Burnley 3-0 West Ham

Happy families

THE facts are stark – in their last six league games West Ham have won none, drawn two and lost four. Worse, this is not a “bad spell” as manager Manuel Pellegrini claims but a relatively easy run that contained none of the so-called ‘big six’ clubs. Our next four fixtures are against Tottenham, Chelsea, Wolves and Arsenal.

All the chatter is of the manager facing the sack. At present it seems very unlikely – the Board decision to appoint a head coach on such high wages means we are stuck with him, especially as sacking him would mean paying off all his staff as well. Plus, the question remains over who would fill a vacancy – the club are not the attractive proposition many fans would like to think.

The arrogance we spoke of after the Newcastle game needs to stop. The coaching staff need to sit down and realistically think about how to win games. If that means a pragmatic approach to replace the manager’s idealism then so be it.

Of the six goals conceded in the last two games four resulted from set pieces. The issue must be addressed. Pellegrini needs to be disabused of his insistence “nothing will change” on the training ground. Properly executed set pieces are claimed to produce 15-20 goals a season in attack. At the other end of the pitch conceding in this manner will only put more pressure on a misfiring front four to produce.

Despite an attacking trio of midfielders who barely defend and don’t press (there was a good piece about this in The Athletic this week) the team are not producing chances for striker Sebastien Haller. The Frenchman must wonder what he has done coming to a club as dysfunctional as West Ham. Imagine how good he could be if somebody like, oh I dunno, Marko Arnautovic was playing behind him?

At the moment Haller is still working hard but at the risk of repeating ourselves midfielders, especially coming from wide, need to at once get the ball in front of him in the box and come in from the opposite post to get beyond him. Continuing as at present to play stupid little passes into his feet in the hope he will produce something on his own is futile.

Good sides often have a settled back four. Pellegrini must pick his men and stick with them. Of the games mentioned only against Palace did the manager leave his back four unchanged. The present requirement is for players least likely to make mistakes, which means Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna and Cresswell should start.

Eyes down for a full house

Some problems are insurmountable; there is nothing the manager can do about injuries to the unfortunate Manuel Lanzini or more worryingly Mark Noble, one of only three players along with Rice who can play defensive midfield, even if this further exposes the insanity of not replacing Pedro Obiang during the summer. It’s as though Michel Roux jr suddenly declared: “There’s no butter in the fridge and we haven’t time to go to Tesco, let’s just make our pastry without. Nobody’ll notice”.

Likewise the goalkeeping issue seems irreconcilable. We can only rue Mario Husillos’ decision to bring in Roberto Jimenez as cheap cover for Lukasz Fabianski, a decision that seems more expensive with every week the Pole takes to recover from a hip injury. Fabianski was worth 12 goals to the Hammers last season – it feels like his replacement chucks one in every game.

As everybody’s Gran used to say: “Buy cheap, buy twice”: If a point in the Premier League is said to be worth £1million, the £40,000 or so saved on wages is costing the club around a hundred times as much. Michel Roux jr again: “This butter is way too expensive, lets get some Netto own brand marge instead. What could possibly go wrong?”

Arguments are raging both on social media and among individual supporters over where the blame lies for our current predicament. Some apportion blame to the manager, others the players, still more the Director of Football. We say this: The Chairman is in charge. It was his decision to appoint a manager who matches his arrogance. Pellegrini in turn, appointed a DoF who chose the players he wanted to buy. The squad are struggling under the vague tactical instructions of a hands-off manager who believes “big team mentality” is the essence of his footballing philosophy. Therefore, it seems obvious to look to the top for responsibility.

David Sullivan, this is your omnishambles. Fucking own it!

West Ham 2-3 Newcastle

ON the evidence of the home defeat to Newcastle, West Ham are less a side claiming to have top six pretensions than one staring at a relegation battle – and with a set up ill-equipped to face that challenge. There have long been whispers emanating from the club that in all areas the Hammers are arrogant and yesterday all those chickens came home to roost. Forget the late rally, this was a team humiliated by a club so poorly run they appointed the woeful Steve Bruce as manager to replace Rafa Benitez.

To be fair to the Magpies, at least they didn’t settle for Manuel Pellegrini in the hotseat, a man whose entire operation appears to be characterised by arrogance. In that respect, if no other, he is a perfect fit for the Hammers.

First the bare facts: West Ham have won just three games from 11 in what has been a relatively easy start to the campaign. Worse, they’ve picked up just two points from the last fifteen including just a single point from consecutive home matches against Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Newcastle. The side are currently an alarming nine points down on comparative fixtures from last season.

Expected goals come in at a reasonable seventh place at 15.79. But it is at the other end of the pitch the worries lie. A defensive xG of 21.45 is worse than Southampton, who a week ago let in nine at home. The only side with a worse metric are Norwich. A combined xG of 11.27 puts the club in the bottom three along with the Canaries and, you guessed it, Newcastle. Statistics strongly suggest the Hammers are overperforming!

A measure of the manager’s arrogance is he describes his club’s current form as a “lapse” and claimed “It’s difficult to explain why we played the way we did in the first 45 minutes. I do not understand why we played so bad”. What a shame he eschews analytics? None of us are on Pellegrini’s reported wage of £10million per annum (quite likely a good proportion of which buys an acceptance to accede to the wishes of Chairman David Sullivan – more on that later) but might offer one or two suggestions:

Just a thought, but if you are playing a Bruce-managed Toon, who have by far the worst attacking xG in the division and hadn’t scored away from home in 400 minutes but do possess pace by the bucketload, it might not be the greatest idea in the world to match 85-year-old right back Pablo Zabaleta (who has all the pace of a sloth who wishes to give up the hurly burly of sloth life and kick back a little) against the lightning quick French winger Allan Saint-Maximin. Neither was it the pinnacle of tactical awareness to play a 4-1-4-1 system that allowed Newcastle to merely lump the ball down the field upon receiving possession safe in the knowledge they had the numbers and legs to chase it.

Two of the goals conceded came directly from dead balls. Yet for all our highly acclaimed “big team mentality” (what does that even mean?) there is nothing to suggest training involves set plays at either end of the pitch despite the clear benefits from so doing. For their crucial first goal 6ft 1in central defender Ciaran Clark was being marked by 5ft 7in left-back Aaron Cresswell. And while on goals conceded it’s impossible not to comment on Roberto Jimenez, a goalkeeper whose only claim to competence would appear to be his vague physical resemblance to Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon.

Would it be too much of a stretch to think that, should first choice stopper Lukasz Fabianski be injured, we might need a replacement a little more accomplished than somebody who managed just four appearances for Espanyol in three la Liga seasons? Yesterday he came and missed a cross by yards to present an easy headed goal for Federico Fernandez before a lack of footwork led to him getting both hands to a Jonjo Shelvey free kick but merely pushing it into the net. So rancid was his display the stench could even be smelt as far away as the distant upper tier of the London Stadium.

On pitch we have a captain who has bought into his manager’s hubris. Prior to the Palace game on the 5th October Mark Noble mused: “We never think we can lose”. Reader, we did. In fact, we haven’t won a game since. The skipper then went onto claim he is part of “The strongest Hammers squad” in his decade-and-a-half in claret and blue despite it containing no strength in depth at goalkeeper, full back, central midfield or up top. “Pranks” pre-recorded for sponsors should not be part of a Premier League captain’s repertoire; the optics are poor when the team is losing, they lack class and appear unprofessional.

Andriy Yarmolenko was weaved, it would appear, from the same cloth. He is nowhere near as good as he thinks he is and offers little off the ball. Just as a park footballer wearing Predator boots needs to be pretty nifty to avoid a good shoeing, so Yarmolenko is not of the class, or physique, required to cut holes in his socks – this year’s nasal strip. Felipe Anderson needs to start justifying his £34m price tag too. Yesterday he looked like Matt Jarvis as he didn’t beat anybody, didn’t provide killer passes and wandered around giving the ball away. Still, at least he does all this to a Samba beat, so that probably makes it ok. (Hint: It doesn’t).

An honourable exception was Robert Snodgrass. Chasing and harrying as though his life depended on it, the Scotsman scored with a quality finish and gave the impression he was playing for his place. The midfielder offered the post match view that: “We need to be solid and resolute”. Amen. The club surely need more players with his ability either side of the ball. Expect him to be dropped for an attacker next week against Burnley.

Among the backroom staff the arrogance not only continues but is encouraged. Vice Chair Karren Brady (does anybody know what her role involves?) refuses point blank to give up her vapid and often offensive Sun column despite it doing harm to the club’s reputation. She also ignores UEFA, Premier League and Government regulation that insists clubs speak meaningfully with independent supporters’ groups.

Brady’s hand-picked “supporters” group the OSB act as an arm of the commercial department and do nothing to help fans while their Chair’s main role appears to be antagonising fans via social media. Likewise, Ben Campbell nominally “Head of Media Relations” is known to be at once dim, confrontational and a constant hurdle to journalistic access.

To get to the root of the unwarranted pride that characterises the club it is necessary to go to the top. Owner David Sullivan likes to insist any responsibility he bears for results ended when he bought a club in financial distress nine years ago. Despite personally doing very well from the deal he will routinely answer any criticism with a flurry of nonsense about how much money he has “put in” to the club.

He believes he knows at least as much as the managers he employs, refuses to engage anybody who questions his desire to meddle in the transfer market and will brief against those who do via his favourite websites. We note a piece last week on one such site decrying a recent non-Sullivan signing. In the same place a poll on Pellegrini appeared less than an hour after the full-time whistle yesterday.

The result is a club where sycophancy and chutzpah flourish while intellect dies a lonely death. We are fully prepared to accept our observations on this subject may be considered arrogant in themselves. Just don’t coming running to us when Steve Bruce is appointed manager.

West Ham 1-1 Sheffield United

THE contrast could not have been greater.

Watching on TV as England humbled the almighty All Blacks with a brilliant display of precision and power and coming away from the game breathless and exhilarated. Then later in the day trudging through the Stratford drizzle to see West Ham bumble and fumble their way to a lame draw against recently promoted Sheffield United.

Yes, they are different sports being played at quite different levels but if you aspire to be the best it must be worth adopting the processes that lead to being the best in all codes. There are parallels to be drawn, particularly as West Ham’s financial turnover is roughly equivalent to that of the RFU.

Ignore those telling you the boys with the red rose on their chest won because they showed “passion” (possibly one of the most overused and meaningless words in sport) and bellowed the National Anthem with gusto. England beat New Zealand because they analysed the opposition and sought weaknesses before putting in place a blueprint to exploit the flaws they found.

Coach Eddie Jones picked a team of individuals best suited to maintain discipline and carry out the game plan as the implemented individual skills to for the greater good. Most of all trusted they their defence, brilliantly organised by John Mitchell to hold out safe in the knowledge they had the players to hurt the Kiwis in attack.

It isn’t clear if Hammers manager Manuel Pellegrini uses statistical analysis to prepare his sides. Frankly, it’s doubtful; certainly, he never mentions it at pre or post-match pressers preferring to keep his comments as anodyne as possible and repeatedly speaking only of “big-team mentality” (heaven only knows what that means).

Team selection and formation against the Blades seemed capricious. Having struggled with a lack of midfield presence the Chilean decided to remedy the situation by playing Declan Rice on his own in a 4-1-4-1 formation(!) Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson wide with Robert Snodgrass and Mark Noble given the job of supporting striker Sebastien Haller.

A not uncommon sight; West Ham six against six in defence

Arthur Masuaku, Ryan Fredericks, Angelo Ogbonna, Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals were dropped from last week with Aaron Cresswell, Fabian Balbuena, Pablo Zabaleta, Robert Snodgrass and Yarmolenko coming in. Changing three-quarters of a back four seems odd, especially when the problems at Everton last week were further forward. Rather than a set of changes to improve the whole it appeared as though a frustrated and confused manager was punishing various players for heaven knows what. As a friend commented: “This is a team picked by Twitter”.

The system failed. The game plan had not been thought through. Without a tackler alongside him to break up play Rice was repeatedly outnumbered. Worse, the attack was a mess. Nobody was able to get alongside Haller, never mind advance in front of him leaving the Frenchman isolated and frustrated as he attempted to hold the ball up and play in … nobody. Meanwhile the wide men and fullbacks hit crosses in to … nobody.

Haller is an incredible striker with so many skills in his repertoire but the team are not playing to him. Pellegrini’s pre-match criticisms seemed both out of character and inappropriate. Without a second striker (given our lack of central midfield options we wouldn’t advocate 4-4-2) or better still a goalscoring midfielder coming from deep the former Eintracht Frankfurt player is wasted. Essentially Pellegrini is attempting to recreate the style he used at Manchester City without the individual skillsets.

The home side scored, as Pellegrini sides seem to, not through overwhelming the opposition but by a piece of brilliance – in this case a lovely cushioned volley from Yarmolenko that set Snodgrass away to finish calmly just before half-time. The Northerners equalised mid-way through the second half after two failed headed clearances by Issa Diop allowed an unmarked Lys Mousset to mishit his shot under a collapsing Roberto Jimenez in the West Ham goal. The rest of the game degenerated into sloppy pub football.

Once again we faced the drizzle.