The Blind Hammer Column

Anderson Shelter

Blind Hammer reflects how our match winner is protecting us from an injury crisis.

I had low expectations for this game. This pessimism only increased when I heard Hernandez and Zabaleta added to our burgeoining list of absences.

At times this season West Ham has fielded possibly the strongest bench in their history. This could not describe the bench here. Only 6 players were named, including a still apparently unfit Carroll, alongside youngsters Silva and Coventry who have yet to make their Premier League debuts.

Yet despite these disadvantages the brilliance of Anderson allowed us to dig out another valuable 3 point. The pre-match narrative of West Ham reeling from injuries and a damaging home defeat by Watford was confounded.

Anderson was the eventual headline maker. Yet, right from the start, West Ham exceeded expectations on a literally wider front. They subdued a buoyant Southampton on a high after two recent victories.

Antonio and more surprisingly, Captain for the night, Cresswell both threatened from the wings. Cresswell actually set up the clearest chance which resulted in Perez missing a sitter.
Both Anderson and Diangana consistently added to the threat from the wings.

West Ham really should have been ahead at |Half time. We feared ruing missed opportunities. There were danger signs from Southampton’s ability to rake crosses across our box. This eventually delivered dividends when Redmond scrambled a goal. Antonio failure to preserve our offside line marring his otherwise excellent performance.

Yet within 2 minute Anderson showed why Pellegrini was so determined to invest £42 million in him. His thunderbolt transformed the game.

Anderson’s world class skills showed how he can make even a team stretched by horrendous injuries thrive. He is truly providing shelter for the Hammers from their current storm of injuries.

Further evidence of his value was provided by his clinical winner. Yet this is not a one man show. Anderson’s goal was born out of Pellegrini’s coaching transformation.

Southampton alongside Fulham and others have failed to catch up with West Ham’s new counter attacking threat.

Finally opposing teams must now fear a counter attacking riposte from West Ham when they win a corner against us.

Whatever the paucity of Southampton’s defensive organisation West Ham’s winner was born in the hours of coaching Pellegrini has wrought on this squad. A deep sitting defensive back five have been dispatched. Instead we have a pressing, counter attacking pacey outfit. Without this counter attacking coaching and attacking organisation Anderson would not have provided the clinical coup de grace. In this sense Rice is as important as Anderson.

It is beyond doubt that West Ham now have a match winner in Anderson who could potentially punish any team.

Can we dare to dream of cup glory?

David Griffith,

The Blind Hammer Column

Countering The Press

Blind Hammer looks at how Pellegrini is revolutionising West Ham’s style.

A sub text of our success over Fulham was its demonstration of how increasingly obsolete previous assumptions about West Ham are.

Stuart Pearce, despite being partly responsible for these weaknesses, highlighted these assumptions in his early match analysis for TalkSport.

According to Pearce Fulham’s strategy should rely on pressing West Ham and exploiting deficiencies at full back, especially left back. The weaknesses, according to Pearce, lay in “Zabaleta’s legs” and Masuaku’s defensive vulnerability. Listening to Pearce you could hear why he and Moyes were never happy playing Masuaku’s, and apparently Zabeleta, without the support of Cresswell in a back 3.

Fulham seemed to share this belief. They shifted, arguably their most influential creative influence, tom Cairney, from midfield to the wings in an effort to expose this perceived liability.

You cannot help feeling slightly sorry for Fulham. Khan and his fellow directors appointed Ranieri as a safe pair of hands, drawing on a well of previous Premiership success. Yet this it was previous, now obsolete, experience which ultimately underlied his tactical failure here. Pearce appears not to have caught up with West Ham’s transformation either.

The West Ham vintage of 2018 is evolving into a very different creature from the teams of 2017 and earlier. It is now not so easy to press West Ham without consequence. Pressing West Ham with a deep lying back 5 is one thing. Pressing West Ham now with a high line back 4, even with supposed full back liabilities, is something completely different. Pressing teams will find themselves confronted with a counter press and most crucially a counter attack. We compete far more effectively in midfield with the extra man that 4 at the back release. The arrival of Rice and his added athleticism allied to the incisive play of Anderson has been critical in supporting this transition.

No longer do West Ham rely upon sitting deep, trusting on defensive depth to compress play and provide cover.

The problem with sitting deep was that we lost defensive safety whenever we advanced up the pitch. Ironically we showed vulnerability, not so much when conceding a corner, but when we won a corner. It was then that we were most likely to be involved in a desperate last ditch attempt to prevent a counter attack.

Pellegrini approach is radically different. He revealed on how the recruitment of Balbuena was crucial to his plans.

“Fabian Balbuena came from South America, but he played for one of the biggest teams in Brazil, so he is used to playing the way I want to play, with his Back not so covered and with space behind them.”

Balbuena’s low transfer value misled us in the summer. We assumed he was squad cover recruitment, competing alongside Ogbonna and Reid, both of whom were likely to be ahead of him.

It appears now it was Balbuena just as much as Diop who was the essential summer recruit. He is the critical organiser, the general who has led Diop into the team.

Pellegrini’s preference for defenders who are comfortable with “space behind them” also explains why he recruited Fredericks and possibly his persistence with Masuaku. . In such a system pace to provide recovery from loss of possession is essential. Pellegrini wants not a deep but a high defensive line.

Pace is not the sole requirement for a successful back 4. Zabaleta’s has used experience and positional sense to compensate for his perceived lack of pace. His successful return to a back 4 has confounded predictions.

Now West ham are just as likely to conduct a press of their own, but most importantly teams are increasingly fearful of our developing counter attacking prowess. It is quite a while since we have heard the phrase “clinical counter attacking” to describe West ham’s goal threat. Yet this is the new weapons Anderson et al are providing.

Such a strategy is not without risks. We are still reliant on the skills of Fabianski too much for comfortable viewing/listening.

Yet most of us would trade this for the free scoring outfit which our team has suddenly become. Hopefully other teams will be as tardy as Fulham in realising the transformation that is happening.

A Happy Christmas and New year to all West Ham supporters wherever they are across the Globe.
David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Options Against Fulham

*Blind Hammer reviews team options for the visit to Fulham *

Last week we achieved, in just one week, nearly a quarter of the points needed to guarantee our Premiership survival. The result is that we should have a squad which confronts the rest of the season without fear, certainly for the squad and hopefully for the fans in the London Stadium. For once positivity reigns.

The most impressive aspect of this achievement is that it has been realised against a staggering list of injury setback. On top of long term injuries to previously automatic first team picks, Lanzini and Reid, Pellegrini has seen his summer investment plan decimated. Sanchez is out for the season, as are possibly Yarmolenko and Fredericks. Wilshere, sadly, predictably has also barely figured. Perez participation is in doubt after picking up an injury against Palace. On top of this Arnautovic is not expected to return until January.

Without tempting fate, Balbuena and Diop have proved more robust recruits in defence and will again feature automatically. Ogbonna will continue an important squad role but not for this game.

Pellegrini declared that Zabeleta would need resting during December. Yet with a 7 days breather since his last outing he should be fine.

. Pellegrini famously hooked Masuaku at half time against Manchester City. Despite this Pellegrini has shown surprising faith. Masuaku was retained for Palace despite Creswell’s availability. To be fair Masuaku did little wrong. Despite this Cresswell offers more defensive solidity. Fulham have little confidence at the moment but this could change in a flash if West Ham gift them an early goal.

Defence is still a concern. Palace managed to score twice despite only rarely threatening. Whilst Cresswell has his share of defensive howlers he offers more solidity. His return may be important for our success on Saturday.

In midfield Rice is another who Pellegrini has signposted for a rest. Yet Rice’s ability to provide not only calm distribution but also to recover possession is an important part of our current composure.

Obiang is waiting in the wings to step in. However Rice’s rest, and Obiang’s chance is more likely to come in the Cup against Birmingham.

Up front, Perez’s likely absence will probably provide Antonio the opportunity to again show his versatility. I suspect that combination play with Hernandez will have featured prominently in training this week.

Carroll’s return provides a welcome bolstering to the squad. Still he seems unlikely to start despite his pivotal role in our success against Palace. One Palace commentator considered Carroll’s mere presence allowed West Ham to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Haunted by his previous success against them, Palace’s defenders were preoccupied. This allowed Snodgrass and Hernandez the space to turn the game on its head.

Despite this critical influence, Carroll showed he is still some way from peak fitness. His rehabilitation into the squad, for the foreseeable future, lies with his providing options and impact from the bench.

Fulham will be scrapping and fighting every inch. Notwithstanding, if we can avoid gifting goals there is no reason why even our depleted squad should have enough to secure a result.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

West Ham 3 Cardiff 1-Pellegrini Calling The Shots

Blind Hammer reflects on a vital win against Cardiff.

Football can be a game of fine margins. West Ham’s stop/start performance in the first half could easily have seen us fall behind and this could have been a much more difficult night.

Yet before Ward feebly addressed his penalty attempt I was strangely confident that Fabianski would deal with it. In the end he gathered it fairly comfortably. It was telling that at half time that the obvious candidate for man of the match was our goalkeeper who in addition to dealing with the penalty made some fine saves, including a crucial twisting adjustment to cope with a deflected Cardiff effort.

Many were underwhelmed by Fabianski’s recruitment in the summer, arguing he was little better than what we already had. Pellegrini’s judgement and faith has been richly vindicated.

Pellegrini’s judgement has come under some scrutiny in recent games, especially in the home defeat to Manchester City. His surprise decision to start with Masuaku backfired badly then, resulting in his hooking at half time. Even more questionable was his decision to persist with Arnautovic throughout a second half when the cause was clearly hopeless. More pragmatic Managers would have protected Arnautovic from his eventual injury.

Possibly because of this injury Arnautovic has looked diminished in both the Newcastle game and here tonight against Cardiff.

Apart from injury problems there does seem to have been a change in Arnautovic’s body language. He seems rather more petulant and his clumsy concession of a penalty against Cardiff tonight was odd. It is possible that his Brother’s attempt to engineer a “big money” move has just taken the edge off his commitment. Ironically he has in the event become more rather than less injury prone as evidenced by His pulling up with a probable hamstring strain tonight.

As soon as Carroll was judged fit, a couple of weeks ago there was an expectation of a rapid return into the team. Yet Pellegrini has made it clear both against Newcastle and here tonight that both Hernandez and Perez are ahead of in the pecking order.

This judgement was vindicated against Newcastle where Hernandez fired crucial goals. Tonight he was far less effective.

Tonight was Perez’s turn. At half time I wondered aloud what Perez offers the team. In the first 9 minutes of the second half he replied with an emphatic statement of2 goals.

Pellegrini’s faith in both Hernandez and Perez in preference to a returning Carroll was justified, though Carroll’s entry into the fun against a by now demoralised Cardiff late on provided him with a useful workout.

Antonio’s performance at right back was solid enough for me, despite Cardiff’s obvious attempt to target him. Cardiff’s lack of threat for large parts of the game allowed him to launch some telling rungs. His performance was rightly rewarded with a goal though tougher challenges will await him at right back.

Masuaku, in contract, remains a concern. He had a crucial role in our second goal but that is never the issue with him. He is often excellent going forward and can be a handful for many defences. The problem is that he is a disaster waiting to happen in defence. I think there may be a real case for retaining Antonio against Palace but return Zabeleta and ask him to fill in at left back. I shudder at what Townsend and Zahra may accomplish against Masuaku.

Finally a word for our returning Captain Noble. I loved the way he commanded possession, especially in the lead up to our second goal. Noble never uses possession for its own sake and can be as incisive with his passing as anybody.

So Pellegrini is calling the shots and getting more judgements correct than wrong at the moment. He has engineered the first back to back wins for 2 years despite a spiralling and increasing injury list. Wilsher’s return to the list of crocks with a recurring ankle problem after only 5 minutes against Newcastle is a depressing reminder of his glass like fragility.

Yet despite the stretching of our squad with so many injuries a spirit of resourcefulness is emerging at West Ham. Few in the summer would have predicted that we could be looking with some positivity to the challenge of Palace, despite the absence of Fredericks, Arnautovic, Wilshere and Yarmolenko. Pellegrini’s ability to coax out performances from the like of Robert Snodgrass and Grady Diangana, who also gained some useful minutes, is as important as his recruitment of the big name stars.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Carroll - A New Life Under VAR?

*Blind Hammer looks at a new twist in the long running Carroll saga *

Last Saturday’s wearyingly predictable defeat at the hands of Manchester city was, in the end, somewhat more interesting for what it showed about Pellegrini’s thinking about his squad.

Like most, before the game, I commented that Cresswell must be training an absolute stinker to enable Masuaku to force his way in. The relative defensive calmness Cresswell offered in the second half made the decision to start Masuaku even odder. All Managers appear to have blind spots, remember Billic persistence with Antonio at right back? Yet Pellegrini’s hooking at half time seems to indicate his myopia will not persist.

The other striking decision was Noble’s exclusion in favour of Obiang, Confirming the suspicion that Pellegrini sees our Club Captain as a squad rather than a starting option.

However, arguably, of most interest was Pellegrini’s decision to deploy both Hernandez and Perez from a bench top heavy with strikers, in preference to the rowdier talents of Carroll.

There was a time that Carroll’s return from injury would presage an automatic stroll into the forward line with an immediate adjustment in style to suit his talents.

No more, Carroll’s previous squad authority was conspicuously absent. This was despite the fact that, once 3-0 in arrears there seemed little point in risking the talents of Arnautovi?. He should have been preserved for the upcoming challenges of Newcastle, Cardiff and Palace. Pellegrini’s lack of pragmatism in protecting Arnautovi? from injury, despite a hopeless match position, does give me some concern.

Arnautovi? consequent, unnecessary, struggle to recover fitness has sparked speculation that Carroll may feature against his erstwhile teammates at Newcastle. Pellegrini’s preference for both Hernandez and Perez against City belies this. Currently both seem ahead of Carroll in the pecking order. A bench position seems the most Carroll can hope for.

Carroll’s reported £85,000 wages has prompted some to claim that he should therefore be release in January at whatever price.

Yet despite all the previous disappointments Carroll may, with the advent of VAR, just become an Ace in the hole in the second half of this season and potentially as VAR expands, in the seasons ahead.

We saw, last summer, how in the World cup, England deployed the advantages of VAR to become lethally effective from set pieces. Ironically it was future Hammer Carlos Sanchez who was suckered into grappling with Harry Kane and conceded a crucial penalty.

As VAR enters the game it will transform the potential for creating havoc from set pieces. Whilst VAR will provide some peril for Strikers, especially those who dive, in all other respects it will heap more pressure on defenders. The option to grapple opponents will become not just less effective but also self defeating. The ability of defenders such as Leicester’s Morgan and Huth to rely upon the strengths of their arms in holding attackers will diminish.

VAR will radically transform the relative risks of holding in the penalty area. Forwards who hold a defender will at worse concede a free kick and possibly a yellow card for persistent offending. A defender, in contrast, risks a penalty every time they grapple with forwards. Referee’s past tendency to give defenders the benefit of the doubt will come under increased pressure.

Carroll’s extraordinary physical characteristics may just then become one of West Ham’s most potent weapons in the upcoming age of VAR. There is no doubt that, physically, he is one of the most difficult forwards to deal with. Certainly in a VAR age I would far rather have Carroll as an option for us rather than see him deployed against us.

The first opportunity to test this hypothesis will come in the New Year and the FA Cup. VAR will continue its trial at Premiership Grounds. Carroll’s £85,000 a week wages translates into just over £4 million a year. This is relative small potatoes in today’s transfer market valuations. VAR may just provide the opportunity to revive Carroll’s flagging career and finally provide some value for money.

David Griffith

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