It never ceases to amaze me how much of a pigs-ear the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) have made of implementing VAR. That’s assuming the intention was to eliminate clear and obvious errors, rather than to generate ‘talking points’ for the vast and growing ranks of the punditocracy.
The beauty of football is its simplicity. What should have been the intelligent use of technology to quickly check against major refereeing bloopers, has instead created a whole new set of interpretations that were never a problem in the first place. It has introduced spurious levels of accuracy, offences that are treated differently depending where on the pitch they occured, and an imaginary concept of phases of play. One step forward and several steps backwards is the way I see it. Like permitting the use of self-driving cars on the roads and then insisting the man walking in front with a red flag must be re-introduced at the same time.
Neither of the goals by Gianluca Scamacca or Michail Antonio would have raised an eyebrow in pre VAR days. Balls brushing against the hand as it bounces, or as the result of a challenge is surely not in the spirit of a handball offence. The Scamacca VAR review was the perfect representation of all that is wrong with its implementation. How can it take 2 or 3 minutes to identify whether a clear and obvious error has beem amde? What on earth were they doing? Checking offside, handball, his credit rating and whether he had paid his TV licence? Still, it was smart work by Antonio to play a one-two off the keeper for his goal in order to start a new phase of play – just in case!
And as for the penalty, it was pure stupidity on the part of the Fulham player. His only intention was to block Craig Dawson’s path regardless of where and in which direction the ball was travelling. A clear infringement, and especially so as he had been warned at least twice immediately beforehand. It was a no-brainer penalty decision (apart from in Marco Silva’s head) and every commentary, every minute by minute report was unanimous in its award.
Apart from yet another worryingly slow start, during which Fulham scored and hit the bar, West Ham were by far the more threatening side on Sunday. But we still need a more adventurous attitude if the evolving talents and understanding of Scamacca and Lucas Paqueta are to be utilised to their full extent. While David Moyes will be thrilled that the Hammers have won five of the last six (in all competitions) he must be aware that they have yet to be fully convincing in any game.
Tonight, West Ham have a first opportunity to effectively seal qualification from Group B as champions. A fourth win from four against the second-best team in the group should build an unassailable lead. But it is still a game that needs to be won. Last weeks encounter was a close fought affair despite the West Ham goal coming under next to no pressure until the late Silva header, and the marvelous Areola save.
Just like West Ham, Anderlecht came from a goal down to win 3-1 in the league at the weekend, moving them up to ninth in the Belgian league. It will be interesting to what approach they take to today’s game, where avoiding defeat may best suit their long term qualification interests. If so, the Hammers may have a job on their hands to break them down and maintain their 100% record.
We can expect Moyes to start with a very similar lineup to that used in the previous Anderlecht game, subject to availability. There is some doubt over Antonio, who has been suffering with a cold, and questions as to whether Jarrod Bowen needs to take a rest. Antonio’s absence would necessitate another start for Scamacca, and another opportunity to extend his impressive Europa scoring record. But there is no obvious replacement for Bowen unless Maxwell Cornet is fit to play. The other option being the ever-willing Pablo Fornals moving across to the right hand side – demonstrating that he is too slow to catch Antonio’s cold on either flank.
Although I don’t have any ideological dislike of playing with a back three, our full-backs aren’t really up to playing the advanced wing-back role. Vladimir Coufal and Aaron Cresswell lack the pace and Emerson is too fond of cutting inside to be effective in providing the team’s width. It certainly isn’t good enough against Premier League opposition but may be adequate enough tonight.
Putting the group to bed with two games to spare would be a huge benefit given the busy match schedule in the coming weeks. I’m hoping that we plan to go all out for the win – or as all out as the manager’s caution allows. A 2-0 West Ham win for me. COYI!