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

Monday, September 19, 2016

West Brom 4 - 2 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Our Defence - Truly Defective

I don't know if you've seen True Detective, but Season 1 is my favourite piece of television ever made. It contains genius characters, an emotional journey and an ending that was uplifting and brought succour to the soul without truly vanquishing the forces of evil.

Season 2, however? Not so much. The location was changed and even though there were a lot of familiar elements, nothing quite worked in the same way and it ended up as an incomprehensible load of heartbreaking nonsense.

So stop me when you figure out where I'm going with this. Or if you see Vince Vaughn playing at right back.

2. Time Is A Flat Circle

YearAfter First 5 GamesFinishedManager

It's only five games. But if you look at the previous ten seasons, the first five games have been tremendously predictive of the rest of the campaign. As shown above, anything in the 8-10 point range has resulted in a top half finish, and anything in the 1-5 point range has yielded a white knuckle descent into a relegation battle. 

Naturally, most West Ham fans remain convinced that this particular squad is too good to go down which by now might as well be the club motto. We could stick it just under the "London" on the club badge, along with two fighting season ticket holders.

I'm not suggesting that we'll go down. I'm not suggesting that Slaven Bilic is currently channelling the ghost of Avram Grant. What I am pointing out, is that in the last decade there have been zero instances when West Ham have started poorly and recovered to finish in the top half of the table.

3. I Lack The Constitution For Suicide

So, off we went to face Tony Pulis and his merry band of free wheeling, high scoring banditos. In their last 13 league games West Brom had won just once and managed only 6 goals in the process. Still, West Ham have always been pretty good for what ails you and arrived in town having conceded at least twice in 11 of our previous 15 league games.

Now that is some seriously shit defending.

Things started poorly here as Arthur Masuaku misplaced his cerebrum and handled the ball whilst under less pressure than an astronaut on the moon. West Brom, despite being the league's pre-eminent free flowing attacking force, didn't exactly pour forward. Instead they sat back, invited pressure and broke with enough menace to lead 3-0 at half time.

One passage of play before half time was instructive, as our vaunted attacking players moved the ball from one side of the pitch to the other whilst West Brom put ten men behind the ball and looked on with the curiousity of a cat watching a pendulum, until Mark Noble took a heavy touch and the home side broke to force a corner within the space of seconds. This constituted the most useless set of passes since universities started giving out degrees in social media, and represented how we could have had 70% of possession and still be 4-0 down after an hour. To West Brom.

4. There Is No Such Thing As Forgiveness

So West Ham haven't so much hit the ground running as smashed headfirst into it from 10,000 feet after the reserve chute didn't open.

I'm not going to be so revisionist as to say I saw this coming, but I've been uneasy about things for a while. Our pre-season seemed disjointed and aimless, culminating in a second successive Europa League Armageddon and our transfer dealings look bizarrely unsuitable for the travails ahead.

Assuming all our players were fit and healthy and firing - a scenario so unlikely it might well render this point redundant - I think our strongest first eleven would look something like this:


Some might quibble with the inclusion of Diafra Sakho over Andy Carroll, and may prefer to include Andre Ayew in there somewhere too but I would say that this is a defensible enough team, and thus I see two spectacular problems.

Firstly, the team includes 33 year old Arvelo Arbeloa who hasn't yet played a minute for us and gets in the team because we don't have a functioning right back in the squad. Secondly, the team doesn't include any of the other new signings.

Now, you may argue that Feghouli and Ayew would get in there if they hadn't got injured immediately upon arriving. But where would they play? Neither would displace Payet, Antonio is the leading scorer in the league and Lanzini has arguably been the only one of our midfield trio to be worth his place.

The form of Noble and Kouyate has been so mediocre that both must be in jeopardy of losing the places, but Håvard Nordtveit has been incredibly underwhelming and Pedro Obiang must have killed Bilic's cat, such is his current persona non grata status.

Elsewhere, Edmilson Fernandes and Ashley Fletcher are surely too young to be relied upon to impact the season although both are going to end up playing a reasonable amount purely due to the awful performances elsewhere.

Which brings me to Zaza, Tore and Calleri. All on loan, all looking out of their depth and all not good enough to improve the first team.

So we spent hugely in the summer and didn't improve the team - only the wider squad. That was fine when there was the Europa League to half-heartedly mess around with, but now it is solely the Premier League and it seems clear that we are in for a season of struggle.

5. Life's Barely Long Enough To Get Good At One Thing. So Be Careful What You Get Good At

I can't help but feel the right back spot has been instructive in this sense. We lost Carl Jenkinson to injury and then bought Sam Byram. He struggled and couldn't displace Michail Antonio, who was being played there solely because Bilic wanted to shoehorn him into the side somewhere.

That particular house of cards came crashing down when Swansea came to town and destroyed us 4-1, with Andre Ayew tormenting Antonio all day. Having seen that particular display, our answer to having a glaring hole at right back was....to buy the Swansea left winger.

6. You're Livin' Wrong

The West Brom fourth goal was worth the price of admission alone. Having got to the interval just 3-0 down, our back four apparently googled "Ukrainian border defences in Crimea" for inspiration as to how to approach the second half. This led to the slightly unusual decision to attempt to defend a West Brom attack without a defence at all. 

Manuel Lanzini seemingly missed all this and made a valiant chase back, but his half hearted attempt wasn't enough and we became the first team to concede four goals to West Brom under Tony Pulis, or possibly even ever because after all they are fucking West Brom.

If you're struggling to visualise the goal, try and remember what it was like as a kid when you were playing computer football games and your dad would ask to play. He'd have no idea what he was doing so would randomly press all the buttons and suddenly three of his players would be in the crowd, two more would be on the floor breakdancing and the centre halves would be engaged in a passionate kiss. In between laughing, you broke away and scored because you can only beat what's put in front of you.

Anyway, yeah, that was Nacer Chadli's second goal on Saturday.

7. You Owe A Debt

Whilst I spent most of Saturday night singing "Where have you gone, Danny Gabbidon? Our nation turns it's lonely eyes to you" to myself, I can't help but wonder about Dimitri Payet. Some of the spark has gone. It's possible he's knackered after the European Championships, or it's possible that other teams are now targeting him so much that his effectiveness is reduced. I mean, he still leads the league in assists, so he can't be doing too badly but even then two of those goals have owed a bit more to Antonio's finishing than the crosses themselves.

It's ridiculous to worry about Payet when our defenders seem to have forgotten how to do anything, but I'd like to see him dictating games again. It doesn't help him that our defensive midfield pairing of Kouyate and Noble are playing terribly, but he is our premier player and we need him to take games like this by the scruff of the neck and drive us forward. We saw some of that in the second half on Saturday but it can't happen only when we've let in four goals.

And how galling that the last sentence is now a statement of fact rather than hyperbole.

8. The Secret Fate Of All Life

I'm ashamed to say that I make snap judgements all the time, and they are often based on ludicrous things. If you tell me you write a West Ham blog, I will happily read it up until you use the word passion in a sentence other than "passion is an irrelevant, meaningless, catch all phrase used by idiots to explain elements of the game they don't understand". If it's used in any other context I'm just going to smile politely and eventually delete the link.

And so it goes with centre forwards. If a ball comes into the box and you attempt an overhead kick from a ridiculous angle, with no hope of success, then I am going to judge you. Simone Zaza - stop doing stupid things. Hold the ball up. I'm judging you. 

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