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, December 13, 2016

Liverpool 2 - 2 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

 1. Half A League, Half A League, Half A League Onward

We've all been there - usually with about 50 other commuters

The film Sliding Doors probably doesn't deserve the prominent place it has in modern culture, particularly given that it helped to inflict Gwyneth Paltrow upon us all when we really hadn't done anything to warrant it.

However, it introduced into the modern lexicon the concept of alternate world theories. Where our lives are altered by a single choice which open up multiple timelines allowing even the most outlandish possibilities to become true.

You might think that sounds like science fiction rubbish, but you're living in a world where Leicester are Premier League champions and Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the US, so you might want to at least consider the possibility that you're living in one of those weird sub strands.

I can't help but wonder if today was our Sliding Doors moment. Lose here, especially having been 2-1 up, and who knows what kind of descent we would have embarked upon. Having fallen behind before anyone even had time to get injured, the task looked borderline impossible. Credit then to Slaven Bilic and his team for a stirring, brave, heartwarming fightback that owed a little something to luck and a lot to some of the old fashioned values that (sort of) underpinned last seasons success.

Now, should we win against Hull and Burnley, then we can finally start to look up the League instead of staring at Hull and wondering quite how we have messed up so badly that we're only a point ahead of them.

2. 'Forward, The Light Brigade!

Even with Kouyate, Sakho and Carroll absent from the starting line up here, we put up a stern resistance. It could barely have started worse, however, as Adam Lallana was allowed to control and finish on the half turn with just four minutes gone. It was a sumptuous finish, but our back four didn't so much as move a muscle as he took his chance, instead adopting the half crouch of Subbuteo figurines and producing the exact same amount of movement as well.

At that point it looked like the same old Northern away day, as we began to wonder how many the home team would put past our static defenders and trying to figure out who would be the first to get injured.

But then a funny thing happened. Barely able to believe how easy it was, Liverpool stopped their famous pressing and we eased back into the game. It wasn't exactly a fightback - more the small planning meeting you have when you're considering a fightback - but it was enough. Payet and Lanzini started to get on the ball, and crucially Antonio was doing some of the things that strikers do, forcing Liverpool to actually defend occasionally.

Getting Liverpool to defend is a great idea, as they're fucking abysmal at it, and soon enough Antonio ran past Lovren and should have probably done a bit better than he did. Not to worry, as Payet stepped up and curled a trademark free kick over the wall and in. Keeper Loris Karius got a hand to it, and by common consensus this seems to mean he should have saved it. I'm not so sure as he was at full stretch when it went past him and it seemed to me he did well to reach it at all, but I think we're also well into the realm of "Who on earth gives a shit?" here.

Not long after, emergency scapegoat/right back Havard Nordtveit hit one of those raking long passes that he seems to love so much. It hit Jordan Henderson in the head because Jordan Henderson, and looped up into the air. Joel Matip settled under it and then decided he couldn't wait until 7.20pm for Strictly Come Dancing and burst into his own version of the Rhumba.

Joel Matip attempts to clear the ball before our second

Antonio didn't need asking twice and slipped it beautifully home and celebrated in a way that is probably very annoying to opposition supporters and wonderfully endearing to us. 

3. Some One Had Blunder'd

Irritatingly, having clawed our way back into the game, we then immediately gave it away as Darren Randolph produced a lovely homage to David James - once of both these parishes - and inexplicably spilled a simple cross to Divock Origi. 

This marked the eighth time this season that we have conceded within eight minutes of the second half starting. I don't know exactly what they're saying to them but these mental lapses are costing us hugely. 

Randolph did atone later on with a remarkable wonder save from a Jordan Henderson long range screamer. The remarkable bit being that it was from Jordan Henderson, because Jordan Henderson.

4. Cannon To The Right Of Them, Cannon To The Left of Them

The problem with allowing Liverpool back into the game is that these days they have some superb players to take advantage of the opportunity. Roberto Firmino was outstanding today, even though the game apparently started whilst he was in the middle of having his hair cut. 

Adam Lallana is also a terrific player, as is Sadio Mane, and if they ever just decided to shell out £20m for Southampton's scouting network it would probably save them huge sums of money in the long run. 

But we stuck gamely to our task, and I thought Mark Noble showed visible signs of improvement today. There were still times when he appeared to have wandered into quick drying cement, but few teams move the ball as quickly as Liverpool, and generally what he did was done well and with more snap then we've seen recently.

Alongside him Pedro Obiang continues to make Bilic's decision to exclude him for so long look insane. He was everywhere, breaking up play and crucially doing enough going forward to allow our luxury players the chance to play further up the pitch.

Perhaps the most encouraging moment came in the 84th minute. Aaron Cresswell (brilliant, as ever) was caught offside, and Liverpool launched a quick counter down our left. Thrillingly, Dimitri Payet sprinted back, dropped into his position and did enough to hold up play until reinforcements arrived. It might be incredibly English of me to laud one of the best attacking players in the world for doing a bit of defending but that's where we are. We had no chance today unless we matched the home sides prodigious work rate, and Payet, Antonio and Lanzini deserve credit for their part in that.

The Sky statistics showed that Liverpool covered 108km in this game and us 106km. These are useless without context, but given Liverpool probably covered 2km just jogging over to take corners, I'll take that as a base line for Wednesday's crunch game with, God help us, Burnley.

5. Their's Not To Reason Why

There is a concept in quantum physics known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. It states, at a very basic level, that the more precisely we can state the location of a particle the less precise we can be about its momentum, and vice versa. Ostensibly I understand this to mean that we cannot be entirely sure about the location of any given particle at any given moment. This doesn’t make much sense to me as I could quite clearly see Divock Origi standing on the six yard line yesterday, but Darren Randolph apparently couldn’t, so maybe there is some truth in it.

Now you’re probably wondering about my hidden depths, but I should confess now that I learned this from watching a programme about the science of Star Trek so please don’t get too caught up in your adulation for me.

And why have I raised this? Because the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle seems to be the only logical explanation I can muster up for Andre Ayew.

Did Andre Ayew play yesterday? Does Andre Ayew exist? One might as well try to catch a rainbow in a jar or describe the colour blue to a blind man. Ayew transcends description or the mere physical conception of location. He's on another existential plane talking to God, Ra, Shiva and Johnny Cash, and pondering the ending of Westworld. He is most certainly not goal side of James Milner at a corner, or anything so crude as that.

Musing on the efficacy of Andre Ayew is to ask why people pay money to listen to Sting, or who exactly is laughing at the fucking Big Bang Theory. It is better simply not to ask and merely accept that these things happen despite the fact that nothing on heaven or earth can explain them. 

So what is Andre Ayew doing? I can only tell you what he is not doing, and that is anything useful for West Ham. 

They paid twenty million quid for him. I've seen some shit in my time....

6. Boldly They Rode And Well

This particualar Light Brigade is so named due to the ongoing and debilitating nature of our injury list. Into the fold today came Havard Nordtveit, who was asked to play at right back and got off to a typically useless start by allowing a cross for the goal within five minutes. 

To his credit, however, he stuck at it. Out of position and out of breath for much of the first half he did just enough to keep Liverpool at bay, and popped up with half an assist for the Antonio goal. He remains perhaps the likeliest of the new boys to be a success, purely because he seems like he has the game to compete in the Premier League, and I will keep repeating that a player with his pedigree will eventually start to play well. 

By the time he stepped into a back three after we brought Carroll on, he was looking positively comfortable and he defended exceptionally well for the final, nerve shredding quarter of an hour. 

Separately, it was telling that after publically berating his squad for a lack of training ground intensity, Bilic dropped Zaza, Feghouli and Masuaku from the matchday squad and instead took a phalanx of the youth team with him, giving our bench the air of a Blazin' Squad video. You could probably smell the Lynx Africa wafting out from our dressing room in the away end.

Maybe they were injured, but it was hard to escape the feeling that this was a shot across the bows of those feeling a bit disgruntled by a lack of first team action. In the end, the means were justified and this feels like a precious point, especially in the context of our Anfield history, our season so far and last week. 

If we can start to find game time for the likes of Nordtveit, and they can respond with good performances like these, then the road out of our relegation battle suddenly looks an awful lot easier.

7. Right Thro' The Line They Broke

Darren Randolph had a topsy turvy day, and I remain unconvinced that his selection ahead of Adrian is entirely merited. It still feels bit like a change made for the sake of making a change, even though his save from Henderson was stunning.

The reality is that we are allowing way too many shots on target per game. We're giving up twice as many (5.60 per game) as we manage ourselves (2.80) which is the fourth worst mark in the division. If you take a look at this image from the wonderful Paul Riley public tableau you can see the problem immediately.

And here is the same image, but this time with Southampton as the defending team. 

My eyes, my eyes! Jesus H Christ on a bendy bus, that's awful. We are giving up ludicrous amounts of shots on goal generally, and distressingly high numbers from within the box. If you want to know the key to yesterdays point, it was probably that we restricted Liverpool to just three shots on target all game. 

Furthermore, if you want to look for a key element in any forthcoming turnaround, keep an eye on whether we are making blocks and forcing bad shots from bad positions. Until those things start to happen with a bit more frequency it won't really matter whether we have Randolph, Adrian or as rumoured earlier today, Joe Hart, in goal.

8. O The Wild Charge They Made!

There was a brief moment in the second half when I began to wonder if we were actually going to snatch the points here. Having seemingly weathered the storm after the equaliser we were showing hints of a late offensive surge. Not an actual surge you'll understand, but more the pre surge meeting one might organise at a pub before the real thing.

Then, when we were considering venturing forward, on came Andy Carroll like a pissed Geordie samurai and suddenly we fell back into the traps that have long befallen us with him on the pitch. Passes went long, headers were won and our midfield got sore necks watching the ball sail above them. Maybe the last twenty minutes of a gruelling set of away fixtures isn't the best time to judge this, but I do get concerned when Carroll is on the pitch.

We prospered today when Antonio was on the pitch doing centre forward type things, which we have been missing all season. Diafra Sakho teased us at Spurs and United, but otherwise we've been left to watch Zaza et al flounder in isolation, without putting particular pressure on opposition defences, or showing the ability to run the channels with any intent.

Carroll will work hard, but he doesn't have the legs to do it with quite the same gusto as the more mobile Sakho or Antonio, and he invites our back four to hit him with long passes which nobody is near him to pick up. What can also happen, as it did here, is that opposition defenders don't even bother to contest headers with him and just drop off to pick up his flick ons.

He also managed to get an eye injury, probably as a result of raising his eyebrow when Andre Ayew popped up in the inside left channel meditating.

9. Into The Mouth Of Hell

So after our tour through the elite of the division, we returned home with 2 points. In all honesty I'd have settled for that a fortnight ago and depending on whether your glass is half full or not you can say that we were just 180 seconds of madness away from another 3 points at Spurs.

It's hard to see this particular draw as anything other than a great point. At a ground where we have just one win in 50 years, and at this point in our season, with the injuries we're carrying this was a tremendous result. We can pick holes in the performance all day, and worry about the lack of attacking intent, and curse the continued Sunderlandness of our defence, but the reality is that we toughed this out and nicked a point that could be hugely valuable come May.

That said, before we all get carried away on Andre Ayew's Transcendental Magical Mystery Tour Bus of Brilliance, it's also worth remembering that we are a Winston Reid Cruyff turn away from being bottom of the division.

I think, therefore I am offside

10. When Can Their Glory Fade?

"There's something special about Liverpool Football Club, the electric atmosphere, the excitement and the passion." - Liverpool Official Website

Congratulations - I hate every word in that sentence. 

Watching this game brought home to me the weird relationship I have with Liverpool. I know loads of their fans and they're generally very nice, very "proper" supporters, whatever that means, but I still am sick of the club in general.

I know so many of them because when I was a kid growing up in the 1980's Liverpool won everything and picked up loads of glory hunting fans all over the country. This included Essex, where I felt that anyone not supporting West Ham was committing an act of betrayal to their home town team.

But beyond that, the thing that I just cannot bear is the continued media bombardment telling us that we should all acknowledge what a "special" club it is. I don't dispute that it's special to their fans, but I also know that Bury, Wycombe, Plymouth and Cardiff are special to their fans too, and completely meaningless to everybody else. Just like Liverpool.

Nobody is in thrall to the legend of their own Club like Liverpool fans. It's there in every mention of Stevie G, Carra, The Boot Room, it's not life and death, the Miracle of Istanbul...until Jesusfuckingchristjustkillmenow. By far the worst thing about the 2006 Cup Final defeat was the two weeks afterwards of being told how magnanimous Liverpool were being towards little old us, and what a great club we were, just like Liverpool, until I think a West Ham fan actually died in late summer after being patronised to death by the Liverpool media offensive.

Klopp hasn't helped, turning up to press conferences with his Beatles t-shirts, his charisma and actual proper tactics, because they now look useful again for the first time in ages. I much preferred Brendan Rodgers semi mystical prognostications that sounded like he'd read them in a self help book for Tesco managers, before then going out and losing 3-0 to us at home.

Of course, I am sure that other fans think the same about us and our unstinting references to Bobby Moore, 1966, celebrating the Boys of '86 who never actually won anything and generally prattling on about the Academy when we haven't produced a good youngster in years. But this is what football is comprised of - tribal rivalries, mutual loathing and a complete unwillingness to see anything good in other teams. These are values that football fans hold dear.

So stop telling me Liverpool are somehow elevated above other clubs by virtue of some odd little Englander desire to revert back to the 1970's and 1980's. They're a huge club, with lots of fans, and as a result, lots of money too. But it's not special to keep buying Southampton's best players. It's not amazing to sell loads of shirts in Asia and use it to plough back into the team.  It's not unique to be a football club with connections to the local community. It's particularly not special to ruin an entire decade by being better than everybody else and winning everything, although in fairness we should also acknowledge that they've steadfastly refused to do that again. So no, Liverpool aren't special. They're not. They're just like West Ham, but successful. And that's why I hate them. 


  1. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Great write up, my friend mad Moore is a huge fan

    1. I do not know what this means...am I missing a clever bit of wordplay?

    2. Anonymous1:06 AM

      Sorry no clever wordplay, I have a friend whose nickname is "mad Moore". He loves and hates (when you dig out Slav) this column equally.
      There are not many comments on here but be assured this is shared all over Facebook and Twitter. It's not lost into the ether.

    3. Thanks - I appreciate that. Tell Mad Moore that I'm still on the Bilic train, but only just. I can't take many more Hull's...