Dan Coker's Match Preview

West Ham's Spanish Connections: Part One

With England’s upcoming Nations League match against Spain coming up on Saturday, here’s Part One of a look back at the Hammers’ Spanish contingent.

Kepa Blanco

Kepa Blanco was born on 13th January 1984 in Marbella, Spain and began his career with Sevilla’s B team as a teenager in 2002 before progressing to Sevilla’s first team in 2005. He played for Spain at Under-19, Under-21 and Under-23 levels and won the UEFA Cup with Sevilla in 2006. He fell out of favour though and agreed a loan move to Alan Curbishley’s West Ham in January 2007.

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Kepa, as he was known, scored within 70 seconds of coming on as a substitute for his Hammers debut in a 2-1 home defeat to Liverpool on 30th January 2007. This earned the 23-year-old a start for the next match at Aston Villa but the Irons lost 1-0. He made six further substitute appearances for the Hammers, none of which came in the club’s four-match winning run at the end of the 2006/07 campaign to secure the Great Escape. Meanwhile, Kepa’s parent club were winning the Copa Del Rey and UEFA Cup. Kepa Blanco made eight appearances for the Hammers, scoring one goal, which can be seen in my video below.

Kepa signed for Getafe in a permanent move in the summer of 2007. After three years he joined Recreativo in the Spanish second tier. He failed to make a single appearance in his second season with the Andalusia-based club and joined Guadalajara, also in the second tier. Relegation followed and Kepa retired from football at the age of 30. He has since coached Malaga-based amateur side San Pedro.

Manuel Almunia

Manuel Almunia was born on 19th May 1977 in Pamplona, Spain. The first six seasons of his career were spent in the Spanish third tier with Osasuna’s B team, Cartagonova and Sabadell. He joined La Liga side Celta Vigo but failed to make an appearance for the club, instead spending loan spells with Eibar in the second tier, and Recreativo and Albacete in the top tier. He moved to Arsenal in 2004 as back-up to Jens Lehmann; he was an unused substitute when Arsenal beat Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup Final but did play 70 minutes of the 2006 Champions League Final after Lehmann was sent off in the Gunners’ 2-1 defeat to Barcelona. He made 175 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal before moving across London to West Ham United in a loan deal.

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Sam Allardyce signed the 34-year-old Almunia on a one-month emergency loan deal following a knee injury to first choice goalkeeper Robert Green. Almunia made four appearances for the Hammers, making his debut in a 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace on 1st October 2011. He made his home debut in a 4-0 home win over Blackpool two weeks later and also played in a 1-0 defeat at Southampton. His final game was a 1-0 win at Brighton on 24th October 2011.

Almunia signed for Watford in the summer of 2012 and spent two years with the Hornets. Now 41, Almunia retired in 2014 on medical advice after a rare heart condition was picked up during a medical with Serie A side Cagliari.

Adrian

Adrian San Miguel del Castillo was born on 3rd January 1987 in Seville, Spain and began his career with Real Betis’ third team, before progressing to the B side and the first team. He also had spells on loan at Alcala and Utrera. He was named Man of the Match on his La Liga debut in September 2012 and received the award again when keeping a clean sheet against Real Madrid in a 1-0 home win in November 2012. He started 31 matches in 2012/13, keeping 11 clean sheets and helping the club qualify for the Europa League with a seventh placed finish.

Adrian signed for Sam Allardyce’s West Ham on a free transfer in the summer of 2013. Initially back-up to Jussi Jaaskelainen, the 26-year-old Adrian made his Hammers debut in a 2-1 League Cup second round win over Cheltenham on 27th August 2013. He helped the Irons to the semi-finals of the League Cup in his first season and made his Premier League debut in a 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford in December 2013. An outstanding individual performance from the Spanish stopper saw the Hammers pick up an unlikely point in a goalless draw at Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in January 2014. Having made himself first choice, Adrian was named runner-up to Mark Noble in the 2013/14 Hammer of the Year voting.

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Arguably Adrian’s finest hour to date in a West Ham shirt came in an FA Cup third round replay against Everton at the Boleyn Ground in January 2015. He saved Steven Naismith’s penalty in an epic penalty shoot-out before famously throwing off his gloves to net the winner himself. Later that season, Adrian also became just the ninth ‘keeper in Premier League history to save three penalties in a row – first from Harry Kane at Tottenham (who scored the rebound), David Nugent at Leicester and Charlie Austin at QPR. Adrian was also sent off in a goalless draw at Southampton in February 2015 but the dismissal was later rescinded.

Adrian was sent off in a 2-1 home defeat to Leicester in August 2015 but helped the Hammers to a seventh-placed finish in the club’s final season at Upton Park. He was called up to the senior Spain squad in August 2016. A crowd favourite, the 31-year-old Adrian has been in and out of the side since the move to London Stadium with Darren Randolph, Joe Hart and Lukasz Fabianski providing competition for his starting place. He has made 146 appearances for West Ham United to date.

Pedro Obiang

Pedro Obiang was born on 27th March 1992 in Alcala de Henares, Spain and began his career in Atletico Madrid’s youth system before moving to Sampdoria in Italy. After five seasons in the first team at the Genoa-based club, and having appeared for Spain at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 levels, Obiang became the first signing of the Slaven Bilic era when he moved to West Ham United in the summer of 2015.

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Obiang made his Hammers debut as a half-time substitute for Reece Oxford in a 2-1 home defeat to Leicester on 15th August 2015. He helped the Irons to a seventh-placed finish in 2015/16 and scored his first goal in claret and blue in a 3-1 win at Southampton on 4th February 2017. Obiang signed a new five-year contract with the Hammers in the summer of 2017 and scored two goals last season, the first in a 2-0 home win over Huddersfield on 11th September 2017 and the second a stunning strike from distance at Wembley in a 1-1 draw with Tottenham on 4th January 2018. He suffered a knee injury at Wigan in January which kept him out for four months – he has made 89 appearances to date for West Ham, scoring three goals.

Part Two of West Ham United’s Spanish Connections will be published before England’s return match in Spain next month.


The Blind Hammer Column

Substance over Style

Blind Hammer argues that Pellegrini must make West Ham harder to beat.

The Pellegrini revolution aims to transform West Ham’s style. He has pledged to return attacking flair. This was always going to be a tough gig in a first 4 fixtures which included away games against Liverpool and Arsenal. The reverses in the theoretical winnable games against Bournemouth and Wolves reminds us of how difficult delivering this will be against all teams in the brutal and harsh competitive environment of the Premier League. There really are no easy games. The reality is that despite his huge experience and successful CV Pellegrini is facing a combination of circumstances he has never faced before.

Recently in his London Standard column Mark Noble reflected how extraordinarily difficult the premier league is compared to other European Leagues. He reported how Ogbonna had revealed that the physical demands of playing in the PL bore no resemblance to playing in Italy. There He would have no difficulty playing game after game with little if any physical strain. Whereas in the PL Noble claimed a player will in contrast find it difficult to walk for 48 hours whilst they struggle to recover.

This is one reason why Pellegrini’s experience at Malaga, much cited as a template for West Ham, will in reality have little relevance. There is though another more important reason why the Malaga template may not apply. When I reviewed European turnover figures last year I showed Bournemouth as the minnows of the PL with a turnover of only £96 million, yet this was vast in European terms. They had more financial muscle than nearly all but the most elite of European Clubs. They far outstripped for example Ajax. More relevantly Bournemouth’s relatively small PL turnover massively surpassed nearly all Spanish clubs. Characteristically Spanish clubs had only a fraction of this financial clout, typically earning a turnover of between £10-£20 million.

The Spanish League apart from the giants of Real and Barca is tiny compared to the PL. This meant that the investment Pellegrini received at Malaga was massive compared to nearly all his competitors. In general the competition was much weaker and less resourced. In distinction the best players in the world are sprinkled across the Premier League, drawn in by the lure of the wages paid out by even the smallest PL clubs. . At West Ham we arguably have Austria’s best player in Armi and Mexico’s best player in Chico. We sold the Captain of the Senegal team as he was not considered good enough. Portugal’s Mario struggled to convince at West Ham despite featuring in the latter stages of the World Cup. Newcastle have Venezuela’s best player, Salomon Rondon, who is failing to regularly make their first 11. Everton have Iceland’s best player Gylfi Sigurðsson, other examples are spread throughout the rest of the league.

This in no way resembles the competitive challenge Pellegrini faced with the ultimately failed project at Malaga. West Ham does not resemble Manchester City or Real Madrid either. Pellegrini delivered at City and Real with a massive transfer advantage. The transfer investment whilst at record levels for West Ham is matched and exceeded by many other clubs. The competitive challenge of the PL is more brutal harsh and consistent from week to week. Both Aston Villa and Sunderland fell into their dizzying fall from grace not because of lack of investment but because they faltered at the false altar of “ambition”. Aston Villa were relegated paying more in wages than West Ham whilst Sunderland also struggle because they over invested in player wages but received little back in performance.

None of this means that Pellegrini is necessarily doomed to walk the haunted path of the ghost of Avram grant, at least not yet. It does mean though that the tried and tested strategies of previous appointments may not work. He needs to learn and adapt fast. He may have to adjust and move into unfamiliar territory.

The problem is that West Ham cannot really claim that we have been unlucky. Despite flickering briefly against Arsenal we are terrifyingly open at the moment. Clubs are finding it far too easy to mount efforts on our goal. Only the form of Fabianski has saved us from more humiliating defeats. We continue not only to have the worst defensive record since the start of last season but this season are the second worst team in the Premier League for allowing completed attempts on our goal. Apart from shredding all our nerves this openness and vulnerability will over a season deliver certain relegation. In 4 games played, West Ham has allowed 29 efforts on our goal. This must be controlled to more manageable levels.

I am not sure whether midfield consolidation is needed or whether Pellegrini will finally have to revert back to a back 3, but a system has to be found which does not allow shots and headers to constantly rain down on Fabianski. In other words Pellegrini may need to show tactical flexibility. The hunt for a sweeping Attacking styles may have to go, in the short term, on the back burner in order to claim more substantial, if less exciting improvement. This will be necessary to prevent the collapse of squad confidence and morale. .

So far Pellegrini has shown more interest in shuffling personnel rather than systems in AN effort to bail out the sinking ship. Some change is understandable given poor results. However if the problem is really one of players gelling, not treating each other like strangers, then chopping and changing will not help. As a policy squad rotation should cease immediately. I was amazed at the numbers of changes made for the Wimbledon game. Although we ultimately scrapped through against 10 men with late goals, we should have, in the interest of “gelling” gone with our first 11. A similar principle should apply for the Macclesfield game. This team must stop behaving like strangers and should play together as much as possible at all competitive opportunities. The League Cup may ironically finally provide the green shoots of recovery which helps us in the Premiership.

COYI
David Griffith

David Griffith


Talking Point

Clean Sheets Please, And Asap

Guest Post by DC

In November 2015, I posted an article on WHTID after a dismal 4-1 away defeat to Spurs – the subject being Spurs 3rd goal against us that day scored by a certain Mr Harry Kane.

My specific focus and angst that day was geared towards Jenkinson and Cresswell’s positioning in relation to our two centre halves after James Tomkins played a stray pass. Namely our full backs were about 30 yards ahead of Tomkins and Reid. There was no contingency plan in place for if or when we gave the ball away playing out from the back. Loads of space on the pitch for the opposition to run into, exactly where we don’t want that space, in our final third. Diabolical Defending!

Fast forward to August 2017 and under the same Bilic regime, I experienced the same angst during our 3-0 away defeat at Newcastle. My sympathies went out to Declan Rice that day as he was pick-pocketed in Defensive Midfield by two Newcastle players for their first goal, again as we tried to play out from the back. A steep learning curve for the young lad, but yet again I found myself searching for our full-backs – just the one right back barely in his own half this time. Loads of space on the pitch for the opposition to run into, exactly where we don’t want that space, in our final third. Diabolical Defending!

This summer a trumpet fanfare across social media greeted Mr Pellegrini and his boys to the club but yep you guessed it, we fast forward to last Saturday and the visit of Wolves where we stumble across an all too familiar picture. A ponderous Sanchez receiving not the best ball in the world from Balbuena. The ball gets ‘nicked off him’, Balbuena and Diop are isolated, split 30-40 odd yards apart, the right full back is barely in our half and Cresswell is in the opposition half near the centre circle, albeit goal-side of the eventual Wolves goalscorer who burns Cressy in a 50 yard footrace to our penalty box. Loads of space on the pitch for the opposition to run into, exactly where we don’t want that space, in our final third. Diabolical Defending!

What’s that saying? “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and ……..” I don’t need to spell it out.

There will always be passionate discussions about our best team and ‘formation’ on WHTID as well as the odd tendency by some of us to tap them out on shall we say, quite a regular basis. We talk of 3 at the back. 4 at the back. 5 at the back. Maybe these formations are based on where the players stand when we kick off or perhaps more unconsciously, we visualise how the team is set-up when the opposition have the ball and are fully encamped in our half.

Watching the Mighty Hammers over the last few years, I’m mostly concerned when we have the ball and are looking to push forward, i.e. when we’re likely to get the ball nicked off us early doors. This for me is when we are at our most vulnerable. Our full-backs are regularly AWOL when this happens. There’s certainly enough evidence out there to suggest that we’re not playing with anything other than a Split Back 2 when we have the ball. From where I’m sitting, we’ve been doing this for a few years now. Do we really think we now have good enough players to do this and get away with it in the weeks and months ahead?

Some might argue that this is the way modern football is played these days – the way forward! I seem to remember a very much fancied Brazil side getting their bums slapped 7-1 when they tried doing something very similar against Germany in the 2014 World Cup Semi Final on their home turf. It smacked of arrogance, the net result being David Luiz hiding his face in shame beneath his shirt as he cried himself off the field of play at the end of the game. Brazil’s wing backs had forgot the ‘back’ bit.

Footballers, namely Central Defensive Midfielders, lose the ball from time to time – even the very best ones. Some lose it slightly more than others. All teams need a contingency plan for when they lose possession, particularly when they lose the ball deep in their own half. This is the main reason I would be very wary about playing Declan Rice in the CDM role at the moment. Personally I think it’s totally unfair on the young lad as long as the full backs continue to be deployed in such a random way.

Up against a West Ham side, the opposition don’t always need to work that hard to create space going forward as we seem to randomly hand out vast swathes of space to them on a plate. In a pure footballing sense, perhaps the players think they’re better than they are on the ball?

In terms of understanding the Team dynamics, we really seem to be struggling with the idea that a full-back’s first and foremost role is to defend. In my opinion, until we get a grip on this, we will continue to play kamikaze football of the highest order.

Clean Sheets Please asap – COYI!


The S J Chandos Column

Was it a mistake selling Cheikhou Kouyate?

There is presently something of a media and social media ‘feeding frenzy’ around our club. The media love promoting stories on the ‘crisis club’ of the moment and we have duly obliged in providing them with their early season focus. It is predictable that the media would be ‘all over’ our current woes and it has been compounded by endless negative conjuncture on social media. At the moment, West Ham related media stories are the on-going financial/Legal disputes with E20, Defra Sakho’s discarded ‘super car,’ the absence of suitable training facilities and a coherent scouting/recruitment system at the club and the estimated timing of Pellegrini’s sacking. If anything, social media is even more painful to read, characterised as it is by the most profound and thoroughgoing negativity. The best example of which is the depressing (and defeatist) conjecture that we may well remain without a PL point until the end of October!!

In addition, former professionals are also adding fuel to the fire, with Tony Cascarino urging the club to sack Pellegrini, Tony Cottee arguing that David Moyes should still be in charge, and Craig Bellamy speculating about our inability to retain Arnautovic’s services beyond the end of the January window. Another ex-professional, with strong views about our current predicament, is ex-Gooner and Sky Pundit, Paul Merson. Merson has been scathing about our performances so far this season and, in a recent edition of Sky’s Sports’ ‘The Debate, he has specifically criticised the decision to sell Cheikou Kouyate to Crystal Palace, for a reported fee of c.£11m. Merson forcefully argued on the Sky programme: ’I think if there was one player that could get around midfield and hurry people up, it was Kouyate who has gone to Crystal Palace. He went for a cup of tea, I think it was about £8m, which is nothing.’

Is Merson right about Kouyate’s sale? I would say both yes and no! I do firmly believe that West Ham are missing a powerful, box-to-box, type midfielder. The type of player that contributes the graft/energy to compliment the more creative midfield players. We are currently being outfought in midfield and that was clearly demonstrated in both home defeats against Bournemouth and Wolves. As well as losing Kouyate, we have crucially also sent both Fernandes and Cullen (as possible alternative options) out on loan, leaving us with Rice, Obiang, Sanchez, Noble and Wilshere as our available options. You cannot criticise either Noble or Wilshere for not fulfilling this midfield power house role, they can both graft, but they are arguably more technical players, with the ability to pass the ball and orchestrate play. While Obiang and Sanchez are specialist defensive midfielders, whose role is to shield the defence and break up opposition attacks. Could Declan Rice suit the role? Potentially yes, in time, but we must consider his age and relative inexperience. So, yes, we are definitely missing an experienced, Kouyate type player.

Indeed, I would undoubtedly have argued for retaining Kouyate if he was still the power house player that performed so well in his first two seasons at the club. He was particularly impressive in 2015-16, when he was a major factor in our successful campaign. However, over the subsequent two seasons he was quite never the same force and was frequently criticised by fans for his decreased work rate and tendency to cheaply lose possession. As such, I was fairly open to his sale this summer, but I had anticipated that he would be replaced by a box-to-box midfielder who could perhaps be considered an upgrade. Unfortunately, that deal did not materialise and we are presently living with its consequences, a squad with a obvious lack in that department.

One piece of social media conjecture that I did find interesting was the reports that we presently have a first team squad of 23 players (i.e. two short). This has led to the suggestion that one or two free agent signings could still arrive at the club. I am not sure if this is correct, but if it is then the priority must surely be to identify whether there is a suitable free agent who could add some much needed work rate and grit to our midfield. If not then, then that may well be one of our priorities in the January window, if we definitely cannot find a solution within the resources of the current squad.

SJ. Chandos.


The GoatyGav Column

Can a team play without leaders?

Saturday was painful, frustrating and difficult watching. Especially in the first half. Some of the players looked like they were still on the beach while others did their level best in a dysfunctional collective.

My view was that there was some, sporadic, decent passing but that it was blindingly obvious that the team had been instructed to play narrow and through the middle of the pitch. All well and good but when central midfield lack leadership, commitment and honest hard graft it’s like a cake without a vital ingredient. Whether Sanchez was instructed to play the ball forward then ‘make like a statue’ I don’t know but that was, pretty much, what I saw him do every time he was involved in the first 45 mins.

Listening to Motty, who commentated on the game for Talksport, in the car this afternoon I was pleased to hear that he’d caught wind of Nobes’ post match tirade at the players. Mr Motson also sympathised with the West Ham faithful for what we’re being put through by the team at the moment. The general gist was that he believes we deserve better – and he’s right.

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Now some players take a while to learn how to play in the English Premier League. Others never get there. At present I have to admit that I’ve no idea which of the two camps that Felipe Anderson will end up in. I really, really like the look of the player on the ball. He clearly likes to come deep to collect and break forward quickly. I genuinely hope that he proves himself and the fee paid for him is justified. Only time will tell.

I’ve heard many opinions about Arnie and his BMWing (Bitching, Moaning & Whinging) on the pitch. Personally I felt that he tried to lead by example by working his socks off up front but the armband really didn’t suit. Frankly he should have a more positive demeanour and, all boiled down, should not have been given the captain’s armband. For me it wasn’t for want of trying – he’s just not a leader at present. That said I honestly can’t be too harsh on the bloke. He clearly cares a lot and he put in a real shift – working the entire width of the pitch to try and influence the game and harry the opposition where he could. At least that’s the light I saw his efforts in.

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When we discuss tactics and what players offer the team, both technically and with their work ethic, the contribution they give rarely includes how ‘presence’ and ‘leadership’ have affected the performance and team-mates.

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James Collins was let go this Summer. Check Kouyate was never replaced and, in my opinion, should have stayed with the club ahead of Pedro Obiang. Declan Rice is not getting a sniff. Zabba was missing. These are all natural leaders that are being sorely missed at the moment but the obvious missing link is our club captain. Yes – he may be a little short of pace, may, occasionally, get caught in possession and, frustratingly, pass sideways and backwards more often than we’d like to see but, boy oh boy, have we missed his presence on the pitch. Allegedly he’s made that presence felt in the dressing room but I’m convinced that we’d have watched a different match if he was involved.

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I was impressed by the performance of Issa Diop. Unlucky not to get across to block Traore’s shot for the winner but it wasn’t for want of trying. He’d already, successfully, got his body in front of a number of other shots and played well in possession. He’s got tremendous pace and, in time, will become one of the first names on the teamsheet. Although we’re not certain what our strongest central defensive partnership is at present I’d have Issa alongside either Og or Balbuena. All that’s great but where I’m heading with this is that I also believe that Diop will become a leader on the pitch for us as well. Despite Angelo Ogbonna’s footballing abilities I don’t see him becoming that.

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We have some very tough fixtures coming up. I’m looking forward to them but, if there were ever a time when we’ve needed Mark Noble’s leadership skills, it’s now. Perhaps the International break has come at a good time for us – the more time Nobes as to recover from his injury the better. A player who is willing to give his all, playing through the pain of six hernias and split muscle tissue, is one that you need on the pitch spurring the rest of the team on.

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COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


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