The GoatyGav Column

Is 7th Beyond Us?

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Either looking up the table or down it is often dependent on recent results. In 2018 West Ham have played 7, won 3, drawn 3 and lost 1 in the Prem. Twelve points from a possible 21. When you factor in the injuries that the team have had during that period things start to look rosier. I’m just starting to turn the corner between counting the points, and places, between West Ham and 18th and the places above us.

With more players returning things are starting to look brighter. Saturday’s performance looked energised and, as the game progressed in the latter stages, despite a slow early part of the second half, more confident. West Ham, as a club, don’t get too much change out of the BBC but both Arnie and Zabba made team of the week following Obiang’s goal of the month. Without bias I genuinely believe Pedro’s strike was the pick of the bunch and may challenge for goal of the season. Then again maybe the strike seemed all the more sweet to us because of the opposition and I’m viewing it through claret and blue tinted specs. In the cold light of day, and as a footballing purist, Willian’s goal for Chelski was a thing of great beauty to me. That said I’d certainly take it if I was Pedro.

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As we look at the table today we sit 6 points behind Burnley who are in 7th. They do also have a 7 goal advantage on us however they’ve hit a bit of a sticky patch and are on the slide. It seems that, when we have key players fit, and are not too short on first team regulars, we’re putting points on the board. David Moyes, and his management team, seem to have installed a work ethic and discipline that we’ve not really seen for some time. I loved Super Slav but I think that if he’s to take away a key lesson from his time in charge of West Ham it should be the ability to motivate through a straight-forward, strong and no-nonsense approach to managing individual players. David Moyes lets every player know exactly what he expects from them with no grey areas or overfamiliar, pally-pally, methods of communication. If it works with a character like Arnie then it’s certainly good enough for me.

I was also very encouraged when I posted my first 11 on Iain’s thread this week. When I looked at the potential match day squad, of 18 players with everyone fit, it was strong. Now I’m as fed up as the next supporter with the ‘bids’ that have gone in for Defensive Midfielders over the last few seasons but if you were to add a Carvalho or a Dendoncker we’d really have tremendous balance in the team. So I’m going to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. If Moyes and his team stay, we sign a top quality CDM and add another good striker or two, this Summer then we’ll know that Mr Sullivan’s video wasn’t lip service alone but had substance and intent.

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Last time out, against Watford, I saw one of the most encouraging things I’ve witnessed this season. Antonio looked like he was getting back to his old, dynamic self. Apart from the great ball for the first he gave Janmaat a torrid time – numerously beating him for pace. With Arnie playing well, Antonio in the mood, Lanzini on his way back, Kouyate returning to form in central midfield, Nobes putting in the sifts he’s put in since he had a two game break at the end of 2017, Chicha chipping in with goals and creating space with his movement off the ball, Oggy & Collins looking solid at the back (Ginge is great when he has a pacey partner at CB) and Mario really starting to find his feet, as I think he seems to be settling well and looks like he’s enjoying himself, I’m hugely optimistic of a strong last quarter of the season.

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Liverpool away will be tough but they shouldn’t underestimate us. We might get a tonking as they’re seriously potent when they’re on it but I might have a cheeky little punt on that one.

Don’t get me wrong, a 7th place finish this season would be a stretch, but if we can get more players back and suffer no further key injuries I think we’ve got an outside chance of it. Top half would be great.

Blue sky stuff, perhaps, but “I’m Dreaming Dreams, I’m Scheming Schemes.”

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The GoatyGav Column

What David Moyes Needs

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Lord Kitchener’s iconic image has loomed at the back of the mind of late. Whatever you feel about the owners of the club at the moment I think we all, or at least the vast majority of us, are behind the manager and what he’s trying to do at the club. Personally I am as frustrated as the next West Ham fan when it comes to the signings, or lack of, and all the other missing aspects of the 10 point pledge.

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I’m trying to avoid writing about what the owners of the club are up to, or more like are not up to, at the moment. It’s proving to be quite difficult. As I write we’ve just signed Patrice Evra . Correct me if I’m wrong but did the manager state that an area we need to strengthen, with new players, was Full Back? Did David Moyes say he needs fresh, or perhaps not so fresh, blood in wide areas? Slipped me by if he did. From memory midfield was the key position to improve. Has to make you question who is making the signings.

After a terrible couple of weeks, which I won’t go over again as it’s been extensively discussed already, it does look like there’s some light at the end of the ‘injury tunnel’. Joao Mario has done well, in my view, since joining however our slump since the injuries to Arnie and Manu is dramatic. Physioroom.co.uk are currently quoting dates of 10th Feb and 3rd March for those two respectively. I’m hopeful and optimistic (default when it comes to West Ham for me) that we’ll soon see the team actually have some attacking ideas before too long. Fingers crossed – eh?

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On the subject of injuries this weekend’s opponents currently top the injury table with 11 players out of action. Could have been 12 unable to take the field if the F.A. had taken action against Troy Deeney for his single finger gesture towards fans during the Chelsea game. The lack of action against the Watford livewire did, admittedly, take me by surprise. It would take a four goal winning margin for us to leapfrog them in the league but the 3 points are more important in the great scheme of this season. I guess league positions are important as the club gain further income the higher we finish. Not that it really matters to us fans – is that likely to lead to better quality signings at the end of the day anyway?

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The squad is thin. The spine is short on numbers for backup. We have cover out wide. Why pay high wages to an ageing player we don’t really need? Cresswell and Masuaku (when the silly boy returns) are both good players on the left. Byram has put in some excellent game-time there too. As good as he his, sorry – I just don’t get it. At best it’s excessive – at worst profligate. If David Moyes initiated this move I’ll be gobsmacked. What’s worse he’s going to wear the 27 shirt.

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As a fan who attends between 5 and 7 games a season I’m not going to pass judgement on those who part with their hard earned on a more regular basis. That being the case I won’t suggest that fans don’t vent their spleens at the club’s owners on matchdays. After all you can probably gather from the tone of this piece my opinion on the level of backing I believe recent managers have enjoyed, or put up with, from the board. What I would like to see is that, at the same time as a vocal protest, those same fans show their support for David Moyes, his coaching staff and the players. He needs us all to get behind the team. None of us want to end up going down – at least I hope that we don’t. Even if you would cut your nose off to spite your face by wishing it on our owners for their failure to deliver the signings we all deserve I would still hope fans would never wish to be relegated. There’s certainly a better chance of that happening if we don’t get behind the boys.

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The GoatyGav Column

Merits of developing Plans B, C, D...

In recent years West Ham have been all too predictable. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a ‘best formation’ article which went in to a little detail about ‘Identity’. Whilst I wouldn’t say that West Ham have had any particularly identifiable style of play other than ‘direct’, I suppose, it appears to me that we’ve been pretty easy for opposition to, at least, suss out if not counter.

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Whatever this one dimensional approach has been down to I genuinely believe that a key contributor has been a genuine lack ideas. The team simply hasn’t undergone any notable experimentation with systems. When substitutions have been made during games it’s generally been on a like for like basis. There has been a long period of time when West Ham United have been far too predictable and easily found out. So maybe there is some merit in the owners changing the manager every three years after all. Not that I agree, as the key to lasting success has been proven to be stability for mid-tier Premier League teams over the last few decades.

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With all this in mind I found it incredibly refreshing, for a period of twenty five minutes, last time out against Bournemouth. For a period of time I wasn’t sure if I was really watching West Ham. After a pinch and and quick visual RGB check of known colours of recognisable objects I was reassured. Yes – this was our West Ham that was pressing high up the pitch and regaining possession quickly. It was the self same Hammers passing and moving with speed, intelligence and precision. I’m not sure if Eddie Howe and/or his players went through the same uncertainty as I did. Frankly I wouldn’t have blamed them for asking “Who are you and what have you done with the real West Ham?” Should they have done so they would have been reassured to see a return to type around about 3.30. Albeit a gradual transformation, or transmutation, by half time the team were more recognisable as the one we’ve come to know.

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I really don’t want the above paragraph to come across too negatively as I’m of a firm belief we would have seen a continuation of the dominant and high tempo football should the team’s much warranted advantage been rewarded with a goal. Sadly the “what do we have to do to score?” and “can we keep this up without reward?” questions seemed to erode confidence. It certainly seemed that way as Bournemouth appeared to grow and we shrank back in to our shells.

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Apart from the, Premier League point keeping us in eleventh place, outcome I wonder if there is now a belief that we can play a different way. Sports psychologists will tell you that fear is the biggest inhibitor of performance. Bravery in belief will get you a long way in life and I’d really like to see the team believe that they are capable of more exciting, attacking football like we saw last Saturday. I want opposition teams to be asking “Which West Ham team are we going to play today?” Ok – so I don’t expect us to out-pass Manchester City but there are plenty of potential victims in and around our league position that we could play that kind of game against.

So within a very short period of time we’re already seeing something from David Moyes that we didn’t really see from Slaven or Mr Allardyce. A tangible ‘Plan B’. A real alternative style. He’s only sixteen games in to his time at the tiller of the club so I’m hugely encouraged and, as I’ve alluded to above, surprised to see such a radically alternative approach to play on display so early on. How long might it be until we see a deliberate change of style mid game? The amount of points on the board, as well as this confident adoption of an alternative style, are contributing to DM being on the road to finding his mojo IMO. More work to do, for sure, when it comes to a defensively strong shape whilst closing opposition down high up, as the gaps that appeared would suggest, but encouraging signs all the same.

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Looking forward I’m hopeful the run continues and the confidence keeps growing. Recent injuries are going to have an effect but I’m gaining faith in the gaffer’s ability to get the most out of players. It’s been a very long time since we can say we’ve seen a West Ham side playing with swagger. Are those days returning?

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Academy & Under 18s

Will Ajibola Alese Be The Next Defender To Come Through From The Academy?

In a week when West Ham youth players are grabbing the plaudits for their FA Cup exploits I thought it an apt time to have a look at a future prospect yet to break through.
Aji Alese turned 17 years old yesterday (at time of writing), three days after Declan Rice turned 19. Following birth dates may well simulate subsequent paths in to the first team for Aji in relation to Declan. Looking a very solid CB Aji has already been promoted from Steve Potts’ U18’s to the U23 Prem League 2 team where he’s played an 80 minute match against, reigning champions, Everton in August. After a long lay off he’s made further 2 full games versus Manchester United and Leicester U23’s. Tough fixtures all which makes the fact that Terry Westley’s team did not concede a single goal during Aji’s 260 minute time with them all the more impressive. So impressive that the U23 gaffer lauded his performance in the post Leicester match interview. You can view highlights of the game, and the manager’s summary, at the development fixtures page of the official site by clicking here.

To think young Aji is only 16. Second game back. He’s fully spent in the dressing room right now. He’s very, very tired but an outstanding performance for me. – Terry Westley

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As recently as last term he was in the U16’s. Playing part of the season with the U18 promotion squad he bagged the team’s second in the comeback 3-3 final game, of 2016-17, away to Arsenal. For a lad of sixteen to go up against seasoned professionals at U23, Premier League 2, level says a lot about the maturity and physicality of Aji – not to mention he likes to get forward for balls in to the box which was illustrated to good effect by his goal at Arsenal where he controlled and finished brilliantly from Joe Powell’s cross.
Naturally right footed but can play on Right or Left side of Central defence he has also been wearing the coveted number 6 on his back and is developing a good partnership with Akinola at the heart of defence.

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Having captained England at U15 level, with previous representation at U16’, Aji is rated as one of the best prospects in the Premier League. Both Citeh and Liverpool were chasing him last Summer but he’s signed a deal with West Ham until July 2019 thanks to Slaven Bilic’s foresight in beating the two, top four, sides to his signature. Should David Moyes remain beyond this term I suspect he’ll be keeping a close eye on Aji.

With Reece Burke grabbing the winning goal on Tuesday night things are certainly looking healthy for the defenders from the academy of late. Mr West Ham, in his understated and down to earth way, had some words of encouragement for him after the game as shown in the following video : -

With many stand out performances for West Ham in the Academy team Aji continues to go from strength to strength. West Ham seem to have assembled something of a Centre Back production line in recent years and Aji could well be the next to make a breakthrough. I, for one, certainly hope so.

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The GoatyGav Column

What’s Our Best Formation With The Players We Have?

‘Identity’ seems to be the buzzword when describing the various Modi Operandi of Premier League sides this season. It’s important to point out that I don’t mean that in a negative way. I think it’s great that you can paraphrase the approach that managers set up for their players on match-days. After all – some coaches work tirelessly and endlessly on skills and drills sessions to mold their players to suit their overall systems. Generally the most successful teams all have players who ‘understand the system’ best and have a clear way of playing. Not always an easy task however. Formations, tactics and systems of play have become increasingly complex. My first real exposure to formations was on the Subbuteo pitch in the late ’70’s. After all – how should you set up your players on the green cloth? Nearly everyone I played, until I went to a Regional Tournament where the reigning English champion, Darryl Dunscombe, had his ten outfield players set up in a straight line on the edge of his defensive quart, used to go with either 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. I wonder how the kids of today set up? In case you were wondering how Ron Greenwood would have done it here’s the evidence.

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I remember the oft used reason, for a certain methods being adopted by our recent managers, of ‘not having the players’ to play more adventurous football being debated upon across the West Ham family of websites and notice boards. The respective managers get their players in over 2-3 transfer windows, develop their ‘identity’ and are then replaced by another manager who has to start all over again. In Slaven’s case this was slightly less clear. In the end the amount of ‘direct’ football played was surprising. Personally I believe the injuries to players influenced Slaven’s ‘systems’, and it’s a contentious point that Slaven may have been left out in the cold on a couple of occasions when it came to recruitment, contributed to his inability to stamp his mark.

A very interesting article on SSN, recently, discussed the benefits of the use of drone cameras to help coaches and managers with positioning and shape. The detail that the coaching team, who were using the footage shot from the drone cam, gave a perfect angle to illustrate exactly how play was developing for all of the match situations during training sessions. These videos stimulated extremely valuable conversations between the coaches and players and some excellent learning was gained. I’m not a regular at the training ground but it wouldn’t surprise me to see us, and every other top tier club, adopt this method of reviewing training if we haven’t done so already. I’m sure that finding the ideal formation would be made a good deal easier should we do so. The following video outlines some of the benefits that, even, lower tier teams are gaining.

So what about the here and now? Presently It’s not so important to know how David Moyes wants to play rather that it’s how he’s able to play. With the current roster what’s really available? Three at the back seems to work better as there’s far less space to exploit in the channels, between the CBs and FBs, than when there are 4 at the back. It doesn’t seem that Zabba’s still able to ‘get up and down’ in a wing-back role. How to address that – especially with a back three? Lucas Neill’s legs had, supposedly, gone when he was with us but he was one of the best right backs we’ve had in the last couple of decades so does a 3-5-2 (or 3-5-1-1) work for more, to put it politely, experienced full backs? We certainly don’t have the players to go with a ‘front 4’ or ‘front 5’ in the same manner as some of the teams at the top. Chek & Pedro are not looking their best when played – let alone played together in holding roles. Nobes is playing some of the best football of his career, IMO, so should he be in every starting 11 despite the formation? With that in mind do we really want two holding midfielders in a starting line-up?

“Depends on who we’re playing,” I hear you say? Well yes, indeed it does, but a team will always have it’s preferred structure. Critics of Manchester United this season, many of who are of the Red Devil persuasion themselves, level the accusation that their manager is either playing negative football or doesn’t even have any discernible identity at all. It’s true that he does tend to adapt to the club his teams are playing, putting painstaking work in to his preparation, but one does wonder if he has an over-arching idea of his ideal first eleven with their positions and roles. He’s one of the best football managers on the planet, for my money, so I’d be amazed if he didn’t. Yes – he does tend to ‘spoil’ the opposition while putting the tactical onus on defence but there’s clearly a lot more to him than that.

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Putting players in ‘pigeon-holes’ has been one of the practices that is being consigned to the history books. You’re no longer simply a ‘winger’, ‘central midfielder’, ‘centre back’, ‘full back’ or ‘striker/forward’. There are so many different positions and different ways of playing those positions it’s getting to the stage, now, where simple descriptions just don’t cut it. Almost every player has their individual qualities and it’s no longer possible to ‘place’ many in a specific role. Players of note often have positions named after them ala Claude Makelele with ‘The Makelele role’ describing a holding midfielder who breaks up opposition attacks and plays a simple, but effective, pass. On the subject of winning posession it’s interesting that some coaches tactics focus closely on taking full advantage of transitions – Jurgen Klopp being the prime example of this ‘Identity’ that’s been introduced to the Premier League more recently.

There is so much more to discuss on this subject I feel that I’ve not done it justice but, this being one of the more technical aspect of the game, it’s certainly worth hearing your thoughts. I fully understand that players may come and/or go in the January window. It’s looking like Diafra may be on his way very shortly so it’s probably not worth looking at putting together your own ‘best formation’ including him. So Sakho apart how would you set up?

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