Guest Post

Ivan Perisic: the man that Slav made

Guest post by Aleksandar Babac

NOTE FROM ZAMAN: The author writes from a Croatian perspective on the potential signing of Ivan Perisic. He is also the creator of the largest West Ham-based Croatian Facebook page.

“I was very honoured when Slaven Bilic called me for my first international duty with the Croatian national team – it was just a month after my 22nd birthday. A month later, for my second cap, Slaven put me into the starting XI for a friendly against France. Slaven showed me that he counted on me and I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.”

With those chosen words, Ivan Perisic, the world class Inter Milan left-winger, spoke about Slaven Bilic. Croatian fans and newspapers are absolutely delighted about the possibility that Slaven could line up an ambitious move for the experienced 27 year-old, who could become only the sixth Croat in the Claret and Blue jersey. He will take the place of Payet.

However, in the last few days, media from Croatia, France, and Spain have said that the move is very unlikely to take place. Internazionale Milano must sell some players in accordance with Financial Fair Play rules, and they are ready to sacrifice Ivan Perisic on whom they have already put a price tag of €40M.

But just who is Ivan Perisic? Well, he is one of the best Croatian players at the moment and is a star for Inter. This fast, powerful, and skillful left winger is very strong in aerial duels. On top of that, he is good on both feet.

Ivan was born in Split (the second-largest city of Croatia) and started his youth career in Hajduk Split… just like our very own Slav! He was just 17 when he moved to Sochaux in Ligue 1. Four years later in 2011, he was the top league scorer playing for Club Brugge at the time, and received the best player award in the Belgian Jupiler League.

After Slaven’s call to the Croatian National team, Ivan established himself as irreplaceable member of the Croatian team earning 55 caps and scoring 16 goals. Under Slaven’s command, Ivan participated at EURO 2012 playing in the group matches. Scoring six goals in the EURO 2016 qualifying round, Perisic become Croatia’s top scorer in qualification adding two more in the tournament, which included the winner against Spain.

Bilic actually “invented” Ivan Perisic, and there is a strong bond between them. Ivan’s style of play is the product of Hajduk’s youth academy which he joined in 2000. At the time, Slaven was the manager of the club. Croatian fans simply adore Ivan Perisic, as well as Slav! In 2014, Croatian supporters officially gave him the Vatrena Krila – an award for the “Best and Biggest Hearted Player”. In the same year, Slaven won the lifetime achievement award.

But it is not just Croatian fans who adore him. He is often booked for his rather passionate goal celebrations with the fans… and keep in mind he scores a lot of goals, so the cards do pile up! During his eight seasons spent at Clubb Brugge, Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg, and Inter Milan, he has scored 72 league goals in 235 matches, which statistically makes him more effective than the money-grabbing snake.

Whilst the chances of us actually signing him are slim to none, there is a sense of optimism here that Slaven will do all he possibly can to bring Perisic to the East End of London. George Dobson will have to make way with his no. 44 shirt for the new marquee signing!

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Riveting match at the Riverside!

POSITION UPDATE: We end the matchweek in 10th following Burnley’s 2-1 loss to Arsenal. Jonathan Moss gave two penalties in added time (7 minutes) to both teams – which they converted. On top of that, a red card was given to Granit Xhaka. Mike Dean has got some competition!

Aitor Karanka’s side have struggled to score of late. Prior to this match, Middlesbrough failed to score in five of their last seven Premier League matches. It doesn’t get much better for them at home: the Riverside has seen the least number of goals of any PL venue. No doubt the Boro fans were exasperated at half-time, as they saw their team trailing once more. If the comedy duo Vic and Bob were in attendance at the match with the latter frustrated, they probably weren’t doing one of their famous bits. As a devoted comedian, Mortimer must have thought to himself he should attend more matches to make his sketches look more natural. Cheaper than acting classes this!

Tell you what, the Boro manager could have asked for a frying pan from the Yorkshire comedians at the end of the match. They had the majority of possession, but failed to create any clear-cut chances when they were behind for the second time. They delivered 27 cross into the box, making use of only one. If they chose to spread the ball a bit more or try something less predictable, such as a move without Adama Traoré dribbling, then they could have got a second equaliser.

The second-most number of dribbles made by a player was two. Traoré topped the lot with 11! I don’t think I’ve seen that many in a match against us this season. His former manager Tim Sherwood compared him to both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, saying he had “a bit” of both. However, some have suggested that he doesn’t have much of a footballing brain, and can sometimes do too many things on his own. Then again, he is only 20! I’m sure he will improve over time. The only other Boro player I can praise is Calum Chambers. Everyone else didn’t play particularly well. Turns out Vic and Bob aren’t the only ones in Middlesbrough who can do some serious damage with hammers!

It has taken us 22 matches to win a match in which we have had to regain the lead. When the Smoggies scored the equaliser, I was worried. With a lack of resilience this season, it was difficult to think of anything better than a draw. Do you remember how many times we lost the lead early on in matches last season, and then had to go for an almighty scramble to get a draw at the very least. One of the more notable matches was a 3-2 win over Everton, having been 2-0 down. The goal that won it came from the delightful French magician snake that is Dimitri Payet. Hiss! Once the snake is back in his natural French habitat, his stings won’t be as venomous.

Last week, I spoke about how our attacking players stepped up. I hate to repeat myself in my match reviews, but I have to give credit when credit is due. There were rumours of Feghouli moving to Roma. Thankfully, the Algerian has decided to buckle down and work for his place in the team. With his recent performances, he certainly deserves it.

There is no doubt Slav has a good relationship with his players, be they fringe or starting XI. Personally, when I read about what Slav was like, prior to his arrival at the club, I was certain that he was a man of morals. I picked out a snippet in which he identified as a socialist. In fact, he went as far to say he created a “socialist team”. Now, I have the same view as Friedrich Hayek on that matter, but I interpreted his comment as saying that he didn’t want players who played for themselves. The team may be made up of individuals, but they need to play as a team.

As a bit of a Lanzini fanboy myself, I used to think that he was extremely underrated. He was in Payet’s shadow. Kevin Nolan hit the nail on the head (as ever) when he said that Manuel was an “unsung gem” back in March. I have always felt the same way. When Payet was injured for a few months in that match against Everton, I felt that there was far too much pressure on Lanzini at the time. Sure, he is good, but he is nowhere near as experienced as Dimitri! He did well last season, yet didn’t receive much admiration. Now that Payet is out of the side, the Argentine can finally receive the attention he deserves.

In the last match, Antonio got a hat-trick of assists. In this one, Lanzini gets a brace of assists. Manu assisted two goals for the first time in a Premier League game, and created the most chances of any player on the pitch. Read that last sentence back substituting Payet for Lanzini, and you’ll find that it sounds like something the Frenchman would have done early on last season. That is the point. It is as if Lanzini has finally started his West Ham career. We can finally see him for who he is rather than just Payet’s creative teammate.

Andy Carroll is the other player to receive plaudits. He has scored four goals in his last five matches. His presence in defence encapsulates the determination of the team. Feghouli did well to track back as well, so glory was really the last thing on their minds. We have won 75% of our PL games without Dimitri Payet this season (3/4), and only 28% with him (5/18).

Our win against Boro came as no surprise to us – only to the bookies. Though, I am going to be harsh on us. I feel that we should have scored a few more. I have no idea how Middlesbrough have conceded so few goals this season, but they had only won once in their last seven matches. It was the same against Swansea. We had to score plenty of goals, as it wasn’t difficult against a team conceding left, right, and centre at that time. Antonio had a great chance in the first half, and Lanzini in the second. It is clear that we need another striker option. Scott Hogan is still on the cards. Also, if we could sell Payet and get either Sigurdsson or break the bank for Croat Ivan Perisic, that would be swell.

Bilic admitted in his post-match interview that Ogbonna was carrying an injury for about a fortnight. The manager took the risk and it didn’t end well. First of all, this explains why Ogbonna had not been at the races lately, and secondly, that Fonte was likely signed as a replacement for the Italian beforehand. It is a real shame to see such a talented player get injured for the remainder of the season. He will have knee surgery as part of his long-term recovery plan. I hope that he gets well soon.

We are currently on a rich vein of form, though we can’t afford to go a losing streak. Southampton are on one, having lost their last four games in a row (prior to their match against Leicester). They were 7th in the table, and are now 13th (at the time of writing). The Premier League can be very unpredictable at times like these. Sometimes, it is easy as predicting Joey Barton getting a misconduct charge from the FA or a David Gold gaffe. Our next three matches are against Man City, Southampton, and West Brom. We have done well against mediocre teams over the past two months, but now we need to ensure our status in the top half by winning against tougher opposition.

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Nothing languid from Lanzini

We haven’t had it easy this season moving into our new home with relegation a possibility. Just when 2017 was starting to look brighter, Payet requested a move elsewhere. With our star man out, we had to show everyone that we are not a one-man team. We needed something going into this match and we got it: a gem was unearthed and polished ready for the game.

Enter Manuel Lanzini. The Jewel had a reputation to uphold of scoring in crucial matches. In May 2013, he scored in the Superclásico derby after just 43 seconds against the Boca Juniors. He is still remembered by the River Plate fans for that moment of magic. No stranger to a difficult climate having played for al-Jazira with Summer temperatures of 45C, he delivered in the way only an Argentinean legend could.

Having scored into an open net, he went and jumped into the crowd who embraced the new legend in the making. What a way it was to assert his position at the top! Manu has scored a goal in each of his four PL appearances against Crystal Palace; double the amount he’s scored against any other PL club. It was reminiscent of Tevez scoring his first goal against Tottenham, as yet another Argentine ran into the crowd scoring in a derby.

He has been left out of the starting XI on a few occasions, however Lanzini knew the importance of playing, regardless of whether it was his preferred position or not, as he took on more defensive roles. Even Antonio got the message, as he has been directly involved in more Premier League goals than any other West Ham player this season – 11 (eight goals, three assists). It is important that our current players take initiative in light of recent events.

Slaven has the full support of the club and fans alike, as he has handled the situation terrifically. When Payet revealed his true intentions of leaving, it was seen as a sign of betrayal. Why was he not upfront when Slav had asked him a few days before when he had the chance? The manager has handled the situation very well. Despite what was happening, he even invited Sam for “a glass of wine after the game whatever the result.” He probably didn’t want to appear disrespectful, so didn’t say pint of wine, though that’s probably what Big Sam ordered. That’s our Slav! He can read the situation well.

Bilic was right to have a meeting to discuss things with Payet. You don’t even need to have any affiliations with the club or watch the matches to know that Payet is unhappy. His last Instagram post of him in a West Ham shirt was back in October! It is no surprise that Payet wants to leave. He hasn’t even seemed that bothered this season. In 2010, while with Saint-Etienne, he was accused of showing a lack of aggression by teammate Yohan Benalouane. When team captain Blaise Matuidi suggested the same thing, the pair had to be separated.

The following year, when his club said he could not move to PSG, he refused to turn up for training and was demoted to the reserves. The Frenchman hasn’t changed at all. He may have the talent, but that is the only reason why he has been tolerated. I’m afraid it will take a lot more than a free kick for his standing at the club to change. At the moment, Payet says he has a bad back to avoid being docked wages. With a move to the wealthy Chinese Super League the second-likeliest transfer according to the bookies, it is clear what Payet has his heart set on.

The first half was very nervy with both sides struggling to get a foothold of the match. Even though we have more than enough quality to beat Palace, we were under a bit of a malaise as we hadn’t played without Payet for quite some time. The expectation was immense. But some of our players were really up for it. Carroll’s passing was simply unreal, and he also did well in the air. Lanzini was getting constantly fouled whenever he was looking dangerous. So far, we didn’t look too different without Payet, as Lanzini stepped up. We didn’t pose much of an attacking threat, but neither did Palace.

Tomkins had the best chance of the game so far, but dragged his shot wide from close range. It reminded me of when we comfortably scored against Rob Green when we played for QPR a few seasons ago or like when Paul Koschesky’s poor backpass was intercepted by Carroll who scored. Wins on those days was a good sign watching this match. At HT, it was goalless.

Now, Slav must have had an awful lot of pressure on him during that HT team talk. We will never know what was said, but it was the unheard harbinger that massively eased everyone around the club. It has given us tremendous belief that we can turn it around. I think Carroll says it best: “No player is bigger than the club. We showed that today and came together as a team to get a result.” Truer words were never spoken. If it’s Dimitri, then just make the la-la sound. Turn it into a sing-song tune to annoy him as well. Our enhanced Dimi chant is catching up as well.

There were several good performances out there. Given that most of us were closely examining the attacking players (as we played without one of our top creators – had to be said), it is wonderful to see our most attacking players all play a part in those goals. For all three of them to score (Carroll, Feghouli, and Lanzini) showed that they wanted to desperately win this. Even when we were 1-0 up, we still put a bit of emphasis on attacking… and it worked! The big man Andy Carroll could have headed the goal in. But what’s the fun in that? Palace have conceded too many worldies. Dele Alli, Andy Carroll, a move with over 20 passes with Lanzini scoring, and a good free-kick from a garcon mauvais (that’s French for “bad boy”) have scored them. We went from losing 5-0 at home to winning 3-0! That is easier said than done.

A special mention has to go to Michail Antonio. He deserved to show off another 90’s celebration, but got three assists instead. He is the first West Ham player to provide three assists in a Premier League game since Paolo Di Canio vs Coventry in April 2000. Cult hero. Now just don’t go all political like Paolo did with his fascism, and turn into Mikhail Gorbachev. Then, we’ll have no reason to doubt you. At the moment, he is quickly turning into Mr. West Ham. Sure, he came from Tooting & Mitcham in South London, but he rejected Spurs. That’s our man!

Finally, we have to sign a striker sooner or later. It is worth keeping in mind that spending a lot of money is not necessarily the answer. Palace spent £32.5M to get Benteke, but he was missing in the match. He even missed a penalty against us in the reverse fixture. At the time, we thought that it was a good buy from them. But given the fact that he has only scored eight goals in the league so far this season, you have to be smarter then that. Given our record of Championship purchases, we need to keep spending there until one of them flops, then we’ll know that our luck has changed. We can expect a draw at the very least against Boro given that they have failed to score in five of their last seven Premier League games, recording just one win in that period. But it is all about the three points to be quite frank.

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

West Ham 0 - Officials 2

UPDATE: We end the matchweek in 13th following Stoke’s 2-0 win over Watford. Also, Mike Phelan has been sacked as Head Coach of Hull, and Paul Clement has been appointed manager of Swansea.

A red card and a goal given that was offside: these are two decisions that the officials made that cost us the match. Man United are currently on a run of seven straight wins, so beating them was going to be a Herculean task. Suffice to say we failed to score, as an attacking player was sent off in the opening quarter of an hour. But this isn’t about which team should have won on balance. This is about officiating the game in the right manner, so that both teams have control over their own destinies.

If it was just Mike Dean who made a mistake, then it wouldn’t be much of an issue. But given that the linesman gave United a 2-0 lead with not one, not two, but three players offside is just unspeakable! The officials were struggling to get a grip over the match to such an extent that they were more like the unofficials. Gary Neville alluded to it early on in the second half when the referee was a bit hesitant on a few decisions.

I have honestly never seen a referee lose that much control of a match that he has to say: “Don’t look at me again, otherwise you won’t be playing again.”! The player he was speaking to was Pedro Obiang. Despite what he said, I bet there was an inner part of Mike Dean hoping for stares and glares from the highest attendance our club has ever had. After all, it was the Mike Dean show! He gave the last red card of 2016, and now has the honour of giving away the first red card of 2017. Yep, he was lucky, that’s all. Nothing dodgy going on there.

You know we have been undone when the Match of the Day pundits are siding with us. The referee will be at the front of various sporting newspaper columns following his atrocious display at the London Stadium. I know – an official has out-done us! Dean is the poster boy looking forward to his new-found notoriety. Prior to his meet-up with the refs, his nickname was Deano. Now, he’s going to have to tell them that it’s now Beano. Who else could glorify immoral behaviour better than him? He’s the front runner this calendar year.

Fair play to our team for not losing their temper over the ref’s shoddy performance. Obiang, Ogbonna, Cresswell, and Nordtveit went over and shook Mike Dean’s hand at full time. Additionally, Slav kept his cool in his post-match interview. Imagine if Mourinho was in Slav’s boots? He would have been given a touchline ban, that’s for sure.

Now, it is too easy to put down the loss to poor officiating decisions. Given the chances we had, we should have scored. Then again, it all boils down to the matter of the month – signing a striker. Antonio had two great chances including a one-on-one with de Gea. Instead of taking his time with the latter opportunity dribbling further like a proper striker would do in his position, he took his shot straight away. If that wasn’t infuriating enough, he shot it right at the keeper!

As good as Antonio’s goal tally is, there is simply no way that he can play up front. He doesn’t have the instincts of a striker, as we have witnessed before. Sure he gets a lot of headed goals much like Carroll does, but that does not make him a striker. We need to sign a top striker, otherwise we will struggle to score. We have been very fortunate with contributions from Payet and Antonio, but they won’t last. Antonio is a better creative outlet than a striker, and once we put him back in his native position, we can expect to see more goals. This is the first time we have lost consecutive PL matches without scoring for the first time under Slaven Bilic, so now is as good a time as any to sign a striker.

Lanzini played very well for us getting forward leading the team well in a more advanced attacking role. He orchestrated many attacks, and wasn’t afraid to change it around by going it on his own. He has certainly stepped up for us playing in a central midfield role when needed. We lost the midfield battle in this match, though things could have been very different had Feghouli not been sent off.

At the end of the day, we can’t be too downhearted with the defeat, but we also can’t take this match as a one-off. Just because we were on the wrong end of a decision doesn’t mean we couldn’t have scored first. With two-thirds of regulation time played out, we had more shots on target than our opponents. We should have capitalised when we had the chances. Man United were 1-0 down to Boro in their previous match, yet scored two late goals in the 85th and 86th minutes to win – a tribute to the Sir Alex style of play. We should follow their example by trying to play with a bit of attacking flair like we did last season, and try and replicate our earlier successes.

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Special year comes to an end

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a Happy New Year!

Both teams have had magical seasons to remember. Leicester won the title, despite being underdogs at 5000/1, and we finished 7th. Oh, and Millwall are still in League 1. Whilst we didn’t get the end-of-the-year finish we wanted with a place in the top half, both teams will see this year as a turning point in their clubs’ respective histories. The duo have witnessed sporting spectacles with Premier League football finally back on the cards for the Foxes, and a new vision of the club for us with the move to the London Stadium.

Last season, Gary Lineker said that he would present the first episode of the new series of MOTD in his undies. As his disciplinary record on the pitch suggests, he was true to his word. That said, he may struggle to keep his new promise if Leicester end up retaining the title. He has delved into politics on Twitter, but this may be the most questionable thing he has ever tweeted: Lineker vowed he would do the first episode of next season naked, standing on his head, while Shearer and Wright beat him with a stick! If Leicester somehow end up winning the title again, it will definitely be another 1990 moment for the presenter.

Both managers know that in order to continually improve on their teams’ successes, they need to finish well within the top half. Like players, managers learn from experience. Bilic made the severe mistake of not signing a proper striker; Ranieri sold Kanté to Chelsea, and did not get a midfield replacement. They’ve had to learn the hard way that they can’t put too much pressure on just a single aspect of play.

By contrast, Southampton and Everton have done a better job with their transition periods. They have sold players they can afford to sell. Both of them have a good balance of youth, and know that you have to finish in the top 7 if you are to challenge the top teams. Stoke have finished 9th for the past three seasons, yet are currently below us in 14th. You simply can’t rely on a win at the end of the season in order to narrowly finish in the top half. Southampton didn’t make a good start to the previous season lagging behind in 16th after their first six games, but they turned it around finishing in 6th. Even this season, they had to wait until the fifth match to get their first win – the Saints are currently 9th. That is the sort of resilience both we and Leicester need to develop going into the new year.

With four goals scored in our previous match against Swansea, you would be forgiven for thinking that we were going to score again. We had scored in our last eight matches, whilst Leicester had failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 11 matches. They sound like stats a bookie would use to convince you to bet on West Ham scoring. To be fair, I certainly would have taken a punt on that. The likelihood of the Foxes keeping a clean sheet were as likely as Leicester’s favourite son Gary Lineker keeping one! Joking aside, whatever view you may have of Gary, he is still an influential ex-footballer with a lot of passion. His interview with the FT is definitely worth a read.

Last season, we failed to win four consecutive league matches, so if we were to do so with a win against Leicester, it would have been huge. Something that I feel we are going to have to try and replicate this season is to play counter-attacking football. Our defence is rock solid with Reid at the heart of it, but we need to be able to absorb some pressure from the opponents and then exert it back on them by creating opportunities for each other. Our creative outlets are good with Payet and Lanzini, with the latter getting an inch-perfect lofted ball for Carroll only a few minutes after being subbed on. However, in spite of more urgency going forward, we are too stagnant in defence at times, failing to clear our lines.

Leicester had far too much time and space on the ball in the first half. Slimani hit the post in the fourth minute with a header – that was a huge let-off. Four of Leicester’s last five league goals on home soil have come in the 20th minute or earlier. Soon after, we should have been defending with much improved marking. Unfortunately, Payet didn’t mark Albrighton whatsoever, who got the assist. It shouldn’t have been particularly difficult either. There was nothing sly about the Foxes’ goal. Slimani hit the post earlier, so it would’ve made sense if we were marking him. The Algerian striker got a second heading chance, and he took it with a massive thumping header that Randolph couldn’t deal with. 15 of his last 33 league goals have now come from headers.

The post was the MOTM against Hull City, however it didn’t look upon us too favourably this time round. Sure, it stopped Slimani once, but Antonio should have got yet another headed goal in this match. Him and Tim Cahill now both hold the record for the most amount of headed goals in a calendar year with 11. Shame his effort wasn’t helped on by the post.

We had a whopping 25 shots, and only had five on target. By comparison, Leicester had a dozen shots with four on target. In the second half, we were pressing well, but we didn’t get into areas where we could have scored often enough. Leicester blocked 10 of our shots, as well as making several clearances. This is evocative of some of our most recent wins. The teams that we beat had no cutting edge, and as such, were easier to defend against. In our match against Swansea, both sides had 14 shots and seven on target, yet we won 4-1. That is partly down to Swansea failing to create enough clear-cut chances relative to their shots. We couldn’t even create a single clear-cut chance, despite dominating possession and having more than double the number of shots of Leicester City.

This season, we desperately need to spend big bucks on a new striker. The January transfer window is renown for being over-priced, but that is the risk the board took when they allowed the signing of Ayew. In fact, they had a heavy influence on it. We can’t play hoofball with Carroll as our only attacking style. At the moment, most of our strikers are either very inexperienced or unfit. If we don’t improve our current attacking options, we could end the season in mid-table.

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