Talking Point

Hammers are saturated with class but struggling for rhythm.

West Ham started the season full of hope and optimism and due to a terrible run of fixtures and a few new faces we found ourselves pointless with a small number of games gone. Then it all picked up and performances against Chelsea, Everton and Man Utd showed how much quality and aspiration we really have. But entwined within this has been some puzzling off performances. These non-performances also happened against Brighton and to a certain extent in the double header London derby albeit against a top four side currently.

This really is not intended as a bitter Monday moan as all of the prerequisites for brilliance in the team are already evident albeit some more evident than others. Now I think the team in itself has improved rapidly as the games have gone on. Arnie is one of the leading scorers in the Prem, Anderson is starting to germinate and Diangana has been discovered. Diop and Balbuena are actually very proficient and the keeper is outstanding. Therefore we need to really analyse the mechanism by which our form seems to oscillate. I would suggest the main reason is that Pellegrini’s model is not yet complete. It’s clear we don’t quite have a full set of first team players who can provide the reliability and consistency in performance we need. January may be a possibility but our chairman are often cautious of this window so any additions are likely to be on loan or moderately priced at best. Therefore we are looking at next season until we can strengthen the areas we need to. Full backs, another centre forward and an industrious centre mid who can tackle and pass.

Despite such annoyances, looking at our best performances the team we have got are still capable of better showings than the first half at Huddersfield. I think to a certain extent this has been due to pressures and strains on the centre of midfield. Noble’s suspension and Obiang’s continual state of semi-fitness has put immense pressure on Rice who has been superb this season but we are over reliant on him to pick up misplaced passes and generally win the ball in the middle. Against Huddersfield he made a rare individual error and was unlucky to be punished but was. Balbuena and Fabianski also made similar errors but got away with them so it was one of those games where only conceding one goal was actually no mean feat considering the way they came at us. I think we should be more concerned at only scoring one. At times we seem to overplay the ball or run wide when a better ball inside is waiting. We need to be more efficient and clinical, Hernandez immediately made an impact when he came on and should really have done better but fair enough. However that was basically it from him. I’m not convinced taking Diangana off helped anyone and despite Hernandez’s record how much longer can we afford him ghosting about contributing only for very small parts of the game.

Another reason we have not managed to break into a better rhythm is our lack of options from the bench. Antonio continues with a general ineptness which has not been seen in previous seasons and his decision making is still very questionable. Fredericks appears to have sustained an injury to his ankle and certainly looked crocked when last seen gingerly hopping across the field. This is a shame for him and hopefully it is just a sprain, he hadn’t completely settled in the game and with Zab not getting any younger and rumours circulating about this being his last season Fredericks can really capitalise if he ups his game. So what should we be expecting from the rest of this season and from the next couple of seasons? Continued improvement and a few winning runs could see us as high as 6th-8th with being happy with 10th a likely realistic target. The only problem with this is Pellegrini and the whole Board cash input for signings hasn’t been done to finish 10th or even 8th. Pellegrini is a manager who wins things, the board have brought him in to win things, should we expect a major restructuring with maybe Obiang, Antonio, Noble and Carrol being sold to facilitate more ‘major’ signings? Or have we basically got the team we need bar a couple of fullbacks and we just need to carry on gelling and improving? Time will tell, after the break will come a tough test which could boost our season or provide another mini dip in morale but we must come through that and be ready to put together a decent run up to and beyond the New Year.

Lads looking mean, lean and hungry!

At times it seems like we have got it cracked. Anderson beating the player on Saturday and then taking another two out with the angled ball was pure genius as was his finish. Arnie seems to dictate whole phases of games with an invincible glow to his presence as he out battles opponents and finds pockets from which he can pounce, and Diop and Balbuena look comfortable as a pairing which is crucial. The positives all outweigh the negatives and as frustratingly disappointing it is to watch us only score one goal when three or four could have easily been had I still think it was always going to be a tough game and one which we have continued our accrual of points. Lets hope Pellegrini has some ideas for when his old boys come to town as well as looking forward to a few more tough away games. If he gets it right the class of our team will show through and the rhythm will be back in the West Ham dream. COYI!

Talking Point

Diangana can follow in the footsteps of Ward, Slater and Michael Hughes

Over the years there have been a few players who suddenly appeared in wide positions and totally looked at ease writing their names into Eastend folk-law. The likes of Tore or Jarvis he aint put it that way. Like many, my generation of hero’s include players such as Mark Ward, Stuart Slater and Michael Hughes. They all personify the character of Diangana albeit in different but paradoxically similar ways, by this I mean they are small, tricky wingers who could not only beat players but cross and shoot as well, however they have strikingly different methods of going about it and to date Diangana’s is by far the cockiest. Against Burnley the little drag back and leave it still on the line then in a flash retrieve and off again was an act of skill and confidence which really took the biscuit, absolutely brilliant and more to come I’m sure.

The key thing we need to look out for now is the opposition targeting Diangana by closing him down and robbing us of possession or worse trying to smash him early like Brighton did to Obiang and Yarmolenko. We must use the energy of Snodgrass and Rice to cover his runs and prevent any uncovered losses. The good thing is we have Anderson also who needs targeting for closing down the result of which could easily be a quick pass from Pedro or Nobes through the middle for Arnie or Hernandez to run in and exploit.

Return of the Jack?

Carrol and Wilshere seem to be the next two back. I doubt many of us are entirely convinced about the long or even medium term fitness of either of them but the fact remains they should be back soon and therefore need to be accommodated into the team one way or another as injuries and suspensions would dictate they have to play some part however little MP wants to change the team.
With Carrol we are mostly all agreed from what I can ascertain that impact substitute is the way forward. With Anderson, Zabaletta and Diangana whipping in crosses and chips Carrol can easily capitalize and generally create havoc. Also a possible but controversial tactic would be to utilise Carrol deeper allowing us to play the ‘not quite so long ball’ up to him which can be flicked on to allow Anderson, Diangana and Hernandez to feed Arnie or go themselves. From what I remember the Carrol Hernandez partnership never truly blossomed although on paper it looks good. Playing Arnie and Carrol up top is a bit of an excessive overlap of strengths so playing Carrol well behind the front with obvious license to pop up in the six yard box might serve us well.

As for Wilshere, I worry about the nature of the ankle injuries and I worry (albeit much less) about the spiel on Gooner websites suggesting some of their success is because Wilshere never put in 100%. This is to be expected from such outlets I know and I’m convinced the reason behind Wilshere’s subdued performances is physical pain rather than any idol mentality. However the question is how does he go forward from here and crucially can he go forward? If he can overcome the injury then I’m sure Wilshere will be an asset to the midfield, although when he played at the start of the season he wasn’t that much of an asset there were reasons as we played top class sides who simply overran us before any of his creativity had a chance to be applied.

The Cresswell Question and Joe Hart Flashbacks

I did notice a few missed passes and sluggish track backs Saturday but there were also a good number of convincing tackles and I can’t help thinking that Cresswell needs a run and a bit of confidence. If that’s the case and he gets it I’m sure he would be much more of a viable full back than Masuaku who is still not without a position as a left-mid depending on the strength of the squad.

The Joe Hart enigma continued to baffle as well, some confident moments, one good save in the first half and another with his feet along with a hugely spiced up tip round at a lovely height for the keeper in the second half. He flapped and punched anything in the six yard box and in reality I’m pleased he has gone although he did play well once against Chelsea. The one in the first half which he punched like a baby tries to grab a dangling toy had me in a state of panicked flashback as the suspended animation enabled me to relive all of those moments from last season. I suddenly came round like I had awoken from a terrible dream which wasn’t really true when I realised he wasn’t playing for us anymore. McKnightmare once had a game against Newcastle which defied the laws of sanity and David James had a good few moments which teetered on the irrational but overall Hart was the one keeper I think I had least confidence to save anything.

What we need to remember in the near future is to take games and teams as they come. We don’t want to let Man City destroy us even if they do in the match itself. We can ideally turn that game into a tough tactical battle which could be settled by one mistake. If it doesn’t happen for us then we look to the next game, we rebuild and we go again. It is clear there is a gulf in quality between the rest of the league and the bottom four or five which is more apparent than most seasons. Our points tally already suggests the woeful start to the season has been recovered and with so much quality to return along with the rapidly improving new boys we can give ourselves a fighting chance of the top six if we show the same sort of fight for the rest of the season as we did against Burnley on Saturday. COYI!

Talking Point

Responsive Hammers improving at the right time.

Against Leicester, considering the extent of injuries in the squad, the early news that Arnie was not going to be fit was a major setback which we appeared to manage well. Pellegrini predictably resisted the temptation to be panicked into major structural change such as bringing in Ogbonna and going five at the back and instead went for an attacking midfield offering energy, skill and flair. The outcome was one of improvement.

Players are responding to Pellegrini’s mental model

Now the sending off changed the game completely but in my opinion it changed the mentality of the game more than the game as a physical contest. Leicester saw it as a foregone conclusion that by the game of percentages if they kept battering the door down it would eventually open. As it happens the door did open slightly and right at the end, it wasn’t what Leicester had hoped though. Us on the other hand knew we would be difficult to break down and also for several periods after the sending off we looked like we thought we might even nick another one just to really rub it in and its that kind of winning mentality I think is starting to show through. Indeed we would have been victorious if the two best chances of at the end hadn’t fallen to the match rusty centre back who on his day might have done better.

Voracious, resilient and united would be three words I would use to describe the performance and the team spirit Saturday. Rice having a game like that in front of Southgate was good for him and it was another assured performance when most needed. Although often taken for granted Fabianski continues to move into the realms of outstanding this season with a calm assurance which is absorbed by Diop and Balbuena. Cresswell’s relegation to the bench despite a reasonable appearance later proves that Pellegrini would much rather take a risk with Masuaku’s defensive frailties given his sometimes seen attacking qualities. This must bode quite badly in the long run for Cresswell and I can see a Palace or Derby type club trying to sign him in the January window or beyond.

As for Anderson what are we going to do here? How can he be best used in the cup game and against Burnley Saturday? He has consistently shown flashes of brilliance but appears to be going backwards not forwards in terms of his gelling with the team and with the Premier League in general. The answer must still be that he is being played out of position, he just doesn’t have the confidence to play the one two or run at the heart of a defence with any conviction. Anderson prefers the safer reverse return ball and this suggests to me he is looking for people moving off of the ball who simply are not there. His quality of crossing cannot justify him being used just as a winger to get crosses in therefore playing him in a more central attacking role seems the obvious next move.

Bring on the cup game (and Burnley)

So what now for the cup game? We almost faced going into this game against a top six side without a centre forward and low in the centre of midfield, yet strangely I could see how we may have done quite well. I am now hoping that Arnie did have a cold after all and will indeed be fit. I’m also hoping Obiang might make an appearance but don’t want to get too excited. Players such as Diangana, Rice and Antonio will have a license to have a proper go at them tomorrow and then again against Burnley which has to look like a golden opportunity to wax as they wane. I think in footballing terms we owe Burnley a nice hammering as they not only signed Joe Hart but also benefited from our sense of chaos last time the two sides met. Albeit comfortably.

Let’s keep the belief and keep working and most of all get something from the next two games. COYI

Talking Point

Twice is carelessness

I think that history will probably view Saturday’s encounter as a typically hard-fought close London derby which could have gone either way, a true one-nil which was settled just before the break- after an enforced substitution. I also think that looking at the game as a whole there were many missed opportunities and on the whole there was very little to choose between the two sides and its just one of those results you have to put up with. However, looking at the last two games together we begin to unfold a worrying pattern. We have ceased to be able to grind out results, if we ignore the fact we haven’t been terribly proficient in the old result grinding business in the last few seasons and concentrate purely on the outcomes and nature of outcomes from the last two matches only, we must ask the question what could have caused this?

Our fortunes have plateaued

I would argue three key reasons for this.

We have genuinely been unlucky and are likely to respond and make our own luck at some point, in addition to this the performances of Gross for Brighton and the opposition keeper Saturday were outstanding and cost us goals pure and simple.

Secondly Obiang not playing had an adverse effect on the midfield. In an attempt to remedy this the option was either give Obiang 20 Leeches Friday night and hope he recovers or order Snodgrass to do exactly what he was brought to the club to do and run around wildly, occasionally winning corners and generally being an ineffective replacement for a decent player. This certainly affected us and the lack of coherence caused Noble to be robbed for the first although by then the Yarmolenko crisis had unfolded which certainly didn’t help.

The third reason is the most important in my view. For the second game in a row we were out thought, out planned and out psyched by a shrewd manager who had done his homework thoroughly. This was made all the worse by facing a team of first-team fringers desperate enough to follow it to the last detail rather than be side-tracked by their own ego’s. Last week at Brighton Hughton told them to clatter Yarmolenko and Obiang to shut down our creativity. Saturday the opposition midfield were onto Anderson immediately. They were so badly all over him the geezer just basically fell apart and had to be taken off. I will say its one of the few off days he’s had and creative geniuses hate clever bullies so maybe against nicer teams, once he’s practised a few corners Anderson should live to fight another day.

You’ve gotta know how to hold’em… Know how to fold’em!

Would we have lost both of those games under Moyes? Under Billic almost certainly, under Allardyce almost certainly not but it wouldn’t have mattered as we probably wouldn’t have watched it. Under Moyes I think we may well have grabbed a few points. Go back to the Bournemouth and Wolves games I think Moyes would have got at least a couple more. Pellegrini has proven in some games he has the know-how and the talent required to make us a great side. As much as I moan about the opposition Saturday they have one of the best records in the league and a wealth of international players. Pellegrini’s style and tactics made them look like Brighton or Wolves but still they nicked one and turned us over. It seems Pellegrini needs to address the mental side of the set-up, possibly himself included. We need to be harder, tougher, more streetwise. Pellegrini needs to go out for beers with Danny Dyer or something. More Phil Mitchell less Billy. Leicester away is the perfect place and the type of game for us to instigate another revival (and to go out for beers with Danny Dyer). We can do it but we need to bring in a bit of support for Arnie who is looking stretched and stressed in the lone striker role. Hopefully Hernandez will return to form and Carroll should be back giving us some options. Four or even six points from the next two matches is now the clear expectation and is rapidly becoming a necessity as winnable games are being crossed off the list quickly.

Pellegrini does do the difficult things well

A major positive in Manuel’s book of tactical niceties is his willingness to give players a chance. Bringing on Diangana was like a breath of fresh air in managerial terms, Allardyce and Billic too often opted for the experienced yet boring replacement and more often than not in the case of the former actually wanted them to fail to prove a point. I’ve always been a great believer in baptism of fire, sink or swim: it maketh a person. Diop is continuing to look good and I thought Rice did have a good game on Saturday and his current role is another MP masterstroke as he creates immense havoc in nomansland breaking up play and restarting moves. If Declan Rice was a machine he would be the thing which picks up the skittles after bowling and sorts them out again, you have to look closely but he is always influencing the game and this bodes well.

White elephant for sale?

On a completely separate note there have been murmurs in the press about us buying the stadium blah blah. All I’ve heard from the media footballing community and rival fans are stories of the London Stadium not being built to watch football. When I purchased my band 4 season ticket I feared the worst and expected most of the game to be relayed back via telescope so far I would be from the action. Well its not great at Stratford but it is certainly not terrible. I say this because I went to Wembley for the NFL game between the Chargers and Titans. Now i admit not ever going to the New Wembley which is a bit of a poor show, last time I went I saw Roger Millar lose to a Robbie Fowler inspired England. However the views from the upper tier astounded me, far worse than Stratford, green overlay which is apparently dangerous!? Although we would have to knock at least half of the existing ground down the Upper Tier views at Stratford are better than Wembley and the only real change is reducing the distance from the pitch. I’m no engineer and I know the chances of that sort of money being spent are fanciful but maybe one day the London Legacy Olympic people, Seb Coe and his mates will all go out for a run and just keep going allowing us to turn a mediocre football stadium into a much better one. Until then lets get the Hammers winning again and hope our injury crisis doesn’t turn out to be as bad as first feared. COYI!

Update 4PM Monday: oh god, looking like Stig’s gonna be down in the dumps. Was Sakho’s supercar parked on Gypsy land or something? Now Yarmolenko and Sanchez not back until at least Easter more likely next season. Lost for words.

Talking Point

The Worm That Turned (us over again)

This always happens to us, just as we get confident and look like we have learnt from the old ways we manage to mess it up royally. Friday night was therefore a significant milestone. It wasn’t one so much what a load of rubbish as we didn’t give up and we didn’t ‘not try’, but it was a game where our current limitations were thoroughly exploited and certain things have become clearly significant and need to be addressed.

We’ve been proper mugged off!

A good starting point is to begin where Brighton’s preparations began, back early last week when Hughton sat them down and explained how to beat us. Hughton is a proper clever football diehard type of manager, he played for us of course and has managed a few clubs now including Birmingham and Norwich. Hughton himself would be the first one to explain that he makes a living out of shutting down and beating teams like us but the thing was it was all too predictable and we should have seen his tactics coming.

Now I wasn’t at Brighton’s training ground and my betting account suggests my psychic abilities do not exceed average for the population but clearly Hughton sat there and told them to press the three in midfield and don’t let them have anytime on the ball. He then would have told them to exploit the gaps left by our full backs pushing forward and then he would have told them to absolutely clatter as many of our key players as they could as soon as possible to soften them up for a Friday night TV battle clubs like Brighton are so used to.

Also quite typically when there’s a football match involving West Ham and another team why does the shrewd, footballing mastermind from Forest Gate always end up on the other side shafting us? I have got lots of respect for Hughton and Brighton but I was a bit disappointed in the studs first whack it mentality of the home side.

The Brighton players made their presence felt

Within a couple of minutes Yarmolenko had been clattered Sunday league style and was numbed, minutes later Obiang (who was clearly targeted and didn’t have time to think for most of the game) was also clattered. This set the tone for the game. Our midfield three couldn’t settle but due to Noble and Rice putting in tremendous effort we still managed to press for the first and last phases of the game and at times made Brighton look like they were hanging on against a better team. However, this was not the case for the main part of the match.

The goal itself was an error and in that sort of game it was a result defining error, one we are not supposed to make anymore. The goal was taken well but it should never have happened. Much has been spoken of Masuaku since, the general consensus is that he is only really playing because Cresswell is so poor but fundamentally we need to sort it out. Watching Shearer go into overdrive is just too much to bear, we have only conceded two in the last three but he was ready and waiting.

If that wasn’t enough the most worrying development of the match was the lack of impact from the bench. Antonio again was absolutely terrible, our performance stuttered when he was introduced. Perez also appeared to contribute very little and as impact subs they were just not up to the pace of the game.

Harvest Moony

It does seem perhaps that tactically Manuel and his side are still naïve. They still fall foul of clearly labelled banana skins and although there is a good deal more promise in the side now than six weeks ago it is now clear that this season will be a learning journey and may or may not lead to a multitude of fruitful harvests as time goes on. However, currently speaking, Pellegrini’s harvest festival is limited to three cans of lentils and a packet of angel delight as teams like Brighton and others act like Normans on horseback turning up to salt the fields and poleaxe our bumper crops.

By the time the international break is done and we face up against Spurs at Stratford the Indian Summer will be over and the dreadful cold will be upon us, maybe Carroll will be able to offer an option off the bench and warm us all up with a few well timed torpedo moves. Whatever happens, left hand side of defence omitting, I think the Brighton game was more of a blip in fortune and consistency rather than indicative of a systemic failing of the team. We will have more luck than that, we will be less naïve than that and we will face opponents far less well drilled than Brighton who can always make extra money as Khabib Nurmagomedov’s roadies such was their love for whacking people when they are not even looking.

The resurgence of Noble, continued austerity in defence and flashes of ability from some of the new signings means we may well avoid a winter of discontent and hit the second half of this campaign running. If Pellegrini can install as much savvy as he does creative brilliance we will be ready for everyone and ready to think as well as ready to play, but this is still a bit of an ‘if’ and it’s the if’s that get us every time.

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