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.

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!