Match Report

Time to Fire Up the Coaches?

After the Leicester defeat Blind Hammer looks for answers for how West Ham could resurrect their season.

It has been a pretty miserable season for West Ham as we endured our 7th defeat at home against Leicester. We all know now that we have one of the worst defences in the league which concedes an alarming 2 goals a game but it was still a shock to be 2 -0 down after 6 minutes. The sad fact is that our defensive performance is providing a mountain for our offensive players to climb most games.

I was hampered in my insights by the club failing to provide a commentary headset. Luckily Radio London covered the game though I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time listening to reports from games against Rotherham etc. .

Despite this several things seemed obvious. The first is that the energy levels of Leicester were superior to West Ham for between two thirds to three quarters of the game. It was only in the last quarter of the game that Leicester started to look like the team which had played an emotionally and physically draining performance in mid-week. West Ham looked the team with the lower energy levels for the majority of the match despite their having the whole week to prepare. In the first half in particular Leicester outfought West Ham for possession and was more aggressive, though Drinkwater was treated particularly leniently by the referee.

This inevitably draws attention to the level and intensity of preparation our team is receiving before games. Many have noted that the squad has to perform on a larger pitch. One of the insights of the BBC Commentary was that we seemed to have few players who have the athleticism to cover the pitch properly. Antonio and Fernandez when he came on being honourable exceptions.

Last week heated media words were exchanged between Bilic and Japp Stam at Reading. Stam had explained that young prospect Oxford was not getting game time at Reading because he was not fit enough and that he had found the intensity of training at Oxford a shock compared to what he was used to at West Ham. Bilic flatly denied this was an issue but questions linger and to a certain extent his defence sounds hollow.

The problem for Bilic repudiation of Stam’s current claims is that he has actually already admitted it. Bilic himself claimed after the December humiliation of a 5-1 home defeat against Arsenal that the team lacked intensity, not just in performing on the pitch, but in training also. Apart from this admission there is other evidence. Zazar in his reflections on his calamitous West Ham loan specifically pointed out how the lack of intensity in training compared to what he was used to at Juventus made it difficult for him to adjust to the physical rigours of the Premiership. Valencia also has commented on how much fitter he has had to become in order to compete for a place in the Everton squad.

It may just be that in our efforts to repair what an inordinately high injury record with key players such as Carrol and Sacko, a more kid’s glove approach to training has reduced the overall fitness and effectiveness of the squad. The larger pitch would certainly expose any drop off in performance. There is no doubt that coaching nowadays is a science. Players need intense preparation for games, whilst avoiding being injured in this intense preparation. There is little evidence that the coaching setup is performing at the correct standard. The recent higher exposure of the squad to the coaching team in the Dubai trip seems to have set the squad back rather than advance it.

So who are the men behind the scenes responsible for managing this difficult balancing act? The personnel available to Bilic are Nikola Jurcevic who appears to be his right hand man. Edin Terzic is our First Team Coach whilst Miljenko Rak seems to have a key role as First Team Head of Performance. Julian Dicks has a role described as First Team Coaching Assistant and Chris Woods completed the team as Goal Keeping Coach.

Whilst Julian Dicks is the name most familiar to us it seems unlikely, given his job description as “Assistant” and as previous coaching experience in Women’s football or lower league football that he has a genuine leadership role in technical coaching at the club.

So apart from Bilic himself this leave the following coaches who in my view have some questions to answer. Nikola Jurcevic may or may not from his job description have a fundamental coaching role. From job descriptions alone Edin Terzic has the main responsibility as our First Team Coach whilst Miljenko Rak is required to take responsibility for fitness levels as First Team Head of Performance.

Whatever the qualities of these men in general are, they are not producing in the heat of competitive cauldron of the Premier League. In the light of evidence of poor defensive organisation, obvious to all, in the light of poor fitness intensity, obvious to most, a review of the coaching infrastructure seems strongly indicated. This is something which can be addressed now. We have to an extent been here before. When under Allardyce, we were having the opposite problem, struggling to score goals; we recruited in Teddy Sheringham to good effect. Fresh blood recruitment into the Coaching setup may well be advantageous now, especially doing the international break.

Only insiders at the club will know if any of these coaches are not up to it and need to go. Part of the judgement in my view would relate to how adaptable they would be to others suggesting solutions and accepting what is currently offered is not enough. They need to be open to correcting what appears to be the current technical coaching deficit. It may just be time to start driving and if necessary firing ups the Coaches behind the scenes.

COYI

David Griffith

Julian Dicks
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Talking Point

Do We Have The Right To Criticize?

“Blind Hammer Looks at some of the debates over criticism of Slaven Bilic.

After the disappointment of the Bournemouth defeat there were some heated debates on West Ham till I Die and other West Ham sites. We were all disappointed but there was some real discontent as to Bilic’s team selection and tactics. There was also some discontent from those who were unhappy with those criticising Bilic. Subsequent to the main draft of this post being written after the Bournemouth defeat Mark Noble added weight to this view by claiming that football supporters do not really know about football.

The criticism of Bilic has mainly focussed on his unbalancing of the team by taking some of our most effective players and consistently playing them out of position. Bilic seems to have a stubborn streak and seemed, for example, for an extraordinary extended time determined to persevere with Antonio at right back. This stubborn belief persisted all summer to such a degree that we did not recruit a class right back. The appalling Antonio defensive performances at the start of the season forced a panic last minute recruitment of Álvaro Arbeloa, a player already ,reported on Real Madrid blog posts as having “lost his legs” before he came to us.

Despite this Bilic continued to play Antonio at the back until, if we ,are to believe reports, Sullivan met with and read the riot act. Unfortunately Byram faced early injury, as did Arbeloa, though the latter has never seemed capable of playing at Premiership level on the few occasions we have observed him anyway.

Regrettably despite another transfer window passing the experiment of playing players out of position to try and fudge the issues at the right side of our defence continued. Now Cheikhou Kouyaté is the latest important performer who has been transformed into an ordinary if not mediocre right back. Håvard Nordtveit is another stand in make shift right back who also does not meet Premiership standards. All this is understandable in an injury crisis but for this situation to be allowed to persist over two transfer windows is little short of baffling.

I wrote last year how we could not seriously compete in the long term with a defence that concedes on average 2 goals a game. This season we have continued the malaise, conceding 58 goals in 30 league, league cup and FA Cup games. Such consistent defensive

weakness gives the rest of the team a mountain to climb most games. The priority for recruitment this summer is defence rather than attack.

I was amongst those who wrote an article last week fearing for the defensive fragility of our team because of this and other issues. The reluctance to make selection decisions based on merit also seems very strange. Nearly everybody who has seen Antonio agrees his most powerful performances have occurred been on the right side of an attack. He has rarely played there, being deployed either as a right back/wing back, on the left or as a first or second forward as in the game against Bournemouth. Lanzini seems most effective and able to dominate a game when he is played through the middle but is only sporadically played there, being shifted out wide to accommodate other midfield presences.

I received criticism for suggesting in my post last week that Bilic needed to grasp some selection nettles and in particular that Noble needs now to be dropped to the bench. According to the radio commentary of the Bournemouth game Noble, a fantastic servant at the club, was nevertheless lucky to stay on the pitch.

After the Bournemouth defeat those who have criticised team strategy have been ridiculed by some. The argument is that Bilic has more football knowledge, insight and skill in his little finger than in the whole bodies of any of the blogging “experts” who dare to criticise him. On one level this is incontestably true but in another way is completely wrong. The point is that none of us are claiming to be experts, certainly not me. The idea that a blind man has greater insight than Bilic into tactics is clearly laughable.

However this is very different from saying Bilic is therefore infallible and should be immune from the questioning and if necessary criticism of his decisions. Is there anybody who could seriously maintain that Bilic was correct all along with his Antonio experiments? Was Bilic correct all along about his assessment of Zazar? Can setting up a team which concedes 2 gtoals a game acceptable?

There are thousands of eyes and ears watching and listening to West Ham every week. Collectively we have a validity to query recruitment, selection and tactical decisions. The late Graham Taylor, who received his share of criticism in managerial roles, nevertheless never necessarily dismissed the validity of supporter analysis just because they were supporters and not football professionals. He would actively congratulate some supporters for their insights, memorably applauding a Noel Gallagher analysis of a Manchester City performance. Taylor would disagree with the ignorant view but recognise genuine insight.

Managers have to struggle against some limitations on their analysis. They can be too close to the action, sometimes literally so on the side-lines and struggle to see a broader picture. Emotion plays a part in all sport and dropping players who have served you loyally may be a real tricky issue to manage in the dressing room.

Collectively as supporters it is actually, in my opinion, our duty to provide the more distant judgemental assessment, more free from the emotional consequences of personal player relationships and loyalties. This can actually help Bilic in some of his more difficult decisions.

So yes I will continue to criticise and question Bilic’s decisions. Do I believe I know more than Bilic?-Absolutely not. Do I believe he should stay West Ham manager? Absolutely. Do I admire him for his conduct and apparent character? – Without doubt,

Yet it is a hard sport and I want him to account for his decisions. Why does he fail to play his 2 strongest midfield players in the centre? Why does he not play our best and strongest right sided forward on the right? Why is our most imaginative central midfield player able to create and influence games often stranded wide? Why does our left back not come under pressure for his place despite poor performances? Why do we not play our only fit right back at right back? Why do we have insufficient pace in the team, especially defensively? Why do we consistently get caught on the break? Why did a simple straight ball over the top of our central defenders by Bournemouth cause repeated and frantic defensive chaos?

Of course Bilic knows more than any one of us individually but it is essential for loyal supporters to highlight and pressurise on areas of weaknesses obvious even to a blind supporter rather than hide our heads under a pillow and pretend these issues do not exist.

COYI
David Griffith

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Talking Point

Getting the Breaks

Blind Hammer looks at some of the lessons from the Chelsea Defeat

The narrative emerging from the performance and defeat on Monday was that we encountered a side superb at lightning counter attacking football, and that we had to hold our hands up to acknowledge that Chelsea were top of the table for a reason.

Whilst this holds some merit, and the performance was a significant upgrade from the collapses against Manchester City, twice, and Arsenal, this does reflect some unwarranted complacency.

The fact is that we have been susceptible to the point of fragility to attack on the break all season. Whilst it is convincing to talk about our exposure to the skills of mega stars at the top of their form like Hazard, this obscures our propensity to display this weakness against far less potent opponents.

Those of you who attended our home game against Hull will remember that we were undeniably fortunate to win on the day. How time after time Hull exposed us on the break. It appeared that Hull was at their most potent when defending a corner against us. It was only poor finishing from Hull and the woodwork on two occasions which prevented us from suffering an embarrassing defeat. I still regard that as the pivotal game in our season, helping to arrest a slide in confidence which could have had dire consequences. Such are the narrow margins of success and failure in football.

There are 2 characteristics of our weakness on the break. The first is our propensity to surrender possession unnecessarily in advanced positions, leaving us exposed to the counter. The other is when we are loading our attack with defenders to support either a corner or a free kick.

In both situations the loss of possession in an advanced position has resulted in a frantic chase back, with sometimes outnumbered defenders attempting vainly to repel an effort on goal.

The last ditch tackle is an important part of football drama, but should really not become a standard feature of our defending. It should be preserved for when we are chasing a game, and having to over commit, rather than a first line of defence.

How to remedy this is obviously a mixture of personnel and organisation.

A structural weakness in our team this season is how we have taken two of our most potent performers, able to influence a game whilst we are in possession, and transform them into ordinary or even mediocre right backs. The failed experiment of using first Antonio and now Cheikhou Kouyaté at right back suffers from two consequences. Both are weak and likely to be targeted as defenders, but more importantly their skills at dominating possession are wasted as they are withdrawn from roles which allow their strengths to prosper. The nettle of dropping Noble to the bench needs to be grasped. If Obiang etc. lack Noble’s match reading and organisation they need to step up an acquire it. Other performers at right back like Håvard Nordtveit also do not meet Premiership standard.

In the most competitive league in the world fudging 25% of our defensive team with makeshift substandard performers is simply not supportable. If Byram is not up to the job this should have been sorted in January.

The other issue with personnel is the need for pace. The recruitment of Fonte was probably sound but we were definitely not investing in youth and more importantly speed. We need to ensure that our right back at least has powers of recovery and can hare back with the best athletes in the league.

The final issue is one of team organisation generally and defensive organisation in particular. It was hoped that Fonte would provide some defensive experience to aid organisation but this is clearly a work in progress. It may be that we must surrender both Reid and Fonte advancing for a corner unless we are chasing a game.

Against the best in the league, for example our upcoming games against Liverpool and Tottenham; we need to make a plan to remedy our weakness on the break.

We need to maximise our midfield strength and have the game awareness not to surrender possession in dangerous situations. We may have to have a more cautious approach at corners and free kicks. The problem is obvious to see, whatever the solution is will be the challenge for Bilic and his coaching team to address.

COYI

David Griffith

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Match Report

Getting the Blues

Blind Hammer’s Manchester City Match Report.

One of the features of last season was how we over performed against top 4 sides. Now, we have not just returned to more normal performances but have seriously under-performed against the very sides we were shocking last season. David Sullivan in his TalkSport interview earlier this week pointed to one of the more objective reasons for this gap re-emerging. These sides have recruited incredible managers and have spent eye watering sums to assemble an array of staggeringly talented players in their teams.

Certainly we seemed seriously out-classed against City. The team which had responded so well to Payet’s truculent strike had their confidence badly shaken again.

Slaven Bilic analysed the defeat in terms of mistake and organisation.
He said after the game, “We gave the ball away for their first and third goals and we made mistakes.
“It’s hard to go so quickly 2-0 down and then we make another mistake and then after that we weren’t aggressive enough and we didn’t close them down.”

Certainly Manchester City did not need the advantage provided by mistakes by Aaron Cresswell, Pedro Obiang and a decidedly shaky looking Jose Fonte, making his debut on a traumatic night.

Hopefully Obiang will come back despite being hooked by Bilic; he has a lot of credit from recent performances. Jose Fonte had a baptism of fire and all being well have sufficient experienced and mental toughness to recover to perform against his old team at the weekend. Cresswell is more of a long term worry. He has not seemed the same player since returning, I don’t know if this is simply form, or whether he is carrying an Obonna style injury or whether he has a Jenkinson style confidence problem emergent. Most games I attend he seems to have a bad mistake in him, even if we are not always punished for it. I am starting to think the unthinkable, and wonder whether Masuaku should be given a run when fully recovered.

Generally the team appeared terrified of the talent arrayed against them; especially referencing the 0-5 drubbing handed out only 26 days ago. -
Slaven again:
“We can say that it’s playing Man City and not every team is like Man City and that’s true but we have to get over this game and we have to prepare for the game against Southampton.
“They beat us 5-0 in the cup and then 4-0 tonight and make no mistake, we have to give them credit but it was also about us.”

Specifically Bilic complained;

“We gave those kinds of players too much space and time on the ball and space between the lines. When you give them space like that they just slaughter you.
“It was very frustrating and it’s like what happened in the cup. We again started well but when you make mistakes like we did for some of their goals and if you give the ball away in those areas then they punish you. After that, it’s very difficult to play against them.”

Bilic is an extremely honest manager but perhaps he has unusually pointed the finger of blame at the players whilst more honestly he also needs to look at himself. One of the central themes which have defined Bilic’s season so far has been his use of Antonio. I kept switching from In Stadium to Five Live Commentary during the game. Whilst some of the comments made by Pat Nevin were facile and stupid, for example, calling for West Ham to reduce the size of the pitch in complete ignorance that pitch sizes are now set by Premiership rules, other points had more validity. He was surprised at Bilic deploying a line up which had admittedly succeeded against the level of challenge provided by Middlesbrough and Palace, seemed ill prepared to meet the test of Manchester City. Bilic had not shown tactical flexibility to meet different challenges. We were fighting fire with fire with an aggressive 4-4-2.

Critically Nevin believed that by playing Antonio in an advance role West Ham denuded them of essential manpower in the middle of the park and allowed them to be overrun. Certainly Bilic seems oddly reluctant to play Antonio in his favoured right wing position experimenting with him as sole striker, second striker wind back and full back. I imagine Byran would have been much happier having the support of a harder working Antonio supporting him on his flank.

It is easy to be wise after the event and in all honesty if Bilic had changed the side formation we may still had lost. However I for one hanker to see Byran and Antonio prosper in a hardworking powerful partnership on the right. My instincts is that there is less chance that we will be terrorised on the break down this flank at least with this partnership and Bilic needs to install it for the Southampton trip.

There was some hope with the arrival of Robert Snodgrass who would seem to have played his way into the team against Southampton by default. As Bilic says we do not play Manchester City every week but after this difficult season is over he needs to have a sober reflection on how he sets sides up to counter the threats of teams like Arsenal and City. Losing to them is acceptable, even at home, losing regularly by conceding over 4 goals a game is not.

Yet again we need to repair confidence at a critical juncture of the season. Howe we perform against teams like Southampton, West Brom will determine how we feel at the end of the season and likely to influence even next season. We came off the rails against City. It is now time to get back on Track.

COYI

David Griffith

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Talking Point

The Stadium Ownership - The Way Forward

Blind Hammer looks at a strategy for resolving the Stadium issues.

At the time of writing the BBC are to about to broadcast yet another hostile program which will apparently demonstrate how West Ham is fleecing the tax payer.

It is increasingly obvious that there are issues around the financing of the Stadium deal, but it is also obvious that little if any of the responsibility for the difficulties can be laid at West Ham’s door. This piece may actually appear after the program but is written without sight of the issues they raise so you should read with this caveat in mind.

However it is likely that the program will focus on the Achilles heel of the stadium project, the cost of the construction and deconstruction of the retractable seating.

The issues about the retractable seating are likely to be complex in detail but can be summarised I believe as follows.
1. The original tender lodged by the successful company for delivering the retractable seating was incompetent and should never have survived the scrutiny of the LLDC bidding process. The company claiming to be able to deliver the movable seating collapsed under the ineptitude of their plan and went into liquidation.

2. The actual cost of delivering genuine retractable seating is apparently eye watering, involving, according to reports I have seen, major sums dealing with what is apparently still contaminated land underneath the Stadium.

3. The consequent situation is that instead of a retractable seating arrangement we have a Jerry rigged construction and de-construction project of building and taking down stands every year which according to Claret and Hugh now costs £8 million a year.

This is I believe, the heart of the claim that West Ham are benefiting from a “rent free” stadium, the cost of the moving of the retractable seating alone dwarfs the £2.5 million sum paid by West Ham for the Stadium.

This is also why the LLDC and Stadium Operators have apparently “invited” West Ham to contribute more.

There is however a major flaw both in this invitation to West Ham to pay more and the argument that the retractable seating are for West Ham’s benefit. The cold truth is that West Ham have absolutely no material or financial interest in the seating being retractable. As far as we and the club is concerned it would be far easier to build and maintain permanent structures rather than the current flexible Arrangements.
The sad but immutable truth is that it is the commitment to athletics which is at the heart of the need to provide retractable seating. I perfectly understand the national interest of the country as a whole to want to maintain a world class stadium for the purposes of international athletic events. In effect the Nation and the Tax payer have to provide an £8 million subsidy to the sport of Athletics and possibly in the future cricket for the purposes of running these events.

The only way that the Stadium is viable as a project is through the influx of the nearly 60,000 supporters who come to watch not Athletics but West Ham every fortnight during the football season.

What is completely absurd is to claim that West Ham is responsible for funding the National Commitment to Athletics.

There is, I believe, a way forward which should clarify matters. We know that originally West Ham bid to purchase the Stadium, but this bid, on course to successful completion was scuppered by the multitude of interests opposed to a successful West Ham in the new Stadium. Tottenham in particular were vigorous in their opposition to West Ham succeeding.

A restructured deal emerged which saw the present third party ownership model of the stadium with West Ham becoming not the owners of the Stadium but the “Anchor Tenants”.

This cumbersome tripartite arrangement of stakeholders is at the heart of many of the other problems which have affected settling into the Stadium. The arrangements where we have a multitude of strategic partners dilutes responsibility and will dog the Stadium for year whilst it persists.

The way forward is for West Ham to offer to take ownership of the Stadium again with a continuing commitment to honour the availability of the Stadium for Athletics and other events. Gold and Sullivan have been successful businessmen in the past and I am sure that the club have sufficient commercial experience to draw upon.

The funding of the Stadium conversion for Athletics becomes then an issue for National debate. For myself I believe the best approach would be to plan for a purpose built 30,000 seater Athletics / Cricket Stadium along the lines originally proposed. The current £8 million going into seating conversion could instead be directed into the construction of a smaller facility built elsewhere in the voluminous spaces available in the Olympic Park.

So the way forward is clear. West Ham has no interest in renegotiating the current deal to subsidise Athletics. However what we may have is a strategic opportunity to convert the current rental arrangements into stadium ownership along the lines of the original bid.

This would end for once and all the current confusion of responsibilities and replace the current bureaucratic nightmare of a Hodge podge of partners including LLDC, Newham Council French stadium operators and even Westfield to an extent. A single commercial drive to maximise the potential of the Stadium with West Ham at its heart could then be realised.

COYI

David Griffith

Da David Griffith

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