Talking Point

Did the Liverpool game Matter?

Blind Hammer queries the Squad Injury Strategy for the Liverpool Game.

A little commented oddity on the Liverpool defeat was West Ham’s approach to injured players.

After the Spurs game the quoted line from the club was “now that we are safe” players would be released from first team duties to undergo relieving surgery. Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyaté in particular were admitted for surgery for a double hernia and wrist pain respectively. Both players are expected to need 8 weeks for recovery.

In the absence of other performers like Obiang and Antonio in midfield we always knew that this depleting of our remaining midfield resources was likely to diminish our effectiveness against Liverpool. In the event we were relatively predictably over run.

Last week I celebrated Bilic’s judgement in team selection against Spurs. Now if Håvard Nordtveit had played a man of the match performance against Liverpool we could all continue to revel in Bilic’s perspicacity. However this most certainly did not occur. I personally feel the club and Bilic got this wrong and effectively short changed the fans on this occasion. I fully applaud Mark Noble’s and Cheikhou Kouyaté’s commitment in playing half the season in pain for West Ham. What I am baffled by is why abandoning this effort for just the last game of the season at the London Stadium was a recommended course. One last effort in front of their fans would have probably increased considerably the chances that we would be at least competitive against Liverpool.

The sad reality is that many of us endure pain even in attending matches, let alone working. This is a reality probably invisible to those in good health, young, hale and hearty. For many of our older and disabled supporters working daily and weekly through pain is a fact of life which they have had to cope with. A blogger on Claret and Hugh this week pointed out how her husband struggles daily, working with a crumbling spine, exhausted and depleted in the evenings after work. He still uses his hard earned wages to travel for and pay for tickets at the London Stadium and watch his West \ham play. He and she felt short changed by West Ham on Sunday. I tend to agree.

There is a case now for blooding youngster for the away game at Burnley but for this last effort against high profile opposition last Sunday West Ham should not have taken the foot of the pedal. Maybe the players individually on the pitch may not have psychologically been on the beach, but it seems West Ham as a club were most definitely on their hols. This was reflected in the decisions they made in the lead up to the Liverpool game.

The last game of the season against Liverpool at the London Stadium, I feel, should have mattered more.

COYI

David Griffith


Talking Point

Small Margins – Big Gap and a Punt on Zola?

Blind Hammer reflects on Liverpool, closing the gap and whether Zola the Coach could help?

Going into this game we always knew it was going to be tough. Years ago Bill Shankly described top level football as a competitive knife edge. Most matches in the top league start up with both teams battling, teetering on this edge. The key to success is to manage to garner enough quality to force your opposition over this knife edge. Once pushed over this initial precipice momentum to force your way back becomes ever more difficult as you fall away.

This certainly described Sunday’s game. For the first 15 minutes we conceded lots of possession but did compete and threaten occasionally, in particular Byram’s break and shot might, on another day against another goalkeeper have transformed his afternoon. As it was Byram subsequently managed to undo some of the credit he accrued during the Tottenham game and reinforced the need for a quality right back recruitment over the summer.

The first goal was always going to be critical in this match. The Stadium Commentator was at one stage saying that the game needed a goal, any goal. I disagreed as I thought our best prospects came either from a nil-nil or scoring first. As soon as Fonte played Sturridge onside for the first goal I thought it was game over and I suspect deep down this team, denuded of perhaps 6 or 7 players who would reasonably have played ahead of them but for injury felt the same.

Despite this we may, at various times, forced our way back into contention. Ayew’s inexplicable hitting of the post whilst only inches out from goal, the elbowing of Read which should have lead at least to a penalty and possibly a sending off for Liverpool. This could all have changed the pattern of the game. These are the small margins which can affect the outcome of any particular game.

This remote chance that we may have gained perhaps an unlikely point should not blind us to the obvious current gap in quality between Liverpool and ourselves. Antonio has announced his ambitions to play in the Champion’s League with West Ham. To displace one of the top four will require remarkable transformative processes on this current squad.

So what did we learn to aid this transformation? The deficiencies in the team are obvious and I will not repeat them here. What is clear to me is that we cannot compete at the top level with the money to buy in big signings with the expectation of instant success in the manner of say a Manchester City. This means that we need to have an alternative strategy. Bilic certainly needs to recover his touch in identifying talent in the transfer market this summer. We need to again get a quart out of a pint pot.

However I also believe more is needed in club philosophy. If we cannot buy in instant success, and even big money signings can flop, (remember Fernando Torres decline and fall for Liverpool)? Then we may have to plan for deferred success. I think we need to develop some patience, both as a club and as supporters.

I received some criticism last year when I argued in a late season Review post that we should show patience and seek to retain Victor Moses, either by extending the loan or by stumping up the transfer. I thought Moses had done well, given injury in adapting quickly. I thought he and Antonio could have forged a fearsome pacy combination on the right side of our team. I remember people arguing he was not the person to “take us to the next level”. It is interesting that after his departure Payet identified him as the most talented player he had played with at West Ham. Frankly I would have preferred the £20 million spent on Moses rather than Ayew. This was however most definitely a minority viewpoint last summer.

I think further patience now needs to be extended to other members of our Squad. It seems likely that the club are looking to offload Sofiane Feghouli. I see little point in doing this. Feghouli has been an erratic performer who also has had his share of injury problems but he is precisely the sort of X factor player who, after the experience of a season’s “settling in” and getting used to team patterns, could pay some dividends next season. He was certainly one of the few people who emerged with some credit on a torrid afternoon when he came on yesterday. If we sign a Feghouli replacement this will again start the process of a player trying to settle in from scratch.

Having signed Ayew we should again persevere with him, he does not look a £20 million striker yet but he has, despite his miss yesterday, managed to score some vital goals in a struggling team, which has ultimately provided us with survival.

Snodgrass also needs time. Hull were relegated yesterday despite their wriggling like a Salmon in recent weeks. Silva’s masterminding of their recent improvement in form should not disguise the fact that Snodgrass remains even now their leading goal scorer and leader in their assist table. Snodgrass came from one struggling team to another but he should be at least a squad player who should improve the more he becomes familiar with Bilic’s systems and styles. He was inches away from scoring one of the goals of the season yesterday. Small margins again.

So when we embark on the surgery on the squad over the summer we need not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is unlikely that we will romp into the top 6 next seasons, let alone the top 4. A season without fear of relegation and a Cup run may be our more realistic prospect. If we are to improve the squad over time it will be by player development and patience that we achieve this.

Coaching will be critical to squad development and this has been questioned in recent months. A left field suggestion from me is that we look to offer Gianfranco Zola a specialist coaching role. Zola has sadly now blighted his management career with repeated failure. Tactically Zola is weak in reading games and his management seem very ineffectual. . However there is no doubt in mind that he can individually improve players by working on their skills. Scott Parker benefitted in particular from Zola’s input in the approaching twilight of his career. Carlton Cole had his best improvement with the input of Zola. I personally would be fascinated to see what Zola could make of Jonathan Calleri. Zola is by all accounts a likeable person who the players had enormous respect for in his knowledge of skills and techniques. His amiable personality should assist in helping him assimilate into Bilic’s coaching setup without ruffling feathers. We cannot know how the dynamics and coaching review will play out but if there is room for specialist input from Julian Dicks, then I cannot see why Zola could not also be approached for help. In relation to West Ham at least Zola has a positive player development record. It could be the wisest investment of funds over the summer.

COYI

David Griffith


Development Squad

The Kids Are Alright! Magnificent Martinez Mauls Magpies

West Ham United’s Under-23s have won their promotion play-off final at the home of Newcastle United this evening by two goals to one, ensuring a place at the top table of Premier League 2 football in 2017/18.

Terry Westley’s young Hammers had finished the regular season in fifth place, meaning they would not be able to play at home in the play-offs at either the semi-final or final stage. The Academy kids staged a late comeback in the semi-final at Wolves but faced a testing trip to the North East to face the Magpies, who had knocked the Irons out of the Premier League Cup earlier this year.

That test got even harder for West Ham when Newcastle striker Tom Heardman gave the hosts the lead on 19 minutes, tapping home after a corner had been headed back across goal.

But the visiting comeback kings weren’t about to give up without a fight – Spanish striker Toni Martinez, back from both injury and a loan spell at Oxford, fired home after being found in the penalty area by George Dobson, himself freshly-returned from League One football at Walsall where he has spent the season.

Injuries either side of the break to Noha Sylvestre and Nathan Holland did little to knock the Hammers out of their stride and they took the lead eight minutes into the second half when that man Martinez found the net with a brilliant strike from 25 yards. The Irons survived a 75th-minute goalmouth scramble before the final whistle sounded and promotion was secured.

West Ham United: Raphael Spiegel; Kyle Knoyle, Tunji Akinola, Declan Rice (captain), Noha Sylvestre (Stephen Hendrie, 45); George Dobson, Moses Makasi; Dan Kemp, Martin Samuelsen, Nathan Holland (Grady Diangana, 51); Toni Martinez (Joe Powell, 81).

The Academy kids will now be testing themselves against the best in their age group, competing against the likes of Everton, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Man Utd in Division One next season. As I wrote back on 25th April when our play-off place was secured, exposure to playing against the best in their age group will be of great importance to the development of West Ham United’s young players, both now and in the future, and the significance of tonight’s victory cannot be underestimated.

Promotion and the subsequent place at the top table at Under-23 level will provide an extra key stepping stone for our current Under-23s to use towards hopefully developing into first-team Premier League players at our club, while paving the way for the current Under-18s (the future Under-23 team) to maintain their own progress by continuing to play against the best the country has to offer.

Well done to Terry Westley and all the kids who have played their part in what has ultimately proved to be a successful season.


Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Yet another 4 goal home defeat

That is the only stat I am going to include in this post. This post is going to be quite different from the ones that I usually write. The reason being it was a dreadful loss that no one wants to think about. You would think we would do well against Liverpool given our win against Tottenham at the same venue – how wrong I was. Sorry that I was unable to write my match review the day after the league match, as I had an exam yesterday.

We have kept quite a few clean sheets recently so it is difficult to remember the previous matches in which we have conceded goals left, right, and centre. This is why I think the majority of people still back the manager. Had we ended the season poorly, support would’ve dwindled. This defensive problem that isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Almost all of us can probably remember at least three matches in which our defence has completely fell asleep. This is the likeliest reason why virtually everyone left around the 70th minute with even less sticking around for the lap of honour. Now, it is easy to suggest that they left because it was obvious that we were going to lose, but I sense a bit of unhappiness from the fans about the club’s direction (be it financial or managerial).

Delving deeper into this, there has been a lot of unrest on various issues this season. Many pundits and fans believe that Slav wasn’t given sufficient funds in the summer to purchase players or that the board has brought in players of their own choosing. Some social media outlets have said that Bilic doesn’t possess the tactical knowledge to be our manager. As you can tell, it is all very convoluted. Simply put, there is blame to be assigned by the huge majority of the fans.

Alternatively, the belief that the club has lost its traditional values is another. This mainly comes from the segment of fans who disapprove of the move to the London Stadium and instead opted for the expansion of the Boleyn Ground. Generally speaking, there is a lot of resentment that I feel isn’t being properly discussed about certain issues. One is the fact that the correct attendance is never accurate. In our game against Liverpool, we certainly weren’t 15 people short of the full capacity of 57,000. I’m sure this will be accounted for next season, but it certainly doesn’t improve the relationship between fans and the club for the time being.

This season, we managed to sell a lot of season tickets piggybacking off last season’s results. That and dare I say, the snake. We didn’t really need a marquee signing. Dimitri Payet scoring free kicks every now and then was good enough. Suffice to say some of our more expensive signings haven’t been playing particularly well. The club will be hoping that many fans renew their season tickets.


Stories in the tabloid newspapers stating that we are going to sign top players like Dries Mertens will only convince fans that the club is only interested in the club valuation and not if the fans value the club. This is something that can’t really be fixed. The club can’t react to every titbit online. I feel the solution is that fans (and netizens) need to take everything they read with a bit of caution. That and to not intrinsically blame the club for such sensationalist headlines, as they don’t have any control over them. We know all too well how common clickbait is. Sadly, summer is the season for trashy football journalism.

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The HamburgHammer Column

They think it's all over...thank God it is now (almost) !

Make no mistake, that was one crap Sunday all around for me. Starting with the Concordia game early afternoon (excuse me if I start with them, if you ain’t interested, just skip the first two paragraphs). In order to keep any mathematical promotion chance alive Cordi had to beat an already relegated home side (Halstenbek-Rellingen) who moreover had one eye on their upcoming local Cup Final, yet Cordi somehow managed to lose yet another game against inferior opposition (and the refereeing crew) by a 1:2 scoreline.
The refs strangely enough were all from former East Germany (???), and not even from clubs in the local area, but from far away, and the linesman on my side started to fight his own personal battle against Concordia’s players, manager, assistant coaches, substitutes and fans, myself included (!!!) right from the first whistle.
Whenever someone dared vociferously questioning a dubious offside call or freekick decision he told everyone to pipe down or face being ejected from the coaching zone/stadium straight away. That’s the kind of guy he was. Attention seeker if I ever saw one. Secretly wishing to be the referee himself instead of only being the assistant waving his sorry little flag at random. Shortly before the end he jumped at the chance to give Concordia the proverbial finger in the shape of some payback, coaxing the ref into awarding a suspicious penalty against the Cordi boys, giving a handball against our defender who had cleared the ball on the line. The ball might in fact have hit his arm actually, but from very short distance and the player was merely turning himself away, arm NOT even stretching out from his body, in order to block the shot. But a red card was given regardless, the opposition scored the penalty and that was that. Game and season over.

It was a season of two halves for Cordi, being breathtakingly fantastic until shortly before Christmas while playing incredibly dire for pretty much the remainder of the season. But on the plus side the club is gearing towards promotion in the near future and there have even been rumours of Cordi building a new stadium of their own not too far from where I live actually, walking distance even at one and a half miles away.
This could be a goer if the City of Hamburg agreed to put a bit of money into that project in a supporting role, same as what happened at other local clubs in recent years, doing up football pitches or building new grounds altogether. I shall be keeping my fingers crossed most certainly.

As for the West Ham game against Liverpool, well, the less said the better, when I switched on the game upon my return (game hadn’t finished yet) we were 3:0 down already with almost half an hour left to go. From what I saw meself and what the pundits said in their post game analysis I gathered that our team must have been as indifferent, terrible and mistake-ridden in this one as we were eager, brilliant and focussed the week before in our win against Spurs.

I would not read too much into that result though, Klopp and Liverpool had everything to play for, we already had our personal Cup Final against Spurs and it appears to me like our season’s bubble had reached the sky with the Spurs win only to fade, burst and die straight after. We also cannot ignore the ridiculous list of players being out, recovering from surgical repairs and the like. We have been discussing in numerous threads how much we need to learn from this nightmare of a season. We’ve suffered enough injuries, rotten luck and bad decisions at club level to last three seasons, nevermind just the one almost completed.

We all sense the need to address a multitude of pressing issues in order to avoid a repeat of this dire season in 2017/18. For me the main thing still lacking at West Ham is a clear path, a long-term strategy and concept to adhere to and follow doggedly with focus and determination. Decide what kind of club we actually want to be, what kind of football we want to play and then put the personnel in place, the training regime, the transfer strategy etc.

And stick to it. It may cost money but that comes with the territory of playing Premier League football.

As I said, I have already renewed my season ticket. So who we sell, who we sign, if we get rid of Bilic and bring in Mancini will not make much of a difference to me in terms of the number of games I will attend next season. Of course I would prefer us to keep Bilic and hang on to players like Lanzini, Antonio and Kouyate. But if not, well, I would make a mental note to myself in that case and will continue to criticise the owners when I feel it’s warranted.

But I still have some hope we will see a much different transfer window at West Ham this summer. If not the backlash for the owners prior to what would then be our third season at the London Stadium would be massive and I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes in that scenario.

Talking of the board, I briefly have to mention that I tried to initiate a preseason friendly between “my” clubs, West Ham and Concordia, in Hamburg, this summer.
With the kind help of Sean Whetstone my request actually reached the relevant people in charge at West Ham and there was potential to find a suitable venue and date in July.

Alas, unfortunately the match fee asked for/required by West Ham was prohibitive for a club of Concordia’s size and budget to get this game on the road.
I spoke to the Concordia hierarchy at length, and doing their sums back and forth they tried to find a workable solution, but Concordia as a lower league club couldn’t risk financial ruin in order to host a marquee friendly against Premier League opposition just for the sake of it.

I still have to thank Sean a lot for trying to get the ball rolling.

I will stay in touch with him and West Ham though about the possibility to play a friendly against the West Ham U23s or U18s sometime in the future, or maybe Concordia can find a way to travel to London and play a game at Little Heath or at Dagenham’s Victoria Road ground. We will see. I ain’t giving up just yet.

I hope you all still had a great WHTID meetup yesterday, I always find it an amazing experience to put some more faces to names, to drink and be merry with my fellow fans and readers too in some cases. I know technically the season ain’t quite finished yet and that our development squad too have another vital game on Tuesday.

However, I wanna take this opportunity to thank you all for reading my stuff and putting up with me, especially those of you I had the pleasure sharing time with in person over the course of the season, you all know who you are and how much I value the chats and quality time we shared. Hope for more of that next season!

As for West Ham though I hope for plenty of improvements on various fronts.
It’s about time. The stadium will not get any smaller or change its shape.

And attendances are bound to suffer eventually unless the club and team mirrors our new stadium in terms of size and quality (and I mean the quality of the stadium and its facilities as a sports venue, not a football stadium). We play in a massive stadium now. Our club needs to grow as well in order to fit the place. So far we haven’t really begun doing that.

Over to you Lady Brady, Mr.Sullivan, Mr.Gold and Poštovani gospodine Bilic.
I am sure the West Ham fans will continue to cheer the team on to finally see better times coming our way.

God, do we deserve a bit of fortune next season! COYI!!!

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