Talking Point

Keeping the Faith is Getting Harder

Guest Post by Rugby Irons

So our tinker man has shuffled the pack and still picked a near losing hand. I sense more supporters are starting to question our Manager’s performances, and I think it’s right to do so . Every player is scrutinised so why not the manager?

A team manager is basically judged in three areas – Preparation, tactics and squad selection.

We had a long mileage pre-season which didn’t seem to achieve progress in the two prime aims. If it’s for fitness then it failed. Two games in and we already look tired, leggy and of course injured. If it was to prepare for new players coming into the squad, that didn’t happen either. We seem to have not learnt any lessons from last season. In terms of what is done on the training ground it looks short of intensity and does anyone really know what MP’s team plan is from one game to the next?

Which brings us to tactics. It’s a fantasy to believe just because we have good, promising flair players, we can just outscore the opposition each week. One shot in the first half yesterday to their seven could not be clearer. MP looks like he doesn’t have a plan that the team knows how to operate. If you rough up Wilshere and Anderson, then we cease to function. Our transition becomes easy to stifle. If you play one up then they have to be a threat but (bar his goal) Chico is way too weak . He needs a supply of chances that will not come. I had hoped the flair players would win more freekicks but we can’t even do that properly. Stop the pointless tap to freekicks and get the ball in or at least shoot. We simply lack a structure that the players can understand.

And so to the selections. Fab picks himself. If you go four at the back (and he will) because any three he picks wouldn’t have the pace, then you can’t pick Cresswell and you must pick Fred. Any two from the three centre halves is only going to give you some strengths but equally some weakness. MP stupidly didn’t address the most basic problem of sorting the defence and so we haven’t progressed. Every team we play know this and will all fancy scoring. I sense our first clean sheet is still a long way away.

The middle is full of flair but you have to have the ball first and we simply don’t retain it long enough. Rice cannot do it all. In attack Haller has impressed in his bringing the others into play but without him you simply can’t pick Chico to lead the line. He was terrible yesterday, and his goal doesn’t change that. You have to go with a threat, and that’s Antonio. And frankly not picking Ajeti for Sanchez was pointless. Give the lad 10 minutes and find out what you have. MP doesn’t use his subs well as a rule, and he must improve on this.

There is no doubt the ability is there but the lack of intensity that we had last season hasn’t changed. There is no real heart in the team and that’s also why we can’t put two good halves together. All the potential is there but now Pelligrini has to raise their game and more importantly raise his own. His calm mumbling manner is not working. Collectively we need a real big kick up the backside, and now, before the rot sets in. It may seem we are only two games in but in truth it’s more like two seasons as nothing has really changed.
We should be looking at 6 points from the next two league games and a Cup win, but only time will tell as to whether Pellegrini can pick and motivate the right players for the job. I really hope so.

David Hautzig's Match Report

Brighton 1, West Ham 1. Just Take It.

Before the season began, I was a guest presenter on Moore Than Just A Podcast with Sean and Nigel. We discussed the opening fixtures, and as I looked at them it wasn’t Manchester City that scared me. Nor was it Manchester United in a few weeks. It was the fixtures in between that brought on my normal levels of fear. It’s the matches agains the likes of Brighton, Watford, Norwich, and Villa that we have historically fell well below expectations. My mood started to spiral downwards as I envisioned a total of like two points going to Old Trafford. Add to that the news that our two most prolific signings were injured, I sipped my coffee in dread. In the end, it was a result I could live with.

The opening minute gave us a possible warning of what the day could bring. Brighton won a free kick seconds after the start, and the delivery into the box went over the smaller West Ham defense and found Burn. His free header went over the bar, and the offside flag went up. But the danger was there for all Hammers to see. Set pieces could equal disaster.

In the opening ten minutes or so, you could see the kind of quick passing game Pellegrini has asked his players to implement. And it is pleasant on the eye. But there still is a void in the final third. That’s where the passing seems to break down. The optimist says that when that part of our game is polished we will be a force. The pessimist….HI!….sees a lot of danger in losing the ball with too many men forward.

A lot was made about the left back position during the window. With Cresswell and Masuaku the choices on hand, it seemed to boil down to either a decent defender who is poor going forward, or a weak defender who is better on the wing. The weak defender in this case handed Brighton a chance to open the scoring in the 22nd minute when a truly awful clearance was easily intercepted by Gross. His hard shot was palmed over the bar by Fabianski for a corner. The ensuing set piece found the head of Duffy, but Fabianski made the save. Moments later Rice gave the ball away in midfield, which led to a good strike by March that Fabianski did well to save.

The sloppy play by West Ham finally led to what in every other year would have been an opening goal by Trossard. The goal was a direct result of Masuaku looking completely lost in the West Ham eighteen yard box and Trossard losing him. But VAR showed Burn to be clearly offside on the initial free kick that started the whole play. No goal. Nigel texted our group that it still took too long. For the record, I like VAR and I’m 100% happy it’s in the game. I’ll wait a few seconds to get decisions right.

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After a reasonably bright start, West Ham started to unravel as the first half plowed on. Long balls lost, runs into the abyss, sloppy defending. Brighton had possession and moved the ball around the West Ham area, a sight Brighton fans likely enjoy after years of Chris Hughton. Masuaku conceded a corner in the 40th minute, and with such a height advantage in the box it required Fabianski to take charge and punch the ball away.

Late in the first half Snodgrass made a forceful run down the right and got to the byline. His low cross was deflected out to Rice at the top of the box. He tried to one time it but missed horribly and skied it to Marwood, a coffee place and bar near the train station.

Like that place. So a shameless plug inserted here.

Brighton 0
West Ham 0

The second half brought one substitute, with Wilshere giving way to Antonio. For all the talk about our choices in midfield, the center of the pitch was pretty awful from the Claret and Blue in the first half. Not that any part of the pitch was positive, mind you. And it didn’t look any better as the second half began. The idea of a draw felt soothing because a win looked impossible.

Another West Ham giveaway on the left side sent Brighton in on an attack with numbers in the 56th minute. Dunk laid the ball off beautifully for Trossard alone in front of the West Ham goal. A touch and it’s in. But the moment got the better of him and he skied it over the bar. Yet another let off for The Hammers.

In the 60th minute I sent a text to our group chat saying that it was time to see what the Ajeti kid could do. I pressed send on my iPhone, and immediately my football app dinged showing me a goal by West Ham. The app was a few seconds ahead of my stream. I looked up to see Lanzini break through the Brighton midfield and lay a perfectly weighted ball for Chicharito who put it past Ryan.

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Brighton 0
West Ham 1

Brighton answered the disappointment well, with good attempts from both Dunk and Trossard. In the 65th minute, Brighton got what they deserved based on the run of play when Murray bullied Diop off the ball. Ogbonna got turned completely around and lost Trossard, who drilled a shot past Fabianski for the equalizer.

Brighton 1
West Ham 1

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I have an idea. Anytime Antonio attempts a long shot like he did in the 71st minute he has to pay a fine. For the life of me I cannot recall ONE that was EVER close to being on target. A minute later Maupay was teed up in front of Fabianski for what should have been a second Brighton goal, but the one time rumored West Ham transfer target put the ball high over the crossbar. So I guess it’s a malady that affects more than just our guys.

In the 75th minute, Yarmolenko sent a ball forward that Antonio chased along with Dunk. Dunk looked to get a piece of Antonio’s leg, sending the West Ham winger to the turf. VAR looked at it while play continued and deemed the no call the right decision. Moments later Propper had an open header in the West Ham box and should have scored but bounced it right to Fabianski.

In the 86th minute, Lanzini made a truly stunning 60 plus yard run. Weaving through more Brighton players than one could count, he eventually passed to Snodgrass in the box. A good low shot by the Scot forced an impressive save from Ryan.

West Ham’s defensive frailty was on display again in the 90th minute when Ogbonna gave away a cheap corner when a simple clearance should have been well within his capacity. Thankfully the Hammers back line took care of it. A minute later Antonio won a corner out of absolutely nothing, and then almost scored from a ball played back into the box after the delivery was cleared.

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Final Score
Brighton 1
West Ham 1

At the final whistle, I thought about Sam Allardyce. OK, not really. I just wanted to get a rise out of some of you. But one artifact from his reign, at least in my circle of West Ham friends, are the arguments over a draw. Respect it, loathe it, somewhere in between. George from Moore Than Just A Podcast immediately said “take that”. My best mate Jon was not as impressed, saying he did not respect that point. Mr. Reasonable himself, Nigel, pointed out it was our first point ever at Brighton in the EPL. Considering our record not only there but in August overall I’ll go with Nigel and George. We were poor for much of the opening half, but much improved in the second. Brighton were the better side, which in and of itself should be annoying on paper, and will feel the three points were there to be had.

I’ll sleep well knowing they didn’t pry it away from us.

Match Thread

Match Thread: Brighton v West Ham

Brighto v West Ham
FA Premier League
Amex Stadium
KO 3pm
TV: None

Please comment on the match as it progresses.

Talking Point

Fantasy Match Report

Manuel Pellegrini was confined to his bed, so Jack Sullivan took over. He surprised everybody by selecting Ogbonna, Diop and Balbuena to play alongside each other at the back.

It became obvious fairly quickly that Brighton were finding it hard to achieve any level of penetration. The West ham players were quick to close down any move by the opposition.

The back three allowed Fredericks and Masuaku to display their talents, one with speed and the other with speed of foot. They were able to get to the byline and sure enough after fifteen minutes, a Fredericks cross found Haller’s head and West Ham were ahead. Their first goal of the Premiership season and the first for Haller in the Premier league.

The game continued as it had started. Wilshere was especially effective, given that he knew the was solid backup behind him and he found Antoniou who hassled and bustled his way through the defence, but his shot was well wide of the goal and he should probably have gone to Specsavers.

Brighton came out strongly in the second half, but West ham continued to press forward. Lanzini was combining with Haller and this eventually paid off when a beautiful pass found Haller in the penalty area and he slotted home giving the goalkeeper no chance.

Brighton were reduced to long balls into the West Ham area and this finally paid off when Murray ducked and the ball hit Ogbonna on the arm. The referee didn’t award a penalty but the game was stopped for VAR and the decision was reversed. Murray’s penalty found the top corner.

West Ham continued to play some beautiful football. Anderson and Fornals looked particularly dangerous. Finally, Anderson cut in from the right and found the net from just outside the penalty area.

With their new formation, West Ham look a very solid side with plenty of talent and should go far.

Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Brighton

After that battering against Man City last week, this weekend sees West Ham fans travelling the short distance to the south coast to Brighton to see if we can score our first goals, and secure the first points of the season. Ahead of the game I spoke to Scott McCarthy from WeAreBrighton to discuss the game, last season, and the season ahead.
Hi Scott, the season seems to start earlier every year! Hope you’ve had a decent break. Brighton certainly had a great victory last weekend – was that expected?
Absolutely not! We went to Watford on the opening day last year, lost 2-0 and didn’t manage to record a single shot on target. Most Brighton fans would have been expecting an improvement on that, but to go to Vicarage Road and completely blow away a relatively solid Premier League club on their own patch was unbelievable. We’ve only won once away in the Premier League by three clear goals before – don’t worry, I won’t remind you of who that was against – and we only scored 16 times on the road in the whole of last season. So to win 3-0, it was chalk and cheese compared to last year. You’d have to have taken some pretty strong acid to have predicted that happening.

Of course you’ve appointed a new manager in Graham Potter. Were you surprised to see Chris Hughton being sacked at the end of last season, given that he had again successfully retained your place in the league? Was he a bit hard done by? What will Chris’s legacy be?
It’s a strange one by modern football standards in that whilst most Brighton fans were sad to see him go, it was a decision that unfortunately Tony Bloom had to take. On the face of it, Premier League survival and an FA Cup Semi Final appearance represents a good season. But that only tells half the story. We were 12 points clear of relegation at Christmas, at which point Hughton changed from 4-4-1-1 to 4-3-3. The result of that decision was that we won just two league games in 2019, lost at the Amex to Burnley, Southampton and Cardiff, suffered our heaviest home defeat for 46 years when Bournemouth left Sussex with a 5-0 victory, went 14 hours without scoring and ultimately had to rely on Crystal Palace of all teams to beat Cardiff to keep us up. It was abysmal and if Hughton had stayed and we replicated that form over an entire campaign, we’d be going down this season. That last four months doesn’t detract from the amazing job that Hughton did over his four-and-a-half years though and he’s still the greatest manager of my time supporting the club.

Before we start on this season and game, what were the highlights for you last season? And conversely the low points?
That 14 hour run without a goal and the Bournemouth home game were diabolical. I can’t recall a Brighton side ever playing as poorly as we did against the Cherries that day, and I’ve seen us lose 1-0 at home to a Walsall side who played for over an hour with nine men and go down 3-1 to Barnet in front of barely 1,000 people on a Tuesday night at ‘home’ in Gillingham. The high points have to be both wins over Palace. We took six points off our rivals and then they were the ones who kept us up by relegating Cardiff. Can’t imagine that went down too well in Croydon.

It’s now your third season back in the top division, what will be the expectations of Graham Potter this season, and can you tell the unenlightened a little bit about him?
It’s impossible to know really. Potter wants to play attacking, possession based football which is about as far removed from Hughton’s style as possible. We played 3-4-3 on Saturday with three strikers on the pitch and wingbacks pushed miles up the pitch. It’s bold and it’s brash and while it’s got absolutely no right to work against the big six, it’s ridiculously exciting to watch. We’re probably undergoing the most radical overhaul in approach that a Premier League club has attempted in a single summer since Palace replaced Big Sam and his pint of wine with Frank De Boer. We all know how that worked out and to be honest, we could end up going the same way. Or we could gatecrash the top 10. Nobody knows. That’s adding to the excitement and intrigue.

You certainly seem to have been busy during the close seasons with purchases: which of those do you see becoming regular starters for Brighton?
Leandro Trossard is the most exciting for me. He’s only 22 but captained Genk to the Belgian League title last season, scoring over 20 goals from out wide. He’s been in excellent form in pre-season but interestingly didn’t even make it off the bench at Watford. In Neal Maupay, the Albion will be hoping they’ve found Glenn Murray’s successor – which will be about time given that we’ve spent the past eight years trying to replace him since Gus Poyet went insane and released him first time around in favour of signing Craig Mackail-Smith. Adam Webster was our other big money signing but it’s hard to see him breaking into the back three at the minute with Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy ahead of him and Big Dan Burn having been our best player at the weekend.

Given that you’ve got off to a flying start where do you think Brighton will realistically finish the season?
As I said, it’s impossible to guess – and I don’t think we’ll really know how good or bad Potter is until around Christmas time. After all, the last time we scored three goals away from home on the opening day under a new manager, we then lost the next 12 in a row, Martin Hinshelwood got sacked and we were relegated at the end of the season. Fingers crossed that won’t be the case this time.

Can West Ham recover from their opening day battering? What position do you think West Ham will end up in come next May?
Manchester City and Liverpool are so far ahead of everyone else that a 5-0 home defeat against one of those two isn’t actually a bad result these days. You seem to have recruited quite well and have a good manager, so top 10 should surely be the aim again.
Will it be the ‘same old, same old’ at the top of the League this year? What are your early predictions for the top 4?
The top three are pretty much sewn up but after that, it seems like a good year for someone else to have a crack at the top six. I’m never convinced by Arsenal, United weren’t exactly great once Solksjaer was put at the wheel permanently and Chelsea are serving a transfer ban having appointed a bloke whose managerial record reads one sixth place finish in the Championship. Most people would probably pick Wolves to gatecrash the party, but I like the look of Leicester. Brendan Rodgers is an excellent manager, they’ve bought well and they have a young squad packed with talented English players.

Who are your favourites for the drop?
Newcastle should be doomed now they’ve lost Rafa the Gaffer. Norwich keep telling everyone how they won’t compromise the style of play that won them promotion but look how that worked out for Fulham. Then probably Sheffield United which will be a shame as it’s an excellent city for an away day.

The old adage ‘Never change a winning team,’ doesn’t seem to apply too much in football these days, will Potter make a change for a home game? Predictions for the line-up?
There’s only one potential change I can see after last week and that might be Trossard coming in for Gross. That would be based on Potter wanting to introduce more pace to the side to play even more on the front foot than we did last week at Watford. Otherwise, unchanged: Maty Ryan in goal; Burn, Dunk Duffy as the back three; Martin Montoya right, Solly March left; Dale Stephens and Davy Propper in the middle; Murray through the middle with Jurgen Locadia one side and either Gross or Trossard the other.

You will have to think yourselves favourites for this fixture, are you feeling confident? Predictions for score?
I’ve watched Brighton for too long to expect them to follow up one good result with another. In fact, it would be very much typical if you came to the Amex and turned us over after last weekend. I’ll go for something in the middle with a 1-1.

Well many thanks to Scot for his time and comments. He has only made a modest prediction, so I will join him in going for a lowly 0 – 1 away win. Let’s get this party started! COYI

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