have paved the way for a fourth successive win. Sadly, a clumsy Tomas Soucek own goal brought the scores level and the spoils were to be shared. The point was enough to ensure progression to the knockout phase of the competition but leaves work to be done to secure the all-important top spot. Dreams of appearing in this season’s elite Europa Conference league now lay in tatters.

Benrahma’s goals may well have saved his place in today’s starting eleven. His tenure in the difficult to fill central attacking midfield position had come under intense pressure from a rejuvenated Manuel Lanzini. Unless there are late injury issues, I now see the only outstanding selection question is whether it will be Ben Johnson or Vladimir Coufal at right back. The idea of leaving out Coufal a few weeks ago would have been met with incredulity. But such has been Johnson’s form that it now feels highly probable. Competition for places is a wonderful thing.

In my life as a West Ham supporter, Liverpool have been, by far, our most unproductive opponent. Recent form shows a return of just two points, out of a possible thirty, in the last ten league meetings. You must go back to the 2015/ 16 season for the last Hammer’s success – when three of them came along at once. The 2-0 win at Upton Park in January 2016 was in the early days of Klopp’s reign at Anfield and it is now a much-changed Liverpool side. While Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Michail Antonio, Mark Noble and Lanzini all played in that game for West Ham, only Firmino remains from the visiting team – and he is reported to be a non-starter today.

Unlike many West Ham fans, or at least the vocal ones you find on social media, I have a lot of admiration for what Klopp has achieved. Certainly, the media adoration for all things Liverpool can be tiresome – I can almost hear Peter Drury preparing to Salah-vate from the sublime to the sumptuous – but if I was forced to choose between Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool as league champions, I would opt for Liverpool. Of the three, Klopp has extracted more from fewer resources and he puts out a team that are generally entertaining to watch.

At one point I believed that Declan Rice might end up at Liverpool if/ when he eventually leaves West Ham. But now, I’m not so sure. First, I doubt whether he is any longer in their price range. And second, would he want to be constrained by what is largely a water carrying midfield trio? Rice at Liverpool could be a frightening prospect but for now he is 100% leading the West Ham charge and embodying the incredible spirit that has been created within the squad. Long may we see him here, there and everywhere on the London Stadium pitch.

The visitors are the only remaining unbeaten side in the Premier league although they have been held to a draw in four of their ten games to date. This includes last weekend’s surrender of a two-goal lead to Brighton. The interesting tactical change that Seagulls made after a torrid opening was to limit the threat of the Liverpool full-backs by keeping them busy defending. I’m hoping we will do something similar this weekend. Without doubt Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals must get back to fulfil defensive duties, but they must also push forward quickly to pose their own questions as often as possible. So much of Liverpool’s threat comes down the flanks, and that is where the game will be won and lost.

My expectations are that West Ham have to make a better fist of this game than they did last season. A replay of that meek surrender cannot be acceptable. I’m confident both manager and players will have learned from that experience and know they must approach the game without any sense of inferiority. It’s not a game to just sit back in. It is dreamland to go into the international break in the top four. Perhaps a draw is realistically the best we can hope for but I will go one better and predict the Hammers to win a pulsating game 3-2. Don’t let me down. COYI!