Saturday, 15 October 2016

Bilic goes Bold for Palace Trip

Slaven Bilic has responded to the current pressure by selecting his an attack-minded starting XI regardless of fitness! That means starting berth for Aaron Cresswell with Michail Antonio asked to slot in at right back once again. Not surprisingly, he has persisted with the three man central midfield in the hope that it will protect his leaky defence. Simone Zaza gets another chance to show what he can do...Lanzini gets the nod ahead of Feghouli et al.

West Ham starting XI: Adrian; Antonio, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Noble, Obiang, Kouyate; Lanzini, Zaza, Payet .


Bilic facing Choices Aplenty As Pardew Holds the Aces

This time last year who would ever have thought that 'Little' Crystal Palace would have the audacity to pinch James Tomkins from our squad? As the best to emerge from our academy in the past decade, Tomkins is West Ham through and through and seemed to be one of the key players to lead our charge as we dabbled with our identity by moving to a new stadium.

Alas, We let Tomkins go and have sorely missed his versatility both as a mobile centre back but also as a makeshift but reliable right back. As we prepare to play against Tomkins' Palace today how fortunes have changed with Palace unbeaten in five while Slaven Bilic's troops are out of sorts and look battle weary.

In truth, Pardew has built an excellent squad at Palace and they are now formidable opposition especially up front where they have pace aplenty out wide and in the centre Benteke is on fire after an International hat trick. .

Last time out Bilic opted for a more defensively solid set up with Pedro Obiang as a third central midfielder to patrol the large spaces of our Olympic Stadium. Selhurst Park is considerably more compact but with Palace in such good attacking form it looks like Bilic will need to keep things tight and switch to a 4-3-2-1. Palace are less strong at the back which may tempt Slaven to try a more offensive 4-2-3-1 formation but given our limited options up top just now, maybe a conservative approach is preferable. Questions are starting to emerge about the form of both Kouyate and Noble, but it's hard to see Slaven dropping either at this stage.

The return of Aaron Cresswell will bring some cheer to Hammers fans but he is unlikely to be ready for 90 minutes of Wilfried Zaha and, in reality, will probably join proceedings in the final quarter. We expect Angelo Ogbonna to start at left back with the Collins-Reid Combo in the centre to try to stifle the physical presence of Christian Benteke.

Up front, there are some hard choices to be made. Simone Zaza is surely running out of time as Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho near their respective returns, but for now Ashley Fletcher is the main competition. Bilic has been talking up Zaza in midweek, so it looks like he will start. Payet and Antonio will likely provide the support, with Lanzini or Feghouli joining things later on. 

predicted Starting XI: Adrian, Arbeloa, Collins, Reid, Ogbonna, Obiang, Kouyate, Noble, Payet, Antonio, Zaza.

Tough times at West Ham right now - SuperSlav would surely settle for a point if it was offered right now!


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Hammer Foils Narcos Kingpin

More International snoozerama last night as England stumbled home after a 0-0 draw against Slovenia with a frustrated Michail Antonio stuck on the bench. Antonio's capacity to shake things up with his uber-direct aggressive style and aerial prowess seemed just the thing that a listless England needed, but Gareth - nice guy - Southgate was playing it much more conservatively on his first outing as stand in manager.

The real Pablo Escobar
Meanwhile, out in South America, Enner Valencia was banging them in again for his native Ecuador. Scoring twice and having another cleared off the line against Bolivia, Enner was on top form as his contributions matched those of Bolivian striker Pablo Escobar!!! One would have thought that Pablo was the one name off the menu for those blessed with the Escobar surname but not so in Bolivia where perhaps they don't get the popular Netflix show Narcos!

What is perhaps more intriguing, however, is the remarkable disparity between Valencia's strike rate at international level (18 goals in 33 games) compared to his tenure at West Ham (10 goals in 66 games). Valencia is 3.6 times more likely to net for Ecuador than the Hammers, but why???

One likely element is his relative lack of physicality - despite being at West Ham for three seasons before moving on loan to Everton, he still finds it hard to hold on to possession against Premiership defenders and at 5 foot 8 inches is small even for a wide attacker.

The relatively narrow pitch at Upton Park may also have limited his success as he thrives on the extra space at International venues. Perhaps things might have been different at the Olympic Stadium but we won't know for at least the rest of this season - except when the Everton Bogeymen come to visit on April 22nd next year.

Meanwhile, it's back to business for the Hammers as we prepare for Palace away at the weekend. Hopefully the break will revitalise our side and we might see the return of some of our absent players with both Andy Carroll and Aaron Cresswell looking at making the bench...COYI!!!


Monday, 10 October 2016

Another Hammers Striker Slips Through the Net

Maguire nets again in front of a sell out crowd in Ireland
One of the lingering gripes amongst Hammers fans about the Allardyce era was the reluctance to give youth an airing. Allardyce apologists may well point to the infamous FA Cup thumping up at Notts Forest, but in reality there were very few chances for upcoming talent under Big Sam.

Sean Maguire was brought to the club in 2013 after a prolific season as a striker for Waterford United in the League of Ireland first division. After two years in the development squad, during which he went on loans to Sligo Rovers and Accrington Stanley, 21 year old Maguire was let go in 2015 after a sum total on zero appearances for the first team.

Now he's back in the spotlight. After a stint with Dundalk - last year's winners of the Airtricity Premier League, he is now banging in the goals for high flying Cork City. with an impressive 16 goals in 23 games so far this season, Maguire is now 22 and starting to reach his potential. So much so that a host of clubs in Europe are monitoring his situation, including Sint Truidense and Genk.

Which brings us back to the Hammers. Despite all the talk about the Reece's and Josh Cullen, they have not contributed so far to this season's endeavours and must be getting itchy. Cullen is enjoying first team football at Bradford where he has been compared to Zinedine Zidane, while the Reece's occasionally make the bench even though our defence has been seriously underperforming.

It's hard to feel that we have found the right balance between youth and experience, but if anything we appear to be still much too cautious.

Good luck to Sean Maguire. Once a hammer, always a Hammer!



Saturday, 1 October 2016

Clock Ticking for Zaza...

Slaven Bilic's prematch press conference was a pretty sombre affair this week as he tried to find some positives amongst the chaos that is West Ham right now. Speaking about his striking options, he likened Simone Zaza to Denis Bergkamp! However, having witnessed Zaza's performances to date, including how he has struggled to hold onto the ball in possession, most Hammers fans will struggle with this particular analogy!

Signed on a £4million season long loan from Juventus, Zaza has failed to score so far and Bilic has protested that he needs more time. However, the deal includes a mandatory £20 million buy-out clause that will apply after a specified number of games. The big question is therefore how many games?

Some rumours suggest that this is a mere 14 appearances - in which case Christmas is likely to see the Italian's 'trial' come to a premature end unless he can start producing the goods. His general contribution to our attack is quite modest such that he needs to justify his selection with goals. So far, he has fluffed his lines and with Big Andy likely to be back for the Crystal Palace clash on October 16th. Moreover, Slaven Bilic indicated that Diafra Sakho will be available soon after.

It looks like today is a make it or break it opportunity for Zaza.


Payet and the Price of Failure

I curse you to win 2-0......
With only one result in six games and four straight losses, the visit of Middlesborough to London stadium is just what the misfiring Hammers need. With a Premiership low averaging only 5 shots per game, it may just be possible for the chaotic West Ham defence to keep the Boro out. The key will be to stifle Alvaro 'the beast' Negredo who poses their biggest attacking threat. However, after just a single shot on target against Southampton last week, Payet et al will really need to up their performance if they are to get a much needed win.

Slaven Bilic has commented on Dimitri Payet's perspective upon the club's disastrous start to life at the new stadium by repackaging his being 'unhappy' as an example of the passion that is needed to get back to winning ways. However, it's hard not to feel that the Hammers lowly position and the general negativity around the club and it's supporters is likely to impact upon the midfield maestro's willingness to listen to the many suitors out there who would gladly splash considerable cash for his services.

While Bilic will be hoping to keep Payet on board through the January transfer window, the likelihood of him staying beyond this season if the Hammers don't make the Champions League seem slim. As such, Slaven's lads will need to start putting points on the board as soon as possible as we are already ten points of Arsenal in fourth spot and have not had the toughest start in terms of fixtures.

Let's give Stewart Downing a warm welcome - he was a big part of establishing us as a stable Premiership club when we first returned to the top flight. 

The bad news is that Mystic Mark has backed us to win 2-0.


Monday, 26 September 2016

The Five Problems That Have Caused the Crisis at West Ham (and how to fix them!)

OK, let's get one thing straight, this IS a crisis [DEF: 'a time when a difficult or important decision must be made']. With five defeats in our first six games - mostly against quite modest opposition - and with a whopping sixteen goals conceded things are really bad.

Even worse, our fans are fighting with each other and the media are having a field day, linking our difficulties to the demise of working class Britain and fuelling rumours of feuding in the dressing room. Skybet have added petrol to the mix by quoting SuperSlav as the Premiership favourite to next get the sack, with odds of 8/11! 

After the game Bilic said "It's my responsibility, it's my team, I know how it works and I'm not running away".  Slav, we don't doubt you for a minute. You haven't become a bad manager overnight and every team has bad runs. as the wider media circles the club looking to feast on our problems, we need to stick together right now.

However, we also need to be honest about what has gone wrong. At yesterday's post match conference Slav looked shellshocked and bereft of ideas. He muttered that he couldn't identify what to do next - well, for what it's worth, here are a few thoughts to consider about our situation:

1. First up, our defence has lost it's confidence. This started with an experiment at right back  that has gone horribly wrong. ever since Karl Jenkinson's demise we have been playing makeshift games. Splashing gazzillions on a 'marque' striker (we never got one!) while overlooking the need to spend the modest amount needed for a decent right back was poor judgement. Sam Byram is still developing, while neither Antonio nor Nordtveit are true defenders. Michail Antonio's form since reverting to right wing is one of the few positives about our efforts over the past month but highlights the double waste of having played him at right back. Alvaro Arbeloa's arrival will steady this but has been undermined by the lack of stability at left back. Sometimes luck isn't with you! Nevertheless, when we finally can field a back four of Cresswell, Reid, Ogbonna and Arbeloa one suspects that the laughable defending of late will improve.

2. Letting James Tomkins go was a mistake. At a time when we are struggling to retain our identity at a new stadium we need the homegrown players to remind us what we have come from. Captain Claret can't do it all himself and he looks withered by all the problems. Similarly, why can't Reece Oxford get a run out - at the very least it would cheer the fans and in all honesty we could do with a defensive-minded midfielder in front of our leaky defence. Starting a League Cup game without a single English player could be seen as a poor reflection on our famed academy system, but the fact is that we do have young players but do not seem to be managing them properly.

3. We need to adapt tactically to the bigger stadium. we have a host of wide midfielders that we brought in to use the width of the new stadium. We are trying to play as a more dominant team and have largely ditched the Leicester-style counterattacking that served us so well when we scalped the big six last year. In reality, the visitors are making better use of the greater space and we have been repeatedly caught out on the break. In short, we are trying to play too open and offensively. The increased running burden in midfield is showing on Noble and Kouyate who both look tired. It's time to drop one of the attacking midfielders and play three across the centre. Slav, we need to go 4-3-2-1 instead of the 4-2-3-1 that is killing us at present.

4. In contrast to last year, our Summer signings have not impressed. Feghouli looks promising, Nordtveit is solid but not offensively good enough to be a right back, but Tore, Calleri and Zaza have fluffed their lines. Although everybody is focussing upon our problems at the back, we have only scored 7 goals in eight games which is simply not enough. Thankfully, this latter three are on loan but I doubt if anybody would complain if they returned to their parent clubs right now! Zaza in particular is a concern as he is approaching the game count that triggers a mandatory buy out clause for £20 million. Yikes! Oh how we need the abrasiveness of Sakho and the pure physicality of big Andy. Let's hope Slav has made peace with Diafra and that Andy stays fit for a month or two. At least if the bad fortune continues we might get some joy chasing games with long balls if, instead of Zaza, Carroll is in the box.

5. Lady Luck has deserted us. We can't get a bounce of the ball right now. Last year we scored at the right times in games and then seized the opprotunities as the opposition got desperate and pushed up. This season it's been the par opposite - conceding just before half time and then getting put to the sword as we tried to rescue things. We need to pray to the footballing Gods for a  rapid change in fortune because the Middlesboro, Palace and Sunderland games are starting to look like season-defining games for Slaven.