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

Friday, February 03, 2017

West Ham 0 - 4 Man City (And Other Ramblings)

1. Bad Dreams

My poor Dad.

February 1st is his birthday, and as a treat I decided to take him to a West Ham game. I actually bought him a ticket to the Man Utd fixture as his present, but as that was just ninety minutes of tedious Mourinhoan pedagogy I felt guilty and bought him another one for this game.

This brings me on nicely to the definition of insanity. Albert Einstein is credited as describing this as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". But Albert Einstein never watched West Ham, and therefore had no meaningful grasp on the concept of despair, or mental degradation.

"We're going to absolutely destroy you"

The actual definition of insanity is buying a ticket to watch West Ham play Man City in the FA Cup, watching them lose 5-0 and then buying a ticket to watch the same fixture in the league three weeks later even when you know the outcome will be the same.

As my Dad said on the way out - "I'll be fine with a book next year, thanks".

2. Game Day

This truly was a shitshow. A perfect Piers Morgan of a performance as most of the team took to the field without a spine, and were duly humiliated once again by a team who can't defend and have conceded four goals against both Leicester and Everton.

But none of that truly captures the abject, insipid, utterly limp nature of this display. This was fucking awful. Most distressingly of all, it was almost a note for note reproduction of the cup game, right down to the 3-0 half time score, the shitty penalty award, the funereal atmosphere and the overarching feeling of being in a cable car that has just got to the crest of a mountain but instead of going forward, has suddenly, inexplicably started falling back down the slope at a dizzying speed.

If you have ever played football at a certain level you will have experience of being screamed at by an angry coach over "in balls". These are passes from full backs to central midfielders which are cut out and are described by The Secret Footballer as being responsible for 40% of all goals conceded from open play. Angry English youth coaches generally prefer you to "stick it in the fuckin' mixer" rather than attempt them.

Anyway, even now I can picture you all nodding along as you think of Aaron Cresswell and Pedro Obiang paying homage to the art form last night with two beauties of the genre. The reason that these passes are so dangerous is that players intercepting them are almost always facing forward, advancing at pace on to a back pedaling defence, and crucially with no holding midfielders to worry about. City's first and third goals came from these mistakes and whilst they were beautifully constructed and finished, there was the familiar air of self inflicted wounds to the whole affair.

In between this, Leroy Sane had ghosted past debutant Jose Fonte almost as though he were an ageing thirty three year old rather than the key to all our defensive problems, before crossing for David Silva to score from about two yards out. As I said, a note for note remake of the cup game. A bit like when Gus van Sant recreated Psycho shot for shot, except that this was actually terrifying to watch and didn't feature Vince Vaughn.

All that this horror show was missing

Half time came and went with no discernible difference apart from the fact that the stadium was emptying quicker than a broken hourglass. Raheem Sterling capped off a fine display with a superb two stage dive as he jinked past Fonte. As we know from the cup game a lack of contact is no impediment to City players falling over but Toure duly squeezed the penalty home anyway and, with that, everybody stopped bothering. City stopped trying, the supporters started to gauge when they needed to leave to best utilise the world class transport facilities and Guardiola brought on Fabian Delph after presumably losing a bet to someone.

3. The Detail

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of the xG concept. This looks at the type and location of the chances created by teams and assigns them an "expected goal" value. It's a useful tool for reminding ourselves that whenever somebody (usually Alan Shearer) says "he has to score from there" it is invariably bullshit.

What's remarkable about this game is how little threat we posed. As you can see here, using the superb xG Maps at @11tegen11, our xG in this game was 0.43 compared to City's 2.07. This feels about right as we generally carried the same level of threat as the Swiss navy, and this now marks 180 minutes of complete offensive ineptitude against a team playing John Stones at centre half like that's a professionally acceptable thing to do.

If you're looking for a comparison, Hull generated chances worth 0.51 and restricted Man Utd to 1.45 in their game last night. A-fucking-hem.

Our only chance fell to Cresswell, who was beautifully found in acres of space by Andy Carroll, but was so surprised by this turn of events that he promptly forgot how to use his legs. His resulting shot was ballooned miles over the bar and was so overhit that it almost made it into the seats behind the goal.

Our wide man Sofiane Feghouli was so useless that the only player to complete fewer passes in the final third of the pitch was City keeper, Willy Caballero which, if you're following along at home, means that he managed less completions than Darren Randolph. That - as the kids say - is fucked up.

Aside from this, or perhaps because of it, we looked completely clueless as to how we were ever going to score. I recall a game against Man City back in October 2010 when we lost 3-1 and spent the first hour looking totally inept. This was during the Allardici "no striker" period when Allardyce played with six midfielders and just said "we won 3-0 at Spurs" when anyone pointed out that this meant we had stopped scoring. Even that night, when we had no fucking strikers, we still eventually scored and had a bit of a go.

Everyone has a different tolerance for losing games, and I'd like to think mine is pretty high but at the very least I expect my team to have a vague idea of how they intend to win the match. It is my fearless prediction that these constant surrenders at home to any team with even a semblance of something about them, will eventually cost Bilic his job.

4. The Lessons

What was very evident from the first whistle tonight was that there was no coherence to our defensive play. Forget for a moment the lack of attacking intent and ponder instead the failure to get even remotely close to City after they scored their first.

In contrast to the visitors there was no pressure on the ball, and if you don't press then you must be compact and difficult to break down and we weren't doing that either. Instead the team operated in some sort of strange hinterland where nobody marked and nobody hassled and David Silva strolled around majestically in a Hawaiian shirt and a flip flops like he was playing on a beach in Brazil. I'm going to be so excited when Sullivan tries to sign him in five years.

Much of this confusion stems from our formation which, having watched the game both live and in highlight form, I still can't really fathom out. Carroll definitely played up front and behind him we had some sort of interpretive dance movement whereby Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini fluttered around like Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream whilst Feghouli stood motionless on the wing as if traumatised by the whole thing.

It's easy to say that the big pitch or our slow players aren't well suited to pressing but I think this misses the point. It's our defensive structure that isn't working. Pressing needs to be done at the right time, in the right situation and with a co-ordinated plan where players aren't too isolated when they make the decision to go and challenge the ball. What we currently have is a mishmash, where the immobile Carroll can't really do it against good ball playing defenders, and as a result our midfielders are getting pulled all over the place. In turn, when we do manage to break we can't transition with any pace because players aren't where they need to be, and generally we're fucking clueless on the ball unless Lanzini has it. So against crap teams we can get away with it, and against good teams we keep getting skewered.

This is born out by the fact that in matches against the current bottom half we have a record of P11 W7 D1 L3 but against the top ten it reads P12 W1 D3 L8. Yowzers. We have become a team for the small occasion, and the only reason we have a win against a "good" team is because Burnley have somehow snuck into tenth.

What this tells me is that we have a method which works against weak teams, and have been unusually clinical in finishing them off, but we have nothing to offer against anyone half decent. This can't continue - I understand that we're going to lose more often than not to teams like Man City given the huge advantages they enjoy, but we've just played them twice in a month and got schooled both times. We're not getting any closer, we're getting further away and that, more than anything, is a cause for concern.

5. Corner Boys

Having gone into the transfer window needing a right back and a centre forward, we bought a winger and a centre half. This is genius stuff from the Board who have sensibly realised that the way to win football games is to do what your opponents least expect. Centre halves when you need full backs, play a lion in goal, have everybody in the ticket office type using their weaker hand, sell drones instead of food at concession stands. That kind of thing.

So, for the second consecutive window we failed to get a right back, leaving Sam Byram a free run at the position for the rest of the season. In truth I'm not opposed to that, given that this season is a slowly smouldering bonfire and we are playing for nothing other than prize money, which will only be wasted on agents fees anyway.

So Byram gets a 15 match audition in which to state his case, and if he gets injured then we'll be back to asking people to do jobs they aren't qualified for, which sort of seems normal now that Donald Trump is President of America.

On the other side, Cresswell is having the worst season of his West Ham career. He was injured to start the campaign and it's entirely possible that rushing him back hasn't helped. I have seen a few calls for Arthur Masuaku to be given a run in his stead, but the last time I saw him he was moving like he was on smack, so I don't see how that would be an improvement. Cresswell would probably benefit from having a genuine wide player in front of him which I suppose Robert Snodgrass is, even if Bilic played him on the right when he brought him on, because anything else would have been stupid.

The overarching theme is that without functioning full backs, teams can't survive in modern football. Look at Spurs and Chelsea, who use their wide defenders in different systems but to very similar effect. Cresswell did that superbly last season and if he could get back to that form again, and Byram can start to develop into the player we hope he can be, then we would have something on which to base the massive summer overhaul that is required. The genuinely worrying thing is that we have been searching for additional right sided cover for two windows and Sullivan hasn't been able to unearth anybody. I suspect I may return to this point.

6. All Due Respect

The only home player to really emerge with much credit from tonight was Antonio who played in his odd new position, flitting between the wing and the second striker role, and worked gamely in the most lost of causes.

Emmanuel Emenike sighting, folks

I would love to say something positive about Reid and Fonte, who at least kept working until the and but we conceded four goals in a defensive clusterfuck that would have been startling if it wasn't for the fact that this was the sixth time we've conceded at least four this season, and the fourth time at home. At some point we might need to accept that shuffling keepers, recruiting new centre halves and praying to St Christopher might not be the answer to our problems. Our defensive structure isn't working but it would probably also help us immensely if our back four could tackle.

7. The Buys

Alright, you knew this was coming. I'm about to go off on one about our January transfer window. Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before.

How to assess our January work, then? Well, in isolation the players we brought in will probably improve the team. Snodgrass is not a patch on Payet, but the latter wanted out so he will probably provide better results than the uninterested Frenchman would have done. Likewise Fonte will replace the injured Ogbonna and is undoubtably a better player than the alternative, James Collins.

But, between them they set us back £18m and will stay on the payroll for the next three seasons despite Fonte being 33 and Snodgrass being 29. My apologies if you follow me on Twitter and saw me rant about this last week but I think it bears repeating. I did a little research and decided to compare our transfer policy to Southampton and Spurs.

Both are loosely similar to us in that they don't win much but have some money, are well established Premier League teams and are looking to break into the upper echelons of the league. Spurs have surged ahead in this latter regard, but these were the gaps that the stadium move was supposed to help bridge.

Well, here's how many players that each of them have signed in the last four years who are as old as either Snodgrass or Fonte:

Spurs - none
Southampton - none

One has to go back to 2012 to find Spurs signing outfield players as old as 29 (Clint Dempsey) or 33 (Ryan Nelson). For Southampton it's 2011 (Hooiveld) and 2009 (Jaidi) respectively.

Those statistics don't have to mean anything, but they do. Our competitors do not make signings of this type anymore, and instead we've made three this season alone. I actually don't mind the idea that we might be doing something contrary to popular thinking if I thought it was because our brains trust had hit upon some market inefficiency that others had yet to exploit. But of course that's not what this is - it's a case of David Sullivan getting the life scared out of him by our summer disasters and instantly reverting back to a market he thinks he knows. And lo and behold, two wildly over the top transfer fees later, we have two ageing players we may not need beyond the end of this season and around £30m committed to buying and paying them.

You know how there is always a team around that everybody else just points at, laughs and wonders what on earth they're doing? Congratulations - you support them.

And those are the intimate details of the Reece Oxford deal, don't mention them on the radio or anything will you, good lad

Sullivan then followed up his latest masterstrokes with the quote "Robert is British and is proven in the Premier League and I must say we'd like to sign a few more British players". 

This makes perfect sense to me having watched multiple World Cups, European Championships, Champions Leagues and Europa Leagues the overriding feeling that I am always left with is that British players are by some distance the best on the planet.

Sure, the only world class one plays in Spain but if you get the opportunity to snap up a guy who has played for Leeds, Norwich and Hull then you bloody well take it.

I despair. I despair of the short sightedness of this bullshit policy that Sullivan is now espousing. Being British and having Premier League experience wasn't required for Kouyate or Payet. They were good buys because they were good players. Alli, Arnatouvic, Van Dijk, Tadic, Rondon - all were brought into the Premier League from elsewhere and all hit the ground running. Each of them were affordable and would have improved our team.

That said, tragically, he actually had it right for a couple of years when he let Tony Henry have free reign and we signed players from overseas and the lower leagues and largely steered clear of paying over the odds for domestic players. That all changed this summer when our recruitment went awry and Andre Ayew was signed in a deadline beating frenzy for a mystifying £20.5m and has now been supplemented by these new buys. £40m on Ayew, Snodgrass and Fonte, two of whom play in the same position. You have to get up pretty early to outsmart Sullivan, yessiree.

Rather than look at their recruitment process and decide that the thinking was right, but the execution was poor we have now instead reverted back to the old Sullivan Birmingham mantra. New signings have a huge whiff of "Ooh, I've heard of him" about them and as a result we're getting screwed on fees. Consequently we're getting older, slower and more expensive just as everyone else is getting younger, fitter and cheaper.

If you're doing something different to everybody else in your field then you're either leading it or you are trailing behind. I know where I think we are.

8. Moral Midgetry

This is horrendously inappropriate and just confirms the long held suspicion that we are a joke club. It may have got four thousand likes from the Megabantz crowd but it's an awful reflection on our club. I'll say no more - I already feel like a bully.

9. Storm Warnings

Er, let's just back the fuck up here a minute shall we?

We sold our soul for this. I'm not getting into the rights or wrongs of the move, but nobody can deny the irrevocable change that has been visited upon our club. We gave up our spiritual home, our history and our distinct home pitch advantage to come to the London Stadium.

Somehow there seems to be this misconception that because we've got this bright new stadium and a huge digital wrap, and 60,000 seats that now it's time to pay our side of the bargain. The board gave us a new house - and now we have to turn up and make it a home.

Well, I'm sorry, but that's the wrong way round. We allowed them to move us and now they need to repay us with a team worthy of that sacrifice. The house might be bigger but it's an athletics stadium, and it comes with a lot of problems. As I took twenty minutes to walk from one side of the ground to the other last night due to the bottlenecks, as I saw the biblical queues for the concessions stand, as I sat on the broken down, ancient TFL train at Stratford, the very furthest thing from my mind was the phrase "world class".

However, I'd accept all of that if I saw progress. If I saw cutting edge, industry leading thinking that was putting a young, dynamic, fearless team on the pitch. I'd accept the shit food, the crap acoustics and the lousy view if only I could see the team was actually taking that mythical next step.

But I don't. I see a board that haven't got the self awareness to see their own failings on the football side of the business, doomed to continue repeating them, wasting millions as they go.

And losing 5-1 at home to Arsenal and now 5-0 and 4-0 to City is shameful. We were risible in those games, and the thought of what Spurs and Liverpool will do to us at season end terrifies me.

The only way this stadium move will work is if the team takes a step forward. If we're just going to meekly roll over for the bigger boys and just point to their annual turnover when asked why, then we might as well have stayed put. At least Upton Park had an atmosphere.

The board might not be prepared to accept this, but I see a lot of fans as still being in "wait and see" mode. This is a dead season, so they had better be planning for the summer with the intention of looking to drastically improve rather than just supplement this team.

And this weeks peerless setting up of Bilic has been incredibly obvious too. Everything was publicly declared to be the choice of the manager. No striker, no right back, no turning down the ear splitting PA? All down to Bilic. Keep an eye on Rafa Benitez at Newcastle - there is previous, he's unhappy and they're targeting Bilic. I wonder.....

10. The Wire

You might recall that last week I (correctly) pointed out that the second series of seminal US crime drama The Wire was the best in the run. Indeed, the eagle eyed among you may have recognised the theme for this weeks article as a result. In any case, several people disagreed with me, leading me to run a poll on Twitter to establish once and for all that I was correct the will of the people.

As you can see from the embedded tweet above, it's impossible to tell how many people voted, but I gotta tell you folks it looked like maybe a million, a million and a half took part. And as you can see, the correct answer is Season 2.

And that, is the nearest I have come to a victory in the last week.


A Plea

I don't usually do this sort of thing as it's fraught with danger but I saw something while researching this article and thought West Ham fans would want to know. Former youth team player Amos Nasha faces being made homeless as a result of losing both his parents.

Details are here and there is a JustGiving page here if you wanted to donate anything to the cause.


  1. Excellent read as ever. You missed a trick re. your dad's birthday, it was my brother's b'day as well, so I duly sorted a family meal out and offloaded my ticket to a, probably now former, mate. Then got home in time to see us concede the pen and rushed off to 5 a side football. Record in league games I've missed and offloaded my ST, P5 L5 F3 A18. Let me know if you want any tips on league games to skip.

    1. 18 in 5 games? Christ - what a time to be alive.

  2. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Great read.

    I cant see G&S sacking Bilic before his contract is up anyway. They really don't like to sack managers - probably because they hate paying up the contract

    For what it is worth I don't see a problem with signing Snodgrass. I think he is a really good player

    Given Bilic said he wanted to keep the money earmarked for Hogan for the summer so maybe he is doing exactly what you suggested a few weeks ago i.e giving some of the players we already have a chance to prove themselves (e.g. Byram, Calleri + Sakho)and then rebuilding in the summer when you get better value

    One big question I don't understand is why Adrian has been dropped so quickly. He may not have been on top form at the season start but he is a good goalkeeper who seemed happy to be with us. Certainly he is a lot better than Randolph who makes mistakes every single game. Anyone who can help me understand why he isn't in team?


    1. I'm with you - the Randolph/Adrian thing puzzles me greatly.

      I agree that Snodgrass will probably be fine. My issue isn't really with the players as such, they'll be ok for a year or two, but mainly the flawed thought process that led to signing them.

  3. Anonymous2:35 PM

    Eloquently expressed and I agree with pretty much all of it. It is horrific that the Sullivan children are allowed to so openly be seen to be treating the club as a plaything. And our record on signing strikers is horrific. I can remember the excitement of signing Dean Ashton and how I felt that finally we were in the market for the right kind of players. Since then has there been ANY striker we've signed that's played more than just a handful of games (so that excludes Ba), been of the right quality *and* stayed injury free?
    The answer is no.
    The transfer policy is far from shrewd on almost every conceivable front. I work in sales/negotiation and the last thing you want to do is to declare your hand up front ("we want to sign a £30m striker"). We then brought in Calleri who was meant to be the next Lionel Messi but plays like the actual Lionel Blair. Anyway, depressing myself here...

  4. I tweeted the link to this article to our Karren.

    1. Anonymous6:23 PM

      Agree 100%. The fans say the players should give 100% and never give up but first sign of trouble and a third of the stadium empties.

      Is it 'new fans'? I dont know. I have assumed the extra season ticket holders are ex-members or long standing fans who decided to take the plunge and arent really plastic by any degree.

      Maybe I am wrong and if they really are so new I doubt they will be there next season.

      Hammer Keith

  5. Koozy3:42 PM

    You articulate my feelings in a way I can't / am too lazy to do myself, so thank you for that.

    We've all seen a lot of shit West Ham teams in our time, and shit Boards as well, but this feels like a different sort of shit - like a slow motion car crash of soulless shit.

    I note you didn't touch on the evacuation of the ground which is now a common theme. I actually don't like the argument of new plastic fans, you don't make the effort or pay the money if you are not a fan of some sort. The issue in my mind is that the corporate stand (not sure if it's East or West) empties 5 mins before HT and stays like that well into the 2nd half which I understand if people have pre-paid food and booze. But I think this then starts the rot with the newer (marginal?) fans leaving because it is some way short of the magic they were sold in Stratford. This then impacts the supporters who really do care and will back the team through thick and thin, in that if 30,000 have left early you have to consider it yourself because of that Stop Go ridiculousness. At Upton Park I think the worst times were generally confined to the pitch, now it seems to consume the whole match day experience.

    I'm rambling now, but thankfully it won't be long before my Betamax copy of Iron Men crashes through the letterbox.

    1. Brilliantly put - in fact I've tweeted it so others can read it.

  6. Anonymous6:16 PM

    Fantastic piece of work, mate. Great read.

  7. Another good one, so many things I've felt this week down to the classless snake tweet, the classless constant we back the the manager theme. Did you miss the double dose of DS on the radio?, you're ears may have bled. Anyhow thanks again and "look" forward to our non show tomorrow.