Crystal Palace 0-1 West Ham: So that’s what winning feels like.

After another lacklustre home performance last week, which saw Dimitri Payet once again save us from embarrassment with a ‘goal of the season’ contender against Middlesborough, West Ham fans were understandably pessimistic about our chances against an in-form Palace side. With our London rivals hoping to make it 6 games unbeaten, I was extremely worried about our chances of getting a result, especially with the powerhouse Christian Benteke up against our fragile and unconfident defence. However, 5 minutes into the game, and it was clear West Ham were extremely keen to take the game to Palace and turn things around. The West Ham faithful were no doubt delighted to see Aaron Cresswell return from injury, and right from kick off showed exactly why he is so pivotal to the shape and balance of the team. In every article this season, I have been incredibly critical of West Ham’s poor start to a game, however, this time, something clicked. As soon as the first whistle blew, West Ham were on the front foot. Getting it wide when possible to the wing backs of Cresswell and Antonio, who surged forwards looking to get balls into the box and create intricate build up with Payet and Lanzini. Setting up in a 3-4-3, it was clear West Ham were dominating the midfield areas, pressing Palace’s defence deep into their half, and when losing possession; battling from the front to win it back. Zaza at times looking like a man possessed in winning the ball back. Very impressive to see. Finally, in the 19th minute the Hammers unrelenting pressure was rewarded. A nice piece of skill from Payet took two Palace defenders out of position, laying it off to Cresswell who provided an inch perfect pass across the box to Lanzini, who cutely opened up his body and placed the fizzing ball into the open net and giving West Ham a thoroughly deserving lead. 1-0. Despite Palace’s persistence to get balls into the box during the first half, West Ham seemed comfortable in dealing with the danger. It looked too good to be true, and sadly, it was. Right on the stroke of half time, Ogbonna looked to clear a loose ball on the edge of the box, only to collide with Benteke sending him crashing to the ground, and giving the referee no option but to award a penalty kick. It seemed so typical that he would score against us. Particularly as we had dodged the opportunity to sign him over the summer. However, much to the delight of the away support, Benteke blazed the ball over the net, and left the Palace fans mortified. It honestly reminded me of the first time I attempted a penalty on the new Fifa 17 system. Just terrible.

The second half seemed to be much of the same. Palace continued to pump balls into the box for Benteke, but Reid and Kouyate were dominant in the air and constantly dealt with the unrelenting danger. It seemed to be all going so well. But West Ham never do it the easy way. 74 minutes in saw Cresswell cut inside the Palace box, and with a swift piece of footwork, was clearly brought down by Cabaye. The referee however, deemed it as a dive and decided to award the West Ham left back a yellow card. Without question a ludicrous decision, as it was clearly a penalty, and could have allowed us to close the game out with 15 minutes to go. It didn’t get much better for the Hammers, as the ball was quickly cleared up to Wilfried Zaha on the right hand side. With a burst of pace, he tried to sprint past Cresswell, but to no avail, slipping in the process on the wet surface and sent tumbling to the ground. In 99% of cases this wouldn’t have been considered a foul, let alone a yellow. The referee called it as a foul, but as he began walking over to the linesman it was clear he had other ideas, encouraging the referee to award a yellow card, which of course, he did. Unjustly treated, West Ham were now down to 10 men with 15 minutes to go away from home. A position they did not want to find themselves in, especially after the poor defensive performances this season. Nordveit, Calleri and Fernandes all came on for Lanzini, Zaza and Payet providing fresh legs to an already tired yet persistent West Ham side. With hearts in mouths and blood pressure rising for Hammers fans up and down the country, West Ham showed signs of last season’s defensive dominance, demonstrating incredible resilience and fight to keep Palace at bay. An exceptional save from Adrian against a powerful Connor Wickham header topped off a fantastic all round performance from West Ham giving them a deserved 3 points and their first win away of the season. West Ham fans were understandably ecstatic and the celebrations with the players were a joy to see. At last, our team is back and we finally look up for the fight.

For me, these were the key talking points after the game:

  1. 3-5-2 works: Bilic has been no stranger to tinkering his formation this season. But it may have finally paid off. In my last article, I spoke about Bilic’s lack of a Plan B option, but when you start on the front foot like we did in this fixture, there is no need. It was great to see Kouyate, Obieng and Noble in the same team, and I thought the back three were solid and Obieng once again gave cover to allow Noble to press forward and help out with his passing ability when in attack. Payet and Antonio have looked stifled and isolated in previous games on the wing, but giving Payet freedom to roam with Lanzini, consistently helped to create space for the wing backs in Cresswell and Antonio. This also helped Zaza to get more involved in the game, and use his strength to hold up the ball and create space for the wingers. It was a very balanced and stable line up that showed the determination and passion of last season. I hope Bilic sticks with it for our upcoming fixture against Sunderland.
  2. Oh, how we’ve missed Cresswell: I think it’s fair to say that all West Ham fans have been looking forward to the return of Cresswell, not only blessed with an incredible left foot that is so dangerous when used going forwards, but his positional play and consistency in tackling show how much our defence have missed him. It was a superbly placed cross for the assist and I am sure we will be seeing more of that ability across the season. No question that both of his yellow cards were utterly ridiculous, and it seems incredibly unfair that we will miss him for another must win game against Sunderland. But for now, we can all take a huge amount of joy that he is back, match fit and ready to tear up the left hand side of the pitch.
  3. Solid defence: There is no getting away from how poorly we have defended this season. It has looked utterly shambolic at the back and I was fearing the worst for our back 3 against the powerful and dominant Benteke. However, they dug deep to produce a solid and commanding performance for the entire 90 minutes. I was so impressed with how well they communicated and organised, especially during deep crosses and dead ball situations. Winston Reid looked back to his absolute best and it was fantastic to see him throwing himself in front of shots. Ogbonna and Kouyate also showed glimpses of last season’s form, and really put their bodies on the line to grind out the result. Any fan who was questioning how much they care have well and truly had their question answered. Hopefully the start of a successful partnership.
  4. Zaza shows promising signs: For a man who has an illusive appearance clause hanging over his head, Zaza looked like a man who had something to prove in this game. I’ve been doubtful about him up until now, but I can honestly say I have never seen a striker work so hard. He pressed from the front, threw himself into tackles, tracked back beyond our own box. Quite simply, he looked like a man possessed at times and his passion has totally won me over. His reaction at full time, celebrating and throwing his shirt into the crowd, really highlights his determination to succeed at West Ham and I think the only thing he needs to add is a goal. His confidence should be high after that game, but when faced with the opportunity to shoot, he always takes an extra touch. Sunderland is a big opportunity for him to grab a goal, as despite being incredibly impressed with him, there is no justifying £18 million on a  striker who can’t find the net.
  5. Obieng superb again: Considering we were linked with selling this man in the summer, I think every fan can breathe a sigh of relief that we didn’t. Mainly used for Europa and Cup tournaments, Obieng has forced his way into the team by sheer graft and there is no way he’s being dropped any time soon. He is pure class. Calm, comfortable and confident on the ball, he really sets the pace of the game, also giving solid cover to our defensive line, allowing Noble to roam freely and stop us being vulnerable to the counter attack. He is quickly becoming a fan favourite and I have no doubt that he will continue to shine as he becomes more and more comfortable with the English game. Long may it continue.

 

So with our first away win under our belt, what next? Many will say that playing away from home indicates less pressure for the players due to the London Stadium issues, but surely that performance on the pitch can indicate that we can move past all of this now. At least, during the games themselves.

There is no hiding the fact that issues off the pitch are still on-going and potentially will be for the remainder of this season. However, fans must look to put this aside for the sake of the team. Passion, determination, desire are all words that have been removed from Hammers fans vocabulary since the start of the season, but the Palace fixture shows that if we all get behind our team and concentrate on the thing that matters most; the football, then we can really achieve great things.

With the next fixture coming at home to Sunderland, the stakes really couldn’t be higher. After a fantastic away win against Palace, fans and pundits alike will no doubt be predicting a West Ham win, especially considering Sunderland’s horrendous start to the season. Bilic spoke after the game about ‘confidence’ and how deprived we have been of it in recent weeks, but this victory will no doubt put us firmly back in control. This next game is well within our hands, but it will no doubt be aided by a solid and unified atmosphere at our new home that should get us over the finish line.

We have a real opportunity to go to two wins in a row and three unbeaten, so enjoy the game and let’s give our team the support they deserve.

 

Thanks for reading, COYI.

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West Ham 0-3 Southampton: Is it time to panic yet?

After a last gasp free kick from the incomparable Dimitri Payet, West Ham came away with a rather pathetic 1-0 win against Accrington Stanley in the EFL cup on Wednesday night. Despite taking 96 minutes to break down a League Two side, it would be foolish of Bilic not to take every ounce of much needed confidence from the victory and move forwards into our crucial home fixture against Southampton. I don’t know what it is about home fixtures, but there is always a feeling of unrelenting optimism. Whether it be the excitement of the unknown, buzz of what could be, or that huge echo of ‘bubbles’ around our new stadium, I always had the sense that the slate was wiped clean ready for an entertaining and enjoyable afternoon despite our poor start. There was however, absolutely zero hope of any ‘enjoyment’ being taken from today’s game. We were (once again) utterly embarrassing. I am honestly shocked at the fact that I am running out of words to describe how disastrous our defence is. ‘Shambolic’ and ‘laughable’ spring to mind. But that’s not even the worst part. What was even more catastrophic was the ENTIRE team performance.

Many could be forgiven for expecting the teams to be going in 0-0 at half time. A distinct lack of build up play left an unenergetic West Ham team desperately trying to keep hold of possession, with long balls being played into both Zaza and Antonio who were unable to deal with the strength and commanding presence of Southampton’s defence, especially Van Dijk. Individual defensive errors and a poor lack of cover have been our main issues this season, and today was another brutal example. From the middle of the pitch, Southampton players were not closed down properly, allowing Tadic to plough through, completely ignored by Nordveit, slotting it through to Redmond who found Austin with ease. Reid and Ogbonna once again highlighting their inability to communicate, both allowing Austin to drop off for a comfortable finish. In the second half, it didn’t get much better. West Ham seemed to lack any form of attacking awareness, constantly playing the ball back to the defenders instead of roaming forwards and in desperation began launching the ball forward to no avail. This shocking ability to carry the ball was soon punished in the 62nd minute, first lost by Reid with a poor clearance, then Kouyate in a dangerous area, allowing Austin to play a cute pass, taking Ogbonna and Arbeloa out of the game, giving Tadic a tidy one on one against Adrian to tuck away Southampton’s second and write the game off. By this point the game was dead and buried. The fans were on the players backs and despite an average appeal for a penalty and a scrappy attempt that was almost cleared off the line, West Ham possessed no real attacking threat going forwards. With tired legs and an confirmed knowledge that the game was finished, West Ham’s defence easily let Steven Davis slip through their line, almost ignoring to pick him up and giving James Ward-Prowse a tap in from a weak Ogbonna clearance. 0-3 to the away team and another embarrassing performance in front of the home fans. Mark Noble’s face said it all as he slumped down the tunnel. The signs are worrying, and the fairytale of last season is already a long and distant memory. 

 For me, these were the key talking points after the game:

  1. Our defence is doomed: With Masuaka becoming the next casualty in our extravagant injury list, Arbeloa was forced into the left back position, with Nordveit continuing in at right back. Despite his experience and much needed calmness in possession, Arbeloa could not keep up with Redmond and it made for a tough afternoon for the former Madrid man. I am sure he will be far more comfortable when he returns to his favoured right back position, but he never really seemed in control today. His lack of pace also really affected both Antonio & Payet who were constantly having to pass back due to his lack of attacking intent. Nordveit, once again, had another shocker. Despite many saying he can do a job at right back, I just do not see it. So many of Southampton’s chances came from the left hand side, and the space he left for the attacking wingers was quite frankly frightening. Similarly to Arbeloa, he just does not have the attacking instinct to get forward when necessary, limiting any form of creativity for the wingers.  I know Byram hasn’t had the best of times this season, but at least he understands the role and has the knowledge to cover the attacker when not in possession. Bilic really doesn’t seem to trust him, but with limited reinforcements on offer, I would certainly give Byram the starting spot against Boro. Reid and Ogbonna once again showed that they still have glimpses of their old season self, but it still isn’t good enough. I can’t count the number of times they lost the ball in dangerous areas, and some of their decision making when clearing was deluded. With his contract up next year, and his patience for first team opportunities wearing thin, I would most certainly give Reece Oxford a start against Boro next week. I was surprised that he wasn’t selected against Accrington Stanley in mid-week, and there is only so much time before he begins questioning what he has to do to get a chance despite everyone crumbling around him. A mix up in the defence is NEEDED.
  2. Last chance for Zaza: In my last column I mentioned that Zaza really needed to start proving his value, and personally I felt it was another average performance. Fans may feel it was his best performance so far in a West Ham shirt due to his aggression in the air, but don’t be fooled. He didn’t press from the front, won nothing in the air and is never looking to create space for a killer pass or through ball. The trouble is that he doesn’t seem to possess a specific skill set for Bilic to exploit. He has no real pace to get in behind defenders, yet he also seems unable to head a ball, as plenty of crosses were made to him yesterday that constantly went over his head. You could argue he was very isolated yesterday, but due to his lack of awareness and graft, it is partly his fault with his refusal to drop back and make runs. We are desperate to have Carroll and Sakho back, with both offering something different up front. But for now, Zaza or Fletcher are our only options, and personally i’d go for the later against Boro. Fletcher is strong and pacey and due to his youth will be eager to impress Bilic, so should put in a huge shift. Zaza’s time is running out.
  3. Lanzini disappeared: For a man who West Ham fans have always championed as one of our best players and finest players with the ball, Lanzini was a mere shadow of himself yesterday. The guy could not string a pass together. Despite constantly dropping back to help Noble out deep in midfield, he looked so out of touch with the rest of the team. On many occasions he continued to pass back to the defenders, and I don’t think I saw him attempt to take anyone on and use his skill to get past players. I wasn’t surprised to see him go off at half time, as he was way below par by his usual standards, but what was most concerning was his lack of effort and care when we went 1-0 down. He genuinely looked lost, and we need both him and Payet to get back to their short and sharp link up play to build some confidence and get the whole team playing as a unit.
  4. Adrian only saving grace: For a man who has had possibly the worst start to season in his career, I was surprised to see Adrian in the starting line up. With many fans calling for Randolph to start, Adrian had to put in a good performance and personally I thought he did fantastically. Yes, he conceded three goals, but if it wasn’t for him it could have easily been 7 or 8-0. Two of which were special saves. Having watched him, I can’t help but feel sorry for him at times. No doubt, some of the goals in previous games have been his fault, but with a  constantly changing back line, and no organisation in sight, I really feel he is occasionally taking the criticism for the defenders poor set up. This was clearly highlighted yesterday, after making a brilliant stop Adrian came to collect the loose ball, only for Nordveit to practically kick it out of his hands and put even more pressure on the defence. Nonetheless, Adrian should take a lot of confidence from his performance, and I hope he takes that attitude into helping organise and structure his defence during the game against Boro. God knows they need it!
  5. No Plan B: I would argue that every game this season we have started second best, and yesterday was no exception. At times we looked like we could make something happen during the first half, but there was no spark or cutting edge chance for the fans to get behind at all and it seemed like it would be a dull 0-0 by half time. However, as soon as our poor defence let Southampton slip through and give Austin his goal on the 40th minute, we lost all sense of structure and plan. With that in mind, Bilic took it upon himself to mix it up, removing the lacklustre Lanzini and bringing on the exciting prospect of Feghouli to give width to the midfield. The issue is, however, that when going behind we have absolutely no idea how to break down a team’s defence. Countless times yesterday, we would pass it back to the defence from midfield as the wingers and Zaza were too high up the field, and if that didn’t work, boot it up to Zaza or Antonio (who seems like our new target man?!) lose the ball and repeat. After the second goal went in, the players seemed desperate. Trying to make ludicrous passes to get the crowd going, they are completely drained of any creative influence and the days of quick, tiki taka like passes around the edge of the box seem dead and gone. Bilic’s changes however; which included Fernandes for Noble (came too late) and Fletcher for Nordveit, (Pushing our top scorer Antonio back to the dreaded right back position) showed he really is running out of ideas and does not have a clear Plan B to resort to when things are going wrong. It needs to be sorted quickly if we are to see any comebacks this season. I guess we can only hope that we actually start well at some point this season.

 

So the West Ham faithful will inevitably be asking themselves, ‘is this it?!’ After an unforgettable season, saying goodbye to the Boleyn, welcoming the exciting prospect of a new home and spending over £60 million on reinforcements, have we really thrown in the towel already? After only six games are we already inclined to expect a season of mid table obscurity or worse… a relegation battle?! What is clear, however, is that some fans are already running out of patience. For a club that promised so much at the start of the season, it is only so long before the spotlight of the team’s failures moves from the scapegoat of the London Stadium to the man in charge himself. It is easy to sweep these concerns under the carpet, but let’s not be naive, the booing has begun and calls for Bilic to be removed have already strengthened in numbers. Never have I seen so many West Ham fans leave early, let alone at the 65th minute. As soon as Tadic’s shot hit the back of the net, hundreds of infuriated fans rose from their seats and began leaving the stands, full well knowing that even with 25 minutes left, their team had nothing left to give. It is desperate times for the Hammers, but personally, I think sacking Bilic is the last thing we should be considering. Yes his tactics haven’t been clear, but last season he produced one of our highest ever League positions simply because he got West Ham doing the basics correctly. At present, this is not happening, but the vast majority of our goals have come from individual errors and sacking our manager is not going to solve that instantly. There is a deep rooted issue here, infected with a lack of communication and understanding within our defence and I believe it is only with consistency and a slow build of confidence that is going to resolve it. Again, something a new manager would not be able to solve instantly. But what is even more crucial, is that Slaven Bilic, regardless of whether he is favoured or not at present, is the closest thing ‘West Ham United London’ have to ‘West Ham United.’ In a period where change is rife, and dissatisfaction continues at every corner of West Ham’s new identity, Bilic is an immovable memory of the past, an icon of everything good that West Ham fans hold dear. Removing him would not solve the problem, but see the legacy of our club completely fall from beneath it’s feet. Now is the time to back him.

Let’s hope our road to recovery begins against Middlesborough next week.

My team against Boro (4-2-3-1): Adrian, Byram, Oxford, Reid, Arbeloa, Noble, Obieng, Antonio, Payet, Feghouli, Fletcher.

Thanks for reading. COYI.

West Brom 4-2 West Ham: The cracks are beginning to show.

After a surprising home collapse to Watford, an away trip to West Bromwich Albion was a welcomed fixture. After winning comfortably last season, travelling Hammers fans were hopeful of a similar result. With Bilic having highlighted in his pre match interview that ‘extended meetings’ had taken place, it was only natural for the West Ham faithful to assume that we had learnt from our mistakes, and last week’s horror show was a minor blip in our hopes of improving on last year. We were, of course, absolutely wrong. Again. West Brom started the brighter side from kick off, and were unrelenting in their attacking intent. Individual mistakes cost us dearly last week, and it seemed nothing would be changing this week. If Masuaka’s first handball to give away the free kick wasn’t bad enough, his second handball seconds later inside the box was utterly embarrassing in front of the home support. With no challenge in sight, the former Olympiakos left back managed to totally miss the clearing header, allowing his flailing arm to collide with the ball, gifting a penalty to West Brom within 8 minutes. Chadli cooly slotted home. 1-0. Many fans, including myself, were delighted with the return of Ogbonna to the starting line up, however, his horrendous clearance fell straight into the path of Chadli, passing it straight back to Rondon, who buried it into the bottom corner. Once again questions will be asked of James Collins, who should have closed down Rondon far quicker, shutting down any hope of getting a shot away. Any hope travelling fans had of getting a result was quickly dealt it’s final blow, when 7 minutes later, a corner kick shockingly cleared by Collins fell into the path of Chadli, who’s controlled effort was drilled low, ricocheting  of James McClean and giving West Brom a surprising but fully deserved 3-0 lead going into half time.

For a man who is known for his collected nature and lack of rash decisions, Bilic was in need of a desperate reshape. Breaking the mould of his conventional approach, he decided to remove captain Mark Noble and ‘marquee’ signing Zaza in favour of the unproven Calleri and Premier league new boy Sofiane Feghouli. For the most part, it seemed to be working. West Ham’s dominant possession was starting to pay off, and confident runs from Feghouli, were allowing the likes of Lanzini and Payet to link up, creating gaps in the West Brom defence, giving West Ham an increasing chance of scoring. However, this desperation to score quickly saw our entire defence press too high up the field, only to allow a terrible Masuaka cross to find Chadli, setting up an clear runway for Rondon to roam unchallenged between the half way line and Adrian’s goal. It was a good finish from the big man, but once again individual mistakes cost West Ham dearly. However, this imminent defeat did not stop the magician that is Dimitri Payet trying to upset the party. After having another free kick rattle of the bar, his patience paid off, when an inch perfect cross found the head of Antonio, who thumped the ball into the back of the net for a consolation goal. Feghouli once again was making things happen down the right hand side, and another cute piece of link up play with Payet, allowed him to cut inside, clearly being fouled along the way by James McClean and winning the penalty for West Ham. With Mark Noble being substituted, Lanzini took over the responsibility, calmly slotting the ball into the keeper’s right hand corner bringing the score to 4-2 on 65 minutes. Sadly though, it seemed little too late for the players. Other opportunities came, the best of the bunch coming from James Collins who latched on to a fantastic Antonio cross, but Ben Foster was equal to it. If that had gone in, it would have been a very interesting last 10 minutes but sadly it wasn’t to be, and West Brom saw out the game comfortably despite West Ham having 70% possession in the game, and 23 shots on goal. It is very much back to the drawing board for Slaven Bilic and his players, but the fans will no doubt continue to question the players’ intent after that performance, with the biggest query being: Where has it all gone wrong?

For me, these were the key talking points after the game: 

  1. Individual defensive errors cost us again: Last week Bilic was incredibly critical of our defence and this week was no different. In his post match interview, he used words like ’embarrassing’ and ‘amateur’ to describe his side’s defending and I 100% agree with him. Masuaka no doubt had his worst game in a Hammers shirt by a mile, and I have no clue what he was doing for the first or fourth goal. Ogbonna, although certainly our best defender, should have put the ball into row z but instead gifted West Brom their second goal. I never enjoy criticising him, but James Collins looks a shadow of the player he was last season, and it really does beg the question that he can still cut it at this level. For a defence that looked so organised and determined last season, you can’t help but feel complacency or lack of preparation has caused this incredibly frustrating start. I hope they wake up and put the work in soon before it’s too late.
  2. Feghouli must start: There is no question that after a fantastic game against Domzale, everyone was keen to see how he would adapt the Premier League, and he did not disappoint. Full of pace, skill and desire to run at defenders he showed exactly what he is capable of, and a front three of Antonio, Payet and Feghouli could be a devastating prospect for opposition defences. I don’t know who Bilic would drop, but he has definitely done enough to highlight his value to the team and I hope he continues to impress. One of the very few positives from the game.
  3. Nordveit still not up to it: After being tested at both Centre Back and Defensive Midfield, a late injury to Byram meant Nordveit was asked to slot in at Right Back and do a job. At first, I was incredibly worried, but after reading that he had covered that position in Germany I was keen to see how he would get on. The conclusion however, is that you would never have guessed he’d covered it before. Constantly out of position, nervous on the ball and lacking any form of ability to pass seem constant descriptions of his performances since joining, and I’m starting to feel that he just does not have the ability to cut it in English football. I really hope I am wrong, but the other worrying thing is that Bilic’s desire to keep experimenting with his position can only show that he was brought in as a cheap option to cover all of those positions and he hasn’t succeeded in any of them.
  4. Zaza signs are worrying: Despite a nice bit of hold up play here and there, Zaza has looked almost invisible during both games. Despite being totally isolated at times, which I know isn’t always his fault, I definitely felt that Calleri, (who I haven’t rated since he signed), gave a much better account of himself in this game and really got stuck in and worked hard. I know it is early days, and people have been saying to get off his back, but let’s not forget that if we continue to play him for 13 more games we’re going to have to buy him and for a substantial amount of money. Therefore, he needs to start showing something to give justification to his price tag. It’s all well and good showing some very decent finishes in training videos, but if he can’t produce it on the field when it matters then we are in big trouble. I hope he can turn it around for the next game.
  5. Dominating possession does not equal a win: With 70% possession many would be forgiven for thinking it was a typo. But no, we dominated the possession. Yes, there were a lot of cautious balls being held by the back four, but equally, with 23 shots on goal, you’d expect us to win this comfortably. However, it is the 5 shots on target that is the concerning statistic. Especially when comparing that to West Brom’s 8 shots on goal with 6 being on target, scoring 4 of them. Quite simply, there is a distinct lack of clinical finishing from our side and it needs to addressed immediately. Last season, we played an expansive and open game and it worked, especially when hitting teams on the counter, however this year we look lazy, and lacking any hunger or desire to start the game on the front foot. I’d even goes as far as saying that we have started second best in all of our games this season, and the majority we have been trying to play catch up from the moment the second half kicks off. If we’d of started how we ended this game, we’d have won it, comfortably.

 

So, where do we go from here? This morning I read an interview on West Ham’s official website with Michail Antonio saying ‘Our season starts against Southampton.’ But I have definitely heard this sentence regurgitated over the last 2-3 games. Yes, it is early days, but there is no ignoring the fact that we cannot keep delaying the ‘start of our season’ when it suits us. It sounds like that friend you have who; half way through a game of FIFA, suddenly decides he’s “going to start playing properly now.” It’s ludicrous, because like we all know with our ignorant friend on FIFA, they don’t improve, they just say they do. Ignoring this season’s previous mistakes is denying our ability to move forward as a football club. Ignoring the lack of discipline at the back, and the lack of creativity when going forwards on the training ground is not going to help us get better. We need to accept it, correct it and then move forward.

Speaking of accepting mistakes, I could not help but applaud yet grimace at Tomkins scoring yesterday. Despite accepting that Bilic didn’t see him as a first choice, there is no doubt that in hindsight, it was a terrible decision to sell him on. Not only a solid centre back but also a very versatile right back when needed, and my god could we have used him this season. But even when we did sell him, for what I would consider a very decent amount of money at £12 million, we didn’t even reinvest. With much of our attention being focused on the attacking side of the market, we completely missed opportunities for players such as Ashley Williams and Daryl Janmaat. Despite lacklustre bids they slipped through our fingers and it is a real shame. With some players deemed as too much money or others being considered not up to Bilic’s standards, we will soon see how well our use of the loan market and foreign investments will shape up, but for now it is not looking great.

With a 3rd round tie in the League Cup against Stanley tomorrow, I hope Bilic experiments with the likes of Arbeloa, Oxford and Fletcher, and if proven, could see them slot into the team for the home game against Southampton.

We are in desperate need of a mix up, motivation and drive to see this team back to winning ways. If our season starts now lads, then bloody get a move on.

Thanks for reading. COYI.

Man City 3-1 West Ham: Why the International break should spell optimism.

After a shocking result on Thursday, Hammers fans were understandably pessimistic about our chances of going to Manchester City and getting a result. With an injury list longer than Peter Crouch and a team not fully settled into a system that played to their strengths, it was important to ensure that the effort and performance of the players was evident heading into the international break.

Sadly, this was not the case. We have made a habit this season of starting poorly, and yesterday was no exception. By the 18th minute it was 2-0 and it felt all but over. The defending for the first two goals was extremely poor, and once again, there was a disturbing lack of attacking creativity. The second half, however, was much better. We looked far more organised at the back, and offered a lot more going forward. Continuous pressing from the wing backs and a resurgence in our build up play kept the City defence guessing, and it was only a matter of time before a Masuaka cross found the head of Antonio and we were back in it. The ‘nothing to lose’ attitude was evident, and attack minded substitutions emphasised our desire to chase an equaliser. However, unfortunately, this occasionally left us vulnerable at the back, and with a nice bit of interplay, a slight lapse in concentration from Adrian and a cute finish from Sterling the game was over. There is no doubt that the second half performance was far more encouraging, and I’m sure every West Ham fan will hope that this is the mentality in which to build on when returning from the international break.

For me, these were the key talking points after the game:

  1. 3-5-2 does not work: I am in no way criticising Bilic for trying something new. In a team that is down to it’s bare bones, it is very difficult to create a system that is consistent when the team is forever changing. However, this choice seemed unjustified. Not only had Collins/Ogbonna/Reid never played together as a three, but the lack of positional understanding throughout the pitch left huge pockets of space, which City easily exploited. What started as a 3-5-2 quickly became a 5-4-1 due to City’s ruthless pressing, and their use of wing play stretched our defence out wide, keeping us on the back foot for almost the entire first half. A welcomed switch of Tore for Byram saw another experimental 5-2-2-1 and the signs were far more positive. We defended better as a unit, and the attacking build up was confident and composed. I hope we see this formation after the break.
  2. Jury is out on Tore: As a foreign player, I keep thinking that Tore will get better. As each game goes on, I keep expecting him to adapt quicker but his progress is frustratingly slow. Yes, he was placed in a bizarre central midfield/help out on the wing position, but the man looks terrified on the ball at times. He does not look confident and seems to always struggle when offered the decision of pass or run. I know Bilic has experience of managing the player, but how he can think he is worth £12 million is beyond me. It was a good piece of business by DS to loan him instead and it will be very interesting to see how he develops. I really do hope he improves with time, but with the imminent return of the likes of Payet, Lanzini and Feghouli, I cannot see him getting ahead of any of them.
  3. Masuaka and Byram superb again: Our defence without question improved with the inclusion of Byram at right back, and we looked far more resolute overall. Both looked to overlap the wingers, and offered support when necessary. Byram shows so much composure considering his lack of experience in the Premier League and he MUST start in order to allow Antonio to roam forward with zero fear. Masuaka once again highlighted his strength and power, especially when roaming forwards and was so deserving of his assist. He is making an instant impact, and I truly believe Cresswell will have to be at his very best to get back into the side once fit.
  4. Lanzini is a game changer: When Lanzini came on, there was no doubt we possessed a greater attacking threat. Like Payet, he has the ability to bring people into the game  and I am sure that when they both return we will be a different side. He is so comfortable with the ball at his feet, and has a great passing awareness to open up defences. Hopefully he will be back to his best after the break.
  5. The ‘Antonio Debate’ is dead: Any last gasp hopes that Bilic or fans had of Antonio becoming a right back has been dealt it’s final blow, and that is mainly down to Antonio’s unrelenting ability to show how good he is further up the field. Defensively he was once again poor, and his lack of defensive awareness no doubt cost us the first goal. This all changed second half however, when he was pushed up the pitch to his natural position of right wing. He was fantastic as always, strong and powerful running forwards, great 1 on 1’s, consistent crosses and an absolute beast in the air. I know I am of course biased, but I believe he is swiftly becoming one of the best wingers in the league, and if needed, I genuinely believe he could do a very decent job up front. As rumoured, (as always by @ExWHUemployee) the likes of Debuchy and Chambers have been linked with us, and I hope Bilic gets one of them to add cover for Byram, as it is now 100% clear, Antonio is not a right back.
  6. Aguero should have been sent off: A very minor point, as in fairness, unlike the Chelsea fixture, I don’t think this would have changed the result of the game. However, it was a nasty elbow to Reid’s throat and I am baffled that the referee hasn’t spotted it. No doubt the FA will take action against Aguero, but it is worth noting that once again we have been on the wrong end of another poor decision.

So yesterday marked our second defeat in three games, with no points picked up away from home and an team structure that looks far from cemented, should there be pause for concern? Absolutely not. I am normally very disappointed to see an international break break up the Premier league routine, especially so soon after returning, however, this year it is without question a blessing in disguise for West Ham.

Bilic was quoted after the game as saying: “We can’t play much better than this, when we are missing 6 or 7 key players. When they come back after the international break, we will be much better and it will be a different West Ham.”

I must admit I have to agree with him. Excluding refereeing decisions, our start to the season has looked lack lustre and uninspiring,  and on the surface, unimpressive. However, take into consideration that we have already faced two teams that will no doubt be challenging for the title this season, 3 points isn’t such a bad total. Especially when you you look at the ridiculous number of injuries Bilic and his staff have had to contend with. By the end of the international break, Payet, Lanzini, Feghouli, Nordveit and maybe Carroll will be back to first team action. There is no doubt our attacking line up will be back to it’s best, and not forgetting the new additions of Fernandes and Zaza, Bilic will be spoilt for choice in who to select, giving us the depth and creative spark we so desperately crave.

I have no doubt that Payet will stay, and his absence from the first team very much seemed precautionary so as to make sure he is 100% fit for the home game against Watford, where our season really does begin. He is by far our best player and his ability to make others around him better is something we have been in desperate need of. The break will also allow the new players to gel within the squad and it should create a solid team dynamic when moving forward into the next run of games. Speaking of games, if you look ahead to our next 6 fixtures, (Watford, West Brom, Southampton, Boro, Crystal Palace and Sunderland) there is no reason why we can’t take maximum points and with an almost fully fit squad, we should be looking to the next few weeks with a real sense of optimism and excitement surrounding this new chapter in our club’s history.

Final Thoughts

I am unbelievably delighted for Michail Antonio who has been called up to Sam Allardyce’s England squad for the first time. He is so incredibly deserving of this accolade and his rise from non-league to England is something that should be congratulated and celebrated.

I am of course devastated for Mark Noble who once again has missed out on a place in the England squad. For me, Noble has been playing as consistently as Henderson, Drinkwater etc but for the last 4-6 years. It’s a farce that he hasn’t been given an opportunity to shine, and I really hope he continues to impress in time for the next England selection in 2017.

 

Thanks for reading. COYI.

Chelsea 2 – 1 West Ham: When will Referee’s be made accountable for their actions?

I haven’t posted something like this in a very long time, however, yesterday’s game brought about so many talking points I felt there was a good basis to write an article.

First off, this article is not purely centered around slandering Anthony Taylor. I thought we were poor, very poor in fact. What annoyed me most about last nights display wasn’t that the result went against us, but that actually, the performance was shocking.

Let’s start with the Line-Up

  1. Antonio at RB: Possibly the biggest question on everyone’s lips since it was introduced late last season. Despite countless protests, Bilic still believes he can turn him into one of the best right backs in the country, and quite simply this is not going to happen. His constant desire to get forward leaves us so wide open at the back and one could argue that this gap caused Ayew’s injury.
  2. Reid over Ogbonna: Personally, I was delighted to see the return of James Collins. We weren’t the same team without him last year, and his constant organisation and dominance in defence are traits that fully deserved to see him return to the side. However, last year, his best games were undoubtedly with Ogbonna, and for me, Ogbonna is by far the superior defender to Reid. Therefore, I was amazed to see him dropped to the bench.
  3. No Feghouli: This of course cannot be helped from a tactical point of view, but we most definitely missed him last night, and I hope he returns to the side soon. I think he has looked by far our best signing so far this window, and like Payet/ Lanzini offers a huge amount of creative threats going forward. Something that we will need to get the best out of our ‘main striker’ Carroll this season.
  4. Starting Enner: I hate to admit sometimes, but I am actually someone who (only on occasions i should add) quite likes Valencia. I like him because he cares. Unlike Sakho, despite a huge amount of media/fan coverage surrounding his future, he has got on with his job and grafted extremely hard for the team, and for that I praise him. There is however, the slight problem that he isn’t actually extremely talented, at all.Which does beg the question, why oh why did Bilic start him? Yes Payet might not have been fit enough, and Feghouli was supposedly injured, but surely pushing Antonio further up the pitch with Ayew, and starting Byram at right back would have been far more beneficial, in both an attacking and defensive sense.

Talking Tactics

1. 4-1-4-1 did not work: Despite many expecting a 4-3-3, it seemed Slav had gone for a 4-1-4-1, with Nordveit sitting just in front of the back four. Unfortunately, this meant that there was no overlapping from the wing backs, and therefore no crosses into the box. It left Carroll so incredibly isolated, leaving the defenders feeling to only option was to boot it up to him. At large majorities of the match it seemed the gameplan was defend, clear it, lose the ball, repeat. Something we haven’t seen since the new England manager was in charge.

2. Ayew injury: There must be a record signing injury curse hanging over West Ham. After the likes of Ashton, Bellamy and the big man himself, I think most would be forgiven for fearing Carroll’s fitness during his first game after an immaculate pre season regime, but definitely not Ayew. I couldn’t help but think how unbelievably typical West ham it was, to see our record signing hobble off after 35minutes. We didn’t see enough of him to get a good idea of what we can expect, however, I have no doubt we missed his creative talents and more importantly his composure on the ball going forward.

3. Nordveit & Tore showed worrying signs: I was very excited to see these two in action, but it’s safe to say it was a night to forget for both. Nordveit had a huge job on his shoulders. I said at the start of the game, I felt Nordveit’s performance would dictate how well the game would go, and it pretty much showed. You can forgive him for feeling the pressure to keep the defence protected from the likes of Willian, Oscar, Kante and Hazard, but he was struggling with the basics. On a number of occasions, he lost the ball through poor simple passes, and as a CDM there was no sign of comfortably carrying the ball once possession had switched. I am sure he will regain composure for Bournemouth, but it was not a great start. Again, we can forgive Tore for being thrown on in the deep end to replace our record signing and make an immediate impact, but he looked lost at times. There was no link up play with Masuaka, and he was sitting so deep, that even when Carroll did win the ball, he was nowhere to be seen to pick it up and make a run. Pressure on his shoulders now with potential injuries to both Ayew and Feghouli.

4. Masuaka/Byram showing very positive signs: Despite it seeming rather negative from an attacking perspective, I thought defensively we looked great, and that was largely down to the two wing backs. Firstly Masuaka, despite no pre season friendly with his new club, he looked very solid at the back, making some very important challenges. I also think he will link up very nicely with Payet once he returns. For now at least, Cresswell’s position looks in safe hands. Secondly Byram. He was absolutely fantastic when brought on, composed both going forward and when coming up against the likes of Hazard, and most importantly, looked confident in his position. It would be fair to say we looked a far better side when he came on, and balance between the defence and attack seemed restored. For me it was a no brainer to bring on Byram for Ayew and push Anotnio up to RW, but Slav obviously had other ideas. Watching Antonio be subbed off for Byram was probably Bilic’s lowest moment as West Ham manager so far. Most importantly, because it looked like he had completely destroyed Antonio’s confidence. I think most fans will hope that was the final nail in the coffin of the ‘Right Back experiment,’ and Byram can establish himself as the first choice, with Antonio pushing further up the pitch and doing what he does best.

5. Fit or not, Payet made a difference: I don’t think anyone was surprised to see Payet left on the bench last night. Despite having a good half hour against Juventus, Bilic wanted to make sure that after an incredible Euro campaign, his star man would enter his second Premier League fully fit. However, it was so clear to see that on the 67th minute when he was subbed on, we changed as a team. The long ball started to disappear, and there were clear sparks of intricate passing all started by the great man himself. I think it would be naive to say his corner set up the goal, as there was a huge scramble before the hero that is Ginger Pele put it in the back of the net, but again, he was making things happen. This leaves me to believe that if we line up next week in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Tore, Payet and Antonio (we can all dream) sitting behind Carroll, we can expect a far more positive impact going forwards.

Injustice once more

I should probably say we should be used to it by now. I can’t count the number of times last season that unfair or incorrect decisions had gone against us. One of course being the dubious decision to award a penalty to Chelsea (Ruben Loftus-Cheek) when it was clearly outside the box. Even Mark Noble said before the game, ‘You don’t forget decisions like that.’ At the start of this season, new laws of the game were laid out for everyone to acknowledge and understand. These included clearer guidelines for awarding a card, but for me the most important was the referee’s ability to award a red card for ‘swearing or abusive language.’ I believe this is a very welcomed rule, as for too long, we have seen players crowd an official and hurl abuse for a decision, regardless of whether it was correct or not. Therefore, it seemed that with this safety blanket rule, referee’s would go into bold decisions without fear or pressure. So step forward tonight’s official Anthony Taylor. In my opinion, Referee’s today are the most protected individual on the pitch every time a Premier league game is played. I don’t mean from an abusive standpoint, but simply in terms of decisions. For example:

Last night, Anthony Taylor made two huge errors.

  1. Not awarding Kante a second yellow: Despite being on a yellow, Kante clattered into Payet flooring him in the middle of the centre circle. I saw tweets last night claiming ‘it’s not a second yellow card offence.’ This is not a thing. Whether it’s a first yellow or a second yellow is irrelevant, the tackle that was made on Payet was a yellow card offence and should have resulted in Kante being sent off.
  2. Not awarding Costa anything?!: ‘It’s late but it’s not reckless’ said the Sky Sports commentator. Well, if this tackle is not ‘reckless’ then I don’t know what is. This tackle is a red card. It’s high, his studs are up and Adrian is very lucky to have not come away with a broken leg. Again, the commentator said, ‘He’s tried to play the ball.’ I have never understood this? Many times i’ve heard the phrase, ‘he tried to play the ball,’ but so?! 99% of tackles see a player ‘trying to play the ball’, but he didn’t he took Adrian’s leg instead. Regardless, it is MINIMUM yellow card offence. Which left the bitter taste of injustice when Diego Costa buried the winner. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fantastic finish, but the truth is he shouldn’t have been on the pitch at all. If someone else had scored, fine. But I can’t help but think that with 9 men, Chelsea would have defended deeply and we would have taken a point. Ugly-Diego-Costa-tackle-on-Adrian.jpg

Now, i’m not going to sit here and write these decisions cost us the game, because quite frankly, we don’t know what would have happened. But it is impossible to say it wouldn’t have drastically changed the attacking mentality of Chelsea. Therefore, my question is, when are referee’s going to be held accountable for their actions? Whether you are a player or manager if you make an error like that on the pitch you are either fined, dropped or sacked. Why is this not the same with our officials. Yes you can argue they have a second to make a decision, but if they aren’t up to it, I am sure there are plenty that are. In a game that has a rulebook as clear as day, why do so many refereeing decisions seem clouded by grey areas of debate and lack of clarity?

A mate of mine who was watching the game yesterday said, “We should introduce the option of post match referee interviews. If they justify their actions backed up with facts or rules then not only does it highlight their ability to do their job, but it will also make other referee’s better.’

I have to say I totally agree with him. I think it would allow referee’s to not only explain their side of events, but also, it gives them an opportunity to hold their hands up and say ‘you know what, I got it wrong.’ Video refereeing (which I personally think is a good idea), will never come to fruition until referee’s admit that they need help. But regardless, it may at least stop fans going away from a game feeling so robbed of a positive result. Especially when we are all paying so much money to follow our teams. I would almost go as far as to say I think it’s fully deserved.

Final Thoughts

I totally agreed with Slav when he came out and said they were the better side, they were. But I was slightly concerned with his insistent tone that we are finished in the transfer market. I personally was very happy with Ayew being our ‘marquee player’ even if he isn’t an ‘out-and-out striker.’ But with his injury looking like a potentially lengthy spell on the sidelines, I don’t see how we can head into the new campaign with only Carroll and the soon to be Hammer Calleri up front. Not only because Calleri is unproven at this level, but also because we are featuring in 4 competitions this season, starting with another European trip this Thursday. I don’t think we can even think about Sakho as he looks so unfazed by playing for us it’s untrue. Despite a lack of confidence from some fans, I think Benteke would be a great addition. I feel it’s unfair to judge him on his time at Liverpool due to being played in a system that doesn’t reflect his strengths. If he can regain his Aston Villa form, he would be a welcomed addition, even if it does mean taking a bit of pressure off Carroll to deliver in all competitions. Only time will tell…

 

Thanks for reading. COYI!