Talking Point

No Humble pie from Delia Smith

Equaliser 2-2 vs NOR Upton Park 2015

Our match at the King Power Stadium in the English League Cup wasn’t in any way ordinary. Both teams were on top form going into the match. The Foxes played very well in their two recent league fixtures to come from 2-0 down in the second half to beat the Villans 3-2 and to draw 2-2 at the Britannia from 2-0 down – that is easier said than done for the Tinkerman. We have added another few pages to the record books beating Arsenal, Liverpool, and City as well as playing more players than any other Premier League team this season. I could speak in prose for the entire duration of the post about the way the two teams have been playing in the league. Six games into the league, we could have expected a few changes from Super Slav like Big Sam did to success getting us to the semi-finals last year.

Unfortunately, he went all out with the quality on show only keeping Reid, Kouyaté and Payet on the bench with Sakho not included. Contrast this with Ranieri who made considerably more changes than us. Bilic said that British teams treat the UEFA Champions League and Europa League as a punishment rather than a reward – the insightful Croat isn’t wrong. Why go all out knowing you have to play in the most competitive league in a matter of days? This is clearly a passionate response to top-flight team mentality. From that, I feel Bilic genuinely believes that almost all fixtures are of vital importance. He played a meagre side in the Europa League funnily enough, though the blatant reasoning behind that is he wanted to keep a fully fit first team to try and beat Arsenal.

Sky Sports Infographic on Changes

The Canaries have made a pretty good start back in the big time with a well-earned draw at Anfield and a 3-0 win against West Brom. Norwich were definitely going to try and make a strong start given our performance against the “lesser teams.” They certainly played well, as this matches was more than just a tale of two keepers. Nonetheless, Adrián and John Ruddy were fantastic. They kept their respective teams in the game throughout with Adrián saving one with his face! The only pertinent error from the two goalkeepers came from Ruddy who should have caught the in-swinging ball in added time from a side that has conceded many goals from set pieces this season. Norwich haven’t won at Upton Park since 1989. Without Kouyaté’s goal, the Canaries would have got their first win in London in 14 league matches, and our first defeat in 4 matches. Noble was to blame for the loss today though he is not the first player to scorn this season. He was definitely to blame for the first goal, but the others should have been marking the Norwich players instead of standing in the box for the second goal.

Furthermore, that defeat would have given food for thought for Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland. Now, I know that Sunderland haven’t won any of their seven league matches but whose to say Sunderland can’t overcome us in a shock result. We have lost to Leicester City and Bournemouth at home this season, so anything is possible. Like the gaffer says, “There is nothing wrong in gaining confidence … but they [the players] should never forget what they need to do out on the pitch.” A single point against the Foxes, Cherries and Canaries suggests that we are not going into the match with the right mentality. We know we are better than these teams though regardless of form, but we need to translate that into points. These bizarre trend will probably go unnoticed by most sports pundits, since they only look at the table, even though they try to reassure us they don’t look at the start of the season. Both Tyne and Wear teams are in the relegation zone with Newcastle almost defeating Chelsea on SNF.

We have much more to learn about Bilic’s long term plans. Sam Allardyce was very vocal just like the incumbent manager. On the contrary, Big Sam divided the season by points targets. It is fair to say that didn’t work out for the latter half last season and the former half of the season before that. Super Slav hasn’t made any mention of his managerial tactics unless he wants to avoid adhering to over-simplistic strategies that have very little impact on the season. The Croat comes off as a tad shy, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good manager.

You don’t have to be a Mourinho to be a superstar manager. For me, Pellegrini and Koeman get good publicity with proper football and the right moves. Koeman’s side defeated Swansea 3-1, but said his side can play better. There is no evidence to suggest that Bilic can’t follow them, as he doesn’t get easily carried away either. We are in 3rd as the highest side to not be from Manchester. I hope that the players keep up their work rates in training preparing for Sunderland. They have been fabulous, although I hope that they don’t get carried away. Kouyaté and Reid have gone just a bit under the radar, which is only good for us. The best players are the ones who stand out, but cannot be stopped, in spite of their noticeable tendencies.

Talking Point

Wins at The Emirates, Anfield and The Etihad

Note from Iain: This is Zaman Siddiqui’s first post for the site. He will be writing a regular Sunday column. Please make him welcome

Glancing at the fixture list before the start of the season, not many would’ve backed us to finish within the top half after six games. The highest position we can finish at the end of Week 6 is 2nd, whilst the lowest position we can end in is 4th. Slaven Bilic will be most pleased with the stunning away victories, not least because no team in the last ten years has won at the Emirates, Anfield and Etihad in the same season. What will stun most is that the only two goals conceded by Manchester City this season have been scored by us. It’s safe to say that not many could have expected City to go under the Hammer: most bookmakers were very optimistic the Citizens would win this match comfortably. We have broken so many records recently that I can almost envisage David Gold do a Delia Smith next week against the Canaries.

There were some similarities that were playing on my mind before the match between this evening’s match and the one played at Upton Park in October. Firstly, Manchester City had to play midweek against CSKA Moscow – they drew 2-2. This meant that City were mentally fatigued, as they didn’t get an expected win, and had another match short after. This gave us a psychological boost, as we didn’t expect City to be on top form. We ended up as the victors that day with a 2-1 victory. The Sky Blues lost to Juventus 2-1 midweek, much to City’s dismay, given their fabulous league record. A small air of confidence, a feeling of debonair if you will, must have been throughout the West Ham camp, though we know we can’t rest on our laurels. Secondly, we won our last two games before playing City winning a third, so form was building. Likewise, our form has been strong winning our previous two matches against Liverpool and Newcastle. We needed sheer determination and enthusiasm within our squad if we were to win. Thankfully, we only needed to look back at our matches this season under Bilic to find a source of inspiration. Even as I write, I have a feeling we will be high-flyers for at least the first half of the season.

Both clubs have spent quite a lot of money by their standards to try and reach their targets. City have bought the two most expensive players who are currently playing in the BPL (Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling), as well as the two most expensive CB’s in Otamendi and Mangala. The squad rotation they have is amongst the best in the league with quality and quantity. The term “Squad Rotation” didn’t have much meaning in the Sam Allardyce era (unless you remember that 5-0 thrashing against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup with those youngsters). With the acquisitions of Obiang, Payet, Ogbonna, Lanzini, and the foursome we signed on Deadline Day which had Jim White in hysterics as ever, we can alter our style of play to be able to deal with injuries more proficiently. The recruitment as ever has been amazing this season. Bilic didn’t think we would have been able to sign Payet, not to mention Lanzini and Obiang who are 22 and 23 respectively with bags of potential.

Going into the match, Payet was unsurprisingly the 5th best in the league, with Kouyate in second position for the club according to the BPL Player Performance Index. A Kouyate injury was most unwelcome news considering we have never won at the Ethiad Stadium in the Premier League. The Senegalese midfielder was allegedly approached with a £15M bid from Daniel Levy after missing out on Victor Wanyama. Obiang was a good replacement for him. David Silva injured himself during warm-up, which prompted the return of Jesús Navas back in. This was one of the reasons why the Citizens weren’t able to perform at their best: Navas was the worst player in the box, failing to create any good chances. Silva scored a wonderful goal in the box last season turning and scoring from a fairly tight angle back at Upton Park. His inclusion ensured an easier match. Nonetheless, nothing better than our best would have won us the game this evening. Having Adrián back in the squad was of massive importance, as City were bound to score and get a few one-on-one’s which he dealt with like a fierce lion. All the plaudits shouldn’t go the Spaniard, as Reid kept a solid line of defence. There were a few fortunate ricochets and admirable clearances which slowed Man City down to regroup. The pick of the lot was a one-handed punch away from Adrián in the dying embers of the game. Pellegrini said his side played “too fast” at times. He is not wrong: City had by far most of the possession. They should have utilised it much better. Our 4 wins have come in the matches with very little possession.

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