Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review
POSITION UPDATE: We end the matchweek in 9th following Stoke’s 4-0 loss to Tottenham. Harry Kane scored a hat trick.
Our players can feel hard done by failing to get all three points against the Hornets – it is a real stinger. In many aspects of the game, we were the more dominant side. As a matter of fact, when Slav was appointed, he said: “I like my teams to play Total Football". For those of you wondering, no, Total Football isn’t a football simulator which you can download on your smartphone. It is anything but, as the origins go right back to the 1950’s.
Total Football is a tactical theory in which any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team. It was popularised by the Netherlands National Football Team in the 1974 FIFA World Cup. Some of the players were unfamiliar with the concept, but they soon learned under the guidance of their manager, Rinus Michels. During the tournament, the Netherlands coasted through their first and second round matches defeating Argentina 4-0, East Germany 2-0, and Brazil 2-0 to face West Germany in the final.
The Netherlands made a sensational start to the game. Cruyff kicked off and the ball had been passed around 13 times before returning to Cruyff, who went on a run and won a penalty, having being fouled in the box. Teammate Johan Neeskens scored from the spot to give his side a 1-0 lead with just 80 seconds of play! By contrast, our makeshift right back gave away a penalty in the opening three minutes of the match, which Deeney subsequently scored. As it turns out, the Netherlands lost 2-1 to West Germany. So it seems that Total Football wasn’t the answer then and isn’t now. That said, we are currently on track for two consecutive top half finishes, so we can’t really say that the tactical theory hasn’t improved us. After all, we scored a goal with over 20 combined touches at Selhurst Park this season.
We have conceded at least a goal within the opening half hour of each of our last five matches. In our next match against Chelsea, we need to make sure we can finally end this run by keeping a clean sheet in the opening half hour, if not, the entire first half. Recently, our defence hasn’t been particularly stable. You only have to look at the defensive positioning of some of our players (Kouyaté in particular) to see how we are ultimately to blame for going behind. One of the tenets of Total Football is to keep hold of possession. If we can play with confidence right from the start, then perhaps we can move on from this defensive disaster.
Something that has massively improved recently is leadership. The fact that we have signed a couple of experienced players (Fonte and Snodgrass) may have something to do with it, but I think it is simply down to our players spending more time with each other. Now, most people probably think that the players and training staff went to Dubai on a jolly-up – the reality is that it is anything but. Normally, players who go on such trips work twice as hard to take advantage of the weather conditions. The guys need their Vitamin D from the Sun!
The thing is that we only see the good parts of it all on their Snapchats and Instagram Stories, and not much of the gruelling training that takes place. Even if we do see any training montages, then we are likely to forget about it. For instance, one of the fun activities on the itinerary was being served by Turkish chef, Nusret Gokce (aka Salt Bae.) No doubt many fans would have been under the impression that the players aren’t doing much work, having seen their selfies with an Internet celebrity. The reality is that the entire squad were having dinner with the manager and training staff. It’s not as if it is our players have gone clubbing after a 4-0 loss like Jack Grealish – this is a casual dinner with the boss! There are rules to adhere to. It is important to remember that our players can only give their all if they are allowed to do what they need to do to be in the right state of mind. That could be an extended golfing session for Marcus Browne or the occasional deep-fried Mars bar for Snoddy.
Ayew hasn’t featured much, but he is slowly starting to repay his £20.5M transfer fee. The Ghanian has now scored two goals from three shots on target in the PL this season. That factoid alone suggests that he is a goal poacher positioning himself in the right place at the right time. Watching him play confirms that, as he makes good runs forward making him an attacking option available. The only other goal he scored was against his former club, Swansea. The fans at the Liberty Stadium would have remembered Ayew’s instinctive nature, as he scored a tap-in against them on Boxing Day – another parting gift that was left unopened. It does beg the question why he doesn’t play as a makeshift striker?
We had a catalogue of chances, but we simply couldn’t convert them. Even the way in which we scored our goal with the ball cannoning off both posts acted as an indicator as to how frantic the match was. It was bad enough that Gomes was in inspired form, but a loss would’ve been extremely unfair. Watford had kept just one clean sheet in their last 15 Premier League matches, so we simply had to score. Also, Watford missed the chance to do the double over us for the first time in the PL era! There was several opportunities at the end, as we somehow scrambled away with the last action of the game. Being a football fan can’t be good for your heart.
Dubai Hammer in the Nelson pub Dubai. After a well deserved draw against Watford. Great crowd of West Ham fans. dg pic.twitter.com/jdWa1xmB1J
— David Gold (@davidgold) February 25, 2017
We have already beaten Chelsea at home this season in the EFL Cup. We certainly have it within us to do it again. A win against them will significantly increase our chances of a top half finish. The fact that we are currently 9th is simply ludicrous! I’m sure most fans would agree we haven’t played like a team that is in the top half all the time. That said, it is vital that we look to push for a spot in the top 8 and continue with our momentum. The last time we obtained two successive back-to-back top half finishes was back in the 2008-09 season.