Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Total Domination

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.

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.

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Guest Post

The Importance of Keeping Our Academy Stars

Guest post by Aleksandar Babac

NOTE FROM ZAMAN: The author has written a piece on the Academy of Football, and our current crop of youngsters. He is also the creator of the largest West Ham-based Croatian Facebook page.

Last week in a match between Southend United and Millwall, Anton Ferdinand made a crossed Hammers sign to the Millwall fans leaving the referee no choice but to give him a booking. But in all fairness, they were giving him abuse all match. Regardless, the Academy graduate needed to show his true colours of Claret and Blue!

These days, people think that they can call themselves fans by buying a replica kit. But it isn’t just the fans who couldn’t care less about club history. In fact, even most footballers playing in foreign leagues don’t seem to care much about it. By contrast, the Academy offers something else. Not only do the lads learn to play, but also learn what commitment and loyalty actually mean. As it turns out, these values (in addition to playing well) are good indicators of success at West Ham. For instance, Academy graduates Cottee, Ince, Potts, Ferdinand, Cole, and Noble have all been voted Hammer of the Year.

We have been fortunate enough to have extremely talented players go through our Academy. Whether they continued playing for our club or not, there is no doubt that our club has made the single biggest contribution to English football in recent decades. For instance, Rio Ferdinand is regarded as one of the best defenders of his generation, and is one of England’s best centre-backs. Although most of them are nearing the end of their careers with other clubs, they are testament to our club’s strong stance on youth development, starting off young, playing football in the same neighbourhoods as some of the supporters. Some may call them deserters, but it is worth keeping in mind that they gave their all whilst wearing the Claret and Blue jersey.

I think that this is an issue that we haven’t properly addressed. Just why did some of our famous graduates leave? To name a few, Moore, Hurst, and Peters left West Ham, in spite of the huge support they received from the fans. Money is the first thing that comes to mind. Rio was only 22 when we sold him to Leeds United for a then England transfer record of £18M. Last month, Frank Lampard Jr. announced his retirement. After 15 years since his move to Chelsea, the jury is still out on him. There was enormous pressure on him to deliver, being the son of Frank Lampard Snr. and the nephew of Harry Redknapp. But let’s remember that we did troll our very own Academy graduate. At the age of just 19, the lad was mocked after he broke his leg during a match against Aston Villa. Seriously, how can our fans justify that?

Some 18 years ago, our U19’s team demolished Coventry City in the FA Youth Cup final winning 9-0 on aggregate in two remarkable legs. In the second leg played at the Boleyn, there were more than 26,000 spectators. Maestro Joe Cole ran the show with Michael Carrick on the wing. The quality on show was just something else! That said, many of our Academy players decided to leave years later. Have we now got a preference for more expensive enforcements than home-grown youngsters?

Relegation in 2003 cost us dearly. We sold Carrick, Cole, Defoe, Johnson, as well as the the Academy skipper Billy Mehmet. It has taken us 15 years to recover from it. Our current youngsters are doing well, winning the U21 Premier League Cup led by Reece Oxford. But we need to remove our feeder club image. I’m sure that most of you will agree that we should keep our current youngsters. Let’s continue our legacy of producing young starlets!

When West Ham beat West Germany, Peters one and Geoffrey three, and Bobby got his OBE!

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Oliver with a twist in the tale

Michael Oliver certainly played a big part in this game. Most of his decisions went the way of the Baggies who managed to bag themselves a point in the final minute of the match. During that time, the manager was protesting about the awarding of the corner as they scored. Slav then smashed the TV microphone to the ground in a fit of rage, which saw him sent to the stands (along with the assistant manager from an incident before) in the dying embers of the match. Embers is the right word there: the manner in which we conceded that goal was appalling. Randolph had to push Fernandes to get him to focus, whilst our players were beaten in the air. Surely we bought Collins on for his aerial ability?

With such drama on show, it is very easy to blame the referee. Fans and pundits alike have questioned whether the Olympic Stadium is suitable for football matches. But something we can all agree on is that theatre shows wouldn’t go amiss. Just imagine… the pageantry of Mike Dean, and the melodramatic stylings of Michael Oliver – two fantastic performances in the space of roughly a month. Tell you what, we’re being spoiled rotten! We can’t expect to see too many performances like this on a regular basis. I hope we can go back to seeing more stock characters next time.

Tony Pulis commented that the atmosphere inside our theatre of football was good, thus disproving some of our critics. The second half, in particular, was extremely loud. The referee made a lot of decisions that were met with disapproval. You could tell that most of the fans at the ground became incapable of making sound judgements, judging by the excessive noise levels, and frustration building around the ground. They were booing whenever our players made blatant fouls, which the referee obviously had to clamp down on.

To be frank, I don’t blame the fans. We absolutely dominated when we stepped back onto the pitch after the break. In this match, we had 16 shots with a pass completion rate of 71% in the final third. It was quite tentative stuff watching the second half, as we struggled to create chances due to a lack of creative outlets. Even the initial goal came from Foster tipping Lanzini’s effort onto the crossbar only for Feghouli to react quickest to it and score. The way in which that ball went into the goal epitomised just how frantically we were playing. Antonio (as ever) had to play in quite a few positions. The frustrating thing with him is that he is good as a striker, but is also a good creator – that’s the dilemma we faced. When and where should we play him?

We have conceded at least a goal in each of our last four matches within the opening half-hour. This once more exemplifies just how frantically we are playing at the moment. When Feghouli went down, we should have been alert to the danger. There was no certainty that Oliver was going to give a foul on him by Brunt. Looking at the replay, it turns out the referee was right not to stop play. One form of theatrical art is improvisation – something done spontaneously without any prior practice. Kouyaté, and Randolph are to blame here, as Chadli nutmegged the former and scored between the latter’s legs. If they improvised even a bit, then we could have avoided the goal. Additionally, that goal in the final minute needed a bit of improvisation. Sure, Slav was protesting the decision, but that doesn’t mean that the players had to lose focus. This match showed that we can be our own worst enemies at times with the sort of goals we concede.

The world of theatre can be used to present the experience of a real or imagined event. It can also be used effectively to showcase our lives in short moments, and of course, football! Aristotle came up with the three-act structure. It is quite simple: it is made up of a setup, confrontation, and a resolution. Now, given that the Baggies scored even before all the fans had arrived, it is the setup. The confrontation is the point in the match when we scored. And the resolution is the point at which they equalised. The resolution was more of an anticlimax, but we can’t dwell on it for too long.

The fact that Carroll didn’t even feature on the bench meant that the entire setup had changed. Our setup could have been a lot different had he played any part for us in the match. Even if Andy didn’t start, he would have been a good option on the bench to come on for the final 20 minutes or so. Sure, we scored the crucial goal with Lanzini, though it could have come a lot earlier. This would have made the second act a lot more exciting. Imagine a confrontation with Carroll. Ha! Anyway, I think he could have given us a happy ending as well. Collins didn’t do much from the corner, but with the onus on Carroll, you can just imagine the Geordie clearing it away. At the start of the match, most would have taken a draw. The theatre we go to week-in, week-out can be quite melodramatic, but it is important to see the aesthetic value of the point we got today, in spite of Lanzini’s late goal. Speaking of aesthetic value, the Jewel scored an absolute scorcher!

A five-day training camp awaits the players in Dubai. Well, I say training camp… But seriously, no doubt there will be lots of exercise drills, and whatnot. I’m sure the team will be eager to get three points against Watford in a few weeks time. This match will go down as two points dropped. Only Bournemouth (6) have conceded more goals in the 90th minute of Premier League games than us this season (4). That is something we have to work on. Hopefully, the players will make sure we don’t concede late yet again. Mauro Zarate will likely be playing for the Hornets, so a bit of pride at stake. We are still in the top half, so no cause for concern just yet.

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Guest Post

The life and career of Slaven Bilic

Guest post by Aleksandar Babac

NOTE FROM ZAMAN: The author has written an enthralling piece on Super Slav! He is also the creator of the largest West Ham-based Croatian Facebook page.

There was definitely something in the air that hot September in 1968 when Slaven Bilic was born in Split on Wednesday the 11th. Seven days later, in the same hospital room, his childhood friend Toni Kukoc was born. They grew up together in the same building, and joined Hajduk’s youth football academy together. But the coaches there told them that they weren’t talented enough. Toni decided to play basketball professionally and later made sporting history, side by side with Michael Jordan, winning three consecutive NBA Championship titles with the Chicago Bulls.

Slaven was persistent with football, as with all things he does. He grew up in the city block of Spinut, near Hajduk’s training ground with his parents and his brother, Domagoj, who gave him the nickname Nane, as he couldn’t say Slaven. Allegedly, Slav used to eat a lot of bananas as a child, so Domagoj once mispronounced banana saying “Nane” and the nickname stuck. He still keeps it to this day in Croatia. Slav’s father was a university professor and dean at the Faculty of Law at Split University where Slav graduated in 1993 and became a lawyer. “You’re a lawyer. What are you doing playing football?” – was a common question asked by many of his teammates.

Slaven Bilic is anything but a typical footballer. He started his youth career in Hajduk Split at the age of 9 – the club became his greatest passion. In fact, there isn’t a single person born in Dalmatia who doesn’t love Hajduk, football and Split. It is a magical triangle right on the Dalmatian coast! In Hajduk Split, he finished his playing career 24 years later, and made his first steps in becoming a manager. Even in his younger days, Slaven showcased absolute loyalty to the team. There were two dressing rooms at the club – one classy (only for the chosen first team stars) and the second for the rest. When they called him in to use the first dressing room, he refused because he got used to the small one where all his friends were.

In 1991, the team won the final of the final Yugoslav Cup against Red Star in Belgrade. He was one of the most talented of Hajduk’s footballers in a generation alongside skipper and former Hammer Igor Stimac, as well as Alen Boksic, and Robert Jarni. Even now, Slaven says that winning that trophy was one of the most memorable things of his entire career. Soon after his graduation in 1993, he moved to the Bundesliga where he joined Karlsruher. Ten months later, he became team captain, the first-ever foreign skipper in the top German league. It was such a big honour and accomplishment for such a young player from the newborn Balkan country of Croatia.

We know that the Olympic Stadium was his destiny, but on July 5th 1992, he debuted for the Croatian national team versus Australia at Olympic Park Stadium in Melbourne. What a coincidence! Six years later, he was a member of the Golden Generation of the Vatren (‘the Blazers’), achieving the most glorifying moment in Croatian football history finishing in 3rd place at World Cup in France 1998.

“My son, do you have some cigarettes? I need them for the bench… and when you will take off that earring?” – a question asked by Miroslav Ciro. Blazevic, the selector for the Croatian national team, who was the manager on the bench from 1994 to 2000. Slav replied: “I won’t. The earring reminds me of my time at law school”. As a matter of fact, Slaven started smoking during his faculty years, whilst all other team mates were sleeping. Ciro was very strict, and influential, but also very generous and emotional – just like Slav.

Nane learnt a lot from Ciro. The coach always stated that Slaven was like a son to him. In fact, we could say that Ciro had an influence on Slaven to pursue his dream of becoming a manager. Harry Redknapp brought him in 1996 for a fee of £1.3M, setting the club’s record for the highest fee paid for an incoming player at the time. His dreams had finally come true, as Slaven finally lived in the country of rock music and where football was invented. In the same place, six months later, Slaven played his first and final European Championship. Croatia lost 2-1 at Wembley in the quarter-final against Germany after Igor Stimac was sent off. Slaven cried upon the confirmation of his team’s defeat when the whistle blew.

Who could’ve imagined that ten years later, Slaven would become the Croatian national manager, and Igor Stimac would succeed him 6 years after? Who could’ve imagined that Slav would go back to Wembley 11 years later to defeat England 3-2 in the final qualifying match of the EURO’s in 2008? Who could’ve predicted back then that England needed a draw in order to qualify, with it going down to the wire of the dozen matches? Slaven made a risky sub with former Hammer Mladen Petric scoring the winner for Croatia in the 77 minute.

A year later, Slaven moved to Merseyside, joining Everton in the summer of 1997. Terms were agreed much earlier, but he stayed with us until the end of the season to help the team not get relegated. The same year, he was presented as Hammer of the Year runner-up to Julian Dicks. Bilic became one of the most influential Croats in England with some offering him a position in the Croatian embassy. He was very influential for many generations of young players, as well to the Toffee’s Wayne Rooney, who had his full size poster beside the bed. Although Slaven was one of the most valued defenders in the Premier League, many didn’t know that his playing career finished just a month before the World Cup in France 1998.

“’We need you, my son. Just for one match – just for the Argentina match” said Ciro, who begged Slaven to play. Slaven replied: “But boss, how I will play with a hip fracture? I can’t even walk, it hurts so much!” After giving it some thought, Slav said: “What the hell, it’s now or never.” He decided to go and to play at the World Cup, and was roommates with ex Real Madrid and Barcelona star, Robert Prosinecki, who later became Slaven’s assistant on the Croatian national bench. As players, two of them were smokers, so they shared a smoking room and Ciro tolerated it.

It wouldn’t have been the same without Slav. He was phenomenal and sophisticated, ‘a good spirit’ of the team and a good leader, sacrificing his health and playing with a fractured hip. Under the watchful eye of the medics, he received physio treatment every single day. He played seven full matches, elapsing 630 minutes during the 28-day tournament. Slaven and Igor Stimac got a chance for revenge for the EURO 96 defeat, which they took with a superb 3-0 win in Lyon against Germany in the World Cup quarter-final. It was a breathtaking moment for all of the football world to witness. Another former Hammer, Davor Suker, was the tournament star, scoring the most goals and winning the coveted Golden Boot award.

“I apologize for not wearing a tie” – were the first Slaven’s words when he was unanimously appointed the manager of Croatian national football team. He managed the Croatian team for 6 years – only Ciro lasted longer. He showed courage and determination in each match. After that terrific win against England in Wembley back in 2007, many of us Croats knew that we had a manager with whom we could achieve big things. Even then, celebrating this victory, he showed his compassion comforting young Rooney, having known him since he was a teenager playing for Everton. After two EURO tournaments in 2008 and 2012, Slaven resigned from the national team but developed and introduced many young players to the big stage at the national level. Under his command, he gave debuts to Lovren, Corluka, Perisic, Mandzukic, and Rakitic.

When Slaven was born in September 1968, the no.1 hit on the UK Charts list was The Beatles Hey Jude. Their LP was the first album that Slaven bought as a kid – this is where his love of music and the British way of living began. Music influenced his life, and attitude. When he speaks about music, it is as if he is another person.

A passionate lyricist and guitarist, he wrote and played the Supporters anthem Vatreno Ludilo performed by his hard-rock band, Rawbau, often using Dalmatian buzzwords like Ludilo, and Strava (meaning “madness” and “scare”) to describe his admiration for Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, The Rolling Stones, and Judas Priest to name a few. During his playing career at West Ham, the Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman said he couldn’t believe that Slav called him “a legend”. From those days in London, Slaven developed a nice friendship with Iron Maiden’s founder Steve Harris, who once asked him to join them on stage and play guitar at a Croatian concert.

“I was really living life to the full” – something Bilic would effectively say many times in interviews about his life in London.

“For me, London is the greatest city in the world. It represents everything for me: England, the British lifestyle, humour, music, football, Only Fools and Horses, Monty Python, The Rolling Stones – that’s England for me. In the streets of London you can see everything: pubs, buskers, aristocracy, subcultures… When you see this mix of nations, religions, and cultures, you become inspired.”

Slaven Bilic, a football manager, international player, guitarist, polyglot and a lawyer is definitely not the best and for sure not even the most talented Croatian footballer in history, but he has such a unique and strong personality which makes him a person to admire. Our rebel with a cause will always remain ‘a good boy’ of football. He is a respectable gentleman, Bilic – always was and will be the kid from the block.

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Oh, when the Saints go 3-1 down

I imagine former Saints Jose Fonte and Michail Antonio now have a new chant to bond over. Both players are very experienced, having played in both the Championship and League 1. In addition to that, Fonte is practically native with the time he has spent playing in several tiers of English football, whilst Antonio has played non-league football. I’m sure that they both appreciate the finer things in life. Given where they came from, the chances of both playing Premier League football when they started out were slim to none.

“When the Saints Go Marching In” was initially an American gospel hymn. We have Louis Armstrong to thank for the vocal and instrumental renditions of the song that arose when he turned it into a renown pop tune in the 1930’s. His sister had informed him that she thought the secular performance style was irreligious. But, he didn’t stick to tradition. Instead, he turned the churchgoers, who once sung the traditional church tune, into a brass band. Fonte could have stayed in the Primeira Liga with a rather undeserved, untouchable status, and Antonio could have been aggressive with the non-league players who went for his ankles every time he played. But, they had a vision. These men have made football what it is, be it through a chant or through performances on the pitch. Sure, they didn’t always get the approval of everyone around them, but they never gave up.

Prior to this match, we failed to win any league matches in which we were in a losing position. With debutant Manolo Gabbiadini scoring after just 12 minutes, we easily could have rolled over and accepted our fate. But, that wouldn’t be a fitting ending for a team with players that have earned top-flight football the hard way. Fonte and Antonio are at the heart of what our club is all about. They are gifted and talented players, who will always put in a good shift for their teams. That is why the former Southampton captain Fonte can be proud having just walked away from his old club with three points. The Saints sing the traditional lyrics. Fonte and Antonio singing the unconventional 3-1 lyrics typifies how unique they both are. Now, with the support of the fans they want to play in front of, there is no limit as to what they can achieve.

The first few lyrics of the song are in dactylic tetrameter (simply put, that means they are in four parts/syllables). The four parts I remembered were 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, and 3-1. After conceding just five goals in their first eight home Premier League games under Claude Puel, Southampton have conceded nine goals in their last four matches at St. Mary’s. It is a real cause for concern that they are starting to concede so many goals, because their defence was the only thing keeping them afloat. Their transfer deadline day signing of striker Gabbiadini for a reported fee of £14M was a crucial one – only Boro and Hull have scored less than them. For a team that has finished in 6th, 7th, and 8th in the last three seasons, I think they should have bought a few more reinforcements instead of selling their older, more experienced players like Fonte and Pelle.

Furthermore, they had great chances in the match, but failed to capitalise on them. Gabbiadini spurned a great chance to score early on in the second half, as well as failing to punish Kouyaté’s poor clearance, missing the target from 10 yards. There were other attempts for a grandstand finish at 3-2, but it didn’t come. They had 21 shots of which only seven were on target. Louis Armstrong was also skilful at scat singing. Perhaps he could have used it as part of a montage of Southampton shooting. By comparison, we had six shots of which four were on target. This highlights the lack of striking options the Saints have. The fact that they didn’t have anyone on the bench to play there meant having to rely on the new signing to score again.

With a 4-0 defeat to City just a few days ago, going 1-0 down early on in the next match doesn’t help morale. When the goal was conceded, I was devastated. Southampton had lost five of their last six matches, so this wasn’t the day to go missing. Something that has to be applauded is our team’s bouncebackability (all one word – click the hyperlinked word). When we lost 5-1 to Arsenal, we responded with a 2-2 draw against Liverpool. Also, when we lost 5-0 to Man City, we responded with a 3-0 against Palace. Most football clubs wouldn’t be able to bounce back like we have, which makes this feat all the more amazing! The thing is, if we are deadly serious about challenging for Europe, then we’ve got to start beating more of the top teams. I hope our players think about it sensibly taking baby steps like not losing 2-0 or worse. We need to defend at all times. We can beat the majority of teams below us, but can’t go on perfect runs. 19 points from a possible 30 is not bad going, but we can’t expect it again.

We had quite a few vulnerabilities in the match, such as playing Kouyaté as RB. Sure, he made more tackles than any other player on the pitch, but he wasn’t static in his position. Southampton kept attacking down his side, as they knew that the space there could be exploited. Thankfully, we kept our composure after conceding that first goal. We did well to make sure Southampton didn’t get into dangerous areas, which is why they only managed to score one goal, yet have 21 shots.

I have to give a special mention to Obiang, who I think has given one of the performances of the season. He is the first West Ham player to score and assist in a Premier League game this season. He has been playing phenomenally well for us in midfield, as well as scoring a wonderful goal right before HT. To think that we were going to offload him in the Summer!

We have ended the matchweek in 9th, though that’s not to say that we are destined for a top-half finish. For instance, if we lost the match yesterday, then we would be on 28 points, which would leave us in 13th – how unlucky that would’ve been! With a win, if Stoke had beaten West Brom, and if Burnley had beaten Watford, we would have gone down two places to 11th. The lowest we could have finished this matchweek was 14th, whilst the highest finish available was 9th. We are very fortunate to have finished in such an impeccable position this week, but we won’t be so lucky later on. There is still a long season ahead, and we will get a few blips every now and then. The five points between us and Bournemouth may not seem like much at the moment, but it can all change very quickly as Southampton have found out dropping from 7th to 13th in the space of seven matchweeks.

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