The S J Chandos Column

An evening of power and intensity, and little guile/creativity, but a 'win is a win' all the same!

The Hammers scored a much needed 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town on Monday evening. However, the victory owed much to power and intensity (and a rare slice of luck for Obiang’s opener), but little in the way of guile/creativity. Do not get me wrong, a ‘win is a win,’ and it was self-evident that we badly needed the victory to improve confidence and get those initial three points on the board. So, it is mission accomplished and some of those ‘positives’ that I discussed in a recent article came to the fore. Namely, the power and pace of Antonio, the goal scoring of Ayew and realising some of the potential of our strike force (in the form of a strong display by Andy Carroll). In addition, Bilic also addressed the problematic issues associated with our defending, putting out a back three, with Cresswell and Zabaletta pushing forward down the flanks.

A back three really does seem to suit West Ham and they appear solid and convincing, in a way that they never seem to be with a flat back four. All three centre-backs played well and I thought Fonte had by far his best game in a West Ham shirt. While Cresswell looked stylish down the left and Zabaletta finally looked the class act that we all know him to be. Similarly, I thought Obiang and Kouyate were very competitive in midfield and gave us an edge with their industry and willingness to battle for the cause. This certainly looked like a very different proposition to the abject Hammers team that tamely surrendered at St James Park. Here, they defended well, won the key tackles and played with an intensity and purpose that has hitherto been missing this season.

In contrast, although Hernandez was undoubtedly willing and worked hard, it was to prove to be a evening of frustration for him. I feel that part of the problem was that Bilic’s game plan was to use Carroll’s height and physical strength up front and this saw much of the play pass-by Hernandez. His best chance of scoring was to get on the end of a second ball or a defensive mistake, especially in the almost complete absence of the skilled and ‘killer’ balls that he might expect to feed on from the likes of Lanzini. The truth is that we have too few creative midfielders in the senior squad and that places an enormous importance upon Lanzini’s quick return to fitness. It may have been a disappointing night, personally, for Hernandez, but I am sure that he knows that he will do far better in the upcoming matches, and that getting the result for the team was the all-important thing. The challenge now is to retain the defensive solidarity and intensity/power and combine it successfully with a bit more guile and creativity in the final third. If we can get that right, then results will definitely take an upturn in the coming weeks.

The other important thing up until January 2018, is that we keep injuries to a bare minimum. We only have a senior squad of 22 players. That means that there are three unfilled places, which is a lot to carry. There is an obvious danger that an injury crisis could massively over-stretch us in key positions and impact on results. So, lets hope that we have a bit of luck, for once, in that area, and we get to avoid that particular pit fall. If not then, then we will just have to battle through and rectify the situation in the winter transfer window. There is talk on Hammers social media that William Carvalho is still keen on a move to the club in January and Bilic obviously still wants the player. The question is whether sufficient bridges can be re-built with Sporting Lisbon to make a deal happen. Regardless, the winter window is a difficult time to recruit players and one hopes that results up to January are sufficiently good to ensure that we go into that window without too much added pressure to deliver incoming deals.

I see that Sakho got a bit of a mixed reception when he came on as a late substitute. The truth is that the fans need to be bigger than to engage in a vendetta. He is still a Hammers player and his good form could prove vital to our cause. So, lets just forget the Rennes incident and get behind him. Bilic allegedly spelt it out clearly for Sakho after the window closed. He is a Hammers player until at least January and it is in his own personal self-interest to knuckle down, improve his form and score some goals. It is only by doing that that he will earn a new Hammers contract or a possible move. Hopefully, those points have been taken on board by Mr Sakho and West Ham will start reaping the rewards before too long.

So, it is WBA away next in the PL. Hopefully we can secure at least a draw at the Hawthorns and set ourselves up nicely for a run of PL home fixtures. There is also the League Cup (or whatever they are calling it this season?) 3rd Round tie against Bolton Wanderers at the LS. It would be nice to think that we can get some ‘kinder’ draws this season and make progress in the competition. Who knows, we might even see a youngster or two get a run out from the substitutes bench. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

Talking Point

'If they are good enough, they are old enough' - Is it time to select Nathan Holland?

There have been a number of articles on Hammers social media sites suggesting that Slaven Bilic will be ringing the changes for Monday’s match versus Huddersfield Town. We can only speculate at this stage, on what those changes will be, but one crucial area is likely to be who will occupy the wide positions. This area is particularly interesting, as injuries to Ayew and Lanzini, plus the suspension of Arnautovic, has severely restricted Bilic’s options. Antonio self-selects for the right flank berth, but the left is something of a problem that needs solving.

The idea has been floated on at least one site that Bilic should consider playing Cresswell wide on the left, in an advanced role, ahead of Masuaku at left-back. This is a logical proposal, considering Cresswell’s attacking abilities and, in particular, his propensity to deliver accurate balls in to the box. If you want the cast iron assurance of going with an experienced option, then Cresswell could very well be it. However, there is another, more daring and (some would say) more risky option also available and that is to give Nathan Holland his full PL debut on the left flank or, alternatively, on the right wing if Antonio is moved across to the left. If Bilic genuinely does want to shake things up then this could be the way to go. It would signal that the manager is willing to promote youth over more established first team options and that the older players need to perform consistently well to meet the challenge of the emerging youngsters playing well, week in-week out, in the U-23s. As well as sending a clear message to the squad, it would also boost the morale and ambitions of the other youth players, such as Quina and Martinez, demonstrating that progression/consistently good form can lead to a break through at senior level. They have already seen it happen with Declan Rice and a further such move would serve to augment the positive impact of that development,

Holland has been excellent since joining the club from Everton last season. He has impressed both in first team training sessions, U-23 games and the club’s summer pre-season matches. This has moved Holland closer to his first team debut and arguably now is the time to grant it, because he has genuinely earned that opportunity. To ignore his claims could be counter-productive in that it could disillusion, isolate Rice’s elevation as a one-off and plant the idea that the majority of youngsters are not going to get the nod, regardless of how well they develop/perform; or how severe the first team selection crisis is at any particular juncture.

Personally, I am open to selecting Holland because he looks good enough to rise to the challenge. Alternatively, we could go with Cresswell and have Holland on the substitutes bench as a plan B. That latter option is probably what the more nervous/cautious fan would advocate. It will be interesting to see if Bilic goes down one of these two paths in confirming his selection for Monday evening? The squad does need a shake up and an urgent injection of intensity in their play. Selecting Holland is one way of achieving that. Yes, there is a risk, but Holland’s maturity and undoubted ability will ameliorate that sufficiently to allow Bilic to pursue the option. Especially with more experience professionals there, guiding and supporting him through his home debut.

At the end of the day, it comes down to whether we still trust our Academy and have the courage to blood the talent emerging from it. Left unselected, talent can whither and die on the vine. Appropriate loan deals are vital and have an important role to play, but where youngsters perform to the required standard they should be selected. Sir Matt Busby once said ‘if they are good enough, they are old enough.’ All available evidence is that Holland is good enough and the clinching factor is arguably the poverty of current wide options (outside of re-deploying a full-back in to the role) due to injury and suspension. If it is not going to happen now, in these circumstances, when is it going to happen?

SJ. Chandos.

Talking Point

And what are the positives?

No one is satisfied with the way in which the transfer window ended. I had thought that we would bring in a couple of last minute signings, probably a defensive midfielder and another wide player. However, it was not to be and David Sullivan’s subsequent account of events on deadline day has opened up a real can of worms, particularly with Sporting Lisbon. It has also given rise to widespread recriminations amongst Hammers fans, largely aimed at the motives and ambitions of the West Ham board.

I do not want to add to those recriminations or further promote the negativity in this article. Instead, I want to focus on some of the positives and discuss the problems(s) constructively. First up, I do believe that we possess a potentially very good forward line. In Antonio and Arnautovic we have two powerful and pacy wide men, who have the ability to trouble the majority of PL defences. In the central striking role, we have a genuine goal scorer in Hernandez, who can also hold up the ball and link up play. Behind that front three, there is the power of Kouyate, the experience of Noble and the creativity of Lanzini; as well as Ayew’s ability to weigh in with his fair share of goals. We also have Sakho and Carroll, who can offer different qualities up front, whether that is replacing Hernandez or playing alongside him in a front two.

Providing that we can keep key players fit, and the forward line gels, I do not feel that we have huge problems in attack. However, defensively, it is entirely a different matter. We are just leaking far too many goals, 10 in the first three matches. Now that the transfer window is closed, Bilic obviously has to work with the players available. in doing so, he needs to decide on whether he will continue with a back four or play a back three with two wing-backs. If he goes with the latter formation then that takes a man out of the forward line, but hopefully it will create a tighter defence and capitalise upon the attacking strengths of Zabaletta and Cresswell down the flanks. If Bilic opts for a back four then both Zabaletta and Cresswell are going to have to be more disciplined in playing as conventional full-backs. Our strongest defensive unit (as a back four) is probably: Zabaleta, Cresswell, Ogbonna and Reid. As a back three, it is probably Rice, Reid and Ogbonna, with Zabaleta and Cresswell as the wing backs.

Slaven Bilic is in a tough situation. In response, he needs to be decisive and adopt the best system to address our damaging defensive vulnerabilities. If we can stop leaking goals then we have the forwards to win matches. Moreover, Bilic needs to use his man management skills to motivate the players and get the best out of them both individually and as part a unit. In football, confidence is a very important factor. Sometimes all it needs is a good performance and win to transform a team’s prospects.

Bilic’s total focus must be the Huddersfield Town match on 11 September 2017 and motivating the players to the performance and victory that we so badly need.

SJ. Chandos.

Talking Point

What on earth is wrong at our club?

That is a question that is undoubtedly exercising the minds of a lot of West Ham fans at present. We have had a good summer transfer window, even to this point, but it is just not translating on the pitch. West Ham’s performance at St James Park was an embarrassment. There is no two ways about it, they were right royalty outplayed and outfought by a team that had hitherto been struggling even more than us. Even without Arnautovic we should have had more than enough to get a result, but this is a team lacking cohesion, conviction and, perhaps worst of all, belief. Yes, the early season absences of Lanzini, Kouyate and Reid have not helped, but we should have the basic strength in depth now to cope without them.

If there was not a crisis before, there certainly is one now and predictably the knives are out for Bilic. I cannot blame the fans for seeing Bilic’s management as the essential root cause of our poor results. It seems that the struggles of last season have just tipped over in to this current season. Yet, Bilic has been backed by the board in the transfer market, but he cannot seem to gel the players in to an effective unit. Why do Bilic and his staff seem to be unable to motivate the players and get half-way-decent performances? Something is clearly and fundamentally wrong at the club and it must be put right as soon as possible. At this point, I am not clear if Bilic will do that or a new manager will replace him (whoever that might be?) and be given that responsibility? What I do know is that although Bilic takes the flack, there are also questions to be asked about the basic professional pride and application of the playing staff. What I have seen from our players this season is just not good enough.

We probably have not reached the point at which there will be a change of manager. The impression I get is that Bilic is genuinely popular with the club’s owners. And it is almost certain they will give him the rest of the transfer window to bring in one or two extra additions. The clock is likely to start ticking once the window closes and we face Huddersfield Town at home, which is now a massive game for Bilic and the club. Lose and the board could conceivably bring forward their plans to replace him. Win and he will buy himself some much needed extra time. More than anything, Bilic needs his senior players to rally around and give him a timely and inspired performance on 11 September 2017. I do not think the board want to sack Bilic, but they will if the situation does not change markedly. In the highly charged world of the PL there is no room for sentiment. West Ham need to be in the top tier. Beyond that ‘bottom line,’ they need to be seen to be moving forward as a club.

Bilic is in a very uncomfortable place right now and one feels for him. He is due to discuss the situation with the co-owners this week. No doubt his position will be made clear to him at that meeting. The trigger fingers at a lot of PL clubs would be getting very itchy right about now, but I believe that Sullivan and Gold will hold fire for a further period of time to see if Bilic can turn it around.

Personally, if I was in Bilic’s shoes I would start working on a 3-5-2 system for the Huddersfield Town match, giving Zabaletta and Cresswell the latitude to push forward down the flanks. I might also be very tempted to recall Adrian to the team. We shall see on 11 September 2017 whether Bilic agrees?

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

Sporting Lisbon want £37.5m for Carvalho, as Chelsea show interest

An article by Ken Dyer, in the Evening Standard, purports to reveal the terms that Sporting are asking to allow Carvalho to move to the London Stadium before the close of the current transfer window. Apparently they want a total package of £37.5m, with £20m up front and the remaining £15.5m payable early in 2018. It is understood that West Ham and Sporting are now £5m apart in their valuation of the player, with West Ham’s currently offering £32.5m, with a smaller sum up front and the balance settled on a instalment plan. While it is significant that Sporting have come down from their initial figure of £40m plus, they obviously want the £20m up front to allow them to invest in their own playing staff. And that could prove to be a red line for Sporting in making the deal happen.

Personal terms are not thought to be an obstacle, with a wages package already negotiated and agreed with Carvalho and his representatives. However, the length of the deadlocked negotiations has had one possibly unfortunate consequence. It has been suggested on social media that Conte’s Chelsea may now be taking an interest in signing Carvalho. Whether this is just speculation remains to be seen, but Sporting will potentially regard that as a god send, the presence of two PL clubs bidding against each other and pushing the price up. The floating of Chelsea’s rumoured interest could, however, just be a tactic by Sporting to pressurize West Ham in to agreeing a deal on their preferred terms. We shall see?

Elsewhere, both Joe Hart and Arron Cresswell have received call ups to Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad. However, there is no place for Antonio, who is currently just returning from a 4 month injury lay off. This international break has probably come a bit too early for Antonio, but I am sure that he will be selected again in the not too distant future, as Southgate appears to be a fan of the player. With regard to Hart, there were stories in the press recently that Southgate was considering dropping him to the bench in favour of Jack Butland. Typical, we have the England No.1 at the club and thou and behold the England Manager suddenly decides to demote him! It is a good job we Hammers fan are not paranoid or in to conspiracy theories.

Talking of the media, it appears that we are their favourite ‘crisis club’ again this season. So far, we have had constant speculation about Bilic being replaced and Lanzini leaving for Liverpool. More recently there have been stories concerning the alleged sale of Sakho to Lazio and loan of Carroll to Newcastle Utd. In the same vein, it was significant that Sky Sports selected the Cup game with Cheltenham as a featured match, no doubt hoping for a cup upset and more crisis talk. Well, they were disappointed last night, as the Hammers put in an efficient display in obtaining a fairly easy 0-2 victory. In short, they just did enough to ease past the opposition and it was very professional the way they went about it. For my part, I agree with Bilic, we just needed the win and a clean sheet. In the latter respect, hats off to the old war horse, James Collins, who put in a very solid and masterful performance at centre-back. Obviously, we have achieved our prime objective by qualifying for Round 3 of the competition, and a decent home tie against Bolton, but hopefully collateral bonuses will emerge in terms of improved match fitness (particularly for the likes of Sakho returning from a long lay off), greater understanding/cohesion in our forward play and the heightened confidence/team morale that naturally comes with winning matches and keeping clean sheets.

Indeed, lets also hope that it sets us up nicely for six points from the next two PL matches against Newcastle Utd away and Huddersfield Town at home. Newcastle Utd look very much out of sorts (lets hope they stay that way for remainder of this week!) and now could be a very good time to play them. While Huddersfield have had a good start to life in the PL, but one wonders how long they can sustain the results that they have gained to date. Kouyate should feature at St James Park and Lanzini will likely be back by the time we take on Huddersfield.

So, it is all to play for and I can see us coming away with a solid 1-2 win up in the north-east this Saturday. That would take some pressure off and set us up nicely to use the international break to get Lanzini fit and prepare for the Huddersfield game. The PL programme is a marathon and we have only completed a 800m, at best, so far this season. The good thing about marathons is that slow starts are not necessary that damaging, as long as you pick up the pace within a decent time-frame. I am confident that we can do that over the coming two matches, scupper all the crisis club talk and start having, what should prove to be, a very good season. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

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