Blind Hammer reflects on the Chelsea wind and what we are learning about our Manager
It has felt like a long time since I could honestly say that I have loved attending Upton Park. Like Kevin Keegan I thought I would just love it if we beat Chelsea.
A lot of this “feel good” factor is obviously due to the influence of Payet who is increasingly acting as the team maestro. Yet just as important is Bilic’s game organisation. Under Bilic’s reign it is clear to see, even for a blind supporter, that the good times are arriving back in a hurry.
As the weeks go by we are learning more and more about Bilic. His team selection is based on genuine meritocracy. Despite the serious money invested in Obonna, Collins was rewarded with his place against the Champions, Chelsea, for his Palace performance. Similarly Zarate was given a starting role despite the presence of a £12 million signing in Valencia hovering in the wings. Both Zarate and Collins rewarded Bilic’s faith with solid performances.
The predictable pundit view before the game was that West Ham are a one dimensional team set up to exploit teams away from home but who do not have the equipment to win at home. I did not see any pundit predicting anything but a Chelsea win.
The reality is that in this game West Ham proved that they are anything but one dimensional. Having dominated the midfield against Chelsea in the first half by playing narrow, denying space and pressurizing the ball, Chelsea’s array of midfield talent were more difficult to deal with in the second half. This is not, in itself, too surprising. Chelsea has invested eye watering sums in amassing a galaxy of highly paid stars. Costa by himself equates to the total of all West Ham’s transfer spends in the last 2 summers. It would be an extraordinary thing is any team could completely suppress the resources Chelsea can draw upon for 90 minutes. They will inevitably find a way to dominate for sections of the game.
What is important is not an unrealistic expectation that we will dominate for 90 minutes, even if Chelsea are down to 10 men, what is important is how our Manager reacts strategically to this challenge.
Bilic changed not just personnel but style. After Carroll came on I heard a definite change in the pattern of play. I repeatedly heard Payet and others feeding the ball out wide, to Cresswell in particular, whilst in the first half they were more frequently slipping in forward passes to Sacko. The result was that Chelsea had to suddenly respond to a completely different challenge.
My brother has pointed out that one of our former players, Rio Ferdinand, commented this week on the effectiveness of Wenger’s tactics at Arsenal by substituting Theo Walcott with Oliver Giroud. Ferdinand said, with feeling, that it is a nightmare for a defender to spend 65 minutes executing a game plan against a forward like Walcott only then to have to completely change their game to deal with a forward with radically different strengths like Giroud. Walcott is all about slippery pace and shots on the run whilst Giroud provides power in the air and instant shots without backlift.
This was the strategy Bilic unleashed against Chelsea. Cahill and Terry, already with their hands full coping with Sacko, now found that they had to react to the entirely different challenge of Carroll. The first few crosses from out wide came to naught but Bilic persevered, standing on the touch line with his arms spread wide to reinforce the point. Eventually Cresswell missed the first defender and Carroll was able to send us all into ecstasy by demolishing the composure of both Cahill and Terry with his towering presence in the penalty area.
Now a trivia Quiz, what have Liverpool’s Coutino, Sunderland’s Lens, Palace’s Gale and Chelsea’s Matic all have in common? The answer is of course that they have all been sent off against West Ham this season. Coutino started the trend with his challenge against Noble in the famous Anfield win. Lens reinforced this with his clattering of Winston Read at Sunderland, whilst Dwight Gale lunged firstly on Dimitri Payet and then Cheikhou Kouyate. Yesterday Matic joined the club after firstly fouling Zarate and then cynically bringing down Diafra Sakho. What unites all these dismissals is that they are achieved after the West Ham midfield starts to wear down and frustrate their opponents.
The media’s portrayal of Matic’s sending off as a “self-destruct” blunder by Chelsea completely fails to see this pattern of mistakes that the West Ham midfield is forcing from of our opponents.
Last week I dismissed claims that Palace was unlucky to have only 10 men against us. I also predicted that further players would be sent off when playing against us. I did not expect to be proved correct so quickly but exactly the same rationale applies to the dismissal against Chelsea. Check back to my previous post for the discussion of this and the reasons for it. Suffice to say that it is the style of play which Bilic has introduced which is winning us these numerical advantages and not any weird common impulse by the teams we play to “self-destruct”.
So we continue to learn about not just about this exciting new team but also our Manager. When Bilic was appointed in June I thought that the Davids were taking a gamble. This may have been true at the time but it increasingly looks like it is a gamble that is paying up big time. Whether we can now hit the jackpot will be an interesting journey over the next 6 months or so.