The HamburgHammer Column

West Ham Disorientated - back to square one

Another defeat that could have been almost predicted beforehand: Leicester hadn’t won away from home all season, so coming to London Stadium obviously gave them the perfect opportunity to end that dismal run. After all, this is what West Ham tend to do, especially this season: We help other clubs gaining some needed momentum.
As a club we are dealing with so many challenges this season that we have basically sacrificed anything remotely resembling home advantage and teams now fancy playing us, never a good sign.

I am deeply worried now to be brutally blunt. Maybe I shouldn’t be, after all we’ve been there before, topsy-turvy, bad seasons always following an outstanding one, players suffering untimely injuries time and time again, players being played out of position, West Ham shooting itself in the foot (or kneecap), West Ham rolling over to gift the opposition easy goals and so forth. Well, this is West Ham for you, many of us used to say in those situations, merely shrugging their shoulders while heading to the bar to order another round of bitter (pun very much intended).

The thing is: While we are still West Ham we obviously are no longer the same old West Ham we used to be. And it all boils down to the stadium move, big Premier League money, fancy talk from the board about the next level. Back in the day fans were rightfully expected to know West Ham’s natural place of making up the numbers without ever challenging for trophies (apart from the very odd cup run), back then we were expected to shrug shoulders and carry on.

The stadium move has changed all that. The owners have changed that. Like it or not, we are now in a 57k, 60k or even 66k stadium and you don’t have to be a fickle plastic fan to demand better on matchday: Better performances, better results, a better stadium experience. As much as I love Bilic I realise that he has to accept a percentage of the blame. I’ve alluded before to the mitigating circumstances of this quite extraordinary season, but he still needs to get more out of the players and this maybe requires him to be a bit more ruthless, to add a bit more bad cop attitude to his Mr.Nice Guy persona.

We keep seeing pics and video on the OS about the players having fun working out on the Rush Green pitches, enjoying their training sessions which isn’t a bad thing as such of course. But I do read about how it’s more like a petting zoo there sometimes, like a family picnic with the feelgood factor going through the roof.
Do the players have it too easy under Bilic ?

Is that why they make it so easy for the opposition during the actual games ?

Having just seen the Leicester game I couldn’t fail but notice the Foxes’ upturn in results after getting rid of Ranieri, the guy that got them a pie in the sky Premier League title.
Player power and all that, it’s not nice, but to quote Karren Brady: It is what it is. I really hope that our team haven’t decided that Bilic is no longer their manager of choice, because if that is the case, then Bilic’s days are numbered without a shadow of a doubt.

I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but I have the distinct feeling that this club is not on the same page on so many levels, dynamics and relationships between manager and players, players and manager, manager and board, fans and board, even the fans themselves are far from being united these days over many issues concerning our club.
Let’s face it: We had a glorious opportunity to build on our fantastic final season at the Boleyn – we had a very good squad, a youngish and enthusiastic manager on board and a new stadium with 50k season tickets sold.

We could and should have used our momentum and build on those foundations. But when have West Ham as a club ever built on a good season ? That’s another thing we simply don’t ever seem to be doing, regardless of where we play, who owns us or who manages us. I have no magic wand here. I don’t know if our fortunes might stop hiding if we replaced Bilic in the summer to bring in someone like Mancini.

I don’t know if we’ll be better off without worrying about Carroll’s fitness in future. What I do know is that our current owners have deliberately pushed to move us to this massive stadium. Make no mistake, that stadium shouts AMBITION and EUROPEAN FOOTBALL at you when you approach it and even when you’re inside it, despite the gaps, distances and shape.

However, do our board actually share that ambition ? Are they genuinely interested to move the club forward ? Or is it all about maximising their personal profit by selling up when the right offer lands at their doorstep, keeping the club in the league while spending the bare minimum ?
I ain’t holding my breath for the summer. For me we are indeed still very much the old West Ham in terms of making up the numbers only.

The only difference being that we are now making up the numbers with massively increased attendances in a stadium that no longer (or at least not at this point in time) gives us a home advantage when we play there. The lure of the London Stadium has been misjudged by the owners, various factors have contributed to give us a disappointing season, our club has no momentum and no unity, but what’s even worse: Our board don’t seem to have a long term strategy.

You can bring in a new manager every two years and replace half of your squad in the same period of time, it doesn’t exactly foster progress at your club if there is no coherent long-term strategy in place. As a club we never really had a sense of entitlement in our past. And I certainly don’t expect us to play European football anytime soon. But I expect us to act like a professional club playing Premier League football would. Is that too much too ask ?

Or am I just supposed to enjoy a club that continues to be run like a circus ? Let’s see how we conduct our transfer business in the summer.
Get your act together West Ham and get on the same page, please! COYI!

PS: Concordia’s game was cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch.

Click here to view the leaderboard

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

A Shakespearean Tragedy

Our third consecutive defeat has come at the hands of Craig Shakespeare. He has completely turned things around for Leicester City. His side were high on morale following their win against Sevilla as the only British team left in the Champions League. Simply put, this game had his name written all over it (in Elizabethan font, of course). Prior to playing us, Bournemouth had failed to win a single match in 2017, which included a 3-0 defeat to Millwall (can’t get much worse than that). On their 10th attempt, the Cherries pipped us to win 3-2. Our next opponents were Leicester, who had failed to win away in the PL all season. As it so happens, we were defeated yet again. Our downfall is like something you would find in a Shakespearean tragedy.

The events that preluded the appointment of the Foxes’ new manager are quite something. Former player Kevin Phillips revealed that Shakespeare played a bigger part in Leicester’s title win than many know. When Nigel Pearson was sacked, he was kept on to work with Claudio Ranieri. The former manager used to make frequent trips to Italy to visit his sick mother which left Craig and the coaching staff to deal with the pre-match preparations. Under Ranieri, at times, the organisation wasn’t good. If it wasn’t for this assistant manager, the season could have ended badly. How Shakespeare didn’t receive any credit is beyond me.

That said, there are many that believe that Ranieri was stabbed in the back by the cunning Foxes. The incumbent manager’s command of the dressing room is as good as Shakespeare’s command of the English language with Christian Fuchs siding with the manager: “Shakespeare has the trust of the players”. Obviously, Leicester’s resurgence has come about because they didn’t get on well with Claudio and are now performing at a sufficient level. You can imagine the players in the dressing room asking: “Wherefore art thou, Claudio?”. In modern football, once you lose the dressing room, that is that.

Manager loyalty clearly means an awful lot to Leicester City. How else could a mediocre PL team like them win the league? They were devoted to the cause and the man who made it all happen. This is the perfect Shakespearean tragedy! Firstly, the fatal flaw of Ranieri was his diminishing sense of camaraderie (genuinely caring about the players) that ultimately lead to his exit. Secondly, he didn’t give credit to the staff who made the impossible happen last season. He didn’t swallow his hubris, ergo making his exit all the more tragic. Lastly, there were many external pressures on him from people behind the scenes who didn’t receive the respect they deserved, which mean’t they didn’t fully support the manager. No doubt Ranieri’s last words to Shakespeare were: “Et tu, Brute?” before leaving.

One of the few positives to take from this game is that Bilic decided to put a team out that was purely based on merit. Mark Noble has been given a rest, which I think is good for him and us. He is 29 with a lot of burden weighed upon his shoulders as captain. I hope he does what former captain Kevin Nolan did and avoid reading newspapers and social media when it’s not going well for you. We all know how much pressure football players are under to perform. The fact that he put Masuaku on when Cresswell wasn’t playing well spoke volumes. I sincerely hope that he has come to an epiphany and will continue to give players chances. Speaking of players being given chances, Byram did well to cover for Snodgrass defensively. Hope the youngster keeps his place in the starting XI.

Once more, early goals have cost us the match. As a matter of fact, we have conceded five goals within the opening 15 minutes of our last six matches. Just to put that into further perspective, how long does it normally take for the first Premier League goal to come on Soccer Saturday? Anywhere between 15-20 minutes on average. Right, now imagine that those first goals came in matches including us. Now imagine that we are the team that concedes those first goals virtually every single week. Having listened to the match, the words “Unbelievable, Jeff!” now have no meaning to me.

Many will point fingers at Ayew and Carroll for not scoring and getting us the draw, but I believe that we should do more defensively. Kasper Schmeichel was in inspired form making extraordinary saves. But if we keep conceding this many goals, then there is honestly no way we are going to win matches, let alone draw. This lack of defending is something that we saw earlier on in the season. Conceding two goals in the short space of 146 seconds is just ridiculous! Until we have a proper defensive shake-up, we will continue to concede at the same rate. Defending shouldn’t solely be the job of the defence. It is a team effort.

Following on from that, we are an attacking team. Yes, we failed to score from numerous chances at the end, but we do rely on our attacking players more than our defence. This is best characterised with Randolph saving Slimani’s strike late on. We were so fixated on getting the equaliser that most fans didn’t even take notice of this event. I understand defending and goalkeeping isn’t particularly glamorous, but it says a lot about us that we are ruing the chances we should have converted as opposed to the chances given to the other team. Then again, there is something delightful about Lanzini scoring from a free-kick without Payet in the squad. It is as if he has evolved. Indeed, he has now registered his best-ever goal haul in a Premier League season (7).


The international break couldn’t have come at a better time. Reid, Obiang and Antonio have all been injured this match. This was Antonio’s third call-up, so he shouldn’t be too downhearted, as he is more than capable of being called up again. A photo of Reid emerged leaving the ground on crutches. Obiang had to be stretchered off the pitch, which is never a good sign. To put things into perspective, the injuries that have been picked up are undoubtedly worse than the result. Our best defender, midfielder and attacker are out. Antonio has scored 9 PL goals this season which might put him above Lanzini in the pecking order. Our next match against Hull should be interesting. Both teams are in the top four for goals conceded. Let’s hope we see players return sooner than later.

Click here to view the leaderboard

David Hautzig's Match Report

West Ham 2, Leicester 3. Angry, Proud, Dazed and Confused.

What was I thinking? After months of pure dysfunction, I thought the tide had turned. The departure of you know who, a few results saw us climb the table a bit, and the squad looked relatively content. Things were calm. Happy, almost.

Oops.

The articles and podcasts debating the pros and cons of the manager seemed to appear out of nowhere, Noble of all people lost his cool and was pilloried for it on the very platform that pushed his buttons in the first place, and the Chairman who cannot stay quiet took to the website to raise the temperature even more. For the record, all of the questions being debated are valid. And in today’s world, those questions escalating the way they have is par for the course. Personally, I think Bilic deserves the chance to correct his mistakes and build a better squad. I also think Kouyate and Obiang in midfield with Byram at right back is so obvious it’s transparent. Whatever the circumstances, both of those changes were made. But as I said to a Leicester supporter the other day, when he reminded me they hadn’t won an away game in the league this year, his side were visiting the perfect place to get off that snide. And I was unfortunately correct.

The first minutes of the match raised more concerns over Cresswell’s form, as Mahrez was able to slide past him and win a corner, albeit a contested one. West Ham were able to handle the set piece, but the reason for concern was there. And the worst fears were realized in the fifth minute when Mahrez looked to be curling in a cross. Cresswell sat back and gave Mahrez a lot of room, which may have caused Randolph to react late. The ball bounced right next to Randolph and into the net.

West Ham 0
Leicester 1

While I was typing the above paragraph, Leicester were awarded a free kick thirty yards from goal when Reid was called for a foul. In what looked like a perfectly rehearsed dance routine, Mahrez laid off the set piece for Albrighton who sent a ball into the box with the outside of his right foot. Robert Huth is the size of a small building, so it’s hard to understand how nobody picked him up. But nobody did, and Huth headed it home for his first goal of the EPL season.

West Ham 0
Leicester 2

In the 16th minute, Leicester continued to test the West Ham back line when Drinkwater tried to send a through ball behind Reid for Vardy. Reid stretched to make contact with the pass, and he was lucky not to need a stretcher to leave the match as his right thigh gave way. Instead of putting Ginge into his natural center half position, perhaps due to the speed in Leicester’s attack, Bilic inserted Snodgrass and the Kouyate in midfield “experiment” was over.

In the 19th minute, Antonio did a solid job holding off Drinkwater with his back to goal to win a free kick twenty-five yards from goal. Lanzini has been hailed as the man who must take over from that guy who screwed us over and moved back to France for “personal” reasons. When Lanzini struck the ball, nobody moved. I mean nobody. The ball sailed over the wall and past the static Schmeichel as if he were in a video game.

West Ham 1
Leicester 2

Minutes later, Antonio worked hard at midfield to win the ball and start a run at the Leicester defense. He threaded a lovely ball for Ayew to get onto, but after a few strides the 20 million pound man unleashed a wild shot headed nowhere in particular. Not exactly a way to endear yourself to a home crowd that needs you to do better.

One of the arguments I’ve heard put forward, often on The West Ham Way Podcast, is that the striker position isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s the lack of quality service to the existing strikers that needs to be addressed. That argument looked persuasive when Cresswell and Snodgrass couldn’t put balls into the box that Carroll could even get to, let alone score from, and then moments later Carroll himself delivered two crosses into the box that would have been quality had Carroll been able to clone himself.

In the 39th minute, Leicester won a corner after Mahrez and Albrighton worked well together, which was already a theme for the day. Carroll has rightly been credited for his defensive attributes. But as the set piece sailed in, Carroll looked to get his head on it and missed completely. The ball bounced around the box and created a perfect opportunity for a poacher. Well, guess what Vardy is? For a defense that has looked hopelessly disorganized all season that was yet again a goal that should have been avoided.

Halftime
West Ham 1
Leicester 3

When a team depends on one player too much, the physical and emotional strain that pressure carries is likely exhausting. Early in the second half, Lanzini did very well to orchestrate an escape from deep in the West Ham zone without hoofing the ball away. The ball eventually got to Antonio in the middle of the pitch, but the weight of the Claret & Blue world looked to be attached to his legs and the ball was easily snatched from him and what could have been a decent attack fizzled away. Minutes later Antonio again lost the ball in what seemed to be a moment of exhaustion, and I started to wonder if the ultimate Catch 22 was at hand. He’s our best player, and he’s too tired to make a difference.

In the 62nd minute, West Ham had their first kind of opportunity of the half when Okazaki fouled Lanzini and West Ham were awarded a free kick thirty five yards from goal. Lanzini went for it again, trying to duplicate his magic from the first half. And he almost made it, forcing Schmeichel to make a diving save and push the ball out for a corner. The delivery from that corner finally did what it was supposed to do and found Carroll. The big man headed the ball back into the box where Ayew was there with his cranium to push it past Schmeichel.

West Ham 2
Leicester 3

Leicester threatened to restore their two goal advantage in the 68th minute when Okazaki did well to hold the ball up with his back to goal and lay the ball off for Mahrez, but Cresswell timed his block well and the ball rolled out for a throw that West Ham handled well.

Not surprisingly, the game opened up with West Ham feeling the surge produced by Ayew’s goal and Leicester looking to counter. After some sloppy but energetic runs by Antonio and Ayew, the former won a free kick just outside the box. But Lanzini’s delivery was not good enough and the West Ham surge faded.

In the 73rd minute, after some nice work by Byram on the right, West Ham won a corner. Leicester cleared, but West Ham continued to attack down the right with a heavy reliance on the young right back. From the manager apparently having zero belief in him to being the focus of every attack. Who would have thunk it?

West Ham came so close to an equalizer in the 78th minute on an Andy Carroll header that many were waiting for goal line technology to buzz. Instead, Schmeichel punched it out for a corner. Minutes later David Sullivan would have been completely in his right to demand a refund from Swansea when Antonio threaded a ball behind the Leicester defense to a wide open Ayew in front of goal. All he had to do was guide it into the net. Instead he tried to blast it. He blasted it, all right. Nowhere near the goal. “He needs to go! You Cannot Miss That!” screamed my best mate Jon in a text. It was nothing short of pathetic.

After a West Ham corner in the 83rd minute, the ball fell to Kouyate right in front of goal. He turned and fired but Drinkwater was there to block it on or near the line. The ball rolled to Carroll who tried a low shot but after at least a couple of deflections the ball rolled harmlessly to Schmeichel.

In the 92nd minute, Ayew was fouled just outside the box setting up a free kick. Instead of Lanzini, it was Snodgrass who stepped over it. His delivery wasn’t good enough, but the ball bounced perfectly to Carroll right in front of Schmeichel. Like Ayew earlier, Carroll had the whole goal to aim at. Unlike Ayew, who I won’t forgive for that miss for a very long time, Carroll at least forced Schmeichel to make a spectacular stop. But Tony Gale said he should have scored, and who am I to argue with Tony Gale?

Right before the end, long time West Ham Twitter target Slimani was sent in on goal but Randolph came out to make the save.

Final Score
West Ham 2
Leicester 3

It seems that every week the narrative for our club changes close to the end of a match. I was planning a ruthless self examination as my final words, but West Ham were indeed all over them in the second half, and should have equalized. It may have been the best 45 minutes of football we have played all season, or at least up for consideration as such. As Nigel Kahn put it in a post match text, “Glorious in defeat. The West Ham Way”. So am I mad at our first half floundering, or proud of the second half fight?

Yup.

After the final whistle I couldn’t help myself but to look at the table. Not upwards, but downwards. Not only because of the result but because of the injuries to Reid and Obiang. I fear both will be out for some time. Nine points clear of the drop, and the GD improved against Hull. But Boro have two games in hand, while Sunderland has one. While doing that may sound absurd and paranoid, you should all know me well enough by now to know that’s how I approach West Ham. Start the day depressed and hope for a pleasant surprise.

The second half was pleasant, but I wasn’t surprised at how it ended.

Click here to view the leaderboard

Match Thread

Match Thread: West Ham v Leicester City

West Ham v Leicester City
FA Premier League
Olympic Stadium
KO 3pm
TV: None
Radio: BBC Radio London

Leicester City Starting XI

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

*PS If you haven’t completed the London Stadium Survey there is still time before it closes at midnight thsis Sunday.

Over 6,185 match going West Ham supporters have completed the survey already. Have you?

It can be completed HERE

Click here to view the leaderboard

Lineup Prediction

Lineup Prediction: West Ham v Leicester City

Subs: Adrian, Collins, Edimilson, Masuaku, Calleri, Snodgrass, Feghouli

It seems a long time since we got three points. Leicester City will be on a high following their European triumph, but they might also be a bit knackered. I’m not sure we can rely on that, though!

Mark Noble misses out, ostensibly through injury, but I suspect if we get a good win it is going to be difficult for him to get back into the team. Surely this means a centre midfield duo of Obiang and Kouyate with Sam Byram getting a rare start at right back. I suppose it’s possible that Edimilson might come into a midfield three, but I’d have thought that Ayew has played himself right into contention having scored a couple of goals in recent games from the bench.

I’d have thought that it is Snodgrass and Feghouli who will be on the bench. Feghouli will consider himself unlucky, but sometimes tough decisions have to be made.

I’m really looking forward to this one.

#COYI

You have until 1.55pm to enter the Predictor League.

PS If you haven’t completed the London Stadium Survey there is still time before it closes at midnight thsis Sunday.

Over 6,185 match going West Ham supporters have completed the survey already. Have you?

It can be completed HERE

Click here to view the leaderboard

Copyright © 2017 Iain Dale Limited. Terms and conditions. Cookies.
Website by Russell Brown.