The GoatyGav Column
When a new manager arrives at a club they bring with them a certain way of doing things. Their ‘Modus Operandi, or ‘MO’ if you prefer, is driven by their own beliefs about how the game should be played. Very occasionally a manager is lucky enough to inherit players who either suit the system they would like to introduce or, if even more fortunate, add strength in areas where the said manager is lacking. When Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal he was taking on a team that had the best organised defence in the country. Bruce Rioch had already begun the work that Arsene continued but both men were the benefactors of Geroge Graham’s defensively constructed squad. Many have observed that Arsene Wenger was at his most successful during his early years managing the Gunners. A large percentage of the observations have put those cups and championships down to the strength that already existed at the back with the famous Arsenal ‘Back Four’ of Lee, Dixon, Adams and Keown. With David Seaman behind them it was a formidable back line. Without them you could speculate that Manchester United would have completely dominated the nineties and early noughties. Whether this defensively proficient team was added to by either Rioch or Wenger is still being debated but bringing in Patrick Viera added further steel to match that of Roy Keane’s addition to Alex Ferguson’s squad at Manchester United.
Observations have put those cups and championships down to the strength that already existed at the back
Love him or loathe him Mr Allardcye made West Ham hard to beat. He organised the team in such a way that opposing sides found very hard to break down. Probably more effective than, even, Mr Allardyce is Tony Pulis in this respect. Within a very short space of time Pulis managed to turn things around for Crystal Palace and save them from, almost, certain relegation. Not just at Palace either – West Brom was another challenge. In fact the two are very similar with the Welshman, in my estimation, edging it due to slightly greater tactical knowledge. Be that as it may you have to admit, however, that our last team manager brought much needed organisation and discipline to the squad. One thing that both managers share is that they played as defenders during their career. When they arrive at new clubs they busily set about getting their respective defences organised and solid. Every player knows his job exactly. A no-nonsense, or safety first, approach is generally introduced as well as strong players in advanced positions who can ‘hold’ the ball until they’re able to bring in team mates. Wide players, and play, are preferred with lots of crosses coming in from the flanks for those strong forwards to get on the end of. A very simplistic view which, as we know, in reality is far more scientific but it’s a system that has worked very effectively. Both managers have never been relegated despite, on many occasions, being appointed by clubs in poor league positions in need of a manager to ‘make them safe’.
Within a very short space of time Pulis managed to turn things around
Moving on to Slaven you would expect, being an ex-defender himself, that he would have come in and done something similar . Perhaps he would have been better off if he hadn’t inherited a solid back line and could have built his own. When Slaven arrived, however, the defence was not the no.1 priority. A more exciting, entertaining, brand of football was demanded by the club’s owners and many fans. That meant the signing of several players with good technical ability, who suited a system of play that involved passing through midfield, was undertaken. Lanzini and Payet as well as Angelo Ogbonna, who was used to the more technical form of defending whilst playing in Italy, joined Pedro Obiang and Michael Antonio, with Victor Moses on loan, as new signings. My personal feeling about that transfer window was that it was our best ever. Best I can remember anyway. Following that Super Slav went about getting the team playing less percentage balls and more short passes out of defence and through midfield. Personally I felt like we’d got ‘our West Ham’ back. All was rosy in the garden in our last ever season at the Boleyn Ground. Then the move and Monsieur Payet’s sulk. One of the best transfer windows in 2015 was followed by one of the worst in the Summer of ’16. Who’s fault that was is subject to debate but, all boiled down, many players flattered to deceive and we came crashing back down to earth. The rest is history which I don’t have time to cover off right now – suffice to say the honeymoon period of Slav’s first season is a distant memory.
By comparison West Ham’s development has been a succession of speedboat turn after speedboat turn.
Overall I get the feeling that, rather than building from the back, there’s an element of sticking plaster upon sticking plaster. If the team are going to be successful in the future there needs to be a longer term plan. With manager changes every three years this becomes very difficult but not impossible. Some clubs do manage it. Southampton’s ‘Black Box’ model, like one of the steady ocean liners leaving the city’s port, contributes to a longer term overall plan. By comparison West Ham’s development has been a succession of speedboat turn after speedboat turn.
James Collins put in more than one ‘Man of the Match’ performance during last season’s run in.
So what now? We’ve had a quarter of a season played and we linger in the bottom quarter of the table. I’m not sure it’s all doom and gloom however. Personally I feel that most of the work to do is at the back. When a defence is looking strong it’s far easier to play with more confidence and that’s Slaven’s main challenge. Going back to the ‘no nonsense’ approach I want to highlight one player who I feel made a massive contribution to our late, good, form last season. James Collins put in more than one ‘Man of the Match’ performance during 2017’s run in. He was an absolute rock. Played some of the best football of his career. Occasionally it was ‘Row Z’ clearances but his presence seemed to garner confidence at the back which permeated forwards up the pitch. Looking at Physio Room Ginge is going to be out until mid-late November. Reid and Fonte make up our other two on the injured roster. Not a great position to be in having three Centre Backs out at the same time eh? The sooner JC can get back the better so far as I’m concerned.
Overall, for me, it’s currently about regaining confidence which will only come if things are shored up at the back. Whether Declan Rice, Angelo Ogbonna and Kouyate can step up in the next couple of games, or if it’s we’re going to have to wait for the return of Ginge and Reidy, remains to be seen however I do wonder if Slav will have that much time. Sincerely hope so.
A lesson learned but a costly one.
Looking back to last Saturday I can’t quite get over how naive the team were in the final minute of the game. I’m not a fan of watching the clock out in the corner. It’s not what you pay your money for but, frankly, crossing a ‘low percentage’ ball whilst under little pressure was a poor decision. One of a few options that he shouldn’t have had. By that I mean it really didn’t need three other players charging forward at that stage – leaving the midfield completely exposed in front of defence. A lesson learned but a costly one. We all make mistakes, and I’m certainly not going to stop being a fan of Michail Antonio, but that was a hard one to forgive at the time and I won’t repeat what I yelled when Zaha, subsequently, found the back of the net. I’m sure, however, that it will be a hard lesson for Michail as the dressing room will not have been an easy place for him to be afterwards. One that will probably stick in the memory. Apart from Antonio’s error the entire team were nervous and negative, in the second half, whilst inviting pressure and opportunities for Palace to create goal scoring chances. Work to do there.
I like to end on a positive note and this news did give me some cheer when I read it. After he has patiently stuck to the task I’m very pleased for Reece Oxfrod who took his Bundeslige bow as a sub last weekend in a 3-1 win over Hoffenheim. Let’s hope the door of opportunity stays open for Reece in the coming weeks and he capitalises in confident fashion. Mönchengladbach’s next game is against FC Mainz on Saturday , who sit in 13th, so if Reece gets the nod it will, hopefully, be a winning home debut. Other encouraging stuff comes from the U21’s game against Bristol Rovers on Tuesday night. Another great win, this time 3-1, for the lads with a great return from Samuelson and more goals from Martinez. Very much liking what Nathan Holland is doing this season too Great stuff!
COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!