Uh oh, we’re in trouble! Something’s come along, and it’s burst our bubble.

The transition from early season optimism to winter of discontent continues with yet another woeful West Ham performance. Takeaways and player ratings from the weekend.

It’s A Perfect Time To Panic

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, West Ham manage to dig deeper to serve up an even more incompetent performance.  New depths have been well and truly plumbed.  This is not a team who just happen to be going through a poor fun of form, but one that doesn’t seem to know what it is supposed to be doing. We have a collage representing the worst aspects of manager’s past: Zola, Roeder, Grant and Bilic. The enigma of an under-performing team and a manager who, it appears, has absolutely no idea what has gone wrong or how to change things.  Manuel Pellegrini admitted as much after the game.  Ironically, most fans have a good idea where the deficiencies lie – pace, width, organisation, fitness, commitment and motivation – even if we wouldn’t really know how to fix them.  But then again, we are not paid millions of pounds a year to do so. How quickly an opportunity to leap into third place has morphed into taking an unhealthy interest in the relegation placings.  Two points from the last five (not particularly difficult) games has to be cause for concern.  If Pellegrini can’t turn things around before Christmas, then someone else has to be handed the baton.

He Thought What?

One of the most perplexing reports that I read during the week was that Pellegrini’s believed that West Ham had played well against Sheffield United.  True, we had a few chances to win the game but then so did the visitors. The consequence of that assessment was the naming an unchanged side for the game against Newcastle.  A decision that set up a confrontation between the fastest winger in the league and the slowest full-back.  Do we actually scout the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition? The modern game is very different now and if a player is not quick, athletic and full of running he needs to have some very special talents to compensate.  Equally a manager needs organisation, tactical and motivational skills in addition to a smart CV.  All of these things are in short supply at the London Stadium right now. When Pellegrini was appointed the one negative assessment that I read from his time at Manchester City was that he had allowed fitness levels to drop off alarmingly in his second season.  Has the same now happened at West Ham?   Has the manager lost the dressing room – after all the London Stadium is a big place and his short term memory is quite possibly starting to fail now!

You’ve got to hold and give but do it at the right time
You can be slow or fast but you must get to the line
They’ll always hit you and hurt you, defend and attack
There’s only one way to beat them, get round the back

Rapper John Barnes on West Ham’s Attacking Limitations

Can We Play You Every Week?

Running through West Ham’s limitation each week’s after the latest disappointment is becoming like a scratched record stuck on repeat.  We must be the easiest team in the world to play against. Stay compact, get back into shape quickly and the Hammers will have no clue what to do.  Then simply hit them on the break and get numbers forward quickly.  The first inclination of any West Ham midfielder is a backwards or sideways shuffle that allows any opposition ample time to regroup behind the ball.  I am sure our pass completion for pointless five yard passes is an amazing stat.  In a well drilled side, players would know exactly what they are going to do before receiving the ball.  That just isn’t happening. Playing the ball into space for a teammate to run into is now a blue moon event with West Ham.  The team has become a band of flat-footed strollers, unable to create even the semblance of a chance in open play – irrespective of the amount of possession. Pellegrini has been talking of a reaction in next week’s game, but with Burnley also being soundly beaten at the weekend where would your money go as to who gets the biggest reaction?

It’s A Team Game

“Rarely, if ever, can a Premiership team have defended so poorly.”

“…. must take some of the blame for poor organisation and questionable selection. West Ham’s marking was shambolic at set pieces”

The above quotes were taken from a report when West Ham lost 4-3 at home to Leeds in November 2002 having been 4-1 down at half time – a match I remember well.  A second half recovery partially disguised the incompetence of the first, just as with Saturday’s game. West Ham could easily have been on course by the break to challenge Southampton’s 9-0 home defeat record, had Newcastle been more clinical in front of goal. There is no doubt that Roberto is well below average for a keeper at Premier League level – a cost saving gamble that backfired due to Fabianski’s injury – but he was not the sole reason we lost the game. Capitulation was the only thing that the team did collectively all afternoon. The team had no idea how to deal with pace and movement of the visitor’s attacking players. There was a definite improvement in the latter stages of the second half, but it never turned into an onslaught – even in those five minutes of added time where an equaliser was a possibility.  For most of the game the only attacking threat was Fabian Balbuena at corner kicks. Still no-one wanted to play anywhere near to Sebastien Haller. I agreed with much of Danny Gabbidon’s post match assessment.  The problems are as much about system as personnel – but then I have though the same for a long time. Sure, better players would be great, but the core competence of a manager is to find a system that gets the best results with the resources available.  This is just not happening and there is not even the slightest hint West Ham are attacking, defending or working together as a team. There is no direction, no ideas and no leadership.

Player Recruitment And The Academy

Having said that our problems are as much about system as personnel I do believe that the club’s recruitment policy is flawed – probably as a result of using agents rather than old-fashioned scouting to target recruits. Over the years there has been a procession of players who may be technically competent, but who lack the work ethic that a club like ours (in fact any club) needs these days to compete.  Players who believe that a move to a Premier League club (and the bright lights of London) on lucrative contracts is the pinnacle of their ambition. Successful players need the right mix of talent and application – not one or the other.  The West Ham academy has also failed to deliver consistently for many a long year. As fans we love to see youngsters coming through, but it is tempting to believe that successive managers have not given youth a chance.  There haven’t been that many who have slipped through the net, only to build successful careers elsewhere – so why are we not developing youngsters with right attributes.  I feel that there is some hope with the new academy guy,  Dmitri Halajko, who has been doing a great job in charge of the U23’s.  He seems to have the kind of progressive outlook that is sadly missing in the first team. It is quite unusual that a club doesn’t play the same style of football throughout all age groups – but maybe the youth coaches refuse to go shambolic.

Ratings: Roberto (4), Zabaleta (3), Diop (5), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (4), Rice (5), Noble (3), Yarmolenko (4), Snodgrass (6), Anderson (5), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (6), Ajeti (4), Fredericks (5)

Panto Season Kicks Off At The London Stadium As Cinderella Takes On The Sleeping Beauty

As Rugby World Cup and Election fever sweep the country, can the listless Hammers be woken from their slumbers and climb away from a winter of discontent? We’re behind you, now it’s up to you!

It’s November, the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in. It can’t be that much longer before the shops are welcoming their customers with the traditional seasonal chant of “It’s Chriiiistmaaaas!”

Equally, panto season will also be upon us and today’s game provides a suitable introduction as the two Baron Hardups of the Premier League’s (in the form of Mike Ashley and the Two Daves) sit back to watch their respective investments do battle at the London Stadium. A riches to rags story of great promises that always end up broken.

There are few British owners remaining in the top flight of English football and no-one divides opinion more than those in the hot seats at West Ham and Newcastle. Ask us fans where the glory days of our clubs are and we are guaranteed to answer “they’re behind you.” Oh, yes they are!

For most of the Premier League era, I have mentally bracketed Newcastle as the club that is the most similar to West Ham. Both can boast a passionate and loyal support, who continue to get behind their teams in large numbers despite having “won buggor aaal fo’ a lang time leek.”

Newcastle did enjoy a run of Premier League nearly years in the late nineties/ early noughties, and they certainly have a more impressive back collection of honours than the Hammers. But the 1969 Inter Cities Fairs Cup was the last time they won  trophy of any note – with a team that included one of my all-time favourite ex-Hammers, Pop Robson. A good job they have Texaco and Anglo Italian Cups to fill out the gaps in the trophy cabinet.

The two clubs have also shared several managerial misadventures – with both having elected, at some point, to engage Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew. Fortunately, the Hammers finally steered clear of Steve McClaren (in the same way that the Toon ‘missed out’ on Avram Grant) and, as much I am disillusioned with Manuel Pellegrini at the moment, he is still a more attractive option than Steve Bruce. The lack of imagination shown by boards when making manager appointments is astounding.

So, what of this weekend’s game? In theory, West Ham in 10th place should be favourites against their 17th placed visitors but there are only four points that separate the teams. The Hammer’s form has been mediocre to desperate for much of the season and it will require a huge improvement in attitude, organisation and application (or a particularly poor Newcastle showing) to end the day with all three points.

It is impossible to know what is in the manager’s mind.  It is true that he doesn’t have the strongest squad to play with but his past behaviour suggests he believes that the answer lies in tweaking his existing approach rather than trying something different, that might better suit the resources available.  The football under David Moyes may not have been the brightest but he was prepared to experiment – Arnie up front, Declan Rice in midfield, a back three – in an attempt to freshen things up.

My own preference would be to have a look how a back three (Balbuena, Diop and Rice) could work out. My sense is that it could address some of the ongoing problems: it would shore up the middle of the park; allow the full-backs greater freedom to provide the width that the midfield don’t offer; allow the opportunity for someone to get closer to Sebastien Haller. Haller has taken a bit of stick recently but it is no surprise that his frustration has increased in proportion to his isolation. I don’t expect Pellegrini to do any of this.  He is too wedded to his back four and hasn’t shown that he is one for new ideas.

Assuming he sticks with his preferred formation there is little room for manouevre. Maybe some like for like changes in defence, but the only decision of note is likely to be which two out of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals are in the starting eleven.  My money would be that Snodgrass is a definite starter (for all his limitations he will at least put in the effort).  Then it is a toss up between Anderson and Lanzini – I can’t remember which of those combinations Pellegrini has ye to try. By a long chalk, my own preference would be to stick with Anderson. Perhaps he isn’t showing 30 million quids worth of quality but he is one of the few players to possess both a second gear and the ability to open up a defence. As I read once in a fortune cookie: It is better to be diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one.

A warm welcome to matchday referee Stuart Attwell from Staffordshire and g’day to Aussie VAR maestro, Jarred Gillet, in the war room. Now that VAR has expanded its role into awarding penalties it could make for a long and interesting afternoon.

The punditry planets have aligned this week with both Lawro and Charlie Nicholas opting for a 2-1 home win.  It is Newcastle’s weakness in attack that is the deciding factor for their predictions.  The Toon have only scored six times in ten games this season, although such damning statistics rarely bring comfort to regular West Ham watchers.  I have been rubbing all the pots in the kitchen this afternoon but, so far, no sign of a genie appearing to offer three wishes. If he does show up, wins for England in the rugby and for West Ham will be the first two wishes.  If he can pull those two off, I will keep the third one secret – but I wonder if the Hammerettes are busy on Saturday night?