Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Aston Villa 3 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Back! And Better Than Ever! If By "Better" You Mean "Much The Same As Before!"

This performance was so utterly, objectionably, abysmally abject that I rather suspect Naomi Campbell will be required to testify about it at The Hague by the end of the week.

2. What Naomi Saw

"Yes. It's rather an inconvenience to me that West Ham still can't fucking defend"

3. The Opposition

Although I may be somewhat unkind about Stewart Downing from time to time, I would like to think I can still recognise a good opposition team when I see one. Villa looked so much better than us in this game it was really a miracle that we only lost by three. They hit the bar twice, the post once and Ashley Young switched boots with Downing at half time and missed from a yard in the second half. All in all we were battered.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of this defeat is that Villa are currently being managed by Kevin MacDonald, who as far as I know was in charge of their ticket office before unexpectedly being given the reins when Martin O'Neill had his latest wobble. There is something so depressingly familiar about watching us subside at the first sign of pressure when apparently it's the opposition who are supposed to be in turmoil. I mean, seriously - allowing Stewart Downing to score (even if it was offside) - that's just amateurish.

I'm not sure this game gives us any great insight into Villa, on the grounds that most teams they meet this year will have a little more backbone to them than we displayed. Of course their biggest problem is the imminent departure of James Milner who seems set to join Man City for no less than £20m plus Stephen Ireland. The notion of paying Twenty Million for Milner only seems sensible to me if you are talking about Turkish Lira but I guess good sense has long since departed the English transfer market. Ireland is a good player and I rather think Villa will be fine this year, although I can't see anything much above 7th.

4. The Statistics

Despite not really wanting to, I forced myself to look at the ESPN Gamecast and thoroughly depressed myself in the process. You can suffer too if you want.

Apparently my attempted eye gouging may have worked somewhat as I must have missed pretty much all of our surprisingly high 14 attempts at goal. Slightly less surprisingly, just one was on target, and that was a right footed scuffler from Luis Boa Morte. Villa, by contrast had 27 (!) efforts which led to a, still eye bleedingly low, total of 5 on target. Still, they scored from 3 of them so I shall not mock too much.

I dunno, not much to see here as they really did hammer us. If you are unsure about this, consider that by the time we had our first goal attempt after 26 minutes, Villa had had 8 of their own, and scored. Yeah, I think they edged it.

5. Adventures In Formation

Our best two chances feel either side of the break and involved some egregious finishing from our wide players. The aforementioned Boa Morte chance was squandered not just due to poor technique but also because at the time Luis was underhitting his shot, Carlton Cole was standing alone on the 6 yard line waiting for the ball to be squared to him.

Later in the second half, Cole was involved in creating a great chance for Julien Faubert that would have brought us back into the game at 2-1. Sadly, Faubert slotted it calmly past the post and the moment was gone. Most irritating of all was that had Faubert used his left foot, his chest, his nose, harsh language or indeed any other method for propelling the ball forward he would almost certainly have scored, such was the nature of the chance.

This highlights something of a problem with the 4-5-1 method in so much as it does rely heavily on the two wide men getting forward to support the isolated Cole. Now that's a fine idea when your two wingers are Joe Cole and Arjen Robben. When they are Faubert and Boa Morte it doesn't seem quite so potent. Between them these two have played 131 league games for us and scored 3 times. And one of those was against Hull so I'm not even sure the Premier League actually count that.

I am sure the longer term plan is to mix them up with Pablo Barerra and Kieron Dyer but for an opening game it was somewhat disheartening to see us put out a team with almost no attacking threat.

6. Out With The Old, And Back In With It Again

On that last point, I have to say I found it deflating in the extreme that having spent the best part of £10m on new players we still lined up with more or less the same team who performed so abjectly last year. Our midfield 5 of Faubert, Parker, Noble, Kovac and Boa Morte is a thoroughly uninspiring group that is long on perspiration and short on pretty much any other kind of "-ation".

The starting XI on Saturday had a combined 51 league goals for West Ham, with Cole (26) and Noble (10) being responsible for most of them. By contrast Carew and Young had 60 between them for Villa, and even after just 5 minutes of this game it was impossible to ignore the difference in attacking potency between the two teams. This was best characterised by the fact that Carew and Milner between them mustered 13 efforts on our goal whilst Cole, for example, managed just one.

7. First Day At Work

"West Ham defenders - God's little practical joke on football managers"

8. Right Said Fred

I see Freddie Sears was on the bench for this game. I suspect this was Grant's way of trying to subtly suggest to our supporters that maybe they should temper their expectations for the year. In fact, as far as statements of intent go it was rather suggesting that you get your expectations, wrap them neatly in a brown bag, sellotape them in for safety and then put them under the bed with all your other footballing hopes and dreams.

Perhaps you can get them out again in 2013 when we will be firmly ensconced in the Olympic stadium and filling it with 58,000 fans every week. Apparently.

9. The Future

As appalling as we were in this match it's hard to get too worked up with just one game gone. Even though Blackpool won 4-1 at Wigan it's hard to think that they and the other promoted sides won't struggle and with other dross around like Blackburn and Bolton it doesn't seem to outrageous to think we could finish 5th bottom this year.

Because, obviously, with the 6th highest priced season ticket in the League this is exactly how I like to think of my team.

Anyway, sample size is everything when performing analysis so let's withhold judgement on Grant, Winston Reid, Pablo Barerra et al until they have at least been knocked out of the Cup by Oxford. For instance, it might be tempting to suggest that Reid looked every inch a man who had learned his trade at the hands of footballing powerhouses New Zealand Soccer and Brondby FC, but let's give the guy more than 1 game to rush to judgement, especially as he is apparently more a centre back than right back.

10. Just Because

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