Match Report

Turning it around

I was worried that we could be in trouble this year when we were leaking goals incredibly easily and managing to make scoring look like an impossible science but to be fair to Bilic, he has identified the problems and come up with an almost perfect stopgap to fix them. The change to a three-at-the-back formation comes as a bit of a masterstroke from our manager who has implemented a new 3-4-3 formation. This has not only provided us with more defensive solidity but has also given more room to our creative players while our strikers have been unfit, injured or simply not firing. Payet and Lanzini are afforded far more room and flexibility to move around freely in the 3-4-3 formation which has been incredibly useful as shown in both games after the international break as both have affected these two games massively.

Alongside this freedom that our creative players have gained, our central midfield has been far more effective with the Noble/Obiang partnership. Obiang has been brilliant in these last two games and if it wasn’t for an outstanding performance from Reid against Crystal Palace, he would have easily clinched my MOTM award for both. He’s not only added a brilliant knack for winning the ball back in key areas but he’s also brought good vision and incisive forward passing to the team and these two factors have really driven us forward in the games against Palace and Sunderland. Noble has also stepped up his game massively and whilst many (including myself) may still complain that he is often too slow to release the ball and that those passes are often sideways, his general play is more assured and he picked up his highest passing accuracy of the season thus far (98%). With things ticking over in the middle of the park very nicely, it provides us with a very solid base to attack from.

Zaza still hasn’t stuck the ball in the back of the net and it’s getting tight now with the amount of games left on his loan deal diminishing before we’re obliged to buy. Everything is there apart from the goals. It must be said that his service from wide has been pretty poor but then again his positioning in the box has also been pretty poor and the middle was so congested against Sunderland that it was understandably difficult for him to find space to receive the ball to feet. He has to get a goal in the next game or two because it surely isn’t viable to splash out £20million+ on a striker that hasn’t scored consistently. There’s talk of us being interested in Icardi following his recent fall-out with the Inter ultras and if Zaza doesn’t find the back of the net soon, it could be a good option to return him to Juve and spend that £20-odd-million on Icardi.

It would be wrong of me to not mention Reid’s performances because he was wonderful against Palace at containing Benteke and scored the winner against Sunderland. He’s an unlikely hero but a hero nonetheless and for that he deserves great credit. With Cresswell back from suspension and Ayew soon to return, things are beginning to look more positive.

The League Table:

Antonio – 40.5
Reid – 36.5
Adrian – 36
Payet – 29
Kouyate – 25
Noble – 22
Lanzini – 21
Collins – 18.5
Masuaku – 16
Ogbonna – 16
Obiang – 10.5
Nordtveit – 10.5
Tore – 7.5
Byram – 7.5
Calleri – 5.5
Fernandes – 5
Zaza – 4.5
Fletcher – 4.5
Valencia – 4
Cresswell – 2
Arbeloa – 1.5
Carroll – 1.5
Feghouli – 1.5
Ayew – 1

Match Report

Not Perfect But Not Pitiful

Following our string of awful recent results Bilic finally showed more of a tactical reaction today by changing the system to provide more balance to our midfield. He also made a bold decision in dropping the underperforming Zaza and moving Antonio into the centre forward position. So, today we lined up in a 433 with Obiang in front of the defence, Tore and Payet on the wings, Ogbonna slotting in at left-back and Antonio upfront. Wholesale changes… And I have to credit Slaven and say that whilst we didn’t show quality in abundance and whilst our attacking play lacked fluidity and ruthlessness, we were far better than what we have shown in recent weeks. Obiang’s inclusion as a defensive shield at the base of the midfield three afforded Noble and Kouyate more freedom to push out and Obiang himself put in a stellar performance showing both brilliant defensive attributes but also fantastic passing quality to get moves started; he looks like a much better choice than either Noble or Kouyate for that shielding role based on today’s performance.

While our midfield had improved in balance and defensive solidity, the performance of our front three was more of a mixed bag. Michail Antonio has found himself at the centre of yet another experiment and I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy as I’m sure he just wants to show what he can do in his favoured position but as Slaven said post-match, the performances of our strikers have been below-par and that called for a change; enter Antonio. This experiment is definitely one I can get more onboard with than the right back experiment as Antonio has all the attributes necessary to be a success story up-front. For 45 minutes he put in a solid display, winning some headers and holding the ball up as best he could but he was at his best when facing the goal and running at the Middlesbrough defenders. I think with time on the pitch and the development of his ability to play on the shoulder that he could provide real potency and skill up-front. Contrastingly, I simply can’t understand how Tore can be given any more minutes on the pitch; he has been truly awful in every aspect of his game but for a couple of flair moments that appear extremely rarely and he was just that again today. Despite the poor performance of Tore on the right, Payet showed just what all the fuss is about again by sparking the team into life after conceding; his solo dribble from which he scored our second was truly magnificent and perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring moments I have ever seen at a football match. Collins was right however, in saying after the game that we cannot continue to rely this heavily on Payet to dig us out of difficult situations; other players need to step up to the plate too.

Defensively, we were much improved today in comparison to recent weeks. Collins came back in to deal with Jordan Rhodes/Negredo and did so effectively alongside Reid who was fantastic today and won almost all the statistical points for standout passing accuracy, clearances, blocks, interceptions and aerial duels won. Ogbonna put in a decent shift at left-back and functioned well behind Payet but he certainly can’t take a throw-in… And over on the right-side it was disappointing to see Byram pick up a serious looking injury early on but Arbeloa did a good job in his place. Perhaps my only worry with Arbeloa is that he just doesn’t have the pace to get back into position after drifting forward which could cause us to be quite liable to counter attacks down our right side; especially given how poor Antonio has been at tracking back.

If we hadn’t had a complete lapse of concentration from their corner where Zaza drifted away from his zone and Antonio lost his man we could easily have picked up 3 points today from a performance that was far from perfect but also a long was off being as bad as previous weeks.

The league table:
Antonio – 32.5
Reid – 24.5
Adrian – 23.5
Payet – 19.5
Collins – 18.5
Masuaku – 16
Kouyate – 14
Noble – 13
Lanzini – 8.5
Tore – 7.5
Byram – 7.5
Nordtveit – 7
Ogbonna – 7
Valencia – 4
Fletcher – 3
Obiang – 2.5
Calleri – 2.5
Arbeloa – 1.5
Carroll – 1.5
Ayew – 1
Zaza – 0.5
Fernandes – 0.5
Feghouli – 0

Match Report

Fragility exemplified

Three games have passed since I last wrote and those three are a 4-2 loss to West Brom, a 1-0 win against Stanley and a 3-0 loss to Southampton; all completely embarrassing. At the Hawthorns a week ago, our defense was shambolic and a side that has struggled for goals for a long time waltzed through our defense with ease. We failed to push, or even test, Accrington Stanley and had to rely on the magic of Dimitri Payet to save us in the 96th minute midweek. A 3-0 drubbing by Southampton later and we have reached a new low.

Bilic is right in his description of the first half being a typical 0-0 (apart from the last 5 minutes). We were focused on maintaining our defensive organisation that we had been so desperately missing. Ogbonna and Reid were communicating well, Arbeloa was performing well out of position at left-back and we were far narrower than I remember seeing us recently. Our willingness to sit off was causing Southampton some difficulty and this was somewhat positive. We were defensively better but for one moment where they played one pass that scythed directly through our whole team, something that certainly shouldn’t happen to a side sitting deeper and holding off. Unfortunately, it was a sign of what was to come.

The first goal was an awful goal to concede. We were, yet again, allowing them time and space on the ball and they finally used it efficiently with Bertrand making a run off Antonio and coasting pass Nordtveit with ease to pull back to Austin who had given Ogbonna the slip in the centre. Austin slotted home past Adrian and the descending quiet was all too familiar. After the first goal we collapsed for five minutes and Southampton squandered a host of good chances.

Bilic reacted by changing things at the break. He admitted in his post-match interviews that despite being better defensively, we were not using the ball well going forward now and he perhaps sacrificed some of our stability at 1-0 down by changing the system in subbing Lanzini off for Feghouli. We started the second half playing more of a 4-2-3-1 than a 4-1-4-1 (how we started the game) as Payet came into the centre. Dimi had barely had an effect on the game at this point and this is how it would continue as Southampton dominated the opening exchanges; by the hour mark, it could have been 4-0 had it not been for Adrian making some top saves.

Our completely inexplicable defending had returned and this was perfectly exemplified in the second goal. Complacency and a lack of intensity meant that we were moving the ball too slowly and our defense had no shape whatsoever and when Kouyate inevitably lost the ball in the centre we were left wide open for Tadic to exploit. There was a little fight in the side from here as we had a few chances and a couple of penalty shouts but really there wasn’t much of note. Zaza missed a good chance after being felled in the area twice and booked for dissent/diving on one of these occasions and Payet missed another good opportunity from the edge of the box. Maybe we should have had a penalty for a Bertrand handball but we shouldn’t be relying on refereeing decisions for hope…

There’s no need to talk about the third goal.

Today was awful and the cracks in our confidence couldn’t have been more clear. For 40 minutes the players were disciplined and held their shape, sticking tightly to the tactics they had been prescribed. They struggled to find freedom going forward because of this but there was a tightness and organisation to our performance that I could appreciate. However, as soon as we were undone and the first goal went in, that organisation, discipline and tightness disappeared and we became the shambles that we have seen time and time again this season. I cannot understand if Bilic persists with Nordtveit at right back because he offers little to nothing going forward and he hasn’t exactly proved to be the most defensively capable in that position either. Noble is hanging tightly to his performances last season because he has been awful thus far.
Trying to think positively, it can be said that Arbeloa seems to be a decent answer to our left back problems for now and that there was a little more purpose to Zaza today than there has been in games before. Iain made an interesting point though in his initial post-match reaction, if it is true that, after a certain amount of games, his hefty price tag becomes mandatory; then do we continue to play him despite his poor form?

Keep the faith; things will get better. The eventual returns of Cresswell, Carroll and maybe even Sakho could improve us significantly. For now we need to be more resilient while missing key players and we need to show that in the upcoming games to get some points on the board.

I’ve updated the player league table for those interested:
Antonio – 32
Adrian – 22
Collins – 17.5
Masuaku – 16
Kouyate – 13
Payet – 12.5
Noble – 12
Reid – 11.5
Lanzini – 8
Nordtveit – 7
Tore – 6.5
Byram – 6.5
Ogbonna – 6
Valencia – 4
Fletcher – 3
Calleri – 2.5
Arbeloa – 2
Carroll – 1.5
Obiang – 1.5
Ayew – 1
Zaza – 1
Fernandes – 0.5
Feghouli – 0

Match Report

Can we stop at minute 35?

Saturday’s game against Watford was probably the strangest West Ham game I’ve ever been to. I have never felt so disconnected with the club that I love, the anger wasn’t so raw and the disappointment not so heavy, I just accepted it and moved straight on. That’s not really what it is to be a football fan. Maybe it’s sitting so far away or the new surroundings or just the fact that the moments of completely incompetent defending has now stretched from the Swansea game near the end of last season all the way through to now. All I can say is that I hope things change soon.

I must say that up until minute 35 some of the football we played was simply magnificent. The link-up between Payet, Lanzini, Zaza and Antonio was beautiful to watch and at times they looked like an unstoppable force. Zaza started quickly and wanted to be involved in all of our attacks, his movement being important for the second and he was the player that won the corner for the first. Payet showed moments of pure class; we’ve done extremely well to keep hold of him. Lanzini wasn’t at his storming best but him and Payet have a brilliant understanding and that helps with every move we put together and Antonio was the only player who you can say was brilliant for 90 minutes. In scoring, running his socks off and apologising for the shambolic defending afterwards, he is proving himself to be a wonderful football player and person.

So at minute 35 after recovering from the shock of seeing a West Ham player do a rabona cross and watch another West Ham player nod it in at the back post, I sat back in my seat, stretched my legs out in these new spacious seats and relaxed. I think everyone did, we were absolutely cruising. There had been some nervous moments at the back but if we continued playing like we were then we surely could even outscore Watford if we had to. Well, I hadn’t included in that simple understanding of the situation that 10 of our players would relax just as much as me… But within 6 minutes at the end of the first half, I had certainly woken up to it. I was shocked to see the complete lack of effort that surrounded the two goals as our team cruised around the pitch, looking like the game was already done and to be honest, it’s to Watford’s credit that they used that to their advantage by pressing onto us and scoring two quick goals.

I could put the statistical league table here and talk about how the stats back up some tactical analysis and do what I do every other week but this week there is honestly no point in that. The stats are meaningless, we were so bad from those moments onwards that even the top performances in the statistical categories that I use in my algorithm are shoddy at best. Collins, who was absolutely awful in the game managed to pick up three of those additional top performance points but the algorithm does somewhat do the job correctly by penalising him for his mistakes and reducing his total game score to 1. Anyway, it shows the fragility of statistics as a method of analysis and how they can only be used where appropriate to back up proper football analysis.

So my statistical analysis for the week is this: Antonio scored 2 goals and thus gained 8 points in the player table, he was our main threat for the entire game and when we were chasing the game at 4-2, Bilic made a decision that I just cannot understand. He took Byram off and brought on Tore, who has been poor at best. Who filled in at right back? None other than our main goal threat and joint Premier League top scorer Michail Antonio. Explain that one please…

Here’s the cumulative table after the Man City and Watford game points have been added:

Antonio: 21.5
Collins: 16.5
Adrian: 16
Masuaku: 13
Kouyate: 10
Noble: 10
Reid: 8.5
Tore: 6.5
Byram: 6.5
Payet: 6
Nordtveit: 5
Valencia: 4
Ogbonna: 2
Calleri: 2
Lanzini: 1.5
Carroll: 1.5
Obiang: 1.5
Fletcher: 1
Ayew: 1
Zaza: 0

For those of you asking why Zaza got 0: Statistically, I can’t award him points for his movement and hold up play early on. He started (?1) but picked up a yellow card for lack of discipline (?1) =0.


West Ham 1-0 Bournemouth | The Stats Analysis

Before I begin this week, I would like to outline some minor adjustments but also clear up some misunderstandings from my first article. Firstly, I would like to make it clear that I am not personally awarding any points; the points system that I will be using throughout the season is generated by players achieving highly in different statistical categories. It is not out of anything (like 5/10) it is simply a points tally based on the numbers of their performance and the league becomes more interesting in the later stages of the season. The only adjustments from last week are that I have decreased the points deductions for the highest loss of possession and offsides to 0.5 instead of 1. This means that both Carroll and Valencia had gone up from scores of 1 to 1.5 before the Bournemouth game.

After a spate of injuries had severely depleted our first team options, I found myself feeling pretty nervous ahead of the visit of Bournemouth but following a slowly ground out victory against their well-organised defensive unit, we can look to the future feeling more confident. I think it’s a pretty wonderful indicator of our strength in depth that despite seven significant senior absentees that we are still able to name an 11 man squad without anyone playing wildly out of position.

The long drama of the right back Antonio situation might finally be over as we got to see him playing on the wing again with Byram starting at right back. Although it was disappointing to see him shifted out to the left for most of the game, it was good to see his attacking intent and genuine dynamism being used to greater effect higher up the pitch. Masuaku put in another impressive shift on the left side of the defense whilst Kouyate was back to his powerful self in the centre. The main disappointment from the game was another rather abject performance from Valencia who won only one header from 10 attempts. His slowness to leave the pitch incensed everyone but I haven’t seen it said anywhere that Bilic was hurriedly trying to give instructions to Masuaku at the time and he looked to appreciate the extra time that Valencia gave him.

In terms of the league table, it is Antonio that has gained the most points. He gets 10.5 because of his goal, his four successful dribbles from five attempts and bonus points for the clean sheet and the WhoScored MOTM award. Antonio did win us the game but he wasn’t at his sparkling best; he fluffed two good chances in fact, one from a Tore through ball which he took on quickly but saw his shot fly wide and one from a Calleri chip which he didn’t get his foot round at all. I think he struggled to make a huge impact from the left but we looked miles better once Bilic swapped the wings; a decision that led to a Tore cross from the byline and an Antonio back-post header, something that wouldn’t have happened without that tactical switch.

In truth, the game was pretty turgid and we lacked any real spark. The main reason I can see for this lack of impetus to our play is that we are desperately missing creativity from the middle of the park. Noble was forced into playing more of a leading advanced playmaker role than he is perhaps used to and his lack of pace meant that we struggled to drive forward quickly and the ball was often held up deeper in midfield. This often forced us into playing more long balls from deep and Valencia was not winning any of his aerial duels. Yes, the red card changed the game hugely in our favour but the decision to bring Fletcher on when this happened also allowed us to push for a winner because Fletcher and Calleri’s combined pace and hunger drove us up another gear.

The league table after two games:
Name: Total Points (Points change from latest game)

Collins: 13 (^5)
Adrian: 10.5 (^7.5)
Antonio: 8.5 (^10.5)
Kouyate: 7 (^4)
Noble: 6 (^5)
Masuaku: 6 (^4)
Reid: 6 (^5)
Tore: 5.5 (^5)
Nordtveit: 5 (^4)
Byram: 4 (^3)
Valencia: 3 (^1.5)
Carroll: 1.5
Fletcher: 1.5 (^1.5)
Obiang: 1.5 (^1.5)
Calleri: 1.5 (^1.5)
Ayew: 1
Payet: 0.5

Coming away from the game the thing I feel most happy about is seeing the genuine delight among the players for Antonio; watching him and Noble celebrating at the end was a joy. This is surely a good sign as we look to have some serious togetherness and fight and this is going to be integral if we have to continually deal with injury crises like we have had to recently.

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