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 26, 2016

West Ham 0 - 3 Southampton (And Other Ramblings)

1. Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such past West Ham debacles as "Achieving The Impossible - Four Down To West Brom In An Hour", "Manny Omoyimni - Stick Him On, No One Will Notice" and "The Carlos Tevez Story - None Of Us Know What Third Party Ownership Is But I Doubt It's A Big Deal". 

2. 10,000 Seas Under The League

They got worse! After going out of Europe before we could blink, conceding EIGHT unanswered goals to Watford and West Brom, undeservedly scraping past Accrington Stanley, training all week, doing all their homework and eating all their greens, West Ham somehow managed to sink even deeper. We are the Jacques Cousteau of the Premier League!

I didn't think it would be possible to get worse than last week but we managed it with something approaching effortless ease. If you're wondering exactly where we are in the league, we are in the Mariana Trench, which is a lot nearer Stoke than I had first realised.

3. So, Like, What The Fuck?

It's hard to know exactly where to start with this game, given that it was a Hieronymus Bosch style cavalcade of nightmares. West Ham didn't concede four, but only due to the second half excellence of Adrian who repelled a rampant Southampton repeatedly whilst the defence in front of him did a passable impression of Gandhi.

The shapeless nature of our performance was highlighted by yet another second half collapse, that ended up once again with the league's joint top scorer playing at right back, in a system that defies any logical attempt to explain it. 

This was a team with no cover in central midfield playing a holding midfielder at right back, a right back at left back, a right winger on the left, Dimitri Payet everywhere but always with two Southampton men around him and Simone Zaza exposed up front, a mile from his nearest team mate. It's like Bilic is picking the names out of a hat and then using a Ouija Board to decide what position they play.

Tactically, we are shambolic at the moment, with no obvious method of scoring and seemingly no hope of repelling even the most straightforward of opposition attacks. 

Southampton's first goal was very well worked, but neither Ogbonna or Reid were within five feet of Charlie Austin when the ball was pulled back to him to score. I have no idea what state Austin's knee is in, but his finish was entirely predictable and should be a lesson to David Sullivan to shut up, but absolutely will not be. 

Thereafter, as Southampton realised that they were not playing the 2015/16 West Ham, they simply took control of the game, filtered every West Ham attack in to the jaws of their rock solid central spine and hit us repeatedly on the counter until it just all felt a little bit unfair.

4. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

We are missing Aaron Cresswell more than any of us care to mention. Not simply because he is a left back who can defend, but because his lung busting overlapping runs make such a difference to our attacking threat. Cresswell as an attacking force can either open up space for Payet, or be the spare man to actually put balls in to the box. 

Note today how frequently Payet picked up the ball wide on the left and only had Arbeloa behind him as a passing option. Zaza may not actually have any motor function but he is so isolated that he may as well walk round with "Greenland" on his back. With Antonio drifting aimlessly around, and Lanzini looking lost in an advanced role, it really does beg the question as to how exactly we are planning to score this season. At present it seems to be the case that we hope for a Payet free kick and then take to the rosary beads.

As much as our missing left back is impinging upon our attacking play, it is equally true that our absent centre forward is hurting our defensive set up. Diafra Sakho may be a moody and unpredictable sort, equally as liable to drive his car into a wall as he is to score but his work rate is suitably Stakhanovite. Without his relentless pressing up front, teams are able to move easily through our midfield, where we have no noticeable defensive cover and then eventually get in behind our full backs. 

I wish I had something witty or incisive to say here, but the reality is that the problems facing us are enormous. Almost nothing in the team is working. Sure, it's only six games, but per @SimonGleave of Gracenote Sports we have taken ten fewer points than we did from those same fixtures last season. 

Consider that for a moment, and then ask yourself whether you think this team are going to take 4 points from Arsenal, Everton and Man Utd, 6 points from Liverpool and 3 points from Spurs. Last year happened, it can't and shouldn't be consigned to history forever, but it is not going to be repeated. So perhaps Slaven could introduce our centre backs to each other, play a defensive midfielder and see whether or not he's kept the receipt for Zaza in case Juventus offer refunds.

I don't Obiang have a solution Obiang for the Obiang defensive midfielder Obiang problem. Obiang.

5. You Can't Spell Hopeless Without Hope

I'm going to write a separate article about this at some point, but I have been concerned for a while with West Ham's consistent tendency to fall behind in games. Last year we recovered 18 points from losing positions, which was second only to Spurs, and seemed to convince a large portion of fans that this was a defined skill that we had mastered. The problem with that is that whole teams don't tend to have "skills" in that way. We were simply good, or lucky, or maybe a bit of both. Consider that the Premier League average was 10.5 points, and West Ham's average over the past ten years of league games has been....10.36 and you might begin to err on the side that we were in fact quite lucky.

So it was always an unsustainable level of performance and was always going to regress to the mean. And man, have we ever regressed. We've gone backwards quicker than Madonna off the stage at the Brit Awards. 

West Ham regress to the mean

Indeed, in the last ten years West Ham have gone on to lose 70% of all league games when they have conceded first. It is overly simplistic to say this, but if West Ham are to turn their season around, they absolutely have to stop conceding first. It was always unlikely that they would be able to sustain last years level of performance, especially with a transfer policy that has weakened the team, but this particular trait is killing us. 

Also, maybe assemble some defenders who actually know how to play in their positions. 

6. What Went Well?

Southampton were very good, but it's reached the point that we need to start qualifying that by adding "...but it was only against West Ham".

Adrian, who some people were dropping for Darren Randolph before today, was outstanding, and only his second half resilience kept the score respectable. In a game where we mustered just a single attempt on goal, it isn't really possible to single out an attacking player for praise but Dimitri Payet at least kept going, and wanted the ball even when we were three goals down and clearly as finished as Mel Gibson's movie career. 

The crowd didn't riot. Possibly because most of them left after 75 minutes, giving the chairmen a nice sneak preview of what their glittering new stadium might look like in the Championship. 

7. Is Slav In Danger?

Ordinarily, I would say not. Shitty start though this may be and, make no mistake, a top half finish is now little more than a fantasy, there is still enough time for Bilic to turn this around and steer us to an Allardycian 13th place finish.

There are two problems with that. Firstly, the goalposts have moved. Quite literally in fact, as we no longer have Upton Park to fall back on. No more acid atmosphere derbies to carry the team to victory and no more reliance on formidable home form to sustain our Premiership status. It's 38 away games, and thus far the season is going every bit as well as you might expect given that state of affairs. 

Secondly, whilst Sullivan and Gold are notoriously loyal to their managers they just can't afford to mess around if it looks like the season is slipping away. You can argue the toss over whether this season is more closely resembling Roeder in 2002/03 or Pardew in 2005/06 (I favour the latter) but it's already shaping up to be a fucking disaster.

Relegation would be catastrophic and therefore you suspect that Bilic will have a shorter leash than he might otherwise have warranted. That said, I still see him being given up until Christmas, with any new man brought in just in time for the January transfer window. 

Of course, given that our transfer activity has contributed to this current parlous state of affairs, one might wonder whether the premier decision maker, David Sullivan, might choose to consider whether he could have done a better job this summer? 

No, I don't suspect he will either.

8. Fixtures And Fittings

Don't look now but we're already into very dangerous territory with our next few fixtures. We simply have to pick up some significant points from our next three games.

We are about to play: Boro (h), Palace (a) and Sunderland (h) before we embark upon Everton (a), Stoke (h), Spurs (a), Man Utd (a), Arsenal (h) and Liverpool (a). Yikes. 

At the very least I think that home game against Sunderland should be fun as you rarely get to see so much incompetence in any one place outside of Cabinet meetings. 

9. War Of The Roses

A brief philosophical question before I go. If someone from Yorkshire wins a gold medal at the Olympic Games and someone else from Yorkshire doesn't immediately produce an alternative medal table showing Yorkshire as an independent country beating Belize and Kuwait, then did that medal victory really occur?

I ask this because some people have asked whether I have a bit of an issue with Dimitri Payet. Well I don't, Quite the opposite - I actually love Dimitri as much as people from Yorkshire like telling you they are from Yorkshire.

Like how you might be in a bar and you meet a guy and straight away he's telling you he lives two villages over from the Brownlee brothers and all you're thinking is "I just asked if anyone was sitting there".

Funnily enough they're less keen to tell you about Peter Sutcliffe, which is odd because he is one of Britain's most successful serial killers and he was born in Bingley. Still, never mind as they're still claiming those gold medals they won courtesy of one member of the coxed eights rowing team, one of the track pursuit cycling team and one of the synchronised divers being from Yorkshire. God bless 'em.

Anyway, that's how much I love Dimitri Payet. He's reet brilliant.

It's not his fault that Simone Zaza is operating on a higher plane of existence where his consciousness has become fused with that of a higher being and as such he has achieved a kind of Utopian transcendence that means he's gone and tattooed his knees and now couldn't hold the ball up if you covered him in Bostik.

10. Past Is Prologue

"So when you say it's gonna happen now, well when exactly do you mean?
See I've already waited too long, and all my hope is gone"

"How Soon Is Now?" - The Smiths

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