The HamburgHammer Column
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!!!
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.