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, October 24, 2016

West Ham 1 - 0 Sunderland (And Other Ramblings)

1. Reid-emption

"Andy decided he'd been here just about long enough. Andy did like he was told, buffed those shoes to a high mirror shine. The guards simply didn't notice. Neither did I... I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a mans shoes? Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want to. Five hundred yards... that's the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile." Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding - The Shawshank Redemption

After watching 94 minutes of this. #jesuisandy

2. The End Is A Beginning

Let's start at the end. After 94 minutes of a slow descent into madness, we took advantage of a full on Sunderland retreat and finally rustled up a winner from a last gasp corner. 

Now it's been an actual ploy of ours in recent weeks to drill low corners into the box for Angelo Ogbonna - our left footed centre back - to run on to and attempt a first time right footed shot. We've actually been doing that deliberately. 

This worked so well against Southampton that the ball ended up going backwards, was sliced up in the air by two more of our players, Dimitri Payet fell down a mine, Manuel Lanzini crashed a forklift truck into a tree and a GIF was born that would be replayed forever. 

Today, with our last chance of the game we therefore fashioned a chance for our other centre back Winston Reid. With careful planning Noble and Payet supplied the ball to Reid with his back to goal outside the box - just as we all dreamed they would

Naturally, the New Zealander did a quick Cruyff turn and smashed it in to a spot no bigger than a Rita Heyworth poster with his wrong foot because - well, Sunderland - and everybody danced in the aisles. But let's not kid ourselves here - this was the footballing equivalent of shaking a mans hand and stealing his watch. 

3. This Is A House This Is Not A Home

Jonathan Liew of the Telegraph wrote an interesting report on this match. He made the point that a house doesn't really become a home until you have a few memories in there, and I think there is some merit to that. 

There has barely been anything for us at the London Stadium other than misery thus far, which probably doesn't help either the players or fans. There is no emotional muscle memory of anything particularly positive. It's why this game with Chelsea on Wednesday feels so important - like it could be the first truly memorable event for all of us. 

I know when I think about going to games at the new stadium I don't have any of the innate confidence that I had going to Upton Park. There I believed that we had a home advantage, and that it was actually worth something. Nowadays I consider it a success that we got through this game without that escaped gorilla getting on to the pitch, drinking 5 litres of Capri Sun and crushing Adrian in a hug. 

More of a threat to Adrian than Sunderland

4. Back And Forth

This game was actually fascinating from a tactical standpoint. We started with the same 3-4-2-1 formation that worked well at Palace for 40 minutes and I genuinely think this took David Moyes by surprise. 

Like me he probably looked at our squad and couldn't fathom who could actually play competently at left wing back. Enter Edmilson Fernandes, who did a passable impression of Aaron Cresswell for about 25 minutes. Sadly, for all his lung busting efforts going forward, his one footedness meant he used all of his progressive positions to cut back inside on to his right foot. This worked alright to start with, as Payet and Lanzini were enjoying oceans of space through the middle, and Payet alone could have had a hat trick by the time half an hour had passed. On the other side, Antonio was basically playing as a winger and were it not for the fact that he's as useful with a cross as a vampire we would have been at least two up by the break. 

Moyes, however, woke up at this point and switched Duncan Watmore to the left to push Antonio back. This shut down one of our better outlets and also allowed Patrick Van Aanholt to get involved in the game. This doesn't sound significant but the left back is actually Sunderland's best attacking player. That sounds mental, but consider that the bloke in front of him is an engineering graduate called Duncan and it probably doesn't sound so weird. 

Thereafter, Sunderland were a bit more competitive and we slipped back into a state of inertia that resulted in long directionless periods of play. That oscillation in tempo is probably one reason why the crowd have struggled to get into games at home - the team are wildly inconsistent even from one passage of play to the next. 

Anyway, with us drifting along and Sunderland sort of looking dangerous without actually creating anything, Bilic responded. On came Sofiane Feghouli for Antonio and he pinned Van Aanholt back, handing us back the initiative. Sadly, this didn't lead to much but I at least found it encouraging that Bilic seemed able to adapt during the game to answer what his opposite number was doing. 

Spare a thought for Antonio though, who is staying true to an age old West Ham tradition by getting called up for England and then immediately losing the form that got him there. 

5. Get With The Flow

So one thing I found at bit odd was the amount of times we seemed to lose our defensive shape. Some of this will be down to having not a single fit full back and thus playing three players out of position in our back five. This confusion seemed a little unnecessary to me, however, given the fairly obvious nature of defending against Sunderland. 

I have thus created this easy to follow flowchart which can be laminated and stuck down the shinpad of any confused Premier League defender. 

6. Simone, Simone

Another day, another fruitless day at the office for Simone Zaza. Now I've been following that blueprint for twenty years in my job, but I work in the Financial Services sector in the City of London where being shit at your job has never yet been an impediment to anything. 

Sadly, Zaza isn't a data cudgeller like me, and even though he produced a rather nifty overhead kick at one point he still never looked likely to score in this game. We are fast approaching the point where we'll have to make a decision on whether to sign him permanently, and in a curious way I suspect the Club might like him not to score just to make that decision clear cut. 

At this juncture, the worst case scenario is that he scores twice right before we have to make the call. I have no doubt that moving to a foreign country and dealing with a new language, a new league, a new tactical set up (or lack of one, depending on how you view our start to the season) and a new set of opponents is not an easy transition. But for all the effort he puts in, he's not offering a goalscoring threat and you can't pay €25m for someone who runs about a lot. 

At present, per the brilliant Hilltop Analytics, we are scoring just 7.7% of shots we take (second worst in the league behind Southampton), and at least part of this in down to the fact that we carry no threat from our strikers. Some of it is down to the fact that we aren't taking our shots from the right place with too many long shots, or attempts from wide areas. Again though - when you aren't dangerous through the middle this is what happens. 

Look at who we rely on for goals these days: Antonio, Payet, Lanzini and now Reid. That's not a sustainable strategy. 

7. Regression Is Our Friend

Going into this game, we had conceded a league highest 16% of the shots taken on our goal. You don't need me to tell you that's terrible. It's one in six, which is like having a lottery draw to decide which of the George Lucas Star Wars films to watch on a Friday night and picking The Phantom Menace every single time. 

This will have gone down a little now with this clean sheet, but we can reasonably expect it to keep going down because even with no actual defenders to choose from we still aren't the worst defence in the league. Things will get better there. Unlike this.

8. Stadium Blues (Slight Return)

So apparently there was yet more trouble outside the ground again today. I'm getting a bit more wary of these sorts of stories because they mostly come via Twitter and therefore are no different to things you overhear in a pub.

I was thinking a bit about this on Saturday though. It seems obvious to most that away fans should be held in the ground after games to allow the home fans to disperse and prevent most of this friction. And yet this doesn't happen.

In thinking about it I began to wonder if it isn't simply a case that holding fans in the stadium wouldn't actually do any good, because it takes so long for everybody to get away from the ground? Driving is basically impossible, so most people come via train or tube. With 50,000 people to get rid of, it simply cannot be done as quickly as it used to happen at Upton Park.

There, with the myriad side streets and ways out from the ground, people could disappear away from the area easily, and away fans could be frog marched back to the station by the Police with very little hassle.

At the London Stadium all that would happen by holding away fans back is that you'd piss them off - especially if they've conceded a 94th minute goal - and then you'd be releasing them out to.....the back of a very long queue.

I'm not saying this is definitely the case or that I have any inside knowledge on the topic but as I was thinking about it, that made a sort of sense to me. As such, the fans are all being released together and scuffles are ensuing because that's what apparently happens when people see other people wearing different colour scarves. Something to keep an eye on for Wednesday.

9. The American Dream

As an aside, I went to the NFL game today at Twickenham and it was an absolute disaster getting out and back to the station, even though I was in a box and had the luxury of waiting behind and letting the crowds die down a bit. Don't be envious - the only beer was Budweiser which really should be illegal to serve to humans. Give it to gorillas if it absolutely has to be "brewed".

I don't think Stratford is great from a transport perspective, but the reality is that no stations are big enough to cope with funnelling that many people out in a short space of time. I could probably do without David Gold telling me that West Ham have the best transport links in the country though. Of course you'd fucking think that David - you get chauffeured to games in your Bentley. I suspect that is an ever-so-slightly more luxurious experience than squeezing on to the 18.02 train back to Romford with hundreds of other fans and large numbers of nonplussed Westfield shoppers.

Or, as was the case on Saturday, going on a replacement bus service where, much like Bladerunner, I saw things that you people can barely imagine.

10. Some Houses Are Homes

I know you don't come here for my political opinion - but in case you missed it, I found this a fascinating and uplifting story.

Rio Ferdinand, Bobby Zamora and Mark Noble are helping to build social housing in deprived areas in London and the South East. I don't fully understand either the logistics or the potential return on their investment from that article, but even if it isn't entirely philanthropic then it's at least partly philanthropic, which seems to be a good deal more philanthropy than one sees from the average highly paid sportsman.

And with that I shall depart. Here's a picture of Mark Noble looking lovingly at a fish to act as a counterpoint to any distaste you may feel about social housing.


  1. Anonymous1:57 PM

    My favourite comment....Antonio was basically playing as a winger and were it not for the fact that he's as useful with a cross as a vampire...

    Ps loved the diagram too.


  2. A good blog. I agree with pretty much all (Especially the diagram) but I have not given up on Zaza. As mentioned, he has had a lot to contend with and I like to think that with an actual partner up front like Sakho (How we miss him) he can still l come good. He played ok on Saturday. The £25m fee set expectations too high, which isn’t his fault.
    It amazes me how quick everyone has been to give up on Zaza and even Bilic at timesthis season. The blog two down where journalists are considering replacement managers in October for a manager who delivered a 7th Place the season before is plain silly.
    I think the injured players returning can make the difference now. A striker like Sakho who can take some chances will change a lot and we all know the difference Creswell made and the opportunity to play poor Arbeloa in position again.
    I see hope on the horizon...which is never dangerous in football….!

  3. Thanks for the comment, Keith.

    I agree on Zaza, in the sense that I desperately want him to do well and he was part of a very good Italian squad just a few months ago at Euro 2016. But with the nature of the deal, he needs to show something more.

    It's particularly crucial because as much as I agree on Sakho, he can't stay fit and neither can Carroll. Zaza would have a job for life if he could actually get going.

    Cresswell could make a huge difference if he can avoid getting Martin Atkinsoned again...