Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

End of Season Review

TRANSFER UPDATE: We’ve just signed Zabaleta! Statement of intent.

To start off, sorry that I haven’t been able to publish my reviews at the usual time but I’ve been doing my exams. Last season, I only had one fixture overlap with exams; this season, I’ve had two fixtures overlap. It is quite frustrating, as just the one overlap would’ve been the optimal result. So, going into our final fixture against Burnley, I really wanted the season to be over, not just for the sake of my exams, but because we’ve played so poorly. How we staggered across the finishing line in 11th is beyond me! Truth be told, I couldn’t bare to watch us play against Liverpool when we conceded for the umpteenth time this season. Speaking of exams, if there’s one thing I learned from my GCSE English Literature exams, it’s analogies. Specifically, our staggered performance against Liverpool served as an analogy of our season: lack of support from the fans at home and a team that has played so poorly it needs to beat Liverpool to barely break even.

Before we all start fist pumping with our finish in 11th, it is worth keeping in mind that only six points separate the teams finishing in 8th through to 17th. Had we lost to Burnley, we would have finished in 14th. That said, if our goal difference was better than that of West Brom’s, we would have ended our campaign in the top half. Lots and lots of ramifications could have meant a lot of different things to different people. Personally, I have to say our finish of 11th is good, but that the style in which it has came has been rather lacklustre.

Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that you can never predict the rapid change of events in football. Just to give a random example, Victor Moses didn’t play well for us last season, but has played phenomenally well for Chelsea this season winning the title. Likewise, it would be absurd to assign blame where none exists. For instance, the number of injuries that have beleaguered our team this season is simply ridiculous. We honestly never could have accounted for that (with the exceptions of Carroll and Sakho). Additionally, the Payet debacle was certainly rather unexpected. Taking all of these things into account, the management of all this has to be applauded.

It isn’t particularly difficult to connect the dots as to who successfully managed these events. Slaven Bilic has done a great job with the team, albeit his lack of tactical awareness during matches. That said, he has managed the Payet situation and the move to the London Stadium very well. In my honest opinion, I feel if there’s one thing we needed in a manager this season, it was certainly the administrative part. This season was unlikely to be based on results. With teething problems at the LS and effectively creating a new club vision, we needed a manager who understands what we are about and how to get the best out of the team. And we’ve got just that.

Slaven is a highly sought-after manager. In Paul Merson’s PL season review, the Sky Sports pundit hopes that Slaven stays and that if he doesn’t, then teams like “Crystal Palace would definitely take him”. But let’s not beat around the bush. We finished in 11th for a reason. As good as Bilic was in the backroom, he certainly has some way to go on the pitch. One of the main problems we have under Slav is consistency. We need to start winning games we are expected to win. This is something from the Allardyce era that we need to regain.

As I’ve stated countless times before, the majority of pundits (myself and Merse included) believe that the board simply have not bought in the right sort of players. Recruitment has been an absolute disaster. It is a real shame that it is this way given our reputation as The Academy of Football. I think that we have all learned that we cannot simply just splash the cash. Buying ageing players like Snodgrass and Fonte isn’t going to do it. We need to consider the sustainability of getting such players. There are numerous positions that need strengthening. If lucrative signings aren’t made in the summer, then the fans will likely turn on the board. This is why they need to be able to communicate effectively on such matters. And that certainly doesn’t include Jack Sullivan tweeting the names of our targets!

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Yet another 4 goal home defeat

That is the only stat I am going to include in this post. This post is going to be quite different from the ones that I usually write. The reason being it was a dreadful loss that no one wants to think about. You would think we would do well against Liverpool given our win against Tottenham at the same venue – how wrong I was. Sorry that I was unable to write my match review the day after the league match, as I had an exam yesterday.

We have kept quite a few clean sheets recently so it is difficult to remember the previous matches in which we have conceded goals left, right, and centre. This is why I think the majority of people still back the manager. Had we ended the season poorly, support would’ve dwindled. This defensive problem that isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Almost all of us can probably remember at least three matches in which our defence has completely fell asleep. This is the likeliest reason why virtually everyone left around the 70th minute with even less sticking around for the lap of honour. Now, it is easy to suggest that they left because it was obvious that we were going to lose, but I sense a bit of unhappiness from the fans about the club’s direction (be it financial or managerial).

Delving deeper into this, there has been a lot of unrest on various issues this season. Many pundits and fans believe that Slav wasn’t given sufficient funds in the summer to purchase players or that the board has brought in players of their own choosing. Some social media outlets have said that Bilic doesn’t possess the tactical knowledge to be our manager. As you can tell, it is all very convoluted. Simply put, there is blame to be assigned by the huge majority of the fans.

Alternatively, the belief that the club has lost its traditional values is another. This mainly comes from the segment of fans who disapprove of the move to the London Stadium and instead opted for the expansion of the Boleyn Ground. Generally speaking, there is a lot of resentment that I feel isn’t being properly discussed about certain issues. One is the fact that the correct attendance is never accurate. In our game against Liverpool, we certainly weren’t 15 people short of the full capacity of 57,000. I’m sure this will be accounted for next season, but it certainly doesn’t improve the relationship between fans and the club for the time being.

This season, we managed to sell a lot of season tickets piggybacking off last season’s results. That and dare I say, the snake. We didn’t really need a marquee signing. Dimitri Payet scoring free kicks every now and then was good enough. Suffice to say some of our more expensive signings haven’t been playing particularly well. The club will be hoping that many fans renew their season tickets.

Stories in the tabloid newspapers stating that we are going to sign top players like Dries Mertens will only convince fans that the club is only interested in the club valuation and not if the fans value the club. This is something that can’t really be fixed. The club can’t react to every titbit online. I feel the solution is that fans (and netizens) need to take everything they read with a bit of caution. That and to not intrinsically blame the club for such sensationalist headlines, as they don’t have any control over them. We know all too well how common clickbait is. Sadly, summer is the season for trashy football journalism.

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

No title for Spurs: Part 2

We look to have, once more, ended Tottenham’s challenge for the Premier League title. In the previous season, we were the last side that Spurs failed to beat before being unable to catch up with the eventual champions Leicester City. Had they won on that night away from home, they would’ve gone level on points with the Foxes. If Chelsea can win against West Brom and Boro, then they will be crowned champions. In fact, they could win it before Tottenham even get the chance to kick a ball! In addition to achieving the same feat in two consecutive seasons, it would be yet another haunting memory created in front of the West Ham faithful. Make it happen, Chelsea.

Tottenham will play all of their home matches next season at Wembley, whilst their demolition plans for White Hart Lane and construction plans for the new stadium are being completed. This is very likely to be a huge blow for them, as they have picked up a whopping 50 points out of a possible 54 this season at home! A bit of mathematical deduction informs us that they have not lost at home – the only side to do so in this PL campaign. They will rue playing at Wembley, as they have only won there once despite playing five times. They have suffered defeats to Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea as well as being knocked out of the Europa League by Gent, who were subsequently knocked out by Genk in the next round (another north Belgian team).

Playing at home certainly hasn’t been easy for us. There has been enormous pressure on us to deliver this season and get yet another top half finish. With the Payet debacle and various injuries, it certainly hasn’t been easy. That is, let alone the problems around the ground. Admittedly, it is very difficult to turn an Olympics venue into a football stadium, but we have fared well. We know that the board have good intentions, as indicated by the price freeze amongst other things. Hopefully, Jack Sullivan doesn’t keep tweeting about our transfer targets in the summer. Anyway, Tottenham are likely to finish in the top three for the second season running. Next season, they will need to find their feet quickly at Wembley.

Spurs must really hate the sight of us. We have now won three of our past four home Premier League games against them, losing just the one. The important thing is that we’ve won in both our final derby match at the Boleyn and the first derby match at the London Stadium. It is even more tragic for them given that they wanted to play here and couldn’t defeat us. The thing is, had they ended up playing here, we would have felt a sense of injustice about the negotiations with the bigger club getting the decision going its way. When we were announced as the tenants of the Olympic Stadium, I saw it as a huge win for us, which signalled that we could rise up the Premier League table through increased ticket revenue and branding. I still believe in that vision. Spurs and Chelsea have come a long way this century and are likely to improve even further. This is a vision exclusive to the elite London football clubs. I certainly hope we can be part of that in the coming decades.

Lanzini has quite a record for scoring in derby matches. Nine of Lanzini’s 14 PL goals have come in London derbies – that’s 64%! The Jewel has certainly scored in important matches throughout the season. As a matter of fact, he scored against Palace back in January when Payet didn’t want to play for us anymore. He has now scored in a match which ensures we will play in the PL next season. There was a lot of responsibility on Lanzini’s shoulders when the snake hissed and slithered back to France. Thankfully, the Argentine has done well leading the team in attack. In my Palace match review, I mentioned that he scored in the Superclásico derby after just 43 seconds against the Boca Juniors. I couldn’t find any other anecdotes pertaining to him. He’s just too good!

Earlier in the season, I was extremely sceptical of playing with a back three. But given our recent run, I would advocate playing in the same formation next season. A clean sheet against Everton (which means Lukaku didn’t score!), no goals conceded at Stoke and a clean sheet against high-flying Tottenham. We have kept three consecutive clean sheets at home in the league for the first time since March 2016.The team are doing particularly well at preventing strikers from getting in the right space. Stopping Lukaku and Kane certainly isn’t easy. For instance, in this match, we knew that Alli and Eriksen would play behind Kane. So in order to prevent them from scoring, all three had to be marked. Easier said than done. Noble did well to prevent any balls from going into the box as well. Also, dare I say it, but Fonte looks to have improved over the past few weeks.

This match certainly felt like a derby. We attempted 16 tackles in the first half against them; we were only successful with one of them. That shows you the type of match we were expecting. We weren’t afraid to make tackles, dribbles or headed clearances. As this was a derby, we needed to be audacious. Nobody knows this better than the skipper who made four interceptions in the opening 35 minutes; more than the entire Spurs side combined (3). I think this was our best match at the stadium. The crowd were lively, the team played with desire and passion – what more could you want? This was the most complete performance all season: what I mean by that is that everyone played a part. Even the goal (despite being a bit scrappy) showed the hunger and determination of the players. I think Tottenham feared us a bit too much. Then again, that’s what a derby at the LS will do to you (ask Big Sam). Tottenham’s defeat to us was the first time they have lost to a team outside the top eight in the Premier League this season.

Something I think we should take away from this match is that we shouldn’t be too hypercritical of certain players. There are quite a few players in the squad who have improved a lot during their West Ham careers, but don’t always receive the credit they deserve. Many were quick to suggest that we should permanently drop Fonte or Calleri. Could you imagine how ridiculous that would sound now? Fonte actually played some good football upfield, and Calleri is getting more involved. It takes time to improve and I think we should acknowledge that. For instance, our £20.5M signing Ayew has been involved in six goals in his past 11 Premier League games with four goals and two assists. Many also said Masuaku couldn’t defend. We now know that is far from the case.

If we could finish in the top half this season, that would be absolutely insane given all that has happened this season. I have said it and the pundits have too and it too: we need to spend in the summer. We had Payet to sell us the dream of the London Stadium, but who are we going to have next season? Each additional place in the table is worth an incremental £2M. Furthermore, we need to win our remaining games. Leicester won the title as a result of their continued form from the previous season. You never know…

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Butland back to his best

It’s not everyday that your country beats Germany 3-2. The last thing you want to associate that victory with is a long-term injury. Unfortunately, that was the case for Jack Butland who injured his ankle on that rather infamous night back in March 2016. For a 23 year old to get injured in that match was a cruel fate indeed, let alone the severity of it. Spending all that time in the gym trying to recover is actually more emotionally challenging than anything else: it is difficult to find light at the end of the tunnel. Gareth Southgate was watching that match 13 months ago. As the incumbent England manager, he must have kept a close eye on him. He came to see Butland play against us in what was his first home game since his recovery. It was like he’d never been away! As an admirer of football, I am glad that if any player was going to stop us, it was Jack Butland.

Stoke produced a vital draw reaching the 40-point mark. They have finished 9th in each of the past three seasons. Stoke tend to perform well in the business end of the season. Yep, it is all about the finishes. There is no point in doing the hard work at the start of the season only to flail about at the end. The city may be even better at finishing than initially thought as they have produced a lot of top darts players. They include: Phil Taylor (the 16 time World Champion), Adrian Lewis (winner of back-to-back World Championships), Ted Hankey and Andy ‘The Hammer’ Hamilton. I really like Andy’s nickname for some reason – his and Eric Bristow’s.

Anyway, even the best of darts players can go on a bad run and fail to finish. Adrian Lewis failed to finish completely on Thursday night against Michael van Gerwen in the Premier League of Darts getting whitewashed 7-0. Sure, he was having a stinker also losing to James Wade earlier in the evening, but it is worth keeping in mind that blips are normal. Okay, he lost to James, but he is certainly a better player than him (as indicated by the PDC rankings) and is likely to finish above him in the Premier League table. I think it is worth keeping in mind that poor form is commonplace but it is worth consolidating the position where you’re at. No player (not even James Wade) can get 100% on the doubles, ergo it would be ridiculous to expect the same in other sports. If Stoke don’t end in the top half for a fourth season running, it is not the end of the world. I say this because some Stoke supporters want Mark Hughes to be sacked because they are on a bad run of form.

Yet another clean sheet with Adrián in the side. Even someone as tactically inept as Bilic will now understand that he is the top-choice goalie. In fact, he has kept five clean sheets in his last 13 Premier League appearances. Also, today’s 0-0 draw ended a run of 13 away PL matches without a clean sheet. The number 13 may be unlucky for some, but it is evidently working for us: with Adrián on the pitch, nothing will go wrong. I personally believe that his inclusion has steadied the defenders who were out of sorts. His save against Arnautovic in the second half highlights just how invaluable he is. His footballing intelligence is what I highly rate about him. He has good reactions and can play quite traditionally and acrobatically depending on the situation.

Whilst Adrián kept his second consecutive clean sheet since his return, it is worth keeping in mind that the defence played a huge part in that. We made 40 clearances in the match with 83% on tackling. The one chance that stands out for me was for Berahino early on the match with Reid blocking him. Other than that, I don’t think we were really tested in defence. Playing three at the back seems to work for now. It should be interesting to see what formation the manager plays with when Ogbonna returns to action. Judging from his performance, I think it is too early to write Fonte off. As for Collins, I imagine we will only use him when he is truly needed. Long-term, I think we might play Reid and Fonte together with the other two making way.

Many will be quick to point out that this is a second goalless draw. I personally have to admit that I am a little bit disappointed. Not in regards to the defence, but the attack. A good number of fans thought that we could go without signing a striker in the January transfer window. It is safe to say that we desperately need one in the summer. If we don’t go and make a marquee signing, there is no way we will be able to compete for a top-half finish. The pundits have been saying it and now I will. The attacking options we have are not up to standard. For instance, players like Snodgrass and Feghouli aren’t in the starting XI. The only solution is to spend, spend, spend. That and to be discrete when it comes to talking about transfer targets. We already know the board are extremely honest without Jack Sullivan tweeting various names. Seriously, tweet when we’ve got the players for better reactions.

If Bilic wants to be our manager next season, he needs a tactical overhaul. Subbing Noble on for Ayew whilst Stoke made an attacking substitution made no sense. Firstly, Ayew was playing very well. As a matter of fact, he was annoyed being told to make way given that he nearly scored. Secondly, we were the more attacking side. Why did we choose to reverse roles with Stoke? If Slaven was fearing the worst in that match, I would also have to question his intuition. The Potters were never going to score. Also, why was Snodgrass subbed on? Just what we need: another player with who bark instructions to others whilst doing nothing (his relationship with Byram).

Next season, Tottenham will be playing their home games at Wembley. Anthony Joshua has got more wins in 2017 at Wembley than Spurs! Next season will be interesting with Wembley and the London Stadium the two venues between the two teams. Also, every PL team will be able to say they played at Wembley – ha! Jokes aside, playing at a new ground, as we’ve all learned, is very difficult. We need to show our rivals what the atmosphere should be like. If the crowd get behind the players, who knows? We ended Spurs’ title chase last season. The question is: can we do it again? Keep in mind, we led the reverse fixture 1-0 and 2-1 this season. If we hold on, we could also guarantee PL survival.

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Lukaku went Cuckoo

Lukaku didn’t score. Let that sink in: Romelu Lukaku didn’t score against us. So this is what it feels like to play against Everton without the one goal Lukaku handicap. Prior to this match, the Belgian scored a goal against us in each of his nine previous appearances. Had he scored in this match, he would have been on double figures for consecutive goals scored! Going into this match, I was deeply concerned, given the fact that he has already scored two dozen goals so far this season. This year could be the one he makes a big move elsewhere. He is the top scoring PL player this calendar year netting 14 times with just 23 shots on target. Only Lionel Messi has scored more often in the top five European leagues than Lukaku with 17 goals.

Even though he failed to register a single shot on target in this match, I have to pay homage to the Belgian striker who could make a bigger name for himself at PSG, Barcelona or Real Madrid. I personally think that we won’t see him play in the Premier League next season. He has stated countless times before that he wants to play Champions League football. Perhaps looking back at his career will guide us to the answer. With that, we will be able to better work out whether we are going to lose a potential six points or not in the seasons to come (they all count)!

Lukaku signed for FC Anderlecht at the age of 16 in May 2009. It only took him a few months to get into the first-team just in time for next season, which he ended as the top goalscorer in the Belgian Pro League with 15 goals and won the title with his side. He also scored four goals during the club’s run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Makes sense for a youngster to get Europa League football, so that they can expect Champions League football when they are older. Well, that’s true if his name is Romelu Lukaku. In August 2011, he signed for Chelsea for £17M (including add-ons).

When his team won the Champions League against Bayern Munich, he admitted that he was disappointed with his involvement in his debut season, and as such, refused to hold the trophy as he didn’t feel like a winner. I mean, wow! What 19 year old kid would say that they wouldn’t want to hold arguably one of the most difficult trophies to obtain? John Terry celebrated like a complete wally, despite not even playing in that match, whilst Lukaku didn’t even let himself be happy. From there, it is worth noting both are talented, but one actually cares about his footballing career on, and more importantly, off the pitch. He later went on to outscore all of his Chelsea teammates on loan at West Brom and Everton the two seasons after. Additionally, he is the first foreign player to score 80 goals before his 24th birthday.

Our encounters with Everton over recent years have been awful – that is down to one man. Lukaku’s first appearance for Everton just had to be against us! Back in September of 2013, he came off the bench for Nikica Jelavic in the second half – who would play him? Oh, right. Us. Anyway, he came on in the second half and scored the winner in the 86th minute. That is the simplest way I can describe our relationship with him: he scores a goal and we lose the game.

Despite the hype around Lukaku and Everton, this was one of the most boring matches to watch all season. It is our first goalless draw this season and indeed at the London Stadium. The thing is, that this wasn’t an off day. There is a reason they have now failed to win any of their last six away games. Something that really caught me by surprise and indeed others who made Lukaku captain in their Fantasy Football teams (admit it) was that Everton failed to get a shot on target in the whole match. In fact, it took them until the 70th minute to register their first shot. In all honesty, Everton just weren’t at the races. Koeman said that if he was allowed to do so, he would have made 10 changes at half time.

Furthermore, I feel that whilst Everton didn’t attack like they normally do, we defended with a lot of confidence. Collins, in particular, played an absolute blinder. In previous games, through balls have snuck through when we’ve played with three at the back. With Lukaku to stop, it could have gone all wrong. Fortunately, our defence was at hand making lots of clearances. Masuaku and Nordtveit could have been forgotten about already had the manager not given them second chances. Nordtveit kept his second clean sheet out of two games playing in his native position, whilst Masuaku’s new hairstyle seems to have invigorated him, as he made seven dribbles and tracked back well. Speaking of players that never should have been considered to be completely dropped, Adrián kept his fourth clean sheet of the season; the same number Darren Randolph has kept, despite the Spaniard playing 10 games fewer. In short, we never deserved to concede. Something I can’t say too often this season.

Some new signings work out and some don’t – Calleri is currently in the latter pile. Our lack of attacking options meant that we struggled to finish. We had 15 shots with only three on target. In some ways, it is disappointing not to have got all three points, but given the predicament we are in regards to attacking options, we can’t complain. On the plus side, this draw shows the strength of our character. We have had 11 players out for at least 2 months this season, yet are currently in 13th. It is important that we keep this mentality against Stoke next week. If we can somehow end the season in the top half, that form could carry on into next season.

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