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.

Talking Point

Stars shine as West Ham do the business

There have been some memorable games over the years against Man Utd, the famed Ludo game where Andy Cole was handed a decade of sleepless nights and the Spector game in the cup where he truly put them to the sword. We even saw Davor Suker almost break into a gentle canter to nod home a winner a few years back. From a West Ham perspective Saturday’s result and performance was great, we attacked we defended and we fought back. This result really allows us to kick on from what was a worrying start to now being 7 points from Man Utd, Everton and Chelsea. A proper claret and blue run of form which if we can maintain it looks as though it could take us to our best season since leaving the Boleyn. Ok calm down, a bit…

Essentially the superstars are beginning to fire. Anderson who has looked so promising thus far is now using Brazilian style back heels to score against sides managed by Mourinho. Can there be any greater gratification as a West Ham fan than watching this type of football bring us success? Yarmolenko is now becoming an immense pain to opposition defences and it seems his cut in from the left move is virtually unstoppable as the size and presence of the Ukrainian allows him to shield the ball with his body while swinging a long left leg towards goal. All these things bode exceptionally well for the season to come and if our top players continue to exploit highly expensive defences in this fashion then the accrual of points and goals will become much easier than it was earlier on in the season.

As for Declan Rice well again he continues to progress at a particularly impressive rate. With England squad announcements coming soon we must be close to the conclusion of the England or Ireland saga and I hope Southgate does the right thing (hoped that a lot recently). An England team with Declan Rice would have another dimension of work and linkage between the defence and midfield. We have seen at West Ham how effective Rice can be and how assured he is for a man of such few years. He has made mistakes in the past and has learnt from them and now has the chance to become one of the best midfielders in the country.

Noble and Arnie uphold all which is good about West Ham at the moment. Noble goes from strength to strength in the midfield and his energy level and work rate against Man Utd was again tremendous as it was against Everton and Chelsea. Where does Noble find the energy for these performances, he is like the Duracell bunny and now he has quality players to link up with it just spruces the whole team up and generally makes it work.

As for Pellegrini, it seems this manager is a true motivator of players, look at how Zab and Noble have played for him in the last couple of games. Maybe MP’s early season axe policy hit home with a few players and in addition although there are always 12 sides to any dodecahedron, it does seem to me that the loss of Chicharito and Wilshere has allowed work-rate to temporarily increase which has allowed key relationships to form in the defence and midfield. It is clear that the three of Obiang, Rice and Noble have blended perfectly and seeing how a fit Wilshere deals with this will be very interesting and can only add competition to the squad.

Lets hope now we can carry this form into the next phase of the season. A couple of games against our beloved North London friends and the possibility of a feel good cup run just compliments the optimism we now have as a club and I like many want it to keep getting better and better as we still have Lanzini and Carroll to come and for once we are not relying on them to get us out of a losing streak. Great performance Saturday lets keep it up and smash everyone. COYI!

Talking Point

Two games one goal conceded. Hammers get better every game.

Two games since the break and one goal conceded will be a great tonic to our newly assembled defence and certainly their performance against a high-flying Chelsea side was accomplished and confirmed the establishment of a new status quo. Balbuena and Diop have now settled in and look like they are competent and intuitive. The cover provided by Rice and Obiang was also noteworthy. They both occupied the strip of land between defence and midfield making it impossible for Chelsea to play the killer ball or execute the knife through butter counter goal we saw back under Slaven.

Midfield looking strong

Obiang seems to absorb and deflect all manner of dangerous opposition possession and although this affected his forward game slightly on Sunday he was playing a potential top four midfield and the shire nuisance of the man had the opposition scratching their heads and Hazard running around with the ball without doing very much most of the time. I always find the ‘Hazard test’ is a good indicator of the defensive capabilities of a side. Get Hazard wrong and he tears you to pieces, manage him correctly and he runs around with the ball wasting time and possession. We certainly passed the ‘Hazard test’ this time around and it will inspire confidence and build understanding as we look to contain, beckon, bait and strike against these kind of temperamental top four-ish set ups.
Rice again showed a lot of footballing prowess and his role is becoming more defined and distinct from Obiang. Rice is a chaser, tackler and user of the ball and the immense energy which goes into his overall performance allows him to dictate passage of play and generally mop-up potentially hazardous spills when required.
The only drawback of the system we play is that it does leave us very deep and very much invites possession to the other side. Of course we know this is Pellegrini’s way and after admittedly doubting the man in the first few games I now accept he is probably mostly right but are we all completely happy being reliant on counter-attack rather than carving and creating? Results are likely to dictate our responses I think and at least we are two games unbeaten and a clean sheet.
Noble put in another captain fantastic performance and covered every inch of the Stratford turf, as long as he can maintain this level of energy and performance Noble is sure to start and rightly so.The other unsung hero of the game was the keeper Fabianski. More brilliant shot stopping from the big man and in my opinion he should have been man of the match rather than Yarmolenko who for all his recent good form needed to take that chance! I think we can probably accept Antonio missing a chance Arnie would have buried but Yarmolenko’s miss hurt!

Why put the signs up now?

Did anyone notice the strange yellow signs that have cropped up on the bouncy tarpaulin sections? I remember the first couple of games in the new stadium looking at the gap between the tiers thinking the drop is pretty dangerous.

Did nobody notice this then?

I also remember Watford fans complete with beers bouncing on the tarpaulin too but don’t remember it happening since the first few games. Is this surely not something which has been overlooked by the health and safety people? Is this surely not the remit of the same health and safety people who have limited capacity in the stadium and been instrumental in making our lives difficult? If so how has it taken over two seasons of imminent danger for the signs to appear? Maybe they’ve always been there and I’m going mad which is a distinct possibility but still.
Lastly we can all rest safely in the knowledge that according to our beloved BBC MOTD2 pundits whose names I refuse to even utter we must be in serious contention for a top three spot as an unbeaten Chelsea drawing nil nil against us have just been talked up to sound like the best team in Europe, lets all hope we can doubly annoy beeb pundits by dampening the fortunes of their favourite side from Manchester on Saturday.

Talking Point

The end of the beginning?

At some time just after 4PM Sunday, emanating from the skies above North-West England, a huge sonic-click was heard as Pellegrini’s superstars finally gelled and proved themselves a team to be reckoned with. It was a clicking I was wondering might happen as the form of all of our previous opponents was well and truly franked again at the weekend with Liverpool looking like top two contenders, Bournemouth thumping Leicester, Wolves condemning Burnley to a nicely warmed bottom spot and Goon playing well to do Toon.

I don’t know whether Pellegrini had a positive spiritual encounter when back in Chile during the international break or maybe the Feng shui of the club has dramatically improved after Sakho’s super car was finally moved (if it ever existed or indeed has ever been moved) but the positive energy coming from the team has just become a good deal more intense. There were many intricate reasons why the team clicked on this occasion, we all hope it will continue to be the way of things, so just for a change lets have a look at what went so well.

The midfield worked both as a unit and as five outstanding players.

The team selection clearly showed some semblance of what many of us have been crying out for. Three hard working defensive minded midfielders in Rice, Obiang and Noble. This facilitated Anderson and Yarmolenko to get on the front foot and also allowed Obiang to expose the centre of the Everton defence as seemingly absent. There were further chops and changes though with Fredericks and Cresswell shown no mercy from their Shearer mauling and Masuaku once again risked at left back but more about him in a bit.

Obiang was back to his best, I did wonder at times if we had forgotten who Obiang was? The man who played to a high level before the injury including the goal of the season at Wembley, it was so good to see him back with the ingenuity and quickness of mind which made goals and frankly made us look like West Ham again. Maybe the great one touch move for the first goal was almost up there with the great Carlton Cole goal away at I think Wigan several years ago.

Rice was given a start again and thoroughly justified this from the outset. The energy and passion of Rice is beginning to become fused with a hint of footballing prowess and this is a recipe for greatness. Generally working, sticking out a foot, running to chase down the ball, all things #rice did continuously against Everton and combined with Noble’s dogged harrying and Obiang’s intuition we have the makings of a central midfield which can out-think, outwork, out-pass but maybe not outrun many other midfields. For the first time this season it seems like there is a core of success building.

Anderson proved again I think that he is very likely to adjust to life in the Premier League. He resisted the temptation to run into walls and lose possession and is clearly a very skilful player who can keep the ball and therefore act as a good hold up attacker who can collect and redistribute. Sometimes I do wish he would just go for it and take a defence apart but maybe we will see this yet and currently his comfort with the ball at his feet and ability to hit cross-field passes (the one which he hit to Yarmolenko was a beauty) means he is a definite threat to opposing sides and must be utilised.

Noble did what Noble always does when he gets dropped and just shrugs of criticism and gets back to work and often finds himself reselected very swiftly. Noble is West Ham’s man we just cannot leave out as we saw against Everton, Noble’s harrying ability is a real problem for backfoot midfields and on several occasions opposition players were forced back by the presence of Noble leaving them opting for a sideways pass rather than a killer ball.

Can our full backs support Andry the enigma?

Yarmolenko has certainly shown glimpses of ability prior to the Everton game and at Goodison it really did all come together for him. Arnie’s unselfishness for the first means Andry was rewarded with a well taken opening goal and this proved to be the catalyst for the superb second which went like a laser guided dart into the top corner. This is what Yarmolenko does best if he gets possession in the opposition half of the pitch. The size and skill of Yarmolenko and Arnie with a possible Carrol to come in also means we have a physically powerful attacking unit and one which can be effectively fed by Anderson and Obiang. What a far cry from four games, no points, Avram Grant blah, blah blah!

Andry looking every inch the player we want

There is another side to this particular coin and one which, although nobody likes a moany-pants after we beat the scousers away, needs looking at now as it could create a series of knock-on problems. Yarmolenko was cheaply and cruelly dispossessed at least four times in the Everton game and in defensive duties looked very unsure. This may have happened before and should it lead to a goal it will cause our main man to be criticised and possibly scapegoated. This brings in the problem of whether we have full backs which can adequately cover and link up to counter this threat which someone like Chelsea may exploit. Fullbacks are the one area where we seem least convincing. Does it seem like Zabaletta can provide enough mobility and punch to add the final cog to the right hand side? On the other flank Masuaku today in my opinion defensively looked inept and even struggled going forward. The head-step move which got him a yellow card was an example of how irrational Arthur can be on the back foot and this limits the extent we can exploit the left flank. If there was a plus side to the full back problem which there isn’t it would be that it might only limit us to sixth or seventh rather than being a major relegation flaw. This position(s) must be a focus for January or September depending on our stomach for mid-table mediocrity or rather the stomach(s) of the powers that be. A final point of critique must be aimed at Sanchez. I know coming on away and holding a lead isn’t easy playing where he does but almost every contribution was disastrous, so bad the laws of probability suggest he will likely have a good game next week just through chance.

h3, Now we need to step it up a gear

All in all we are now in a position to be far more optimistic about the season. Again we saw a few times that we have a goalkeeper who is a stable defensive influence as well as a talented shot-stopper. Diop and Balbuena are beginning to get to know each-other and some of our better players are now being played. Even Antonio ran the ball into the corner in the last minute, gawd bless him. It now turns out that Liverpool are steamrollering people, Bournemouth are on a purple patch and there are lots of teams still to play who will not fancy taking on our front five when on form. Lets go into the Chelsea game full of cheer, full of optimism and most of all full of hope that Arnie’s knee feels better tomorrow. What truly could have been the beginning of the end has thankfully become the end of the beginning and if this carries on it will be season to remember. Well done the Hammers and COYI!

PS Carlton Cole’s goal

Talking Point

All the gear, no idea.

This week in particular the finger points to the team more than the manager as they have to now find it within themselves the thing which made each and everyone of them great players. Although people will never agree on team selection and formations etc we put out a side against Wolves which should be able to live with mid-table opposition no problem and with some serious games already played the team should be gelling.
Before peering deeply into the individual performances and lack of cohesion let us look at this from Manuel Pellegrini’s perspective. He arrived and instantly lost Lanzini who is a key key player, someone who carries the ball into the box and makes things happen. He then lost Carroll who is a game changing substitute and dogged defender in times of peril. His apparent idea to have a storming left-hand side has been shot by the fact that Masuaku really cannot defend and Cresswell’s form has been so bad I don’t think any of us realised things had got that bad until the Wolves game. This means Anderson has nobody to link with, the sale of Kouyate means nobody can bring the ball from deep and pass; Obiang might be able to do that now but he also appears to have suffered from a peculiar dip in form in training. The right-hand side see’s Fredericks looking a bit raw and Zabaletta looking a tiny bit past it, no in-between, and the centre backs which looked strong as a squad are now depleted as Reid got injured and Ogbonna has strangely suffered some kind of crisis of confidence after being ever-present. It can’t be easy being a football manager and the facial expressions of recent shots of MP show that he is acutely aware that we are in an uncontrolled spin and he is the pilot who must stabilise the craft, only problem is the altitude meter is now saying Avram Grant and the time is a ticking. Of course two wins and we could go tenth so this is not about panicking it is about going forward constructively.

The key issue arising from the Wolves game was the inability of the players to move and pass and generally understand what one-another were doing. This led to a lack of possession and a breakdown of all key attacking moves. In the first half it gradually got worse and at times felt like Wolves had more players, both keepers were good but although Wolves had much more of the ball our defence looked ok most of the time but we just didn’t convince on the front foot. Sanchez looked happier when passing from deep and Wilshere looked continuously for short passes and triangles but ended up with very little opportunity for an outlet. On the right Fredericks was berated by the crowd frequently for not moving or passing quick enough with the ball and did look dodgy defensively when challenged. On the left mostly saw an off-form Antonio and Cresswell running into brick walls.

Isn’t Shearer an arse.

The MOTD Shearer analysis really caught Cresswell out this time, don’t get me wrong the two Trev’s aside I dislike MOTD pundits as much as the next man but unfortunately Shearer was correct with that particular conclusion. However the decision to try and make Arnie look lazy when he was trying to remain open to receive the ball was typical predictable lazy (not Alan Shearer but number 9) criticism, completely at a whim as there is no way Shearer watched the game properly as a neutral and if he did I don’t care as he is an arse anyway. I didn’t like the way the team were made out to be lazy, after a 100mill overhaul, a new manager and the pressure on the squad there is no way there is a dressing room attitude of being idol. Some of the players just really don’t seem to be cognitively tuned to the frequency of the team harmonic and this was solved under Moyes to a certain limitation but is now back even worse. Pellegrini has won titles but this could be the Ivan Drago of all challenges for the Chilean, we got him in to surpass the supposed perceived limitation of domestic managers such as Moyes and Sam; I back him but he needs to use the international break wisely.

What didn’t go so well.

Antonio’s particular contribution to the game Saturday was extra-ordinary, for a player of his suggested quality I have very rarely seen someone underperform so completely while remaining on the pitch well into the second half. I have never been too critical of Antonio in the past as he is the one player who has fringed on the England squad and scored some memorable goals for us when it most mattered, there has to be something going on here and I worry his confidence on the ball has never recovered from some traumatic outings as right back under Bilic. Not only was his touch to beat players simply not there he was running head down into simple block tackles seemingly void of the nouse we have all seen with our own eyes in past albeit limited occasions.
The other thing which got me with Antonio was how he was used when we were attacking, there were times in the second half where he was running sideways across the pitch back and forth parallel with the penalty area in what seemed like an attempt to secure later phase possession but actually resulted in him looking like a dog chasing sticks which have not actually been thrown. It brought back memories of players who actually did that very effectively and with consummate ease, legends such as Martin Allen, Scott Parker and Valon Behrami would sometimes do this in their own unique ways winning and mopping up possession while quickly reigniting an attacking move. Antonio shouldn’t be doing this and until he can find the skill and belief which made him a first-team player originally and go back to creating and finishing chances he is of little use to anyone it saddens me to say.

On the plus side.

On the plus side and just to make us all feel a bit better about ourselves Yarmolenko continues to show promising touches and I’ve had a look at the sort of player Yarmolenko is by searching a few old stories. It’s nothing we don’t already know but I thought I would just say that this player is of premier pedigree football-wise. He has countless caps for Ukraine and scored goals against Germany and Switzerland in friendlies and against France in a world cup qualifier. He also has another 32 international goals and numerous domestic honours. Yarmolenko was most famous for a fierce and bitter rivalry with another player which was seemingly resolved with a handshake and shirt swap but Yarmolenko famously threw the shirt on the floor and turned his back choosing to applaud his own supporters which sent a fair bit of stick his way in the local press. This shows a player who is motivated by the levels of desire and belief which is needed to succeed and win.

A quality player but will we use him correctly?

There are BBC news articles from 2017 suggesting Everton and Liverpool wanting to pay big money for him and Dortmund themselves are no small outfit. This is the sort of player who can be a legend and a hero for the next five years if used correctly and is someone who wants to win and wants to succeed in the Premier League, let us pray we don’t mess up this chance to get a properly decent player firing on all 12 cylinders.
The other clearly talented player who didn’t quite progress as much as hoped this week was Anderson. Now Anderson is clearly quality and there are some questions regarding his best position but I think we possibly learned something else Saturday and that is Anderson is not comfortable unless team mates make themselves open to passes, I’m convinced this results from playing in Italy where the emphasis is a lot more on pass and go rather than run and find a pass. Stats on already show a slight improvement when Anderson is played centrally instead of on the left. It is only four games in so not too statistically significant at the moment but they also indicate his overall performance for Lazio in the last three seasons averaged above 7.5 by their indicators where he played as a number 10 while this season it is currently at 6.99 so plenty of improvement can be expected as he adjusts further to the Premier League.

Who will feel the icy chop of the balsa wood axe of indecision?

So who’s turn is it to be blamed and axed for the next game, only to be reselected the following week when the other bloke does no better? Well it could be a return of the Zab and Masuaku, I hope Sanchez avoids the chop on the basis he understands that nothing like this absolutely must never ever happen again armen but I think we will benefit from Rice returning and can see maybe Snodgrass and Antonio missing out. Who knows but one thing’s for sure we have to start improving soon, I thought we were going to hang on against the odds Saturday but it didn’t happen; the lack of wi-fi in the stadium at least on my network has cost me a fortune in unplaced in-play bets. The minute Traore came on I knew he would score, the last time I had such a premonition it was to put a quid on Sakho’s agent’s horse at Chelmsford and that came home at 9/2! It could only happen at West Ham.

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