Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

A Shakespearean Tragedy

Our third consecutive defeat has come at the hands of Craig Shakespeare. He has completely turned things around for Leicester City. His side were high on morale following their win against Sevilla as the only British team left in the Champions League. Simply put, this game had his name written all over it (in Elizabethan font, of course). Prior to playing us, Bournemouth had failed to win a single match in 2017, which included a 3-0 defeat to Millwall (can’t get much worse than that). On their 10th attempt, the Cherries pipped us to win 3-2. Our next opponents were Leicester, who had failed to win away in the PL all season. As it so happens, we were defeated yet again. Our downfall is like something you would find in a Shakespearean tragedy.

The events that preluded the appointment of the Foxes’ new manager are quite something. Former player Kevin Phillips revealed that Shakespeare played a bigger part in Leicester’s title win than many know. When Nigel Pearson was sacked, he was kept on to work with Claudio Ranieri. The former manager used to make frequent trips to Italy to visit his sick mother which left Craig and the coaching staff to deal with the pre-match preparations. Under Ranieri, at times, the organisation wasn’t good. If it wasn’t for this assistant manager, the season could have ended badly. How Shakespeare didn’t receive any credit is beyond me.

That said, there are many that believe that Ranieri was stabbed in the back by the cunning Foxes. The incumbent manager’s command of the dressing room is as good as Shakespeare’s command of the English language with Christian Fuchs siding with the manager: “Shakespeare has the trust of the players”. Obviously, Leicester’s resurgence has come about because they didn’t get on well with Claudio and are now performing at a sufficient level. You can imagine the players in the dressing room asking: “Wherefore art thou, Claudio?”. In modern football, once you lose the dressing room, that is that.

Manager loyalty clearly means an awful lot to Leicester City. How else could a mediocre PL team like them win the league? They were devoted to the cause and the man who made it all happen. This is the perfect Shakespearean tragedy! Firstly, the fatal flaw of Ranieri was his diminishing sense of camaraderie (genuinely caring about the players) that ultimately lead to his exit. Secondly, he didn’t give credit to the staff who made the impossible happen last season. He didn’t swallow his hubris, ergo making his exit all the more tragic. Lastly, there were many external pressures on him from people behind the scenes who didn’t receive the respect they deserved, which mean’t they didn’t fully support the manager. No doubt Ranieri’s last words to Shakespeare were: “Et tu, Brute?” before leaving.

One of the few positives to take from this game is that Bilic decided to put a team out that was purely based on merit. Mark Noble has been given a rest, which I think is good for him and us. He is 29 with a lot of burden weighed upon his shoulders as captain. I hope he does what former captain Kevin Nolan did and avoid reading newspapers and social media when it’s not going well for you. We all know how much pressure football players are under to perform. The fact that he put Masuaku on when Cresswell wasn’t playing well spoke volumes. I sincerely hope that he has come to an epiphany and will continue to give players chances. Speaking of players being given chances, Byram did well to cover for Snodgrass defensively. Hope the youngster keeps his place in the starting XI.

Once more, early goals have cost us the match. As a matter of fact, we have conceded five goals within the opening 15 minutes of our last six matches. Just to put that into further perspective, how long does it normally take for the first Premier League goal to come on Soccer Saturday? Anywhere between 15-20 minutes on average. Right, now imagine that those first goals came in matches including us. Now imagine that we are the team that concedes those first goals virtually every single week. Having listened to the match, the words “Unbelievable, Jeff!” now have no meaning to me.

Many will point fingers at Ayew and Carroll for not scoring and getting us the draw, but I believe that we should do more defensively. Kasper Schmeichel was in inspired form making extraordinary saves. But if we keep conceding this many goals, then there is honestly no way we are going to win matches, let alone draw. This lack of defending is something that we saw earlier on in the season. Conceding two goals in the short space of 146 seconds is just ridiculous! Until we have a proper defensive shake-up, we will continue to concede at the same rate. Defending shouldn’t solely be the job of the defence. It is a team effort.

Following on from that, we are an attacking team. Yes, we failed to score from numerous chances at the end, but we do rely on our attacking players more than our defence. This is best characterised with Randolph saving Slimani’s strike late on. We were so fixated on getting the equaliser that most fans didn’t even take notice of this event. I understand defending and goalkeeping isn’t particularly glamorous, but it says a lot about us that we are ruing the chances we should have converted as opposed to the chances given to the other team. Then again, there is something delightful about Lanzini scoring from a free-kick without Payet in the squad. It is as if he has evolved. Indeed, he has now registered his best-ever goal haul in a Premier League season (7).

The international break couldn’t have come at a better time. Reid, Obiang and Antonio have all been injured this match. This was Antonio’s third call-up, so he shouldn’t be too downhearted, as he is more than capable of being called up again. A photo of Reid emerged leaving the ground on crutches. Obiang had to be stretchered off the pitch, which is never a good sign. To put things into perspective, the injuries that have been picked up are undoubtedly worse than the result. Our best defender, midfielder and attacker are out. Antonio has scored 9 PL goals this season which might put him above Lanzini in the pecking order. Our next match against Hull should be interesting. Both teams are in the top four for goals conceded. Let’s hope we see players return sooner than later.

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

We got our just deserts... Cherries

What a frustrating end to the match. Of course, the defeat is the main thing that we are upset about, but it is the manner in which it came, with Lady Luck teasing us along the way. For instance, I (like many others, no doubt) kept questioning myself as to whether we were going to win or lose this match. The number of changing outcomes (missed penalties, unexpected goals etc) within the match had me frazzled throughout. There were just 48 seconds between Bournemouth’s first missed penalty and West Ham’s opening goal. As it so happens, I briefly spoke to a friend online about the match as it progressed saying we deserved to lose when 2-1 down. So when we equalised, I said I didn’t expect the scoreline to change and was quite happy with the point. Then came my cathartic moment when King wrapped up all three points for the Cherries. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: being a West Ham supporter can’t be good for your health. That is, even excluding Pie and Mash.

How Bournemouth won, in spite of missing two penalties, is beyond me. Bournemouth are the first side to miss two penalties in the first half of a PL game since Aston Villa vs. Wimbledon in September 1998. With our long and proud history dating back to 1895, I can’t imagine that we have lost too many matches in which the opposition have missed more than one penalty in regulation time – answers on a postcard. Fortunately, there is another 1895 creation that we can always depend on when we’re down in the dumps – brunch.

During that time period, post-church meals on Sundays were highly sought-after. But for those nursing a hangover from the previous night’s partying and debauchery, the food on offer wasn’t particularly appetising. This is when a guy by the name of… well, Guy, penned a proposal about a meal that combined both breakfast and lunch – brunch. In it, he advocated a dining option that was lighter than the typical heavy meats and savoury pies typically consumed in place of a variety of pastries and other assorted starch-based foodstuffs. Rather unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for brunch to catch on.

I don’t think I’ve been this riled up watching a match in months. No doubt there were many Hammers drinking away late into the night drowning their sorrows. I think that we can all agree that 1895 was a memorable year for the two aforementioned reasons. Brunch has allowed us to be able to forget about matches that didn’t have a positive outcome. It is manna from the Gods that keeps us going. At the end of the day, it is worth keeping in mind that both creations go hand in hand in providing us warmth and that we should always support the team, much like the away fans did so at Dean Court. Oh, and if you’re opting for pancakes as part of your brunch today, do away with the Cherries. Also, during brunch, the churchgoers spoke about their wild and wacky Saturdays for a great deal of time (in other words, commence the commenting – haha).

Something that I take issue with Bilic is the amount of cronyism in our squad. The most pertinent example I can find is the gaffer backing Noble commenting: “Mark is our captain, he is our skipper and he has done really well recently”. Well, Slav is right about the first two points; not so sure on the latter. Obviously, whether one thinks he is good or not to play is subjective. But for a manager to back his skipper is ridiculous. Bilic and Noble get on very well. There is no need for the manager to create a public debacle where none exists. We only have to read the team sheet and watch the match to know what Slaven really thinks of him. For instance, Noble started in our previous two matches, but was also subbed off in both as well. That informs us that he is quite a valued member.

Cresswell is another player who has not been at the races recently, yet has kept his position in the starting XI. How Masuaku hasn’t been given a chance is beyond me. Just because he is a new signing this season doesn’t mean that he is only there as an injury back-up. As a matter of fact, I’m not so sure how much influence other staff members have on squad selection, but I feel that it is a possible reason why more or less the same players appear. This again is yet another possible form of cronyism. It was blatantly obvious with Big Sam and Kevin Nolan. It is now becoming quite clear between Bilic and Noble. His insistence on playing Lanzini wide and Kouyaté aren’t helping his cause either. On top of that, Ayew scored and Byram assisted having come off the bench – players that really ought to be starting.

That leads me nicely onto my next point. Whilst I didn’t want to have to talk about the manager this much, I feel like I have no choice but to continue. Bilic’s tactical nous, of late, has been atrocious. There is a reason why we have failed to win recently and I feel it bogs down to this. We have dropped 17 points from winning positions this season. Our defence was all over the place. It astounds me just how poorly we are playing with penalties being conceded left, right, and centre. But that isn’t even the main concern. Players are being left unmarked from set-pieces (Obiang with the second goal) with half-hearted defending at times (Fonte against King). In defence, we aren’t playing with a lot of confidence. It is genuinely worrying, as it is reminiscent of the early part of this season. Additionally, Carroll could do with a striking partner (preferably Ayew).

We have failed to get a win from our last four matches. This is a real cause for concern, as three of our next five opponents are in the bottom half. This has huge significance as we have only managed to beat one top half team in the Premier League this season – that was Southampton. Our next few matches against Leicester, Hull and Swansea could have big repercussions, given that we aren’t too far off from the relegation zone ourselves. At the moment, we are on track to get 45 points. You don’t need to be Sam Allardyce to know that is quite close to the drop with many matches to go. It is very probable that at least one of the aforementioned teams will get relegated.

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The David Hautzig Column

David Hautzig's Trip Across the Pond

NOTE FROM ZAMAN: David has managed to write and send his post from a plane – that’s a terrific WHTID first!

David Hautzig and his friend Jonathan Ross at the LS

As a general rule, I am averse to change. It’s not like I’ve moved many times in my life, but the few times I did I found the whole experience to be very stressful. My adventurous spirit disappeared with my hair many years ago. But when we were chasing the Olympic Stadium oh so many years ago, I wanted the move desperately. When we won it, both in the what turned out to be a dry run and then the decision that stuck, I was elated. So yesterday should have felt like the culmination of many years of excitement. And while there were many things about our new home that impressed me, such as seeing Nigel Kahn eat tapas, there were an equal number of things that left me scratching my head.

The day started by going back to where “we” came from. Nigel took my best mate Jon and I on his famous walking tour of Canning Town. It was harder than I expected to see the wrecking crew tear down two rows of the East Stand at Upton Park. But we had a Pie & Mash at BJ’s, and that helped settle the upset of what had just been witnessed. Nathan’s was closed, but Nigel said that despite Nathan’s fame he preferred BJ’s. A pie dough thing apparently. And his son likes it there. I get that.

We then took a tour of the Stadium and spent a little time with Rob Pritchard in the media department. I won’t lie. To have access to and see a bit of what makes the club tick, and then to be treated like a special guest is like living in a dream. Regardless of the result. To those that have taken us in and made us feel a part of the club we love, and you know who you are, I thank you. Hopefully this can continue to be a yearly pilgrimage, as much to see our friends as our club.

I didn’t take notes at the game. In retrospect that was a wise move. While some thought we played reasonably well at times, I simply didn’t see it that way. Yes, we were able to keep possession for stretches. But our play didn’t look to have purpose. We had more of the ball, more shots, and more corners. Yet in the end, regardless of the number of passes we completed, it always seemed to end in a hopeful ball into the box. And that fleeting hope depended on that cross being as accurate as a cruise missile with the target being Andy Carroll and only Andy Carroll. So as much as we wanted him back and in many regards needed him back, that need itself is a bit of a poisoned chalice.

At the risk of being slated for being too negative, I thought there were many more players who had a poor game than had a decent one. Snodgrass looked like the stomach ailment that hampered him at Watford had spread to his feet because all of his deliveries were sh……I won’t finish that. None of his set pieces presented any threat to the league leaders, and it was his pass that Kante intercepted to start the break that led to Hazard’s opener. As my friend Neil Barnett of Chelsea TV (Yes, he’s a friend. A good friend, too. So that’s one bit of abuse I won’t take kindly to) said, West Ham needed someone to take charge after that goal. To organize. To make it clear that the home side wouldn’t lay down. To lead. But that never seemed to happen.

So when Costa scored their second, I doubt more than a handful of West Ham supporters thought there was much of a chance. Maybe if Feghouli had scored on that volley in the box a few minutes later, the one time Courtois was made to work for his wages, it would have been game on. Or if Mariner had pointed at the spot after the ball went off Alonso’s arm. Yet if Randolph hadn’t come up with his big save in the first half and the visitors had buried one of their other chances it would have been moot by halftime. The team that travelled back to West London with three points and likely a league title deserved both.

David & Co in the Royal East Lounge

So now the pink elephant in the room. We came last season to watch us win that memorable FA Cup replay against Liverpool and to bid farewell to Upton Park. This trip was about being introduced to our new home. Those who have suffered through my reports for three years now know how much I love metaphors. They are indeed useful. So here we go again.

There are two houses to choose from. One is a modest but perfectly functional home. Around 2000 square feet. Four bedrooms, so both kids get their own room and you even have a guest room to offer the inlaws when they visit. The kitchen isn’t massive, but everything works and is laid out in a logical way. You have enough bathrooms so teenage daughter fits and issues aren’t a problem. Finally, a two car garage that’s attached to the house.

The other is 5000 square feet. More than you need and then some, with six bedrooms. You do still have to heat those rooms in the winter, despite them being empty virtually all the time. Same goes for the five bathrooms. I guess it’s nice to have them even if they are rarely used. The kitchen has a massive commercial stove. Eight burners, full sized griddle, terrific venting unit above. But it’s on the opposite side of the room from the pots, pans, oils, refrigerator, even running water. Stuff you reach for and need pretty quickly when you’re cooking. The four car garage is also impressive, but it’s on the opposite side of the road from the house. So if it’s raining, snowing, or you have lots to unload into the house it isn’t ideal.

Which house would you choose? Different people will give you a different answer based on their needs and priorities. I won’t say one choice is definitively right or wrong. And while I don’t want to open myself up to ridicule, I also don’t want to avoid what some might be wondering. Which house would I choose?

I’d go with the first one. So if I could travel back in time, knowing the realities as opposed to the desires, I would have stayed at Upton Park and looked for an opportunity to grow with a stadium built for the primary purpose of staging football matches. That does not mean there weren’t legitimate reasons to move to the London Stadium or that the choice itself was wrong. I have no doubt that there are many supporters, including some that I call a friend, who could win a formal debate with me on that question. Nor does it mean that I didn’t enjoy myself. I did, and I will be back.

Life isn’t perfect, nor is our new home. But it must be accepted and eventually embraced. Which I will do.

Change happens.

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Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Another frustrating night

NOTE FROM ZAMAN: I am writing a rather short post tonight to cover for David Hautzig, who will post tomorrow. He made a journey across the pond to watch this match, so it’s the least I can do for him.

I can guarantee posting a short piece before midnight to cover for him, but guaranteeing three points is a bit of a stretch, let alone one. This season, we beat Chelsea in the EFL Cup on my birthday, so I had a slight inkling that we could do the double over them with David’s arrival. It would have made for a nice anecdote as well for the speedy match reviewers with two superb wins – each with huge significance. But in typical Hammers fashion, fortune’s always hiding.

We have conceded at least a goal within the opening half hour of our previous six Premier League matches. Given that Chelsea had drawn their last two away matches, we should have pounced. This was a golden opportunity to show that we are likely to get back-to-back top half finishes, but it wasn’t to be. Top 10 is still on, but I worry against such opposition, given that Tottenham and Liverpool are two of our last three fixtures this season.

Looking back at that first goal, Snodgrass should have crossed in from that position. With Byram subbed on for Reid, it is safe to assume that Slav will put him back into the starting XI. Slav learnt that Antonio wasn’t meant to be RB in the reverse fixture back in August, so I sincerely hope that the gaffer goes with the reverse option opting for Byram.

The second goal came from a corner in which Costa tapped in from close distance with Reid not marking him and miscommunication at the front post between Carroll and Obiang. We were 2-0 having failed to get a single attempt on target! This practically summed us up. We didn’t any attempts on target when we had the chance, In the first half, there was an attempt which Lanzini failed to hit the target… under no pressure from the Chelsea players. I was expecting him to test Courtois, but he completely mishit it. He was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch, but should have finished off that delightful run with the finish to boot.

Ayew has a goal and an assist off the bench in his last two matches. That is why I strongly believe that he should start over Snodgrass against Bournemouth. He lost the ball on far too many occasions and didn’t play particularly well in the previous match either. He also had plenty of opportunities to cross from the flanks when he couldn’t swing it in. It was astonishing to watch. I bet the last order batsmen in a cricket team could swing more than him – unbelievable! Oh, and Antonio in for Feghouli, as he backtracks more than him.

I couldn’t have promised David three points, but a goal from Lanzini – yes. Lanzini has scored in eight of his dozen PL London derby appearances with eight goals. It took a while, but the Jewel sparkled. There was a glimmer (see what I did there?) of hope at the end, but it wasn’t to be. You have to say that a 2-1 defeat is a much more flattering scoreline than our performance suggested.

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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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