The Blind Hammer Column

Will Rule Changes Help West Ham?

Blind Hammer looks at whether rule changes will help Pellegrini Cup challenge.

Some important changes will be implemented in the Carabao Cup this season.

The most reported is the removal of Extra Time and determination of ties by Penalty Shoot Out. The EFL has also announced that the shootout format will revert to the traditional alternative kicks, rather than the ABBA format trialled last season.

Less well reported but probably just as significant is the removal of seeding which has traditionally protected Premier League clubs. Clubs involved in European Competition will still receive a bye into the third round.

The EFL justified the removal of Extra Time by looking at a statistical analysis which showed 85% of ties were resolved by 90 minutes anyway. .

Finally the VAR experiment will continue for all ties played at Premier League grounds.

Taken together these rule changes introduce much more of a lottery of chance into the competition. There are both threats and opportunities for West Ham.

The threat is pretty obvious. We saw, last season, how a team like Shrewsbury was able to resist, to some extent comfortably, a West Ham team over 90 minutes. There is a far higher chance that West Ham will be forced into the lottery of a Penalty Shoot Out by a lower league team. Psychologically as well as physically a lower league team will find it easier to sustain an extraordinary effort for 90 rather than 120 minutes. My own view is that this rule change will create a scenario where lower league teams will strategise an even more defensive approach.

So West Ham will be more vulnerable to “Giant Killing” via Penalty Shootout. However this risk will apply just as much to competing Premier League clubs. I predict an increase in the number of PL scalps claimed by lower league opposition.

A similar threat is presented by the removal of seeding. It is perfectly possible that West Ham could encounter a tricky away tie at Everton or Wolves at first outing. This threat is shared by all PL clubs though. It is just as possible that West Ham could benefit from a draw opening up as PL clubs eliminate each other.

Personally I would have resisted these changes but they are what we have to work with now.

So to mount a Challenge for the cup requires some strategic analysis not dissimilar to that provided by Southgate for England. Generalised proficiency with Penalty taking, whilst fatigued, will be required across all the squad and not just a specialised select few.

The continued provision of VAR at London Stadium Cup games will similarly provide both threats and opportunities. One of Southgate’s most effective strategic insights was how VAR could literally be a game changer at Set pieces. The reduction of capacity to spoil set pieces by wrestling fouls by defenders provides opportunities for greater offensive threat.

To that end, as VAR is introduced across more competitions, athletic power and physicality will become even more important in both penalty areas.

It appears that Pellegrini is already planning for this. There were already comments from the Wycombe game that the new look West ham now more resembled a team from the land of the Giants. We apparently looked far bigger all over the pitch.

More generally we appear, in advance of any significant sales, to be assembling a squad with, arguably, greater depth than at any time in West Ham history. Many of our recruits are unproven at PL level but signs are promising.

We may just have a squad with sufficient depth to mount a sustained Cup Challenge. We will suffer vulnerability to penalty shootout elimination, but then again in later rounds this lottery could work just as much in our favour against a Chelsea or Manchester City.

COYI
David Griffith


The HamburgHammer Column

Fettered joy: Have aliens abducted our chairmen ?

Is this really West Ham ? Have aliens taken our board members, flying them twice around Saturn in their claret and blue saucer, before returning them in a brainwashed state of mind, driven to spend cash left, right and center as if the sun was about to hit Planet Earth in the next fortnight and it’s all gonna end soon for the human race anyway ?

THAT was one protracted transfer saga, wasn’t it ? But finally we all saw those long awaited pictures (the ones with the player, having a West Ham shirt on, doing the thumbs up gesture and the crossed arms) which confirmed that indeed Felipe Anderson had just signed for West Ham.

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Of course we’ve had similar stories or rather sagas about marquee signings before in previous seasons, with the difference being that those rarely came to fruition in the past for one of a variety of reasons:

Selling clubs too notoriously difficult to deal with, time running out on Deadline Day to get a thorough medical done, not being able to agree on suitable payment terms, the trainee forgetting to put a newer toner cartridge into the fax machine – okay, I made that last one up, but you get the picture.

Lacazette didn’t come, Bacca didn’t come, Iheanacho didn’t come, Carvalho didn’t quite make it over the line and even when penning my column last weekend I figured that Anderson was slowly slipping away and wasn’t gonna happen either.

But we got him eventually. And I for one am very chuffed with that.
Main reason being that both Pellegrini and Husillos were very keen to get him in. MP stood firm and made Sullivan sign the cheque, God knows how, but sign the cheque Sullivan apparently did.

If MP and Husillos still wanted Anderson so desperately after weeks of hard-nosed negotiations they surely must have done their homework on the guy, meaning more than just watching highlight reels on Youtube like this one:

Further than watching the videos I have also been checking out some scouting reports on Lazio blogs from the days when he was still plying his trade in Rome.

One thing that stands out is his versatility: He can play as a Trequartista (that’s fancy Italian football lingo for a playmaker who plays in a central attacking midfielder position), on either wing (as he is two-footed), as your classical Number 10 or even as an inside striker.

Let’s start off with his weaknesses as those can be dealt with fairly quickly: He is not the greatest finisher (no goal machine), his aerial game has room for improvement and occasionally he makes the wrong on-field decision when trying to go past one opponent too many rather than picking a pass to a better positioned teammate.

That’s all more than counterbalanced though by incredible pace, technical skills, flair, tricks, flicks, crossing, dribbling, shots from outside the box, vision and the willingness to also get stuck in defensively.

I reckon we got ourselves a diamond in the rough here, a potential world-class player and other than welcoming Felipe with wide open arms at West Ham I only have one main wish as far as our fanbase is concerned:

Give the man time to settle in his new environment, don’t expect the world of him straight away, let him work with the manager and his teammates and then hopefully he will provide us with plenty of thrills and getting-out-of-your-seat moments at West Ham for years to come!

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We have also signed Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko of course, but my money for the potentially best player brought in for £ invested so far has to be on Fabian Balbuena, former skipper of Brazilian club Corinthians.

Kudos first to Mr.Husillos for signing up the guy in what seemed like double-quick time, sailing through any work permit issues and getting the lad into a West Ham shirt for very much a pittance in terms of average 2018 market prices.

You know I’ve always had a bit of an irrational admiration for defenders, the guys who rarely get headlines or column inches devoted to them, simply because their job in the main is not to create or score goals, but to ensure our guys don’t concede any to begin with.

I often enjoy defensive masterclasses just as much, if not more than a well-crafted attacking move or goal of the month contender.

Ask yourself why guys like Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds are still being held in such high regard among our fanbase. I ain’t saying Balbuena will necessarily slip right into that illustrious list of great West Ham defenders. I just hope he helps to shore up our leaky defensive set-up a bit.

It looks like Pellegrini will try to rebuild West Ham from the back and rightly so. Too many times last season our defenders were all over the place, left stranded to fight for themselves by some shocking (lack of) support from our midfield.

Hopefully Pellegrini will begin to have an impact in that respect fairly sharpish. Onwards and upwards!

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Right now one cannot help as a West Ham fan to be very happy if not absolutely thrilled with our signings so far, there will no doubt be players leaving though in the coming days and weeks and I shall withhold my undivided praise until the transfer window has slammed shut.

My joy cannot be unfettered anyway, sorry for doing an Eeyore here – this is West Ham after all, the club who has set the benchmark, blueprint and copyright for the most elaborate and deceptive false dawns in the history of the modern game.

Remember the Icelandics ? Or Tevez and Mascherano arriving in a shock Post-World Cup double deal ?
When things seem too good to be true…and all that…

When it comes to several good things or signings happening to and at my club in a very short period of time, I usually feel as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, occupied by pubescent kids who have just consumed five cups of espresso each.

We are simply not used to seeing our board spend serious amounts of money on quality players like this.

A triumvirate of Yarmolenko, Balbuena and Anderson arriving within a matter of days ? I’m 46 years old! Let me get to grips with this new concept first. Allow me a bit of a lie-down, some oxygen and a cup of tea to get myself acclimatised before continuing the dizzying climb towards the next level!

Of course we may eventually get the picture, a reasonable explanation where the money for this spending spree might have sprung from all of a sudden:

Saved up money from previous windows ?
New shareholder loans from Gold and Sullivan ?
Board member Albert “Tripp” Smith chipping in to increase our overdraft spending facilities or bringing in some fresh dosh from some business partners of his ? Who knows ?

Right now as fans we should be cautiously happy but also remain acutely aware to the fact that things rarely go smoothly at our beloved little club.
There’s always a caveat or two to navigate and I won’t be counting our chickens just yet…

From a footballing point of view though I cannot wait to see what Pellegrini can do with what already looks like a significantly stronger squad compared to last season. Apparently our transfer business ain’t done yet either and we still have a loan deal or two to conclude and we all know how Sullivan loves those…:-))

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And what’s been happening in Hamburg (I hear some of you ask) ?
Well, Saturday was one of those very busy eventful days that simply happen in my town from time to time.

First it was the Schlager Move, a celebration of sentimental, silly, overly kitsch easy listening German songs from the Seventies and Eighties where young people and hipsters dress up in ridiculously multi-coloured suits and wigs while pretending to enjoy this kind of music they used to hate back when their parents listened to it…

Not for everyone, but a big event nonetheless, resulting in thousands of drunk people dancing around various party floats rolling through Hamburg’s red light district.

Only a couple of miles down the road it was the ITU World Triathlon, a pretty exciting sporting event, taking place over the course of two days, featuring both professional athletes and amateurs alike competing for money, glory and pride in the water, on the bicycle and with running boots on, right in the middle of Hamburg’s beautiful city centre.

And if that wasn’t enough Helene Fischer was in town yet again for another one of her usual sell-out shows. I decided to watch the triathlon on the telly from the comfort of my armchair and went to watch the final two Concordia preseason games on Sunday.

It’s one of the joys of lower league football in Hamburg that you get to know the new players at your club really quickly. It’s obviously much easier to chat to amateur players during a matchday than PL stars for instance.

I was surprised to find that some of the new Cordi boys were quite clued up about West Ham. One knew about our hooligan rep (must have watched Green Street Hooligans during one of its dozen reruns on German telly in the past twelve months) and he asked what made me become a West Ham supporter in the first place while another remembered that Hitzlsperger used to be called The Hammer and also had a spell playing for The Hammers on top of that.

While a third player (a backup goalie who supports Werder Bremen) told me a few stories from Arnautovic’s time at Werder, don’t be under any illusions, not all Bremen fans were sad to see him leave eventually.

He was younger and less mature in Bremen of course, so he got into a few interesting scraps there to say the least. Water under the bridge, he’s still a West Ham player as we speak and as long as this is the case I shall be rooting for him regardless.

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My weekend concluded with watching the WC final with a few mates in a sportsbar on the outskirts of town. As a lot of my neighbours in East Hamburg are of Croatian heritage (and because they were the underdogs too) I was rooting for the Croatians.

Whenever the waiter was bringing us another plate of chicken wings (it was all-you-can-eat and yes, they did have enough supplies to satisfy my demand on the day) he was making mocking comments about the Croatia players and their performance which got us irritated as well as a bit annoyed towards the end. Turned out he was Serbian, so no surprise he was cheering for the Frogs! Still no love lost between Serbs and Croats in 2018 it seems…

Well my friends, this is all from me this week. Let’s hope we get even more encouraging news on our transfer dealings in the coming days.

Concordia’s season proper by the way starts next weekend already with the traditional first round of the local cup competition. If you have some fingers to spare, keep them crossed for the boys, my dearest fellow WHTIDers!

COYI!!!


Player Analysis

Pellegrini Is Building a Squad, Not Just a Team

Things really are starting to shape up now. We’ve made three quality signings this week, and given the new injuries to Andy Carroll and Winston Reid, I wouldn’t rule out further dips into the transfer market. Given the amount we’ve spent so far, I don’t think anyone can accuse the Board of not backing the manager.

The most exciting transfer was announced this morning, and it’s been one of the most protracted sagas in the club’s history. It’s been on-off-on-off-on for the last six weeks, but finally we got it over the line. Rumour was that Pellegrini laid down an ultimatum of the sort: “Well I asked you to get this player and I expect you to deliver”. £36 million for a player with only one cap for his country seems an awful lot of money, but on the face of it Felipe Anderson looks a quality buy. He’d better be.

Andriy Yaromolenko had a glittering career as Dinamo Kiev, but hus transfer to Borussia Dortmund was not a success. he only played 18 games, scoring three times. However, by all accounts he looked quality against Wycombe yesterday. He’s quite tall for a wide player but seems to have an exquisite first touch, and a great ability to go past players.

Fabian Balbuena, on the face of it, looks to be a backup central defender, given he only cost £3 million from Corinthians. He’s only played 6 times for Paraguay so I’m not sure how he got a work permit, but he looks to be a real leader of men. A couple of weeks ago we signed Issa Diop for a club record for a defender and you’d have to think that he would be a first choice pick.

And then there’s Jack Wilshere. I hope to God he turns out to be a wise investment. He’s clearly another managerial pick, as I know David Sullivan didn’t want to sign him earlier in the transfer window. I am a big fan of his, and if he stays fit we have signed a top quality creative midfielder. When Arsenal came to us last season he was by far their best player.

And then there are Ryan Fredericks and Lucasz Fabianski. I have no idea whether Fredericks will displace Zabaleta at right back, or whether Fabianski will be preferred to Adrian. It still wouldn’t surprise me if we signed Tom Heaton or Jack Butland if the price is right. That would no doubt see Adrian leave as fast as he possibly could.

So all in all, we seem to be building an incredibly strong squad. Reece Burke is the only player to depart so far – for a measly £500k plus addons and a 20% sell on clause. There will no doubt be further departures over the course of the next three weeks, but I hope not too many. It would be madness to sell Cheikhou Kouyate as some are suggesting. Obiang, maybe, but not Kouyate. And certainly not Michail Antonio.

What we don’t know yet is which formation Pellegrini will choose to play. We haven’t played 4-4-2 for some time but I wonder whether that’s where we are heading. If that’s the case, this is how we could line up against Liverpool in our first game…

Fabianski, Fredericks, Cresswell, Diop, Rice, Wilshere, Kouyate, Yaromolenko, Anderson, Arnautovic, Hernandez

So, no place for Ogbonna, Noble, Obiang, Antonio, Masuaku, Zabaleta or Fernandes.

What is happening here is that Pellegrini is building a squad, not just a team.

Exciting times.


Dan Coker's Match Preview

Crossed Hammers & Three Lions: Vic Watson

Welcome to the latest in a series of articles designed for international matches – a look back at former Hammers players who wore the Three Lions of England.

Today, as England prepare to face Belgium in the third-place play-off of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, we look back at a former Hammers and England goalscorer. Victor Martin Watson was born in Girton, Cambridgeshire on 10th November 1897, one of 12 children born to Philip and Alice. His father was an agricultural labourer before becoming a factory hand at the Jam Factory. He signed up for the British Army in November 1914, eight days before his 17th birthday and fought during World War One in the 1st Cambs. Regiment and later in the 7th Northants. Regiment, reaching the rank of sergeant.

Watson began his junior football career with Girton before joining Cambridge Town. He also played with Peterborough & Fletton United and Brotherhood Engineering Works, his works team in Peterborough. He was seen playing for Wellingborough Town when West Ham’s Syd King signed him in March 1920 for a fee of £25 as cover for Hammers hero Syd Puddefoot. Watson made his Hammers debut in a goalless draw at Cardiff on 25th September 1920 and scored his first goal for the club in a 1-0 win at Coventry on 4th October 1920. He made nine appearances in 1920/21, scoring two goals. Watson started his West Ham career at outside-left due to the presence of Puddefoot – it wasn’t until two years later, when King sold Puddefoot for a British record fee of £5,000 to Falkirk, that Watson took his place at centre-forward. The rest is Hammers history. The following season, we reached the FA Cup Final and won promotion to the First Division, with Watson scoring 27 goals in 50 matches.

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Watson, who stood just over 5’9, also made his England debut during the 1922/23 season whilst playing in the Second Division at the age of 25. His first cap came in a 2-2 against Wales at Ninian Park on 5th March 1923 and, fittingly, he scored. He also scored in his second appearance for his country the following month in a 2-2 draw at Hampden Park against Scotland. To honour his first caps for England, Watson received a clock from the inhabitants of his home village of Girton. To round off an eventful few months, Watson married Kathleen Smith in June 1923.

Due to a broken toe, Watson only made 11 appearances in 1923/24, the Hammers’ first ever in the top flight – he scored three goals. He scored 23 goals in 1924/25, 20 goals in 1925/26 and 37 in 1926/27. Amazingly, he was placed on the transfer list in November 1927 after being dropped from the team but he would end up staying at the cub for a further eight years. He only scored 16 goals that season but was back to his best in 1928/29, scoring 30 goals before an astonishing 1929/30 campaign saw him score an incredible 50 goals in just 44 matches as the Hammers finished seventh. Watson’s goal celebration was to pick a blade of grass from the turf and put it between his teeth – no wonder the grass didn’t seem to grow back at Upton Park until the mid-1990s!

Watson’s goalscoring form brought him back into the England fold and he won his third cap on 5th April 1930 at the age of 32. He showed the selectors what they’d been missing for the previous seven years, scoring twice in a 5-2 win over Scotland at Wembley. He made two further appearances for his country, in a 3-3 draw in Berlin against Germany and in a goalless draw in Vienna against Austria, both matches in May 1930. He had won five England caps and scored four goals. He was the only centre-forward to play for England before and after the change in the offside law in 1925.

Watson only played 18 games in 1930/31 but still managed to net 14 goals. He scored 25 goals in 1931/32 but the Hammers were relegated at the end of the campaign. He netted 28 goals in 1932/33. Watson played and scored in a 2-0 FA Cup fourth round win over West Bromwich Albion on 28th January 1933 just a few hours after the death of John, his four-day-old son. John was the fourth of five children born to Vic and Kathleen – Phyllis was born in 1925, Betty in 1927, Beryl in 1931 and Gerald in 1938.

Watson scored 29 goals in just 32 matches in 1933/34 and nine goals in 15 games in 1934/35. At the age of 38, he was granted a free transfer by Charlie Paynter after 15 years’ service and joined former team-mate George Kay at Southampton, also in the Second Division, with whom he spent a season before retiring.

Vic Watson is, without question, the most prolific striker East London has ever seen and undoubtedly ranks as one of West Ham United’s best players of all-time. He scored 298 league goals in 462 appearances, bagging a further 28 goals in the FA Cup, making him the club’s record goalscorer with 326 goals from 505 matches. He scored six goals in one match, on a rain-lashed afternoon against Leeds in an 8-2 win in February 1929, scored four in one game on three occasions and scored a further 13 hat-tricks. He was described by a contemporary writer as being a “dashing centre-forward whose tactic was to persistently harass the opposing defence”.

Watson ran a fruit and vegetable small holding back in Cambridgeshire, growing cucumbers and tomatoes, and was also a market gardener in Girton. He also worked as a nurseryman and gas maker. He was the uncle of Harry Cranfield, who played for Fulham, Bristol Rovers and Colchester in the 1930s and ‘40s. Vic Watson died at the age of 90 in his hometown of Girton on 3rd August 1988, nine days after West Ham sold one of his goalscoring successors, Tony Cottee, to Everton and six days after fellow Hammers legend Billy Bonds retired. A plaque honouring Watson was unveiled in Girton in June 2010.

Belgium v England

England face Belgium this afternoon in the third-place play-off match of the 2018 World Cup – it will be the 23rd meeting between the two nations. The pair have met three times before in the World Cup, with the most famous being the 1-0 win for the Three Lions in the second round of Italia ’90 which was chronicled in my piece two weeks ago. The first World Cup meeting came in front of 14,000 in Basel, Switzerland, on 14th June 1954. Doris Day was number one with ‘Secret Love’, codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing had died a week previously and UEFA was formed the following day.

Walter Winterbottom’s England were on the back foot early on with Belgian forward Leopol Anoul giving his side the lead after five minutes. England stormed back, equalising through Newcastle inside-right Ivor Broadis in the 25th minute and going ahead courtesy of Bolton legend Nat Lofthouse 12 minutes later.

Broadis extended England’s lead to 3-1 in the 62nd minute but two goals in three minutes brought the Belgians level, Royal Liege inside-left Anoul scoring his second before a penalty by Beerschot centre-forward Rik Coppens levelled the game with 13 minutes to go.

Extra time was played in the group games at the 1954 World Cup if the score was level after 90 minutes, with the result being a draw if the scores were still level after 120 minutes. Lofthouse scored a minute into extra-time but an own goal by Portsmouth left-half Jimmy Dickinson just two minutes later restored parity for Belgium – the game finished in a 4-4 draw. England would top Group 4 but would be knocked out by Uruguay in the quarter-finals. West Germany beat Hungary in the Final.

England: Gil Merrick (Birmingham), Ron Staniforth (Huddersfield), Roger Byrne (Man Utd), Syd Owen (Luton), Billy Wright (captain, Wolves), Jimmy Dickinson (Portsmouth), Stanley Matthews (Blackpool), Ivor Broadis (Newcastle), Nat Lofthouse (Bolton), Tommy Taylor (Man Utd), Tom Finney (Preston).

Belgium: Leopold Gernaey (Oostende), Marcel Dries (Berchem), Constant Huysmans (Beerschot), Alfons Van Brandt (Lierse), Louis Carre (Royal Liege), Victor Mees (Antwerp), Pieter Van Den Bosch (Anderlecht), Denis Houf (Standard Liege), Rik Coppens (Beerschot), Leopold Anoul (Royal Liege), Jef Mermans (captain, Anderlecht).


Player Analysis

Welcome to Felipe Anderson

The signing of Felipe Anderson will be announced later today. This should wet your appetite…


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