The HamburgHammer Column
This will be a fairly short column, by my standards, as David Hautzig has covered the unlucky defeat against Arsenal in his brilliant article better than I could ever hope to achieve. I have not much to add to that, mainly because I only started to watch our game after the 40th minute.
Due to a lengthy injury break the Concordia away game had taken much longer than anticipated, so I had started following the progress in the Arsenal game from the passenger seat in the car by way of updates on my smartphone, finding myself in the comfortable position of having been offered a drive home by a fellow Cordi fan.
So, it was still 0:0 when I started watching and what I saw after that was quite impressive from our boys. We really looked the more likely team to score throughout. The stats confirm this. While we had far less possession of the ball we still managed 14 shots on goal, six of them on target – significantly more than Arsenal. But, alas, no goal for us and no cigar.
The Gooners caught a lifeline with a little help from VAR – they were lucky getting the win not so much because of VAR ruling rightly in their favour but because they didn’t really do enough in the game to deserve the win.
But football isn’t always fair – we missed enough chances that on another day might have won us two games, but it wasn’t to be.
We did at least continue with a positive line up, including Bowen, Antonio, Haller and Fornals, causing Arsenal plenty of problems in the process. But we didn’t tuck those chances away. Being more clinical in front of goal has to be the top priority in training now for Moyes and the other coaches to work on down at Rush Green.
Which brings me to my little discussion topic of the column: The art of substituting players. Some managers seem to be quite brilliant at it, always finding just the right moment to bring a player on who then scores a vital goal within five minutes of entering the pitch.
Other managers seem reluctant to make early substitutions (unless they have to make a switch due to an untimely injury to a player), being of the opinion it’s best not to upset a formation that has been playing reasonably well for 60 minutes.
Whichever way you look at substitutions, they can be a valuable tool for any manager to affect a game, to catch an opposition team by surprise, to react to a weakness spotted in the other team during the game or a weakness in your own line up for that matter.
There are valid arguments for both schools of subs. If you have a tight unit on the pitch, playing together regularly, with each player knowing the running patterns and movements of his teammates it might appear foolish to upset that chemistry and balance.
But if you need to mix things up a bit, change the tactics on the pitch, if you’re desperate for a goal or two – then sometimes you have to make changes. And any player on the bench worth his salt is itching to come on and put his stamp on proceedings anyway. Bench players can be a fearsome weapon. If you give them half a chance.
In my book, there is nothing wrong with making changes early on, maybe even after half an hour or at half-time when you see that a gameplan just isn’t working or one of your players keeps being targeted as a weak spot in the line up by the opposition. I firmly believe that any player coming into a game from the bench needs some settling in time to find his feet, to get into the rhythm of a match. The earlier you make a change the better the chances that the player can have a positive impact.
David Moyes seems to be reluctant to use early substitutions. Most of the changes he makes happen around the 70 minute mark. Which massively increases the pressure on the substitute player as there is less time to affect the game. I strongly feel we have a good chance to stay up this season as all the teams down there with us have been struggling in recent games too – no other team has pulled away significantly from the relegation zone yet.
But I also feel we need to use the entire squad to give us the best chance to survive. We need squad rotation, competition for places and high energy levels out there on the pitch.
Pace and pressing are crucial elements in our battle for staying up. That’s why I reckon Noble will not and cannot play 90 minutes of every game we will still have to navigate this season.
I have no inside information why it is that Ajeti is not even on the bench for us these days, if he has been throwing any toys out of any prams lately.
But he, for instance, is a clinical finisher. He has even done it in the CL for his former club. If you look at the goals he used to score for Basel they have been of an impressive variety, scored by foot or head, left foot and right foot, close-range efforts and piledrivers from the edge of the box.
If we want to start turning good performances into goals and wins we need fresh legs out there, we need to put more effort in than the opposition, we need to run more and we need to take our chances. I am confident we can do this as our fate is now in our own hands and feet. We don’t need to look (and neither should we) at what the other teams around us are doing – just approach every game as our own little cup final and go for the win every single time. Premier League survival will sort itself out for West Ham then in the end. Luck and VAR will be on our side if we keep pushing hard.
But it’ll be very tight around that relegation zone and not for the faint of heart.
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