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, May 15, 2017

West Ham 0 - 4 Liverpool (And Other Ramblings)

1. Intro

I would wager that you are not of the opinion that this game was A Good Thing. But I rather think it was. Of course losing is crap, losing at home is crappier and losing 4-0 to a team captained by James Milner is really rather embarrassing and I'm not suggesting otherwise.

But after the electrifying high of last week, it felt like maybe we were all losing sight of what this season has truly been like. Not to wallow in misery, but this has been it. All. Fucking. Season. Overrun, overpowered and over before half time.

He missed this. Twice.

There were plenty of mitigating circumstances today; injuries aplenty, the most uneven refereeing performance I have seen in quite some time and an incredible miss that - fittingly for a player known as Shrodingers Ayew - defied the laws of physics.

But let's not kid ourselves that this hasn't been de rigeur for us all year. Consider how dreadfully shit we were today, and then reflect on the fact that I would name Arsenal, either of the Man City games and the Southampton match as worse home performances. Worse! This game didn't even crack the top three of our incompetent shitshows at the London Stadium. Aye(w) Carumba.

2. In Cold Blood

So, I think it's good that we disappear off for the summer with this awfulness ringing around our head. That might seem like heresy, but our Board need to be held to account for their abject failure this season and hiding behind a late season flourish isn't going to cut it. I'm sick of hearing from David Sullivan about how he sniffed out Payet and Lanzini and then leaking to his preferred fan sites how it was actually Bilic who wanted the likes of Tore and Zaza.

Fuck that cowardice. It's in the annual report that he's the Director of Football so that's the end of it. David Sullivan is responsible for every player at this Club and right now there aren't very many good ones on the pitch. If you want the plaudits for Payet then you have to take the brickbats for Calleri. That's how it goes. I fervently hope Sullivan sat there today utterly chastened by what was unfolding in front of him and left dispirited and hurt like the fans who actually paid to be there. Good - it's his fault.

We deserve more than this. Every fault line was visibly and egregiously exposed today. The lack of transfer nous at the Club, the failure to prioritise or even remotely acknowledge the importance of fitness in the squad, the consistent inability to keep players on the pitch, the lack of pace right through the team and the chronic failure of our Academy to provide first team players.

The danger of the Spurs win was always that it would paper over the gaping cracks in the facade. How bad can it be, we all wonder, if we can continue to deny them the title each year? Yeah, well I've got my sights a little higher than that. My head nearly came off my shoulders this week with all the eye rolling I've been doing at Spurs fans saying they'd be "embarrassed" if their team only got up for two games a year. The problem is that they're at least partially right - one week after we play like Trojans we revert right back to this clueless, shambolic schoolboy outfit.

Last week was glorious, but it stands alone in this season. It's a lighthouse on a treacherous coastline, showing us the way but illuminating the crashing awfulness below. I hate losing, but if this defeat in a meaningless end of season game that the team approached like a testimonial serves to force the Board to accept their failures then it will serve a purpose.

When you go to renew your season tickets, or buy your new shirts, or book your stadium tours remember that it's this shit they've been serving up for most of the season. We deserve better.

3. Breezeblocks

As for the actual game, well it was a curious affair. We started pretty brightly with both wing backs getting high up the pitch and causing Liverpool problems. One nice move involving Lanzini and Calleri opened up a channel for Byram, who dragged his shot across goal from a promising looking position. From there, however, it was all downhill and quickly at that.

@11tegen11 does his usual sterling job of laying out the chances and it's fairly clear that we were second best for most of the day. The visitors hit the bar three times, although to counterbalance that Andre Ayew hit the post twice with the same opportunity.

After a fairly even opening quarter Liverpool took the lead when a glorious Coutinho pass set Sturridge free. He bore down on Adrian with ease and even though his catheter came out and his bandages were trailing behind him, he navigated his wheelchair round the Spaniard and rolled it in expertly. This was a disaster on three fronts as it gave them the lead, gave David Sullivan another reason to try and spend fortunes on a constantly injured player and also meant he celebrated with that fucking dance.

I did enjoy his after match interview, however, when he confessed that he never practices one on ones because "you never see any at this level". Wait until you join us mate.

Not long after that a deep Lanzini corner fell to Ayew, who was standing minding his own business at the back post, two yards from goal with no defenders in sight. Ordinarily he would have tapped it into the empty net and drawn us level, but on this occasion he got the ball trapped under his foot and somehow hit the post and then fell over because - I don't know - an earthquake? Worse was to come as the ball rebounded to him, and from his prone position he poked it back against the same post where Mignolet finally fell gratefully upon it like a FIFA executive on a free luxury watch.

Meanwhile our defensive set up at corners must have been put together by the same Republicans who devised the Trumpcare health act as there was no cover anywhere. Matip hit the bar, and generally any cross in the general vicinity of our box caused everyone to go apeshit.

By the time the second half arrived our third choice central midfield duo of Nordtveit and Fernandes were being overrun, and the deployment of Coutinho as a deep playmaker behind Sturridge and Origi was paying dividends. The Brazilian had a few first half rangefinders that Adrian kept out but he eventually arrowed in their second after finding a ludicrous amount of space on the edge of our box.

At this point our back three were so far apart that the concept of defensive cohesion was nothing but a memory, and Liverpool were cutting us open at will. It is, however, possible to be both shit and unlucky and we appear to have that down to a fine art this season. In that spirit then, we should have got back into the game when Wijnaldum managed to both handle a corner in his own box and elbow Reid in the same movement. No Premier League referee has ever gone hungry giving decisions to big teams, however, and Neil Swarbrick decided to implement the ancient "two wrongs make a right" law. Liverpool thus broke away as Reid lay in the box with a head injury and played on all the way until Coutinho crashed in his second. OK then.

It should be pointed out that as shit a piece of refereeing as that was, the West Ham "defending" for the goal defies any attempt to describe it. I mean, look at the state of this drivel:

After that everyone stopped pretending there was a game going on, and West Ham even let Divock Origi score as though it was a playground game and there is that one kid in your class who everyone knows can't really play football but it's summer, the sun's out and everyone's in a good mood so let's let him stick one in. It'll be nice.

4. Pusher

The tough thing about this game was watching us struggle, knowing that probably half of this particular team aren't up to the standard required. Add to that the fact that Snodgrass and Feghouli were on the bench despite the number of injuries and it's even more depressing.

I'm not sure I can recall a squad so totally unbalanced for the job it has to do. It's hard to be too critical of the fourth and fifth choice central midfielders, but it should be pointed out that last year that role was filled by Alex Song. Rather then sign Victor Moses, they instead went for Feghouli and Tore, and then replaced Payet with Snodgrass, and Bilic then chose to play Michail Antonio at right back to accommodate this madness. My fucking eyes are bleeding.

So, I acknowledge that one cannot get too upset about games like this without at least acknowledging the entire hospital wing of missing players. Antonio, Carroll, Sakho, Ogbonna, Masuaku, Noble, Obiang and Kouyate are all first team players and left a running track sized gap in the team.

But that really serves to highlight the problem as much as explain it. Our squad gets decimated by injuries every year without fail. It's hard to find accurate statistics on this, but the most recent report I can find (from Sky Sports) had us 2nd in the league for days lost to injuries with 1,574. For reference Sunderland were first meaning that we led the league in injuries to actual professional players, and had lost around 1,200 days more than West Brom, who had the fewest injuries. Yet more reason to sell them Diafra Sakho.

Context is everything, of course, and it should be acknowledged that a huge, bloated squad gives you more chance for players to get hurt. It's also not possible to prevent injuries like impact injuries or a player cutting his toe open on a broken cup.

But at some point the Club has to address this. As long as I've been watching West Ham it seems like we've suffered huge numbers of muscle and soft tissue injuries, and then done a terrible job rushing those same players back into the team before they'd reached full fitness.

It's why Sturridge cannot be signed. He simply cannot. We've endured a season of playing without a striker and having valuable wage capacity taken up by Carroll and Sakho. We simply cannot afford yet another squad member who goes long stretches without contributing anything, no matter how enticing it might be when you see him play like he did today.

Also the dance, but mostly the fitness.

5. Something Good

Our goalkeeper was good today. It's really very West Ham to say it, but Adrian was decent. None of the goals were particularly his fault, and in fact I might take to calling him Moses given how readily everything parted in front of him.

My kingdom for some defensive cover

In one single Liverpool attack immediately after half time he made three successive saves, each of which were eminently saveable but exactly the kind of chances that seem to have been creeping in all year. He was later undone by the brilliance of Coutinho, but that was rather more to do with the abject defending in front of him than with an failure on his part.

It was interesting to see us being linked with Jordan Pickford earlier this week, as he is exactly the kind of player we should be targeting. He is young, promising, has some experience and would almost certainly fetch a good price were he to move on. Whether he actually represents an upgrade over Adrian is debatable, and all of the chatter seems to suggest that we are behind Everton in terms of recruiting the youngster anyway.

It would also be quite West Ham to buy the keeper from the worst defensive team in the league, but I can see the merits. In the end, however, we have a finite budget and I maintain that Adrian is a perfectly acceptable Premier League keeper. He'd look an awful lot better with a defence in front of him though.

6. Dissolve Me

Less certain is the future of Sam Byram at right back, and rumours continue to swirl that Pablo Zabaleta will be arriving imminently. I tend to treat such press murmurings about West Ham as being fairly reliable given the the way the Club leaks like the Legion of Doom's bathtub.

That joke might need explaining

I think there is a player somewhere inside of Byram and the reality is that if we sign Zabaleta he's likely going to face long periods on the bench. Or not, because the Argentine is 32 and actually has grey hairs.

There are those who believe that having older, more experienced players around is great for young players as they can learn from them. I suppose that might be true, but I've spent this year watching Byram training with World Cup winner Arvelo Arbeloa, and I can't say that it's made much difference. It's not that I'm opposed to buying another right back - far from it, as regular readers will attest - but have we learned nothing from recent years? Fonte was hauled off today, having made a less than stellar start to his career with us, and Snodgrass looks like the worst ever January signing for the club that signed Mido. 

I've already had this rant when we signed that pair, but good clubs don't sign players over thirty. The modern game demands a mobility that is generally beyond those players whose legs are on the wane. There is a reason that Schweinsteiger and Gerrard ended up in MLS, and why Tevez and Pato are in China. Mostly it's the bonkers wages, but it's also because they couldn't cut it at the highest level anymore.

Now, plenty of you might say that we're not at the top level so players like Zabaleta are just fine for us. But the issue I have with that is that surely that's what we're aspiring to? Aren't we going for the top four? If not, what are we here for? And if we are then why are we signing players who are being discarded by those teams as not being good enough?

Look at the some of the names on the list of leaked targets for next year: Sturridge, Zabaleta, Toure, Rooney and Hart. That team is going to be brilliant in 2012.

The lack of vision and process is soul destroying. Where are the young players? Where is the attempt to sign players who can actually improve and grow with us? Every single one of those players is in the decline phase of their career, and the thing about players like that is you are assuredly paying them for things they have already done for other clubs, instead of what they are going to do for us.

And for those who would, not unreasonably, say that we can't criticise the Board for things they haven't yet done, that is fair enough. But consider why these names get leaked; it's either an agent wanting to stir things up - in which case they have to choose a club that is clueless enough to seem credible. We should be ashamed that we fit that mould. Alternatively, they have been leaked by the Club in an attempt to gauge public opinion, as they did with the rumoured El Hadji Diouf signing.

No other Club does this, but our owners seem so desperate for public approval that they genuinely seem to care what fans think, despite fans having no access to the reams of data available on players these days, and despite fans being mostly stupid. Not you, obviously.

So the Yaya Toure rumour might be rubbish, but you look at the journalist and the seemingly detailed nature of the discussions that have taken place and it looks very much like there might be some truth to the piece. At which point you realise that we might be willing to pay over £100,000 to a 34 year old.  Excuse me while I puncture my own lung.

I realise I'm writing a lot about transfers today but that's mainly because I'm avoiding the game, and because let's face it, transfers are going to be all we talk about for the next three months.

7. Tessellate

Does anyone know how we play?

I'm two seasons into Bilic's West Ham and I really don't know. It started as a solid, repeatable 4-2-3-1 but that disappeared once it became clear how much it relied upon the disappearing Payet. We then stumbled into three at the back because everybody was injured and it was the only way to keep Feghouli out of the side, and in fairness it worked like a dream for a while.

But there is a recurring theme that whenever we think we've hit upon a way of playing, teams tend to discover how to nullify us pretty quickly. It happened earlier this season when our 3-4-3 flummoxed Alan Pardew at Palace, scraped past Sunderland (which barely counts) and then was abandoned again after a subsequent six match winless run.

After the most recent revival, we looked good here for about twenty minutes, at which point Liverpool pushed their wide players higher up the pitch, dropped Coutinho back to operate in the gaping hole in front of our midfield and that was us done for. Gone was the high intensity pressing of the Spurs game, and we were incredibly passive all day, with barely a tackle made in anger. This is how I imagine Gandhi would have played football.

It's hard to be too critical of Bilic for not altering his tactics as he had very few options, but it was telling that at 2-0 down we swapped out Fonte and went back to a flat back four. I'm not quite sure why Collins remained on as he was fairly woeful, including going on a magical mystery tour of his own right before Sturridge ran past him for the opener.

None of it made a huge difference although Feghouli did some reasonable things, to further cement his position as the most maddening footballer alive.

Maintaining tactical coherence while replacing team members every week is a huge challenge, but the strange persistence in playing one up front, when the only player truly able to do that is the permanently injured Sakho, has continued all season to very little effect. In particular, the insistence of playing this way with Carroll as the lone striker seems especially fatuous.

Surely a priority has to be for Bilic to establish a way he wants to play and get some players in who fit that system. Tellingly his Evening Standard column specifically said he wants to target players with pace, which makes sense as we looked incredibly pedestrian here today. It would also make sense in the context of the one up front plan, as it requires mobile players to be support runners for the lone front man.

How he utilises Carroll next season will be hugely telling. One has to imagine a fit, mobile striker is high in the shopping list, as it has been every year since I was 14.

8. Hunger Of The Pine

One frequent lament of fans after a performance like this, in a season of performances like this, is to demand that some youngsters are given a chance. If I had a pound for every time I've had someone tell me there must be someone better in the youth team I'd almost have enough to buy a round of drinks in the stadium.

It is the way of being a football fan. We lust for what we cannot see. Players are never better than when they are injured, and youth team players are a constant well into which we want to dip to satiate our desire for answers. The sad thing is that most of us have never seen these kids play, and choose to ignore a lot of the basic facts around youth team players.

Very few academy players at any club ever make it, and so the declining number of graduates is perhaps a mirror to the rest of English football. But it's also true that we seem to be producing fewer players who are even going on to play at a lower league level. Think of the famous Lampard and Ferdinand team - there were plenty of others like Lee Hodges, David Partridge, Joe Keith and Chris Coyne who went on to be successful lower league players. We seem to have even stopped producing those types now.

So simply wanting young players to be given a chance because they aren't Feghouli or Calleri doesn't make huge amounts of sense to me. If they were good enough then presumably they would be demanding a call up by virtue of their performances on loan or in training. The likes of Martinez, Samuelsen, Browne, Oxford and Burke have all been out on loan this season with little to no impact having been made and no glowing reports coming back. The exception to this rule is Josh Cullen, who has been named as Bradford's player of the year and surely deserves a chance to make an impact next year.

Josh Cullen, 11

My broader point is that football managers aren't in the habit of turning their back on players who can help them win games. If they are good enough, the kids will force their way into the side. Two at the club to keep an eye on seem to be Declan Rice and Domingos Quina, who are routinely making the bench despite their teenage years. But we are getting down to crunch time for the likes of Samuelsen and Burke, who at the age of 20 are getting close to the point where the club will need to make a decision about the likelihood of them having long term futures at this level. That might seem a ludicrous assessment to make, but all the academy graduates that I can think of who made it as top level professionals were all firmly ensconced in the first team squad by that age.

In our desperation for improvement we all latch on to the "if you're good enough, you're old enough" sentiment, which is admirable. But sometimes I think we forget to actually answer the first part of that question.

9. Choice Kingdom

It was the Club's annual year end awards bash in the week, and amidst the many and varied categories (Best Signing - Edimilson Fernandes, Best Owners - David Gold and David Sullivan (joint winners), Best Kiwi - Winston Reid and so on....) it was noticeable that the fans voted Michail Antonio as player of the season, while the players went for Manuel Lanzini.

Both are good choices, although I would slightly favour the latter. Had they stayed fit both Pedro Obiang and Winston Reid would have been in with a shout but of course they didn't because West Ham.

Shortly after, Antonio signed a new improved contract designed to ward off Chelsea and ensure he is paid more than Snodgrass and Feghouli on account of how he is actually useful to the team. A lovely little departing present to all of us for the summer might be something similar for Lanzini as one would think those two will be the primary targets for any circling vultures.

It is telling, perhaps, that there isn't likely to be anyone else at the Club who is chased by rival clubs. If anything one might expect to see some players moved on, with the likes of Feghouli and Nordtveit prime candidates due to their high wages and failure to settle. Both Ayew and Snodgrass might arguably fit that description too, but given the insane fees paid for them they would be getting sold at a loss, and that's not something that the Board will want, so you'd imagine both will stay.

Lots of fans would apparently give James Collins a new deal and as a fourth choice centre half he's not bad, but I'd rather they relegated Fonte to that role and went after a better player who could improve the team, not the wider squad. Harry Maguire at Hull is one we've been linked with, and he can at least still legally go on a Club 18-30 holiday.

Collins has been a wonderful servant to the Club, but the Premier League is no place for sentimentality, and the sad fact is he is old and declining. Not to repeat myself, to repeat myself, but we need players who might actually improve after joining us.

10. Last Year

This was a year ago this week. Chin up - a lot can happen in twelve months. I mean, we could get worse again but...let's not think about that.


  1. Another excellent piece, be lovely to know our "acting Director of Football" was somehow reading this. Personally I could well have done without clicking on that Nordtveit clip though.

    Can I ask - given your fully justified hatred of Sturridge's wanky "goal dance", how do you feel about our very own HOTY and his various goal/new contract celebrations? ;0)

    1. I quite enjoyed the Simpsons one. The others? As that Twitter account says - get in the sea.