Match Report

Reflecting on Southampton

A tactically astute and energetic team performance secured maximum points at St Mary’s for the first time in the clubs history.

The players executed their manager’s instructions with precision and discipline, moving with purpose and fluidity as they fought their way to victory. In Slaven’s own words “The key was everything, we played a fantastic game. We had our plan and the players executed it brilliantly.”

The players

The whole team performed admirably but I wanted to pick out a few for praise, starting with Snodgrass.

His energy, closing down, organisation, discipline and technique are superb. Held the ball well, chased and closed the opposition from the front and tracked his man every time. He made the most high-intensity sprints of any player on the pitch with 81 and was a constant thorn in the side of the opposition.

He also covered more ground in the match than every player except for Noble, who covered 12.09km with Snodgrass a close second with 11.79km.

One of his best assets is his intelligence on and off the ball. His runs are calculated and his positional awareness is exemplary. He constantly communicates with his teammates, orchestrating defensive and attacking movements down his flank. He works incredibly hard and covers his full back well, this time partnering with Cresswell to great effect.

Obiang was back to his best and although his goal grabbed the headlines, it was his dominant performance in midfield that earned him man of the match. He completed 39/49 passes (79.6%), scored one goal, created one chance, one assist, one take-on, seven ball recoveries, 3/4 tackles, three interceptions and 2/2 aerial duels. He was imperious.

Randolph was again solid in the sticks. He displayed excellent shot stopping ability and held onto several shots that lesser keepers would have been forced to parry. He appeared to command his area well and his distribution was varied and accurate.

Carroll again led the line superbly. Strong, agile and his movement appears to be improving by the day. His movement for the goal was excellent and he showed great composure with the finish It’s frightening to think of what he’ll be capable of if he remains fit and injury free.

Kouyate was nothing short of heroic at right back. His athleticism, power and understated technique give him a versatility afforded to very few players. He was outstanding.

Noble deserves a mention too. He was brilliant throughout the match, providing the engine in midfield along with Obiang, as well as chipping in with some excellent passes and a well deserved (and correctly awarded) goal.

He was deployed in a slightly deeper role and this allowed him to cover the defence more effectively and utilise his range of passing. He completed 44/51 passes (86.3%) and made 11 ball recoveries.

Our captain has come in for a lot of criticism this season, with myself included, but he led by example and fought for every inch of ground he covered. Well played Nobes!

Bilic

This man has been tested on every level this season. His honesty, integrity and belief in playing attacking, expansive football are commendable and he does not always receive the praise he deserves. Southampton are a top side and Bilic set the team up perfectly to exploit their weaknesses.

As I covered in my last piece, he’s not the finished article, but he’s got all the ingredients to become one of the best managers in the league. He can be a little naïve or stick to seemingly lost causes at times, but it’s all part of his make-up and I admire his character.

For any remaining doubters out there please find the following information courtesy of our official website:

“For Bilic, Saturday was his 25th league win as West Ham United boss – no manager has reached this feat quicker than the Croatian in the club’s 122 year history.”

He’s earned our admiration and respect and if the club are serious about their vision to improve, then retaining Bilic is key.

Tactics

Bilic was bold and started with a 4-4-2. Antonio partnered Carroll up front and Snodgrass came in for Lanzini on the left wing. The work-rate and intelligence of Snodgrass aided the team in retaining their shape and prevented us becoming overloaded in midfield. Antonio and Carroll both put in tremendous shifts defending from the front, pressing Southampton’s midfield relentlessly and forcing errors.

Kouyate was excellent filling in at right back and Cresswell showed great improvement, helped along by his new wing partner Snodgrass.

Reid and Fonte looked more comfortable playing together and put in a dominant defensive display. Fonte’s passing range is superb and his composure on the ball is a huge asset to the team.

After the Manchester City defeat on Wednesday, Fonte revealed that the players felt responsible for the nature of the defeat as they failed to follow the manager’s tactics. This was not the case against Southampton as previous mistakes were rectified.

From front to back the team attacked and defended as a unit. This was a display that encapsulated Bilic’s style of play, high-energy tactical pressing, with fast fluid attacking movement. Although so far this season we’ve only enjoyed glimpses of this coming together for 90 minutes, this was as complete a performance as we’ve seen this season.

Looking ahead to West Brom

The players will take confidence into their game with West Brom and I’d be surprised if Bilic changed the formation. We may see a change in personnel if Byram is fit and chosen to play, but that would leave a tough call on Kouyate with his inclusion necessitating the withdrawal of Noble or Obiang, neither of whom deserve to be dropped.

At least this is a good problem for Bilic to have and it’s good to see competition for places, even in such an unorthodox manner.

Tony Pulis is a better tactician than people think and he’s created a strong and resolute squad of players that will be very tough to break down. They will match our physicality and not many teams in the league can boast that. They are a potent threat from set plays and will pose more of an aerial threat than any of the teams we’ve faced recently.

They will look to keep things tight and restrict the space between their lines. Snodgrass, Antonio, Carroll and Feghouli/Lanzini will need guile to create space in which to operate and transitioning quickly will be key.

The added energy, technique and composure of Snodgrass will again be a welcome addition in a match that could be defined by the finest of margins or moment of brilliance.

The team seems united, invigorated and hungry and I feel renewed confidence, rather than trepidation, going into our matches once again.

Super Slav has got his mojo back and the team looks like it’s ready to forge ahead in its new chapter and keep the momentum going, starting with West Brom.

COYI


Match Report

Reflecting on Manchester City

Before we start analysing this match, it’s important that we appreciate and understand the quality of our opposition. The result hurt, of course it did, and the last thing we wanted was another decimation at the hands of Manchester City. However, the result needs context.

1. I don’t believe there are many teams that could have matched or beaten Man City in the form we encountered. As Darren Lewis of the Sun mentioned, this is not the barometer by which West Ham should be judged.
2. Gabriel Jesus, Sane and Stirling are the fastest, most skilful front line of any team I can think of, certainly in the Prem.
3. We played poorly and gifted them opportunities. Sadly for us, so high is their skill level that they converted each of the three opportunities into goals.
4. Despite their domination in possession, they were restricted to four shots on goal. However, they scored with three of these.

This isn’t designed to defend the performance, but the gulf in ability, cost of acquisition and wages has to be noted. Jesus and Sane alone cost almost £70 million and it tips over £110 million when you include Stirling.

To achieve results against teams with far superior financial power requires something special from the players and the manager. Unfortunately, it didn’t come together as we all hoped but we shouldn’t forget that we were very long odds to win or draw this game.

The acid test

It’s not fair to judge the manager or the players based solely on this performance. Better teams than ours have and will be beaten by similar margins, so let’s not hit the self-destruct button just yet.

There are also contributing factors that compound the effect of the defeat and make it feel worse than it is.

These factors are:

Losing Payet

We wanted to show the world that things are going to be OK without our leading creator. Had we finished the game losing by one or two goals, we’d feel justified in our beliefs that we can still achieve great things without him. Sadly, that’s not necessarily true. However much we want to ignore it, Payet is the most creative player in Europe and we don’t have a player of his talent’s at the club anymore. Lanzini is a rough diamond that needs to develop, and I think he will, but we lost something very special in Payet and we need time to adapt and overcome, which we will.

Recovering from the cup defeat

The 5-0 defeat we suffered in the cup is fresh in the memory and everyone would have wanted to rectify that. In some ways it must have added extra pressure to what was already a very difficult game.

Bilic

We are all so desperate to see him succeeded, but we have to cut him some slack. He is far from the finished article and has made mistakes and sometimes it appears as if he’s done little to rectify them. The team, for a long time, has been defensively poor and we are conceding too many goals. There appears to be a lack of tactical clarity implemented by the manager and players sometimes look lost and uncomfortable in their positions. The players are not without blame, of course, as they have failed to execute the game plan effectively.

I believe Bilic is similar in some ways to Lanzini. He has all the abilities to become a be one of the best, and on his day can compete with anyone. However, consistency is the key and Bilic needs time to grow and learn. He, similar to Lanzini, needs stability, support and a wide berth in order to succeed. I hope he gets it, but we must be patient as there will be a lot more highs and lows as we forge ahead in our quest for stability.

Full backs

Sadly, Cresswell hasn’t fully recovered from his injury and has been underperforming since his return. He has been at fault for several goals and desperately needs and injection of confidence and some competition to up his game. Masuaku will hopefully provide the latter on his return from injury.

Byram had a good game against Middlesbrough, but he received more defensive cover from Feghouli, which helped. Unfortunately, against Man City he wasn’t at his best and Feghouli didn’t provide the cover that he had previously. This compounded Byram’s problems and left him exposed against one of the best attacks in Europe.

Teams like Spurs, Everton and Chelsea epitomise the importance of having high calibre full backs/wing backs. Ours are developing and will need time, but I think we have some promising talent.

For me, it also highlights how important our need to get cover for Byram was in January. I understand if no suitable players were available, but Jenkinson or Debuchy on loan for the rest of the season didn’t seem beyond us?

New signings

Snodgrass had an excellent debut. His technique, ability to retain the ball and his desire to defend and organise were exemplary. He has been performing to the same high levels for Hull all season and although he played just 31 minutes (including injury time), we got to see what he brings to the team.

He completed 15 of his 16 passes in his short time on the pitch. Noble was our best passer completing 35 out of 43, which highlights how effective Snodgrass was in this key area.

His ability to hold on to the ball also gave our attacking players time to transition, which allowed us more options going forward. His share of possession was 1.9% which almost doubled Feghouli’s 1% in the 60 minutes he was on the pitch. Noble was again our leading player in this area with 4.4% but he played the whole game, where Snodgrass was limited to 31 minutes.

Despite a couple of errors and the fact he is finding his feet – in a baptism of fire – Fonte made some great passes under severe pressure and gave his all. He also chipped in with five interceptions, four clearances, three headed clearances and one tackle. I believe this partnership will grow to become one of the strongest in the league and if our full backs can develop in a similar fashion, then the future is bright.

Tactics

I thought Bilic would start with a back three against Man City. The extra defensive cover combined with more players in midfield appeared a more calculated choice. Everton and Spurs have also been successful against Man City in this formation and it’s a system that we have experience playing.

It’s unfair to say Bilic went with the wrong system, but the choice not to change it, especially at half time, was a curious one.

Sane and Stirling’s blistering pace was exposing our flanks. The precision passing orchestrated by Silva, Toure and De Brunye carved through our midfield and the speed at which they transitioned into our defensive third was frightening.

With Byram and Cresswell finding it difficult to contain the threat, Fonte and Reid were often pulled out of position creating numerous pockets of space for them to exploit. It was a masterpiece of movement from the away side, but we should have addressed this tactically and switching to a back three seemed the logical choice.

Bilic decided to stick with the same formation after half-time, possibly believing that the player’s lack of execution and pressing was the issue, not the formation itself. Unfortunately, we encountered the same problems and little changed until the inclusion of Snodgrass and Fernandes.

The heat maps from the game show that Man City’s attacking players Jesus, Sane, Sterling, De Brunye and Silva operated almost exclusively on our flanks. Fonte, Reid, Cresswell, Byram, Lanzini and Feghouli are highlighted on our heat map, showing how deep we were defending, especially on our right.

It also shows how high Cresswell’s average position was and when we compare this to their attacking heat map, we can see how heavily they targeted this area.

Moving forward

We need to put this match behind us and move on. Southampton will prove a stern test on Saturday but one that we can win.

Southampton are a fantastic football club and they have to be admired for the way they run the club and conduct their affairs. They have a wonderful system for recruiting talented players and managers and despite consistently losing both they continue to perform.

They share many similarities with Sevilla and their business model. Both are superb footballing institutions. But I digress…

All praise aside, there is work to be done to pick the team up and focus on Saturday’s game. We bounced back with a 3-0 win against Crystal Palace after our last heavy defeat to Man City, so we’ve set precedent.

Bilic and the team will have a few days on the training pitch and Fonte and Reid will have more sessions to get to know each other. It’s important to remember that this was their first game together, that Fonte wasn’t fully match fit and that these partnerships take time to develop.

Mistakes from Wednesday will be analysed and improved upon. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Snodgrass start in place of Feghouli, who will provide better cover for Byram, as well as energy, technique and skill. I don’t expect to see any more changes, but if Kouyate were fit then personally I’d consider starting him in place of Noble.

This will be a tough match and Southampton are a quick, energetic team and they’ll be hungry to get points on the board.

If we can put the Man City game behind us, focus on the fundamentals and give our all, then I think we stand every chance of securing a victory.

Whatever the result, I know we’ll hear the deafening chorus of our away fans shaking the rafters at St Mary’s and I know we’ll all be cheering along, wherever we are.

Onwards and upwards!

COYI


Match Report

Reflecting on Middlesbrough

This was an excellent team performance against a disciplined Middlesbrough side. The players showed quality, determination and desire – everything that can be asked of them.

Carroll was again superb. He looks fit, confident and unstoppable in his current form – long may it continue. His prowess in the air is unrivalled but it’s his vision, passing and interplay that have taken his game to a new level. He leads by example from start to finish and we can only hope that his injuries are behind him.

Obiang was imperious in midfield, consistently breaking up attacks and launching counter-offensives. He is currently the most effective tackler in the Premier League with a success rate of 91% winning 41 of his 45 tackles. He is quickly developing into one of the best holding midfielders in the league.

The whole team performed well and the players look united. We can’t underestimate the effect of the Payet saga and its impact upon Bilic and the players. They have all handled this unprecedented situation with dignity and professionalism, something they have rightly been commended for.

With that behind us, the world seems brighter and there is an air of optimism around the club again. Bilic appears happier in himself and his tactics, along with the player’s determination to execute them reflected this.

Lanzini

Lanzini has started to flourish in Payet’s absence. Even at the height of our powers, last season questions were asked about the practicality of playing both attacking midfielders together, fearing that necessary defensive duties would suffer.

The issue became more noticeable at the start of this season with our well-documented struggles. Little did we know, at the time, what was developing behind the scenes.

Since Payet’s exclusion from the squad, Lanzini has been tasked with providing the spark in our creative engine, and he has not disappointed. He may not yet be as technically developed as Payet, but what he lacks marginally in technique, he makes up for ten-fold with energy and fight. The stats below highlight what a huge contribution he has made over the past two games, as well as his versatility.

Crystal Palace

*One goal (1st)
*Two chances created (2nd)
*Take ons 5/6 (1st)
*Ball recoveries 10 (1st)
*Tackles 2/2 (3rd)
*Pass completion 87.5%

Middlesbrough

*Five chances created (1st)
*Attacking third passes 18/23 (1st)
*Corners 2/4 (1st)
*Take ons 2/3 (2nd)

Hungry players

I thought the club showed realistic ambition in the signings of Jose Fonte and Robert Snodgrass. Fonte is one of the best centre backs in the Premier League and brings experience and composure to our defence. He will be highly motivated to end his career on a high and he will be committed to giving his all for the club and his teammates.

Snodgrass is a hugely underrated player who is technically excellent and mentally resolute. He, along with Fonte, are clever signings that bring more than just their ability on the pitch. They bring steel, determination and leadership.

These are the type of players that we need.

The caveat with Fonte is his age. Had he been two or three years younger he would surely have had the opportunity to move to one of the top teams in Europe. Fortunately, he has ended up in claret and blue.

Hats off to the board for the efforts so far in the transfer window and also for the way they did it – behind closed doors as much as possible.

I’d consider Scott Hogan in this category and I think he looks promising. However, his injury record is concerning and I’m certain this has been a key factor in the delay/suspension of his transfer. I’m not convinced this one will go ahead as it appears the club could have secured it much earlier if they’d been motivated to.

Square pegs in square holes

One of the key factors in our recent improvement is the return of Sam Byram. Having players playing in their natural position is crucial on many levels. It allows a team to function effectively with an in-depth tactical understanding of their role. It also allows the players around them the freedom to concentrate on their role, rather than consciously, or subconsciously, concerning themselves with covering their teammate’s shortcomings, understandably brought on by a lack of experience in their position.

However, we look at it, having a natural right back fit for selection has helped us improve.

Byram has been instrumental in the past two games, especially against Middlesbrough where he got a full 90 minutes. He boasted an 82.6% pass completion rate, created one chance from a right wing cross, made four clearances, two tackles and two interceptions. His energy and defensive intelligence brought solidity to our back line and his ability to get forward and support the forwards provided a welcome outlet.

Considering his recent return from a lengthy injury, combined with relatively little Premiership experience, I’d say he’s come back strong and looks highly capable of making the position his own.

However, one thing that concerns me is our lack of cover. Fatigue, injury, illness and suspension could all render Byram unavailable for a number of games and currently, we have Antonio, Nordtveit and possibly Arbeloa as cover. None have shown the ability to deputise for him effectively.

This is no easy matter, however. Recruiting any high-quality player in the January transfer window is notoriously difficult, let alone a full back. We also have to consider what type of player we sign. With Byram developing well do we want to sign a similar prospect? Can both be kept happy and motivated while fighting for the starting berth? Or do we sign a more seasoned player, as we attempted with Arbeloa, so Byram can be mentored but also receive competent cover should he be unavailable to play? It’s a tricky situation for the club.

Personally, I would consider the latter option, favouring a move for Ivanovic, Sagna, Zabaletta or a player of similar profile. These things are considerably more complicated than they appear and I’m certain both Bilic and the board are fully aware of the necessities of the team and will be doing all they can to recruit sensibly.

Looking ahead to Manchester City

This game should answer a lot of questions. Man City ran riot against Tottenham and they were unlucky to walk away with a draw. They are a team that, on their day, can play some of the most sublime, free-flowing, attacking football on display across Europe and we’ll need to be at our best. However, they are vulnerable and teams have exposed their frailties this season.

Discipline, controlled aggression and concentration will all be key factors in this contest. Our defence will be strong and I believe that Fonte will match and improve the performances of Ogbonna in central defence. With Byram and Cresswell on the flanks and Reid partnering Fonte, we have a formidable defensive unit.

Obiang and Noble will assist in shielding the back four and this will allow Byram and Cresswell to venture forward and provide an overlapping threat down either wing.

The team feels more united now and we’ve witnessed the tactical genius of Bilic at work when it’s in harmony with the team. Those players are capable and motivated to go and execute every game plan now, and I think we pose a challenge to anyone in the league.

We need to retain our belief and continue to grow and build as a team. The addition of Snodgrass adds a wealth of ability and grit to the side, and Fonte will bring leadership and composure.

Whatever the result on Wednesday under the lights, I’m confident that we’ll give a good account of ourselves and show everyone what we’re building here at West Ham.

COYI


Match Report

Reflecting on Crystal Palace and Testing Times

What a delight it is to be writing an article after such a galvanised team performance. The energy, the intent, the unity and desire were there for all to see, and the eye did not go wanting.

From the majestic Lanzini, to the powerful Antonio and acrobatic Carroll, the performance was invigorating, especially in the second half.

Payet

I considered not mentioning Payet in my article, but I decided not to shy away from it and more for myself than anything, my thoughts are as follows.

The club let Payet down over the summer and with the concept of the ‘project’ that they sold to him. While this is no excuse for his actions, it has to be mentioned. Although this is not reported as the reason for his actions, it is where the club have been at fault.

I find his actions disgraceful and to see Bilic close to tears in his press conference reflects how most of us feel by his betrayal. For me, betrayal is a suitable word, although I’ve heard it contested in the media. For me, West Ham and Bilic put Payet on the map, they gave him the platform and belief to break into the France national team and not to mention the largest salary in the clubs history.

Yes, he may wish to return home and may not be happy living in a foreign country, but regardless of the excuses he is contracted to the club and had no issue taking a substantial pay increase, as well as bonus incentives, recently.

Millions of people work away from their families and native countries. Most do so for considerably less money, and a lot will do it out of necessity. So, I do not buy into the theory that Payet has a right to do what he has done.

Had he dealt with the club professionally – Chech for example when he wanted to leave Chelsea but stay in London and go to Arsenal – I’m confident that an arrangement could have been reached with Marseille over the summer. Payet could have given his all this season and left with his pride and legend intact.

Sadly, this is not the case and like a petulant child, he has left himself in an untenable position.

I’m not sure that Marseille or his agent are without blame in this. The fact he had apparently agreed terms on a contract is suspicious and I find their conduct poor to say the least.

To conclude, now Marseille need to put up, or shut up. If they are so desperate to get him then they need to show they have substance behind the hot air. I’d be upset if we sold him for under £40 million to be honest, but I accept this may drop to £35 million or even £30 million to get it done.

He is on a massive contract that is heavily performance based, so his wages reduce significantly if he doesn’t pay. He can also be fined a maximum of two weeks wages for every breach of contract (£250,000), so if his asking price isn’t met then keeping him under punishment may not cost as much as £125,000 per week. The cost may also be easier to swallow than the message sent out if we were to allow him to go on the – relative – cheap.

There are, however, risks to be considered in keeping him, with the moral of the team being my key concern.

Right back

I’m slightly concerned that we do not appear overly active in our pursuit of a right back. While this was always going to be a difficult position to fill, especially in January, we desperately need cover for Byram.

The optimist in me hopes the club are conducting their business behind closed doors and have learnt from past mistakes. The pessimist in me worries that we’re underestimating the importance of filling this position and are leaving it late to act.

I’m surprised that we didn’t move to bring Jenkinson back to the club on loan. He would provide perfect cover for Byram – who we ideally want to make the position his own – and provide competition at the same time.

This, or a similar move, would also allow us more time to plan the recruitment of a first choice target in the summer. The market will be more pliant, with more options, and we can take time to ensure the best decisions are made.

Sagna, Zabaletta and Glen Johnson all become free agents in the summer, should Man City not renew their contracts. All of these players have another season in them, minimum, and could provide experience and vital cover for Byram.

Palace

The first half was nervous from both teams but at no point did we allow Palace to find their rhythm and we looked comfortable and well disciplined. The second half is when we came alive.

A tactical tweak from Bilic – switching to a 4-4-2 – and a wonderful team effort set up a magical second half display. Carroll’s goal of the season contender almost knocked me from my seat and Antonio was at his absolute best working in tandem with Carroll. Between them they terrorised Palace’s defence with their combination of raw power, pace, agility and guile. It was at times mesmerising to watch.

Lanzini was unbelievable. His passing, vision, tackling, tracking and desire was beyond exceptional, and his goal was superb.

Just a few of his stats from the game:

*Three shots – one goal
*87.5% pass completion
*Two chances created
*5/6 take on’s
*Two tackles
*10 ball recoveries

At a time when we desperately needed a good performance, our little Argentine stepped up and showed us what this means to him and the other players. The way the team celebrated together and the unshielded joy and unity on their faces was infectious.

For all of the players mentioned above, and for everyone that played that day, one player’s importance must not go unnoticed. Sam Byram.

I cannot emphasise strongly enough how important his return is to the team. We have been playing with a defensive midfielder at right back and having an out-and-out right back playing in their natural position helped us considerably.

Byram had a good game and showed us what we’ve been missing. His intelligence and understanding of his position allowed him to advance and provide an attacking threat when the time was right, while at the same time dealing with his defensive duties flawlessly. His positioning was superb and even though his stats don’t fairly reflect his contribution, he united the defensive line and allowed the team to operate as a fluid, functional unit.

I rate Byram highly and think he has a bright future ahead of him at West Ham. However, it’s important that we get cover for him and the players mentioned earlier would be ideal as they may only be required to cover for one or two seasons, with hope that we can develop players from our academy. Failing that we would be able to go back into the transfer market at our leisure and take the time necessary to source effectively.

Zaza

One last thing I wanted to mention; I thought Zaza showed real class in his departure. He could have easily blamed the club, the manager, or a number of factors for his failed spell with us – as his father attempted – but in a show of class, Zaza accepted the blame for his failings and as far as I’ve read, has not said a derogatory word against the club or manager.

In light of the recent Payet development, I think it’s important to recognise moments of decency such as this.

Zaza, we wish you well in your career and hope you rediscover the form that took you to Juventus and the Italy national team.

Conclusion

We move on to the Middlesbrough game in high spirits and full of confidence. Borough are a well organised, disciplined team, but if we can muster a performance like last weekend, I fancy us to continue our winning streak.

I want to end by saying how amazing the atmosphere was against Palace. The stadium erupted and the noise was incredible. The fans really are the twelfth man and this showed against Palace. It’s vital we continue to sing and cheer our hearts out every chance we get, home or away, and let the players feel the army of belief behind them.

COYI


Talking Point

Searching for a solution

First, let me start by wishing everyone a happy new year. Work and family commitments haven’t allowed me to write as much as I hoped for recently, but I’ll be doing the best I can to contribute on a regular basis again.

The problem

Our issues have been widely reported and well covered by the writers on here. Moral, effort, passion, concentration, consistency are all under scrutiny and the team seems disorganised and uninspired far too often.

Too many players have become passengers and it feels like the squad lacks in leadership and discipline.

The questions about Payet’s commitment and motivation can’t be ignored, neither can the impact they are having on the team. Bilic has publicly backed Payet as our best player, consistently praising his ability in press conferences and various media outlets. With Payet appearing disinterested at times and with several questionable interviews where he fails to show commitment to the club, how does that affect the team? I wouldn’t feel too pleased if I was part of the squad and felt that our talisman was looking to jump ship.

One question I’ve been asking recently is, “is Bilic too nice?” An impossible question to answer, I know, but it does worry me. Are the best managers disciplinarians? Conte, Mourinho, Koeman, Diego Simeone, Guardiola, Klopp (the most charismatic of the managers but still a disciplinarian), Ferguson; you wouldn’t want to cross any of these would you?

At the start of his tenure, Bilic exiled Amalfitano for apparent disciplinary issues. This set the tone and as an unknown entity, Bilic demanded respect. Since the end of his first season, his image became considerably softer, especially over the Euros with his charismatic and unorthodox style of commentary.

Is this a factor in our recent struggles? It’s very hard to say, but Bilic’s demeanour this season has seemed repressed, and it could very well be an issue.

Another area under the microscope is Bilic’s efforts in turning the new training ground into a family friendly environment. Is this sending out the right message? Are we implementing tried and tested methodology here or are we breaking new ground in untested areas? The same could be asked of our fitness coaching and methods. With such a high number of injuries, and players almost consistently appearing far from full match fitness, does this need addressing?

It’s possible to go on all day speculating, and I really don’t mean any of this to come across negatively. They are just areas that stand out to me.

The players

There’s not enough time to evaluate each player individually, but it’s fair to say that aside from Reid, Randolph, Obiang, Fernandes and Antonio, the players have struggled to varying degrees.

Some have struggled with form, others with effort and some with both. Too many need to look inwardly and demand more. This comes down partly to Bilic and his ability to motivate and get the most out of his players. It doesn’t appear at present that he is, but with new arrivals in January and some departures, he has the perfect opportunity to catalyse change.

The club

Arguably the biggest overhaul needed is within the club. The owners, the engagement with the fans, the stadium, our image and our PR all need considerable work.

Again, I won’t go into this now, but it’s clear for all to see that our image needs improving as well as our conduct in the media.

The solution

This is my personal view on what steps we should take to move forward successfully.

Become humble. Our owners have to understand the damage that some of their conduct is causing. We are a family club and there is no problem with ambition, but it has to be plausible and build on a solid foundation. We can’t just brand London on the badge and roll into a new stadium – which itself is a bone of huge contention within the media – and start claiming we’re a big club. Like most things in life, success has to be earned.

Reconnect with the fans. The transition to the new stadium has been handled very poorly and steps need to be made to address the numerous issues. Other than the stadium itself, none seem insurmountable and this will provide an opportunity for the board to show the fans that they’re making positive steps in the right direction.

Outs and in’s

A shake-up in the squad is necessary and an injection of talent, coupled with an ejection of deadwood, can provide a huge confidence boost.

It’s been widely reported that Feghouli cold move on. If the rumours of a £10-11million sale to Roma are correct, then that represents a good return on a player that came in for free in the summer. I personally think that he has more to offer than we’ve seen but if that money can be reinvested wisely, then it represents good business.

I’m a big fan of Robbie Brady and a player with his experience and grit would add a lot of fighting spirit to the squad. He’s capable of playing anywhere down the left and even centrally or on the right wing if needed.

I also think it’s important that we have a left winger in the team. Payet dominates this spot but I think we need to bring him central, behind the striker/strikers. He is an expert at playing in-between the lines and he wouldn’t need to track back as he does on the wing. He would need to defend from the front but this is different and he would be afforded more freedom in this role.

With Zaza, Tore and Calleri looking certain to depart, we free up £110,000-140,000 in wages and three spaces in the squad. If Feghouli departed then we will need three to four new faces, but will have another £35-40,000 in the kitty.

Another player under question is Ogbonna. For me, he has failed to improve sufficiently since signing and although I don’t think January is the time, should a suitable opportunity arise, I would consider selling him and bringing in another centre back. Next season will be Collin’s last, if he remains, and with Oxford and Burke pushing for the first team, a one-in-one-out should be ample over the summer.

Right back

The first area we need to address is at right back. Jenkinson on loan to the end of the season seems sensible. Trippier would be a great buy, but I cannot see Spurs allowing him to leave, especially to us.

Jenkinson would bring experience and stability. Arsenal seem happy to sanction a loan or permanent deal, so we would have the option to make it permanent in the summer should he impress. He would also settle quickly, having spent time at the club previously.

Other options would be Debuchy, Iorfa (Wolves) or an attempt to bring in Glen Johnson or Sagna who are both reaching the end of their contracts.

Striker

The second area we need to strengthen is up front. Defoe would be a superb signing, but I cannot see this happening. He is arguably Sunderland’s only hope of survival, and I’m not convinced that he will try to force through a move.

Scott Hogan appears to be an exciting prospect and I like that fact that he has Championship experience. Both the Championship and Premier League share a similar level of physicality and this can help players, especially strikers, adapt quickly.

This transfer comes with risk, of course. A high fee, reported to be £12.5-15million, and an inconsistent injury record leave cause for concern, but there’s something about this I like and it’s another home grown, British player that will hopefully bring plenty of fighting spirit.

Another player that I rate highly is Shane Long. For around the £10million mark we could get a proven Premier League striker and a player that ticks most of the boxes we need. He’s a poacher, he plays on the shoulder of the last defender and his pace unsettles defences. He could realistically be our best and safest option in January.

Javier Hernandez, previously of Manchester Utd and currently at Bayer Leverkusen, is an ambitious target, but worth a mention. An article by HITC mentions that Bild – a reputable and leading source on German football – reported Leverkusen were considering his sale, with a reported fee in the region of £21million (http://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2017/01/09/despite-denials-west-ham-untied-should-try-and-lure-javier-herna/). This would be a long shot, but he’s a proven goalscorer and may be tempted back to a league in which he enjoyed several fruitful seasons.

Winger

As mentioned previously, I’m a fan of Robbie Brandy and think we could do far worse than bring him to the club. He would again inject some steel and fight to the team and provide cover across several positions. He’s got pace, a superb delivery and can score goals. Snodgrass has also been covered by the media and while he is a good player, his lack of pace concerns me.

If we did sell Feghouli then we would need to bring in another winger and Brady could be a good option if we can prise him away from Norwich.

Conclusion

January can provide the foundation for an improved campaign. The squad is disjointed and refreshing the ranks with good quality players has the potential to reinvigorate the players, as well as cover huge gaps in the squad – right back and striker – that have proved costly all season.

The second half of the season can be seen as a fresh start and a new challenge. This psychology can be used to our advantage and with new faces and competition for places, we can really kick on.

The team need to pick themselves up after the City game and prepare for Palace. For the first 30 minutes of the City game we were a well structured, aggressive, potent team. We need to learn from what happened afterwards and focus on what we did right and find a way to replicate this consistently.

Allardyce deserves a warm welcome Saturday, but let’s make sure that’s all he walks away with. Palace aren’t on top form either, but they’ll be well structured and hard to break down. Hopefully, Byram will be match fit and we can start with a full back four for the first time in a long while. This will make a lot of difference and I’m confident that we can kick on from here, with a big piece of the puzzle back in place. The rest needs work, but let’s stay confident and get behind the team and the manager, no matter what.

COYI


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