The Blind Hammer Column

Time to Fall Back On Full Backs?

Blind Hammer looks again at Pellegrini’s wide defensive options.

Whilst nobody should panic after the Liverpool thumping, there are equally no grounds for complacency. Hard lessons require fast learning.

Analysts have focused on the lack of nouse and organisation Liverpool exposed between West Ham’s midfield and, for us, an unusually high defensive line. Liverpool exploited our disorganisation and tactical weakness with ruthless affect. By the time Liverpool registered their opening goal we could have already conceded twice.

Few would have been surprised by a defeat at Anfield. More were disappointed by the manner of this defeat. Thumping’s can affect morale moving forward. Leicester was beaten by Manchester United but garnered praise for their determined resistance. There were fewer positives for West Ham.

Pellegrini would have known from last season that West Ham’s biggest strategic weakness was their appalling defence. No team, even amongst those relegated, conceded more. Pellegrini strategized his summer recruitment accordingly. Defensive reinforcements, Fabianski, Fredericks, Balbuena and Diop were identified at an early stage.

The challenge is of course to mould these recruits into well drilled effective solidity. Not just defensive recruitment but defensive organisation is required. On Saturday it appears that organisation was lacking. Given the quality of the opposition and our opening day rustiness it was not that unexpected that flaws were exposed. The problem is that we are weighed down by the experience of the last 2 seasons. West Ham’s previous attempts to play a back 4 have resulted in shambles. Both Bilic and Moyes had to eventually resort to a back 3.

Yet a back 3 does not appear the Pellegrini way. Creating a solid back 4 will require extensive coaching and discipline. All players will need to learn familiarity with the new formation against the harshest competitive test in World football. .

This is why I was so surprised by Zabaleta’s omission. There is no doubt that the future lies with Ryan Fredericks. The priority now though is to establish defensive organisation and understanding. Surprisingly Pellegrini opted for a fight fire with fire approach with the attacking selection of both Fredericks and Masuaku.

Pellegrini could adopt another approach in these early games. He has the opportunity to deploy Zabaleta as his on field coach. In this role he could marshal the entire defence. Zabaleta is best positioned to utilise their shared experience at Manchester City.

Similarly I think there are few West Ham fans who will disagree that Cresswell is a more secure option at left back than Masuaku. There may have been some lingering concerns about Cresswell’s fitness for the Liverpool game but we need him back as soon as possible.

A month ago, I argued in this column, that Zabaleta and Cresswell should start against Liverpool. This should be the default for the next few matches at least. Starting from a more secure defensive base I am sure we have attacking talents to challenge any other PL team. For the time being though the priority is to stop conceding 2-3-4 goals a game routinely. It is a new defensive tradition and organisation that we must build.
David Griffith

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The S J Chandos Column

A belated point arising from last Sunday's opening defeat! .....

It is neither of the points hammered home recently in the media that Klopp’s Liverpool are a ‘cut above’ and the main challengers to Man City’s PL dominance (both of which are probably true). No, I am talking about the point (that largely went under the media radar) that even the very best managers need time to get the best individual and team performances from their sides. For instance, lets look at Klopp’s record at Liverpool. He may have made great strides since, but his first season at the club was definitely one of transition. Klopp took over in early October 2015 and I do not need to remind Hammers fans that we beat his team twice that season at the Boleyn in both the PL and the FA Cup. In fact, 2015-16 was a real ‘red letter’ season in respect of how well we did against Liverpool, having defeated them three times in total (once under Brendan Rodger’s management prior to Klopp taking over). In May 2016, Liverpool finished 8th in the Premier league (a place below West Ham) and without a domestic cup victory. Similarly, look at Pep Guardiola at Man City, in his first season in charge he had (for him) a relatively mixed bag of results and finished, by City’s standards, in a mediocre 3rd place. So, both of these (now) PL managerial titans required a transition period to bed in their ideas, adjust their squads (with their multi-million budgets) and get the type of results expected of them.

Manuel Pellegrini is a good manager and he has spent the £100m budget wisely, bringing in some very good players. Surely no one denies that? That his new squad did not instantly click should not surprise us. He needs to perfect his system with the the players and be clear in his own mind which combination can best deliver. You would have hoped that he could have largely resolved that in pre-season, but with the shortened transfer window and the influx of 10 new players, outgoing transfers/loans, some players returning late from World Cup duty and some arriving with knocks/strains, it was probably asking a lot for all of it to be completely resolved before the big kick off. But, nevertheless, I remain confident in the club’s transfer business, Pellegrini’s managerial pedigree and his ability to get the side producing the type of performances/results we all want to see. Hopefully, with the positive, upward curve starting this Saturday.

Last Sunday’s opener was a harsh lesson, but maybe it was one that needed to be learnt early! Personally, I thought that we would probably be beaten, but I hoped that the score line would have been closer and we would have given a better account of ourselves. Two things particularly annoyed me on Sunday, firstly the way we lost concentration just before half time and conceded the second goal. We fell in that trap a few times last season (who can forget Crystal Palace’s late equaliser against us at Selhurst Park) and it needs to stop. With just a minute or two to go until the break, we should be able to ‘batten down’ the hatches and see it out. It was so disappointing to go in 2-0, rather than 1-0 down and it must affect the players psychologically. The other factor was the match officials failing to spot that the third Liverpool goal was off-side by a substantial margin. A very disappointing omission. We would almost certainly have still lost 3-0, if not 4-0, but that is not the point, the officials need to get these straightforward decisions right. It did not need VAR, it was so clear cut.

Nevertheless, ‘we are, where we are’ and Pellegrini would have been left with a lot to ponder at the final whistle. It will be very instructive/indicative to see his selection for Saturday’s home fixture. Will Pellegrini bring in Zabaletta and/or Cresswell (if fit?); replace Balbuena with Diop; retain Rice at DM or bring in Obiang or Sanchez; start with Anderson and Yarmolenko; and go with Arnautovic, as a lone striker, or partner him up front with either Hernandez or Perez? You can certainly guarantee that the mechanics of playing with a high defensive line will have been worked through with the defenders and defensive midfielders to perfect its application. This appears to be a characteristic of his preferred defensive system and it seems unlikely that he will abandon it just yet (or, alternatively, could he surprise us and do just that?). Hopefully, the outputs of the squad’s work on the training pitch this week will be seen against Bournemouth. Personally, I will be looking for far more defensive cohesion, a high % of possession, greater control over central MF, improved adventure/creativity from our forwards and a cutting edge up front.

I know that Pellegrini has taken the opportunity to train the first team squad at the London Stadium this week, to acclimatise his players/staff to the arena. One can only hope that this is the season that the LS ceases to be considered problematic and, instead, becomes a huge asset to the club. I guess that will very largely be down to the fans and the positive atmosphere that is generated. But as I have always said, it is a two way street, if the players give the fans positive performances, than they will get all the home atmosphere/support that they could possibly need. They can be assured of that in advance!

SJ. Chandos.

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50 Greatest Hammers - You Decide The Top Ten

The West Ham United official website has recently been running a countdown of the 50 Greatest Hammers. The club are asking supporters to vote on the top ten after a panel of supporters and players ranked club legends. Players positioned from 50 to 11 are as follows:

50. Bobby Zamora
49. Ted Hufton
48. Trevor Sinclair
47. Clyde Best
46. Ian Bishop
45. Brian Dear
44. Steve Lomas
43. Michael Carrick
42. Geoff Pike
41. Scott Parker
40. Noel Cantwell
39. Frank Lampard Junior
38. Alan Sealey
37. Pat Holland
36. Carlos Tevez
35. Tony Gale
34. Dimitri Payet
33. John Bond
32. Steve Potts
31. Jim Barrett Senior
30. Joe Cole
29. Vic Keeble
28. David Cross
27. Rio Ferdinand
26. Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne
25. Ernie Gregory
24. Len Goulden
23. Ronnie Boyce
22. Ludek Miklosko
21. Jimmy Ruffell
20. Syd Puddefoot
19. Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson
18. Ken Brown
17. Ray Stewart
16. Frank McAvennie
15. Mark Noble
14. Tony Cottee
13. John Dick
12. Julian Dicks
11. Paolo Di Canio

The top ten, to be judged by a wider supporter vote, consists of (in alphabetical order):

Billy Bonds
Sir Trevor Brooking
Alan Devonshire
Sir Geoff Hurst
Frank Lampard Senior
Alvin Martin
Bobby Moore
Phil Parkes
Martin Peters
Vic Watson

To cast your vote and put the top ten into your rank order, click here.

Speaking personally, I think I’d have found a spot in my top 50 for Danny Shea, who scored 186 goals in 290 appearances for the club between 1907 and 1913, possibly in place of Brian Dear, while Robert Green would replace Steve Lomas in my list. Scott Parker and Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne would also feature higher in my top 50.

How would you rank order the top ten? Would any player in the club’s top 50 not make your list and, if so, who would you replace them with?

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The GoatyGav Column

New Season – New Timeslot – New Job – New Adventures - Everthing’s New

Except for losing 4-0 in the season’s opener. So today’s piece is gonna be relatively brief (some of you will be thankful for ???? ) not just due to the fact that we got gubbed but also to the fact that I’m on hols with the family in North Devon.

Yesterday’s game (as I write) was viewed with a few fellow Hammers, who I was glad to have encountered, in the ‘Local’ 5 doors down from the holiday cottage we’ve rented out. Got to know Geoff, and his lad, a little during the course of the game and Andy’s family who were down for a wedding in Broughton and reception around the corner. Turns out Andy has coached kids, for a lot longer than I’ve been doing it, to a decent level. The club he’s involved with may be familiar to some. The ‘Heybridge Swifts’ made last year’s FA Cup first round where they were knocked out by League 2 Exeter City. They also progressed in the FA Trophy and recently saw their Spanish youth player, Luque, sign a contract with Lincoln City. Proper West Ham fans all – with an, unsurprising, great knowledge of the game.

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So we were on equal terms with he Liverpool fans in numbers – shame that wasn’t reflected on the pitch.

For me the first 20 minutes was pretty solid from our boys. The shape was good and Liverpool struggled to open us up. After that we seemed emboldened and fell in to the trap that so many succumb to when playing the Red half the former Lancastrian city. Jürgen Klopp has turned exploiting the aspect of the ‘transition’ in matches in to a fine art. They move the ball so quickly and well having won it back, while their opposition are caught out of shape, that they create truckloads of chances in games. Impressive stuff which was on show for all to see yesterday. Andy made the point, while we sat watching the game, that we gave them too much space out wide. Perhaps there’s merit in having 5 at the back not 4 but I’m not convinced it would have made much difference had we had 3 Centre Backs supported by a full back/wing back either side.

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There were a number of new recruits last season, in the first game I posted an article on, in a game that we were well beaten by Newcastle in. The team needed time to gel then as it does now because there were a few new signings. West Ham were extremely poor in that game. Yesterday was more a case of Liverpool being very good. There won’t be many who will go to Anfield and get anything – we’re just one of many.

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I think there’s lots for Manuel Pellegrini to take from this season’s opener. I hope that he’s learned a lot which will help him progress and develop this group of talented individuals. On that – this squad has the potential to do extremely well this season. Yes – the quicker they start playing as a unit the better, but time will be needed. We’ll know much more 8-10 games in so no snap judgements from me.

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Right – that’s it folks. I’m off for a meal with the good lady wife and boys after our first time attempts at surfing today. Not sure if the Red flags came out after 20 mins of fam Thurston being in the water or if it was because of the dangerous tides and waves. Hazard signs may be put out ahead of our next attempt on Wednesday. If any of you are in the water in North Devon beware!

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COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!

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The HamburgHammer Column

We can work it out - a drubbing that doesn't hurt too much

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When we were discussing the upcoming Liverpool game and West Ham’s chances to get a result I maintained throughout that anything could happen, especially on Opening Day. Well, what happened was the drubbing that most pundits (and probably most of our own fans) had anticipated all along.
You hope against hope that you may catch the Scousers on a bad day at the office for them, you think maybe our new West Ham team will click instantly and nick another rare win at Anfield for us.

The cold hard truth is that Liverpool on normal form are a terrifyingly good side, skilled, ruthless, focussed and also, as much as it pains me to say it, a wonderful side to watch for any fan who loves the game of football and doesn’t hold a hatred (irrational or not) against Liverpool FC. I will say one thing about Liverpool though – and it’s really getting to me – and that is the love-in that Sky and the media are celebrating when it comes to covering Liverpool.

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Yes, they are a great footballing team (again, it took them a while to become one under Klopp), they are one of the best supported sides on the planet and it’s good they exist.
However, is it really necessary to overload the TV crews with (biased) former Liverpool players or self-proclaimed Liverpool fans ?
Is it necessary to completely ignore whichever team has the (mis)fortune of playing the Scousers on any given weekend and blabber away about Liverpool this and Liverpool that ?

One of Liverpool’s goals was CLEARLY scored from an offside position, yet that wrong refereeing call was laughed off by the commentators as Mane’s finishing was so brilliant. WTF ??? The goal didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but that ain’t the point. I may be forced to find myself an internet stream with Chinese or Swedish commentary in future in order to avoid busting a blood vessel from getting riled up over punditry that is overly biased towards West Ham’s opponents.

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I won’t dwell too much on the game as most things have been properly discussed on the match thread and on David Hautzig’s article. Liverpool didn’t have a bad day at the office, they played like a well-drilled and oiled machine (or a solid old Volkswagen, as Klopp is managing them…LOL) and frankly we just didn’t get a sniff.
I believe Liverpool will give Man City a run for their money, one of these two teams will win the PL title at a canter and I would expect them to dish out plenty of drubbings along the way.

I still saw some positives in the game from our perspective which may sound odd after losing a game by a 0:4 scoreline. But I think there were, under the circumstances, some very decent performances and first glimpses at our new players. In my book Fredericks and Balbuena looked promising, same goes for Wilshere and Anderson.
And we didn’t even see Diop, Lucas Perez or Carlos Sanchez in action yet, not in a competitive game anyway.

We will not play Liverpool every weekend and indeed I would expect our team to play some great football this season against most other clubs in the league.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was Liverpool under Klopp and I would just hope that West Ham fans don’t overreact after this game.
We need to be patient and if we are I am absolutely certain that Pellegrini will deliver over the course of the season.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly enjoying watching us lose 0:4 to anybody, but putting it in perspective I know we will see us play a lot better in far more games this season as compared to the previous one. Even in this drubbing I saw us passing the ball well at times, but it’s difficult against Liverpool as they keep the ball so well and don’t make a lot of mistakes you could pounce on.

We will all be a bit wiser after the upcoming home opener against Bournemouth. I’m sure Pellegrini will be busy this week in training, devising a gameplan and working the players so we will all hopefully be in for a treat next weekend. COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update, starting with Concordia whose first team got spanked 0:3 away at Teutonia 05 in Ottensen in Hamburg’s west, with me being one of several Cordi supporters who attended that game. Teutonia are widely tipped to finish the season as champions (they are loaded as they are getting sponsored by a Russian oil company), so it’s no shame to lose at their place. Unfortunately the Cordi boys were lacking in many departments yesterday, body language, running, general willingness to go into tackles and win balls. The Cordi U23s on the other hand won their home fixture by a ridiculous scoreline of 10:0. The young Cordi lads already look like they may be headed for a third successive promotion season.

As for the Hamburg heavyweights St.Pauli got the perfect start, winning their second game of the season as well, this time at home against Darmstadt.
And Hamburg SV managed to win back some pride and goodwill by winning their away game at Sandhausen 3:0, after suffering a defeat by the same scoreline the previous week against Kiel.

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