Monday, 11 November 2019

What is actually wrong with West Ham?


By guest journo James Meagher.
Many a West Ham fan must be puzzled by our failure to win in the last 6 games, especially after a bright start to the season ( ignoring a drubbing by the defending champions). Now all hope seems lost after a horrendous result against Burnley where we were barely in the game and created little of note. Many are screaming and shouting about tactics and the personnel on the pitch (yes, you - Roberto). While these are valid complaints there is a much longer standing issue that the club has had that we have been concealing for some time before it reared it’s filthy head. 
West Ham have had defensive frailties for a while now with very brief periods of competency, all while having decent if not down right sensational personnel at time. As an individual, Issa Diop is an man mountain of a defender while Fabian Balbuena has had a difficult season - he was sensational last year as the 'Generalx of our defence. In the past we’ve been blessed with Winston Reid and Ginger Pele (James Collins). While they haven’t been world beaters, they have certainly been above average centre backs. Cresswell’s form may have been up and down but there is no doubting the defensive quality the man has demonstrated over his tenure at the club. The right back position is a hot debate in my household so we shall not go there other then to say that we are fans of Ryan Fredericks and believe that the Michail Antonio experiment there should have ended before it started. 
So why have we conceded so many goals?? Last season we conceded 55 goals, the season before 68, and in the 16/17 season 64. In all bar last season we conceded more than teams that were relegated. So why?

We’ve all seen the ads on TV that tell you driving too fast will cause accidents and deaths on the road. What is left out is that driving too slow is even more dangerous as it infuriates drivers around you and causes rash decision making. Here lies our problem. West ham have a slow team. To start with the less-problematic positions - Haller and Yarmolenko are not the quickest duo, especially for a front man and winger. Many people here will point to Zabaleta starting against Newcastle and the horror that ensued but, this is only the most recent case. Where out beloved hammers have really lacked pace is in the defensive midfielder role. Long has Noble patrolled this region for the Irons with Declan Rice more recently taking the role, neither of which have pace to burn. The last time we had any pace in the middle of the park was Cheikhou Kouyate who was ousted from the club due to long periods of poor form. 
If we look at this position popularised by Makelele it requires a tactical awareness second to none on the pitch. While certainly Noble has this is spades and Rice is developing, there is a pace required to mitigate any mistake made. Think N’golo Kante. He’s like a rash. He’s everywhere and reads the game like most read a children’s book however, he also is quick across the pitch to cover any mistakes that may have occurred. This ability is a large part of the reason he won the premier league with Leicester City and then Chelsea in back to back years. This combination is rare but it can be found. Liverpool have players like Fabinho and Wijnaldum who may not be sprinters but are no slouches either. Man City have Fernandinho and now Rodri. Ndidi at Leicester. Man united have sought a player for this position for years, hence signing Nemanja Matic in the hopes he could replicate his previous form. There are few players who can play this role without pace. Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso to name a few but they are both players far beyond what West Ham currently have in our midfield. This lack of pace and ability to cover ground means our defence is left exposed and the goals fly in. Then as all teams do chasing a game, we push up to try and create pressure and chances but this further exposes our defence, especially to counter attack. This cycle continues and is evident in so many game we lose. The games we win we usually score first and dominate the ball because we don’t have to pile men forward seeking an equaliser.
I fear that until we solve this pace issue in the middle of the park we are destined to forever be on a rollercoaster with our beloved club. We can sit and debate the tactics and why is no one close to Haller (does he smell funny) but until we solve the fact we regularly get overrun in midfield not due to a lack of commitment or passion from the men who fill this roles but due to a lack of pace and quickness.
The January transfer window requires us to acquire something better than Carlos Sanchez!

Monday, 23 September 2019

The View From the Bobby Moore Stand


It never ceases to amaze me how frequently you are discussing a game with a fellow fan who has a totally (often opposing) take on proceedings! After last season's win over Man United I got chatting with another Hammer flying home through Stansted who reckoned Felipe Anderson was still unconvincing and not tracking back for defensive duties!!!

These variances also happen within your own mind - on Monday, watching on TV I thought Haller looked off the pace, clumsy and disconnected from the team's flow. On Sunday, in the flesh, he was the fulcrum of our efforts, holding the ball up over a dozen times when any of our other recent strikers would have lost possession (yes, Arnie as well as Chicharito!). Moreiver, his link play was calm and assured - it's a pity we didn't flash a few crosses in as he looked well able for Harry Maguire.

Reading a report tonight, one pundit reckoned Maguire had bossed Haller while from my vantage point Sebastien demonstrated why England need to be careful before over-relying on the not so nimble defender who will struggle against top strikers.

From the upper zones of the Bobby Moore stand we got to see how much Yarmolenko and Anderson moved to unnerve the Man Utd defence, switching wings 4 times in the first 20 minutes! We also got to see how dominant Issa Diop was and that the pace of the man is astounding! Add to that how well Anderson holds the ball when we want to clear out from defence and we are starting to feel excited about our chances of pushing on from our current lofty position in the Premiership!

Add to all of that the sense of certainty that Cressy would bury his (second) free kick. Having seen the first slide just over the bar, it was clear that he was going to get it spot on as he stepped up in the 84th minute......yesssssss!

COYI!!!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Bobby Bubbles' Player Ratings as the Hammers Squash Man United



There were joyous scenes again at the London Stadium today as West Ham beat off the rather meek challenge of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Red Devils. A super goal just before half time set the scene and, in truth, there only ever looked like there could be one winner. Aaron Cresswell's sublime free kick essentially ended the game and there was even time for the Hammers to indulge in another bout of keep ball against the once Premiership heavyweights! We are now up to 4th and looking good.  Bobby Bubbles gives his verdict on the days proceedings:

Fabianski:  Calm and assured as always. Surprisingly quiet day between the sticks but still pulled off two important blocks that could have changed the game. 8/10

Fredericks Having a good season and looking like the player we hoped when he arrived just over a year ago. Great pace and getting more confident going forward and building a good understanding with Yarmo.  8/10.

Ogbonna: Looked solid but picked up a foolish early yellow card that on another day might have been costly. 7/10.

Diop:  A colossus at the back. Huge presence, great timing and reading of the game Nd has the pace to match almost any forward. Had few difficulties with Rashford today. 8.5/10.

Cresswell: Possibly our man of the match as he was as good if not better than the lively Yarmolenko. Served a warning with a close free kick early in the 2nd half before nailing the second opportunity. Excellent in defence and attack. 9/10.

Rice: Solid throughout and saved our bacon with a trademark 'oh no you fon't' interception in the first half. A big presence as we have come to expect. 8/10.

Noble: Captain Claret was tremendous once again. Soooo competitive and he really leads by example. He loves beating Man U as well!. 8/10.

Fornals:  Looked a bit like the newbie and seemed a tad cautious given his Lanzini- style roving role. Will benefit from the game time. 7/10.

Anderson: Always looks capable of opening things up and tormented down the right all day. Also has a handy k ack of dispossessing opponents when in defence. 8/10.

Haller: Excellent stuff. Absolutely bossed Maguire and was sensational at holding the ball up all day long. Great link play. You with our wide men would whip a few crosses in for hom as he looks tremendous in the air! 8.5/10.

Yarmolenko: Looked really up for it from the off. Had a classy flick to bring us out of a tight defensive position and built from there. Great skill for the goal but also made a crucial defensive interception when Man U looked set to steal an equaliser! He'll be smiling tonite!!! 9/10.

Substitutes

Wilshere, Zabaletta and Snodgras all slipped into gear seamlessly and kept Man Utd quiet to the end.

MOTM: We reckon it should be shared by Cresswell and Yarmolenko!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Beware of that Icarus Effect!


There's a hugely positive vibe around the London Stadium right now. Quietly, Hammers fans feel confident that we can overcome Manchester United tomorrow and genuinely demonstrate our top six credentials. With a spine of Fabianski, Diop, Rice and Haller, complemented by the creativity of Lanzini, Anderson and Yarmolenko, the current West ham team can cause most teams major problems. Add to that the assured and astute leadership of Mark Noble on the field and Manuel Pellegrini as manager, the club is in good shape.

When the Hammers first moved to the expanses of the London Stadium the space proved to be a disadvantage as the team had been used to pummeling visitors in the tight confines of the cauldronous Upton Park. Pellegrini has adapted our style, added pace and an ability to use the space to torment the opposition and accordingly our home form has soared. Pellegrini insists on going toe to toe with all comers and on occasion that can backfire - like the 5-0 drubbing by Champions Man City on opening day.

However, top six sides take the game to their opponents and the modern West Ham have no qualms about using attack as their best winning strategy. Our possession and completed pass percentages have gone up dramatically and, let's be honest, our games are much more entertaining to watch - even if we do concede more goals than we would sometimes like to.

Monday night could be seen as a missed opportunity to go level 2nd in the Premiership but for now it may be better to lurk around the margins of the top six and hopefully visiting teams won't adopt too cagey an approach because open free flowing games suit this side. With our deficit of attacking replacements we do not want visiting sides arriving with the intention of kicking out a draw and hoping to catch us on the break. Let's avoid flying too close to the sun for now and keep a steady momentum.

Tomorrow's encounter looks to be a mouth watering prospect as Man United will come looking to play and that will likely suit Mr Pellegrini's musketeers. Expect a high scoring game!

Rory Nostradamus is predicting a 3-2 win.

COYI!!!

It's the 'Barry McGuigan' but there's no sign of Lanzini?



West ham 'welcome' Manchester United to the London stadium tomorrow looking to further their push for top six status. After a decent point away to Villa on Monday, despite playing the final quarter with only ten men, spirits are high in the camp. However, key man Manuel Lanzini is a doubt and sat out training today. With Fornals pushing for a starting spot West ham should still hope to reproduce last season's enjoyable 3-1 victory.

Of note, West ham have only beaten Man United twice in their last 21 Premiership meetings (W2 D5 L14) and in terms of their top six aspirations need to improve on their poor record against top six teams which stands at only three wins in their last 20 matches (W3 D6 L11)!

The visitors are running hot and cold so far this season and will be without both Pogba and Martial which will place a lot of responsibility on Marcus Rashford to lead the line. The clash between Sebastien Haller and Harry Maguire will be fascinating and will be a major factor in deciding the result.

Aaron Cresswell comes in for the suspended Arthur Masuaku but otherwise West ham will hope to start unchanged if Lanzini can make the cut.

Anthony Taylor is the match referee and will hopefully do a better job than the dreadful Mike Dean did on Monday night.

The Hammers are rated as outsiders by the bookies and look a decent bet for the win at 9/4. Man united are 6/5 while the draw is 5/2. Mystic Mark Lawrenson has tipped the Hammers to win, which may be a mixed blessing! Similarly, Charlie Nicholas reckons the Hammers will prevail while Michael Owen is sitting on the fence by predicting a draw.

Fans should note that the club are running an exhibit of memorabilia from the 1980 FA cup victory which includes Alvin Martin's medal - surely worth a visit!

Thursday, 19 September 2019

The sobering reality of West ham's visit to Villa Park


While many fans were happy after a taking a draw on Monday  at Aston Villa despite being reduced to 10 men by the truly awful Mike Dean, In reality the performance highlighted a whole host of shortcomings in our current squad.

Although the team rallied well after Arthur Masuaka's harsh dismissal with more than 20 minutes of the game remaining, the fact is that prior to that West ham had been well outplayed by the recently promoted villains.

Reviewing the highlights shows just how well Fabianski played to keep Aston Villa goal-less. It would be harsh to single out any of our defence as having had a poor game, we still conceded half a dozen very good chances that most premiership teams would have expected to convert at least 2 or 3 into goals.

Even worse upfront we looked sluggish and disorganised. Felipe Anderson in particular looked tired and almost disinterested as he  spurned a number of decent opportunities to make his trademark runs at goal. When he was substituted to reconfigure our defence after Masuaku's  dismissal he looked exhausted. 

On the other wing, Andriy Yarmolenko was off the pace and in reality has not yet regained his match sharpness since returning from his awful Achilles tendon injury last year. 

Manuel Lanzini was kept disappointingly quiet for most of the 1st half but thankfully did up his game when needed in the latter stages of the game. 

As for Sebastien Haller, although he has managed a decent haul of goals so far, it is also evident that he is not particularly pacey and for much of the time looked awkward in possession. The fact that we lack a decent replacement up top is a real worry as we face some season defining games. The possibility that he might get injured in the time until the January transfer window is a terrifying thought!

On the plus side, Issa Diop had an excellent game, while once again Captain  Claret Mark Noble provided the engine that kept our team taking over and his footballing brain was a major part of our handling those difficult last 25 minutes when we were a man down.

Fornal's performance was also a bright point as he looked sharp and surely has earned the right to have a chance with a starting berth in the coming series of games?

Declan Rice had a solid performance but in the battle of the 'plastic paddies' Young Grealish came out on top as the best player on show.  In fairness, Rice is a different kind of midfielder to Grealish, but it is clear that he is not yet by any means the finished article.

And so we move on to Man United at the London stadium on Sunday. They still look lacking in cohesiveness and tonight stumbled home with a 1-0 win against Kazakhstani giants Astani FC at Ye Olde Trafforde. Sunday's game provides a great opportunity to lay down a marker in our push for a top 6 position. 

Let's hope we can get our attacking game in order - can anyone forget that wonderful 120 seconds of keepball when we were 3-1 up against them last season?



Sunday, 25 August 2019

Bobby Bubbles Player Ratings in the Win at Watford



Watford are one of our least popular opponents but Saturday demonstrated how we have started to get to grips with the Hornets. Building from our 4-1 thrashing of them at the end of last season. after a close first half yesterday Pellegrini's troops pushed on for a deserved 3-1 win that has really kick started our season. Bobby Bubbles gives his verdict:

Pellegrini: Bringing on Antonio early in the second half was the master stroke that changed the game. However, we still look disorganised and jumpy at the back! 8/10.

Fabianski:  Calm and assured despite a shaky defence in front of him. No blame for the goal. 8/10

Fredericks:  Solid if unremarkable stuff. Needs to bring more to our attack but still getting game time with Yarmo and Antonio. 7/10.

Ogbonna: More assured after the poor performance at Brighton where all the transfer talk clearly unsettled him. 7/10.

Diop:  You sense that he prefers playing alongside Balbuena. Solid performance, albeit with the odd bit of chaos but Watford are a hard side to defend against as they have a very fluid attack. 7/10

Masuaku: Not right enough for the goal but in fairness our midfield was too casual getting back and left us horribly exposed. Otherwise, another decent performance and he is decent going forward7/10.

Rice: Solid throughout without any remarkable moments. 7/10.

Noble: Captain Claret is back! A trademark cool penalty and usual strong leadership throughout. His return was undoubtedly a major factor in our getting the win. 8/10.

Lanzini:  Looks right back to his old self and back on the pace. Excellent play leading up to the penalty. Tricky throughout. 8/10.

Anderson: Always looks capable of opening things up and did so for the crucial second goal. 8/10.

Haller: Excellent stuff. Looks the real deal - pacy, skilful, two-footed and knows where the net is as he demonstrated twice. The 2nd goal was a delight. The first of many MOTMs we hope! 9/10.

Yarmolenko: Still finding his feet again but had some good moments before a surprisingly early substitution. 7/10.

Substitutes

Antonio: A real game changer with his physicality and movement. Almost scored twice with the second effort responsible for our third goal. It's hard to know whether he should start or provide a super sub function??? 8/10.

Fornals: No major impact 5/10.

Next up Norwich and the chance to get into the top half. This time last year we were pointless...