The HamburgHammer Column

Christmas has come early - but we are not out of the woods

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Let me begin by wishing everyone of you Merry Christmas and a peaceful and joyous time with your loved ones over the festive period as this is likely to be my final column before Christmas Day what with West Ham not playing another game until Boxing Day.

Moreover I currently have a bit on my plate again family-wise and I also don’t have any desire left anymore to even begin talking about politics. So, here is yet another hastely composed article with a few observational nuggets of opinion of mine.

Whatever the circumstances, I still wanted to take the opportunity to at least acknowledge a fairly decent performance from our lads to give us all something to smile about for a change. Three points, a clean sheet and Haller finally on the scoresheet again after a very long power nap during which he didn’t quite have his shooting boots on.

It was by no means a perfect away game from us, though. It got very squeaky bum-ish indeed late on in the game (once the likes of Yarmolenko and Sanchez entered proceedings) and nobody could have been overly surprised if we had conceded a late equaliser.

We were quite unlucky though in terms of two goals being chalked off by VAR (rightly so), a penalty shout not going our way (it actually was more like two shouts during one incident, but to no avail), the referee certainly wasn’t on our side and Southampton pretty much performed according to their miserable placing in the league table. They are a terrible side and judging on recent performances they are a safe bet for the drop alongside Watford.

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Probably the biggest early Christmas present for Hammers everywhere was the emergence of the Haller/Antonio partnership upfront. For most fans it was blindingly obvious that both players would hugely benefit from being unleashed on opposing defenders together.

Antonio very much confirmed that sentiment when he was praising Haller after the game:

“It was good to play with him up front. Me and him have a good relationship at the training ground and it’s good to do it on the pitch. You could see the chemistry between us, we were always linking, close to each other and hopefully we can keep performing.”

Antonio did what he always does (when healthy), he ran the opposition ragged, being a pest and nuisance all over the pitch (yes, he was also tracking back and putting clearances in), he didn’t give Southampton any time on the ball and it was contagious apparently as his teammates also seemed to be more willing than before to run and snap away at the heels of their opponents.

For all his efforts it was a travesty how the referee seemed very determined not to give Antonio any calls if he could help it. I very much doubt he’ll be getting a christmas card from Antonio this year…

And Haller ? Well, my mate told me, I told you and now we all saw it: Give him support upfront, someone to actually pass the ball to or knock it down for them – and you create goalscoring opportunities. Haller looked like a changed man, he was busting a gut and seemed to be enjoying his football again. That’s the guy we spent north of 45m quid for.
That’s how we gotta use him and that’s how we will begin to score more goals and put points on the board.

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And how about Señor Pablo “Fournails” Fornals ? He is beginning to hit a bit of a stride, innit ? Getting used to the pace and physicality of the Premier League, making good runs, with an eye for a cross or a shot on goal. He was a bit unlucky that his effort got denied by a fantastic save from the Southampton keeper. But it was plain to see that Fornals has a football brain and considering his young age we should see him improving by leaps and bounds over the course of the season.

He hasn’t quite reached the peak yet, but he has certainly left Base Camp and is now in the middle of the acclimatizing process somewhere between Camp One and Two.
Fornals is probably the player I would expect to develop into the biggest positive for us on the pitch next year.

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The key to how we fare from this day onwards for the rest of the season is, in my view, down to three key factors:

1) The return of Fabianski in goal which should do our stability at the back the world of good. Couple that with the next point.

2) Build our back four around Ogbonna. The stats don’t lie. We are stronger defensively with Ogbonna organising our back line. It probably doesn’t matter much if you pair him centrally with Balbuena, Diop or even Reid (if properly healthy and available again). But Ogbonna somehow seems to make his teammates that little bit better and calmer when he’s on the pitch with them.

3) Keep faith in the Antonio/Haller partnership. Those two together are one hell of a nightmare for opposing defenders when they’re heading towards the penalty box. It’s probably not quite the buffalo herd from Haller’s very successful spell at Eintracht Frankfurt, but a pair of angry bulls ain’t too shabby for starters either…

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Talking about the gaffer, well, I am actually indifferent at this point. I know all the arguments for sacking him, same as those for keeping him. Both sides of the coin have their merits. Once a manager is given the dreaded “One game to save his post” message, the tin tack is usually not far off and a win (like the one we have just seen against Southampton) may only act to delay the inevitable. By the looks of it, seeing out the season may be the best Pellegrini can hope for anyway. It doesn’t appear likely he will still be in charge beyond summer. Once the trust between board and manager has been dented it’s very difficult to fix again.

On the other hand we all know how expensive it’ll be to sack Pellegrini in the middle of the season. Changing managers on the fly is always a huge gamble which can work marvellously well or have no lasting or even short-term effect whatsoever. Thing’s ain’t exactly cooking in our kitchen yet, but it doesn’t look to me as if the players were not trying to win for the current manager.
He may not be the long-term answer for us, considering his advanced age.
So I am actually on board with either option, replacing him or keeping him.

I don’t see the manager as the main culprit in our current predicament, he is obviously partly to blame, that’s for sure. But a scapegoat to be sacrificed under a bus or a sharp blade ? Not justified in my book.

We now have to wait a while for our next fixture, thanks to the Scousers having their fingers in various pies this season. It’ll be Crystal Palace away on Boxing Day next (funny the fixture calendar presented us with another game away from the London Stadium on that day, must be a weird coincidence), one of those London derbies which are nigh on impossible to predict.

I shall still hope for the best, we have plenty of time to do some fine-tuning on the training pitches, some players to get their fitness levels up further and even Fabianski may be back between the sticks already, if we’re lucky.

At least things will be a lot calmer and more relaxed now under the christmas tree, thanks to a much needed win at Southampton. May you all have a wonderful Christmas! COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update: Mixed results. St.Pauli beat relegation rivals Wiesbaden 3:1 to give themselves some much needed breathing space down in the doldrums of the league table. At the other end of the table Hamburg SV missed a great opportunity to close the gap to Bielefeld in top spot after only drawing 1:1 away to Sandhausen.
And my Concordia lads suffered a humiliating cup exit against lower league opposition, 2:3 away to ASV (Afghanian football club). Very West Ham like, but still very soul-crushing. Hamburg lower league football is now in its winter break.

Match Report

Michail, My Hero

Michail Antonio has to be the most tenacious player I have ever seen and probably the strongest. He is the embodiment of motivation and effort. He gives everything for the team. We can bring forward the West Ham Player of the Year award. He wins by a mile.

When I was young, I would award myself a day off from school. I would complain to my mother that I had picked up some kind of stomach bug. ‘Shall I call the doctor?’, my mother asked (in those days doctors made home visits). ‘No, I’ll see how I am later’. By ten o’clock I was tucking into a hearty breakfast.

Felipe Anderson reminds me of a rubber plant I once had. When I bought it, it was healthy with shiny leaves. My wife asked me why I bothered, because everything I owned wilted in my care, including her. Of course, she was right. I tried moving its position, but gradually the leaves started falling off.

I don’t blame Felipe. As another wet English winter sets in, he must be dreaming of Copacabana beach. Vinnie Jones ridiculed players who wear gloves, saying he would fancy playing against players who wear gloves. It’s an indication you are no happy with your environment.

With the absence of Anderson, our clockwork brain manager was forced into a change that 99% of fans had realised was a necessity several months ago. This manager , who believes in attacking football, week in week out, played a lone striker. Then, when nothing works, you drop him, because it is obvious it is his fault. Finally, we got to see what we suspected in the first few games, that Haller is good with his feet and that, with his combination with Antonio, we were unlucky to only have one goal after ninety minutes.
Fornals reminds me of watching a large block of ice melting. He is gradually putting it together. A little more self-belief and application and he may come good.

Then, after 79 minutes, our manager gifted Southampton the opportunity to come back at us by substituting Sanchez for Haller. I really think he just picks balls out of a hat to decide on substitutions. Finally, on 88 minutes , he got the message and broke a habit of a lifetime by bringing on Diop for Noble. Who would have thought that three at the back was the way to strengthen the defence, rather than a clapped out midfielder.

Well, we did scrape a win and kept a clean sheet. All of us are hoping we may now turn a corner. But out squad looks weak, thanks to the sterling efforts of Mario Husillos, who should definitely depart now, because we couldn’t trust any recommendation he may make. I have just watched The Irishman on Netflix, so I am getting ideas.

If David Martin is injured, then it’s Murphy’s Law. If it can happen, it will happen. You have got to admit, it will be entertaining, if Roberto has to play, who has earned the right to be the worst goalkeeper ever in the Premier League. No doubt, we shall now go panic buying in January and spend millions on a goalkeeper, who we shall only need for a couple of games.

David Gold has finally admitted that the London Stadium is not quite up to what he expected and he made a few promises that haven’t been fulfilled. This is in the same week that Jeremy Corbyn admits he may be partially to blame for the Labour disaster. At last, reality bites.

David Hautzig's Match Report

Southampton 0, West Ham 1. Will Remain Also Win?

Let me see if I can keep all of this straight. Anderson injured in training. No, wait. He’s got a stomach bug. Haller back in, playing two up front with Antonio. Or is he wide right? Pellegrini has today to save his job. Until Boxing Day, when he’d be in the line of fire again. Eddie Howe, the assistant coach whose name I cannot recall, Tony f-ing Pulis, the return of Moyes. Am I getting all of that right? I had more than a little wine yesterday and my head still hurts a bit, so all of this thinking isn’t helping. Maybe that’s the key? Don’t think about any of this. We are who we are, we may go down, we may stay up. Whatever. At least I will feel comfortable wearing a West Ham sweatshirt this week.

To be fair, West Ham started a little brighter than the Saints. A quality free kick by Snodgrass was headed into the back of the net by Rice, but he was flagged for offside. Then the Hammers won three corners in quick succession, none of which caused any threat to the home side. But as long as the ball was on that side of the pitch Southampton could not score. There. I said something positive. Proud of me?

In a strange way, Southampton’s first real look at goal was a quintessential example of everything wrong with West Ham. Hojbjerg had the ball on the left in the 13th minute, surrounded by Hammers. Yet he still lofted a cross to Long in the box. Long was in between Ogbonna and Cresswell, yet he still managed to get to the ball and put a looping header on goal. Martin handled it, kind of, and West Ham didn’t allow a very West Ham goal.

Cresswell won a free kick in the 23rd minute on the outside of the Southampton eighteen yard box when Djenepo brought him down. Instead of putting the ball into the box, a cheeky back pass to Noble at the top of the area got the nod. Basically West Ham tried to make Beef Bourguignon when a burger would have sufficed. Moments later, West Ham had what looked like a legitimate shout for a penalty when Bertrand appeared to take Antonio down in the box. Antonio was incensed, but VAR disagreed and the game continued.

West Ham continued to dominate, winning yet another corner in the 29th minute. Two up front seemed to be causing Southampton problems, but with no goals, no shots on target, and no real quality to show for it the West Ham Worry was in full force.

The worry receded a bit in the 37th minute when Antonio beat Bertrand on the right side of the eighteen yard box. He passed back to Snodgrass, who crossed to the far post to Fornals. The young Spaniard, who has looked far better in recent weeks, headed the ball back to Haller 10 yards in front of McCarthy. The Frenchman sent a low bouncing shot off the post and into the net.

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Southampton 0
West Ham 1

The second half opened with what should have been Fornals first goal but McCarthy made a superb save on hard strike from inside the box. Maybe the kid will turn out to be an OK signing after all? Moments later, VAR disallowed what would have been Antonio’s second goal of the season for a handball in the buildup. But the link up play between Haller and Antonio, with Fornals in support, should be a glimpse of what the second half of the season will hold. At least in terms of setup and formation.

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West Ham won…actually, Antonio won a corner in the 59th minute when he outran Cedric to chase down a pass from Fornals. His brute strength and speed won a throw a minute later. West Ham could not capitalize on either thoroughbred run by our game-changer.

As the second half ticked away, I kept writing the start of something only to stop because in reality nothing happened. West Ham would start a counter, and wouldn’t get a shot off. Then the hosts would come down and West Ham would clear. But in the 70th minute Southampton had a moment that came inches from leveling the match. Djenepo set up Ings in the box, a man with 9 league goals this season for a team in the bottom three. His strike was excellent, but it came off the crossbar and bounced a yard off the line. No VAR needed.

West Ham came very close to a second goal when a good cross from Antonio found the head of Haller in front of goal. He put the ball low and towards the far post, but McCarthy got his hand out to make the stop. Minutes later Antonio started another attack, but Yarmolenko couldn’t finish the job after being set up by Fornals.

Sanchez for Haller? That substitution made me very, very twitchy. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Antonio and Yarmolenko worked the ball on the right side in the 82nd minute and won a corner for their efforts. They moved the ball around the Southampton half after the set piece, taking a few seconds off the clock. But Danny Ings took advantage of some sloppy interplay between Sanchez and Noble and went on a run that would have been a candidate for goal of the year had it ended in the back of the net. Instead Balbuena stepped in and cleared. The truth was that the Sanchez for Haller move looked bad and seemed to be the fulcrum of every positive move from the home side.

Southampton won a free kick right outside the box in the 89th minute when Balbuena stuck his foot in front of Djenepo. The Mali international went down, and West Ham looked vulnerable. Thankfully for us the set piece flew directly into the arms of Martin. In the 92nd minute, with West Ham frantically holding on, the home side won a corner as their supporters were heading to the exits. And then, in what was almost a surreal moment, Martin went down injured after a free kick. On the bright side, West Ham had used all three of their substitutions so Roberto couldn’t come on.

Final Score
Southampton 0
West Ham 1

The main presenter here for NBC is Arlo White. Midway through the second half, he made a few points that we all know but I wondered what a neutral would think. First, in the ten years Sullivan and Gold have owned West Ham we have been involved in five relegation battles. Second, the most they have ever spent on a non-attacking midfielder was 7 million pounds on Kouyate. And finally, the most they ever spent on a fullback was 6 million pounds on Masuaku. And that assumes you are willing to classify Masuaku as a fullback.

I’m not being a moaner here, despite what you may think. We won. I’m thrilled we did. I hope playing two up front will finally make sense to Pellegrini and he will stick to it. He said something to that effect in his post match interview. Even if he does, however, I cannot see us having anything other than a rough year that will once again see us finish in the bottom half, perilously close to the drop zone. We played a rather bad team today, and it still wasn’t easy. Then again, when is it easy for us? As for the manager, I don’t know what to think. To say he keeps his job because of one win is ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as saying a manager should lose his job because of a single result.

Sam Wallace had a fantastic article in The Telegraph yesterday where he made the very cogent and logical case against our owners. “West Ham find themselves in the classic managerial death-spiral of disenchanted underperforming players who will be expensive to remove. It needs a fresh start, new direction and a vision for the club but why would you trust the same people to deliver it?”

I don’t.

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Match Thread

Southampton v West Ham

Southampton v West Ham
FA Premier League
St Mary’s
KO 5.30pm
TV: Sky Sports
Radio: talkSport

Please use this thread to comment on the game as it progresses.

Book Review

Opposition Q&A with The Saints

This weekend West Ham travel to the South coast to take on a Southampton team who are disappointing their fans as much as West Ham are us. Before the game I spoke to old friend and Saints season ticket holder Simon Lacey from Dance Company New Adventures, who are currently on tour in LA to compare woes.

Well we are both having a terrible first half of the season. Where in particular have you been lacking so far?
Where do I begin. Defence, midfield and attack for starters. There is no obvious structure for the team and how it is all meant to work; no link-ups, no sense that anyone knows where someone else will be for a pass, no movement of the ball in midfield that has the intention of setting up chances. Just look at the ratio of goals we have scored from the opponents defensive errors, set plays (JWP take a bow) and individual skill (Djenepo in both instants for our 1-0 away wins at Brighton and Sheffield Utd) as opposed to goals scored from team play.

Despite your position, have there been any particular moments that give you hope for the future?
Djenepo has the ability for individual moments of brilliance as noted above, JWP is the best English dead ball exponent since Becks – witness the latest against Watford, scratches head for anything more to say in answer.

The consequence of being at or near the bottom leads to speculation that the manager’s position is at risk – what are your thoughts on Hasenhüttl? Should he go, or should you persevere with him?
In terms of leadership I’m more depressed that the working class turkeys in the midlands and the the north voted for Christmas in the shape of that Eton toff Johnson; London should seek independence! The jury is out on Hasenhüttl – after a decent second half of last season under him the expectation was more of the same or better. I don’t see a great tactical mind and some of his selections raise eyebrows. Some of it is down to what he has to work with but you see clubs with similar or worse squads doing better.

What about Maunuel Pelligrini, do you think he will still be West Ham manager at the end of the season?
I doubt it but don’t really know where it all has gone wrong. Maybe too many of the squad are not that interested as there is definitely talent there. I like him but if results don’t pick up soon I think a P45 beckons.

Which players, if any have had a reasonable season so far? Conversely who have played below par?
I am glad you say reasonable as I couldn’t name anyone that has had a really good season. Ings has scored a few, Djenepo has his moments and Bertrand has been fine but only one member of a v brittle defence. Below par: Pope, Vestergaard, Cedric, Bednarek, Valery, Romeo, Adams and Redmond for starters.

How do you think VAR has performed so far?
Inconsistently and mostly to Liverpool’s advantage so in that respect no different from referees. It only really works for offsides as that (like goal-line technology) is a factual thing bit still some strange interpretations of second stage and which bit of body is in an offside position I think. Ridiculous that ref can’t check the monitors and the unwillingness to overturn decisions to protect the on-field ref (just makes him seem even more of a Jonah)

Which teams have surprised you with their performances so far this season?
Sheffield Utd and (winces) Leicester.

As usual who do you think/hope is going to win the league this season, and who will join them in the Champions League next year?
Hope anyone other than Liverpool – think Liverpool. City, Leicester and either Chelsea of Spurs to join them in Champions League.

Who are your favourites for the drop at this halfway stage?
Norwich stone-wallers I’d say, Watford very likely and gonna plump for Bournemouth, particularly with their injury situation in key areas

How will Southampton line up this weekend? Team/Position?
McCarthy, Cedric (RB), Stephens (RCB), Bednarek (LCB), Bertrand (LB), Ward- Prowse (CM), Hojberj (CM), Djenepo (LM), Redmond (RM), Ings (CF), Long (F) i.e. 4-4-2. Possibly Boufal or Romeo for Djenepo. Possibly Obafemi or Adams for Long.

Are you confident of a Southampton victory? ‘Cos I’m confident of a West Ham defeat? Prediction for score?
I’m confident of nothing at St Mary’s despite winning the last 2 (Watford and Norwich admittedly). We tend to play better against teams that look to attack rather than those that are content to spoil and break-away so I’ll go for 2-1in hope but just as likely to be 1-2 in reality.

Well many thanks to SImon once again for his time, and giving up the chance to stroll along Venice Beach to think about West Ham’s travails. I agree with his prediction, I obviously hope it goes our way, but would also be a bit shocked if it did. COYI

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