Talking Point

Left back in the changing room

The new football season brings along a fresh sense of optimism and I am often buoyant about West Ham’s chances. I watched the first 55 minutes on Saturday but elected to turn the television off when Gabriel Jesus scored City’s third which was eventually ruled out by VAR. I feared the worst after Sterling’s 51st minute goal, and you could tell the team were deflated by it.

I opted to go for a walk instead of watching the remainder of the second half, and I think I made a good decision. I could discuss the match but others have already written very good pieces on it. The immediate thoughts after receiving the full time result notification on my phone were definitely negative. However, the more I have read and thought about Saturday’s game, the more I think we must accept City’s brilliance as opposed to a totally abject performance from Pellegrini’s men. Guardiola’s team are outrageously clinical and you only needed to look at a bench that consisted of Aguero, Bernardo Silva, Cancelo etc. to know we were in for an extremely tough afternoon. City are a marvellous team but the game certainly highlighted areas we must improve on…

After the club announced Masuaku’s contract renewal, Pellegrini stated that he (Masuaku) ‘_is a player with excellent technical ability… we look forward to seeing him make a big contribution in the future._’ This quote goes a long way to explaining why the club did not invest in the left back position as seemingly the manager is happy moving forward with Masuaku and Cresswell. Cresswell had a poor game against the champions with four of the five goals coming from his left flank. It appears that the 2015 Hammer of the year has not been the same player following various niggling injuries. The explosive pace of Kyle Walker emphasised Cresswell’s inability to cope with opposing full backs and wingers with power and speed. Overall, neither Cresswell or Masuaku instil a great amount of confidence from a defensive point of view, therefore I would select Masuaku as he’s quicker and now offers more on the attacking end.

One of the positives from Saturday was the team’s new talisman, Sebastien Haller. The 25 year old won 2 aerial duels, had 90% pass accuracy and completed 4 tackles across the 90 minutes. The Frenchman will hope that against Brighton he receives better service as the team can carve out more opportunities than against the Cityzens. If the creative players as well as the full backs can provide good chances for Haller, I have every confidence he will score the goals.

I’m sure that upon reflection most fans will view Brighton away as the season properly starting! The result against Graham Potter’s men may well determine whether we are in for a distinctly average season wherein we lose to physical sides with less talent than us. Although, a good performance and a win against what appears to be a revitalised Brighton side would show character and provide optimism.

Under Chris Hughton’s stewardship, we had not beaten Brighton as he set the team up in a deep block looking for goals from set pieces. Glen Murray consistently scored against us and games against Brighton were becoming extremely frustrating. Speaking from limited experience and clearly at a much lower level of football, when you have to break down a team who are content to sit deep and counter, it can be very difficult. I have no doubt that Pellegrini told the team to continue dominating the ball and chances will come, and you definitely have to be patient. Under Graham Potter, Brighton look like a far more expansive side and they will try to keep the ball and attack us which may well favour us despite us struggling against them in the past. We could be in for an end to end game at the Amex stadium, and I’m quietly confident we might leave with 3 points.

Ultimately, while I think it could be easy to write the City defeat off entirely and just praise a magnificent team, I think and hope the manager knows we must work on the defence and staying concentrated for 90 minutes. However, City will beat numerous teams by 5 or 6 goals as in my opinion they comfortably finish ahead of Liverpool to win a third consecutive Premier League, so we should not lose too much sleep! I hope that Masuaku plays on Saturday, I hope that Anderson starts, I hope that Glen Murray gets sent off in the early exchanges so he cannot score against us! I also hope that Haller scores a hat-trick and we leave Brighton with an impressive 3 points and clean sheet, but as we all know it’s the hope that kills you…

My six a side team won 2-0 on Monday evening having lost last week in the first league game. Given that it’s holiday season, a few of my friends will not be available for the coming weeks, so numbers will be thin!

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

Talking Point

From Madrid with hope

It’s been a while since I sat down to write about West Ham and pleasingly, a new face in the form of 25 year old Frenchman, Sebastien Haller has since arrived.

Along with a few friends, we went away to Madrid to visit our friend who’s been living in the Spanish capital for a couple of years. My takeaways from a great trip that also saw us visit both Atletico’s relatively new Wanda Metropolitano and the Santiago Bernabeu were Kieran Trippier’s name on an Atleti shirt looks very odd, the Spanish metro is far cleaner than the tube, plus McDonald’s in the UK needs to start selling beer like Spain!

As Manuel Pellegrini embarks on his second season managing at the London Stadium, the excitement is already building for what as fans we hope is successful and enjoyable campaign. Along with my family, I’ll be at the stadium on Saturday as we play host to La Liga outfit, Athletic Bilbao. Watching both Fornals and Haller make their home debuts will be enjoyable: let’s hope the two men with a combined fee of roughly £64 million pounds can lay on a couple of goals and assists like they did against Hertha Berlin.

Expectations are understandably high, and with the additions we have made coupled with the fact Anderson, Diop, Balbuena alongside a couple of others now have a full season of Premier League experience, we should be looking up. The opening fixture at home to the Champions is clearly the toughest test you could ask for. I’d like to see us win obviously but at the very least not lose convincingly, and use the attacking talent we now have in forward areas.

Our record signing who has represented France at every youth level, even featuring with centre back Issa Diop, is a real coup for the club. The statistics never lie: we have acquired a man as tall as me (6ft 3) who contributed 20 goals and 12 assists in all competitions. Haller was a part of a dynamic and dangerous trio consisting of Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic, the former now a Real Madrid player and the latter being repeatedly linked to Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid. Our new No. 22 was integral to Frankfurt’s domestic success as well as their journey to the Europa league semi-final. Not only can the Frenchman hold the ball up and drop deep to link up play, he has a great shot and will impress with his skill and hard work.

Similarly, former Villarreal midfielder, Fornals looks set to be a bargain. The Spaniard looks tactically flexible in that he’ll be able to play as a traditional 10 but also slightly deeper as an 8. Our new No. 18 will hopefully be able to interchange nicely with the likes of Lanzini, Wilshere and Anderson and provide a fluid quartet behind Haller. When we announced the arrival of the 23 year old playmaker, I distinctly remember a Spanish journalist and La Liga expert stating we’d got a great deal and he was surprised that a number of the top six clubs had not seriously pursued him.

We are very much in the cluster of clubs who are as they say the ‘best of the rest’ but we definitely should challenge for the European places while also looking to go far and try to win the League and or the FA Cup. In my opinion, the teams in and around us include Leicester, Wolves and probably Everton. The foxes may well struggle to replace ‘slabhead’ Maguire if he departs for Old Trafford, Wolves may prioritise the Europa League, while Everton have just sold one of their most important players to PSG in Gueye. No doubt these teams will all still achieve some success but, with the players we have, we really should be contending for that seventh position.

Ultimately, a season for West Ham and the fans often entails ups and certainly downs. However with a bit of luck and hopefully some consistent goal scoring from Haller, we’ll be in for an enjoyable season with few worries. The slight concern is that if we get injuries to several key players, i.e. Diop, Rice, Haller etc. the depth is concerning. Despite that concern, we are heading into the 2019/2020 Premier League season with the best starting 11 we’ve had in a long time with a great manager, and it’s about time we got some luck with injuries, surely?

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

During writing and drafting this, Fabianski appears to have picked up a minor groin injury in the warm up against Hertha Berlin. Sadly, it’s therefore very unlikely he’ll feature against Bilbao on Saturday, but he hopefully should be fit for the opening day against City.

Talking Point

Mad Max (i)

I am unaware if someone well known came out with this quote, but it’s appropriate in all aspects of life; but specifically with the sheer amount of football fans in the world. The quote is ’That’s the problem with opinions, everyone has one’.

Fans of any club, especially at the elite level of the game will always disagree on the ability of players, transfer targets etc. and those disagreements are often amplified because of social media. In the words of one hit wonder and Canadian musician, Daniel Powter, ’You’ve had a bad day’ and you vent on Twitter or a forum about West Ham’s recent inactivity in the transfer window. It’s understandable but relative to where the club has been and the players in recent windows that have arrived, there’s certainly reason to be positive.

My six a side team played in a top of the table clash on Monday, we came out with a good 3-1 win which for the first time means we are top of the league. As is the way with six a side, some of the teams we face sometimes are lacking numbers and we win fairly comfortably. However we do also encounter difficult opponents regularly. We all want to win or be successful in whatever we do, but sometimes, in the case of football beating a weaker side is not all that enjoyable or beneficial. As a team we always learn more and improve when we play better opposition and have to be more organised. My rather long winded point in relation to West Ham and the transfer window relates to six a side and facing different qualities of opposition. West Ham could probably acquire a striker for example with relative ease and not have to blow the budget but chances are fans would complain that the club haven’t been more ambitious and spent more money! Similarly, when the club pursues the likes of Maxi Gomez for a substantial fee and the saga drags on for a while, people complain that the club are punching above their weight/it is unrealistic.

Pellegrini has been vocal about his desire to push the club into the European positions. The question is, do we need a £40 million pound striker to elevate us to Europa League status? Do we actually need to be in the Europa League to attract the calibre of striker that Pellegrini wants? I would hope that the prospect of living in London, playing in the most competitive league in the world and a handsome wage would attract a striker that could realistically play for a team already competing in Europe. Alas, I hope the club is learning from these transfer negotiations much like we learn when we play football against better footballers.

Without knowing the very specific intricacies of transfer negotiations, and having no sources close to the club, it can be frustrating deciphering what might be true and what is wildly inaccurate! The fact of the matter is regardless of which players the club sign before the window closes, negotiations will not be completed overnight given there are always various dominos which have to fall into place.

One case you could make for acquiring a slightly cheaper forward is that then the club may still have some funds to search for another holding midfielder and perhaps a left back. It will be interesting to see what happens, with the arrival of Pablo Fornals combined with the return from injury for Yarmolenko plus a more experienced Anderson, and then the likes of Lanzini and Antonio you would hope for decent goal production from them. If they can all pull their weight with regards to goals and assists and stay healthy (a lot of luck required) that certainly should reduce the pressure of Hernandez and whomever else arrives.

You often have to encounter negativity when it comes to matters of football on social media, and in the case of West Ham fans I think some panic is starting to set in. Realistically, there is definitely still time to sign some good players who are attracted by Pellegrini’s project, and Husillos appears to move quickly with negotiations when a primary target is identified. There are areas of the team that could still be improved and I’m sure Pellegrini knows that, but we will be heading into this season with some exciting attacking talent and we must hope we can stay balanced while playing some positive football.

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

Talking Point

The Lion(ess) Sleeps Tonight…

I’ve thought for a while on what sort of article I could construct. My inspiration this time around comes from the Lionesses World Cup performance, my six a side football games and an inspirational quote from one of the great basketball players.

Perhaps even if you do not have an interest in basketball, you may well have heard of a man called Kobe Bryant. The 5x NBA Champion once said ’If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail’. This quotation encapsulates the impressive tournament that Phil Neville’s team had: they played an attacking brand of football and did not compromise on that. In the same way that Mr Pellegrini demands the team play an attractive and offensive style of play, what comes with that is failure sometimes as you take risks. Bryant’s quote and the Lionesses’ performances in France really inspired me, and it’ll be exciting to see how women’s football in this country develops consequently.

I feel that given the news that has emerged in the last day or two, a certain Austrian attacker at the club should be referred to as Harry Potter’s nemesis, Voldemort. So, he who shall not be named is seemingly allowing his brother to force a move through probably to China. The Austrian has tarnished what could have been a good conclusion to his career, and instead it appears he will spend the rest of his time in football in half empty stadia in China. As fans of this great club, we demand a certain amount but if you work hard you’ll always be appreciated. He who shall not be named has done a lot of talking alongside his agent/brother, but ultimately disrupted the squad in the second half of the season. The former Stoke man has an arrogance not dissimilar to Zlatan Ibrahimovi?, the difference between he who shall not be named and the Swede is the fact one is a legitimate star attraction and has won titles, the other seems to throw a strop when a teammate gets a pay rise or is better than him. In my view, he got frustrated at Stoke as Shaqiri took more of the limelight, and he knows he’s becoming a less talismanic figure with the likes of Rice, Anderson and Fornals in East London.

Coincidentally, the overweight striker I marked on Monday at six a side was not unlike the Austrian. This big lad, to be fair to him, had hold up play that the likes of Carroll and Crouch would appreciate, but he lacked mobility! He was constantly stropping when he did not receive the ball, throwing his hands up in the air with negative body language, not unlike our No. 7. Whilst playing I thought of the Lionesses’ inspiring exploits and that you should never give up. Unfortunately our main striker has given up and, to conclude, he’s not as good as he thinks he is, so I hope he enjoys that Champions League football, I think he’ll struggle to find it in China…

Moving forward we must remain positive. Whilst writing this we continue to be linked with a whole host of attackers. Ideally Pellegrini will acquire his primary target but, if that target is hesitant to come, we should look at players who want to wear the shirt. Maxi Gomez is clearly a talented striker but, if he’s not convinced by us but does eventually arrive, who’s to say he won’t demand a move next summer? The idea that the narrative of this Gomez transfer saga has parallels with Anderson last summer is problematic. I think Felipe was always keen to come and play for us, it was negotiating with the stubborn Lazio President coupled with some stinginess from our board that prolonged proceedings. With the Celta Vigo man, while Husillos could yet work his magic, it appears publicly clear we are not his first choice. In previous articles I’ve managed to reference lyrics or song titles from Frank Sinatra somehow and now it’s only right I expand it to lyrics from his family. My message to Gomez from Nancy Sinatra ’I’m not gonna take second best’. However, given as football fans we can all be guilty of being fickle, I will be just that if the Uruguayan scores bags of goals!

In conclusion, the Lionesses’ World Cup campaign has inspired and motivated me while he who shall not be named has left me disappointed. I also hope this situation with attackers and the Austrain specifically galvanises the rest of the squad to illustrate that they can perform perfectly well without him. There are inevitably going to be some ups and downs but with a better manager, an experienced director of football and better players on the whole, I’m far more enthusiastic about the upcoming campaign than I have been before. We all should be.

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

Talking Point

Keeping hold of the ball and players

As ever the transfer rumour mill continues to spin and, while we are being linked to some exciting players, inevitably some of our better players are bound to be touted for moves away from the club. Given the progress the club has made coupled with the fact that most Premier League teams can demand substantial fees if the big boys come sniffing, we are in a strong position. For the record, I firmly believe our young French defender who had an impressive debut campaign in England will not depart this summer, and the club which has supposedly registered an interest are a very unattractive proposition unless players want ridiculous wages.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, Pellegrini and Husillos are working hard to improve the team and we are starting to create a very interesting side. Only time will tell how we get on, but it’s a compliment to recent acquisitions that teams are interested in our players.

I was wracking my brains this week in terms of what I could write about, and I was partly inspired by my six a side game on Monday evening. For those wondering, we won 4-2, and our opponents were slightly older with a couple of players not in peak physical condition (think Benni McCarthy, Neil Ruddock, or Brian Dear even further back). However, they are an experienced and organised outfit who attempted to sit deep and counter attack. It was interesting to have a lot of possession of the ball and have to break a team down; it can be frustrating but clearly you have to remain patient. I thought that my team’s experiences on Monday might not be dissimilar to what West Ham might encounter next season…

Quite a few teams in the lower half of the table playing at the London Stadium next season will be content to sit deep (some deeper than others) and try and punish us on the break. Some teams can do that to great effect, other teams such as Sheffield United, Burnley etc might not provide a potent threat on the break but will try to make it extremely difficult in the final third and rely on set pieces. With the arrival of 23 year old Pablo Fornals combined with the likes of Anderson, Lanzini, Wilshere and Yarmolenko, we have an abundance of forward thinking creators who will be integral to breaking teams down, especially at home. I think Fornals will have the ability to play as an 8 and sit slightly deeper sometimes as well as being very threatening as a no. 10. The ever present Mr Noble is often a progressive passer and will still be useful in us improving and winning more games next season. Even if the man from Canning Town does not feature quite as much, he will remain a great motivator for the squad.

It’s certainly encouraging to hear Pellegrini say he wants to play attacking football, and against the sides in and around us as well as below us, hopefully we can be clinical and consistent. There has been a lot said about whether another holding midfielder/box to box style of player will come in, and I do think we need more support for Rice. In line with us perhaps experiencing more possession overall next season, you could perhaps argue that more emphasis will be put on scoring goals and Rice will be entrusted with more responsibility. However, I’m sure Pellegrini is already considering his tactics for the opening day against the reigning Champions. We can’t afford to be naive otherwise we will leak goals not only to the elite teams but teams across the board.

There will be more pressure on us as we add better players and, at home, you always want to see wins but at the very least a team of eleven players putting in 100% effort while ideally playing attractive and free flowing football. If the club is to progress next season, consistently getting results against lesser sides will be crucial, and being able to do that whilst not always playing brilliantly is key. In the words of the rock group ‘Bachman–Turner Overdrive’ and their 1973 song, West Ham must be ’Takin’ Care Of Business’ against teams on a more regular basis.

With a Premier League winning manager at the helm and a very efficient Sporting director working together to push us forward, expectations should start to rise. I believe Fornals is a fantastic addition and he should excite fans while also improve the team and create serious competition for places. I hope to go to more games next season and, much like the six a side fixture where we had lots of the ball, I shall tell myself to follow the advice of Take That in having a little patience, pray the goals will come and we can rule the world…

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

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