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, August 14, 2017

Manchester United 4 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

Yesterday I drove for the best part of twelve hours from Essex to Southern France, which is roughly enough time to get me halfway to Manchester based on some reports I read today, and I'm completely knackered. In fact my back hurts more than Joe Hart's currently does after he spent the afternoon examining the back of the Old Trafford goals.

So this is an abbreviated holiday H List, available only because while I was channelling my inner F. Scott Fitzgerald today, I stumbled across a Dutch satellite feed of this game and decided to waste an hour and a half of my family holiday watching it.

Which was a mistake.

This is what happens when you look directly at a downward spiral

You see, to my mind there is a tacit, unspoken agreement between football fans and players that the opening game of any season is different. It just is. Over the course of the next ten months there are going to be days when the team won't play well, fans will lose faith and players will lose form but the one thing we can agree on is that opening day is non negotiable. No matter who you play, the sunshine will be glorious, the tans haven't yet faded and the team will champing at the bit after pre-season training and will give everything in pursuit of victory. 

The positive line of thinking is that new signings will be desperate to impress, existing players will be playing for their places and new contracts and in that golden, sunlit moment the entire world is pregnant with possibility. And yet watching us play this game I was instead reduced to wondering whether Pedro Obiang was actually pregnant, so immobile and off the pace was he. 

The team didn't uphold their end of the bargain today. 


I don't really object to us losing to Manchester United. The question with them is never "Why did we lose to them?", but rather "How can it be that we've ever beaten them?". At £24m Marko Arnautovic is our largest ever signing, and yet he would be 23rd in the equivalent list of transfers for the Red Devils. They spent more on Anderson than we've ever spent on a player, and they bought him a decade ago. 

Their financial superiority is such that we always travel to these games more in hope than expectation. It's how the Premier League is drawn up. Teams like West Ham are supposed to turn up, put up a bit of a fight and then have the good grace to concede a late winner right in front of the advertising hoarding hawking such wares as the official Manchester United tractor, as happened today. 

What was so crushing about this performance was therefore not the content but the style. It was as if the team had been set a ninety minute test by the Oxford English Dictionary to redefine the word "insipid". 

This is literally the best combination produced by two West Ham players today

Looking around the Premier League this weekend was to see hungry teams battling for points everywhere. By all reports ours was the worst, most spineless performance of the lot. No ambition, no organisation, no fight and most alarmingly of all - no change from last year. Here are our results against the current best six teams in the division since the start of last season:

Man Utd 4 - 0 West Ham
West Ham 0 - 4 Liverpool
West Ham 1 - 0 Spurs
Arsenal 3 - 0 West Ham
West Ham 1 - 2 Chelsea
West Ham 0 - 4 Man City
West Ham 0 - 2 Man Utd
Liverpool 2 - 2 West Ham 
West Ham 1 - 5 Arsenal
Man Utd 1 - 1 West Ham 
Spurs 3 - 2 West Ham
Man City 3 - 1 West Ham
Chelsea 2 - 1 West Ham

This also ignores a 5-0 home defeat to Man City in the FA Cup and a 4-1 loss at Old Trafford in the EFL Cup. 

It's easy to brush off games such as this, and consign them to memory. They are kind of like the sequels to The Matrix in that respect: I accept they happened and that I paid money to see them but I refuse to acknowledge their existence in my decision making. 

So, Joe, can you describe how it felt making your West Ham debut?

So we continue to make excuses and continue to look forward. These are the default responses for football fans because it's just how we are wired - there is always something on the horizon that is cause for optimism. There is always another game and always someone coming back from injury to make things right, especially at West Ham. Indeed, we are fans so desperate for something to wish on that we all decided Gary Lewin was our signing of the summer back in July. And then everyone was still injured for the first game.

But these are not the results of a good team. They are not the results of a resolute, well drilled, organised team. They are the results of a group of players who face a gaping gulf in class every time they face this opposition, and have no idea how to traverse it. Sure, an away defeat at Manchester United isn't anything to get too concerned about, given they'll beat most teams at home this year, but I think we're allowed to raise an eyebrow at the manner of it all. If Bilic is able to introduce anything before next Saturday, I would hope it would be some semblance of a backbone. I find it exasperating how rarely these days we can even compete in these fixtures, let alone win them.

So, yes, I understand those who will say that this is just one game. But isn't it the same one game we've seen this team play over and over again for a year?


At the end of the calamitous 16/17 season Slaven Bilic identified pace as the single biggest feature lacking from his team. Our summer transfer policy not only ignored this, but somehow appears to have made things worse. I've seen tides come back quicker than our midfield today when we were hit on the counter. This is just one of the many problems when the Chairman buys the players for a manager in the last year of his contract, and with little apparent ability to convince the former of his suitability for an extension. The distance between Bilic's desired type of player and his real ones seems quite hefty.

As such, we today fielded quite possibly the slowest West Ham team I can remember seeing in my lifetime, and I was there when we had Andy Melville at centre back. We were without Lanzini and Antonio, which always made it unlikely we would play well, but the pedestrian nature of it all was a shock. Chicharito looked so isolated he may soon have his nickname changed to "Siberia" and Arnautovic did enough to suggest that he will mix moments of magic and moaning with all the adroitness of the departed Payet. 

But we cannot play at this walking pace in the Premier League and survive. With Feghouli and Snodgrass AWOL, Fernandes was pressed into a number ten role and did a passable impression of a square peg. What brief moments of attacking intent we did have seemed to spring from Noble and yet he was surprisingly replaced instead of the possibly expectant Obiang. The centre of the team is a huge hole that the summer signings don't address, and if the rumours linking us to William Carvalho are true then he can't arrive soon enough. 

But where is the joie de vivre of that 15/16 season? Certainly the league was weaker then, but we never played so shapelessly or with such little belief even once that season. Now it is de rigeur for us to get a hiding, blame it on injuries or new stadiums or disruptive Frenchmen or bad horoscopes or the Boogie and just muddle on with no apparent improvement. My upper lip doesn't seem to be stiff enough for this line of thinking.


If one wants to look for positives, I thought Zabaleta battled well, especially as he was up against the quicksilver Rashford and being 54 years old means he usually spends Sundays at his allotment. I also thought Joe Hart did alright considering the relentless barrage he faced. He should perhaps have stopped Pogba's effort - down low to that troublesome left side again - but that wasn't the reason we lost today. If he wants an opportunity to show Gareth Southgate he is still England's best shot stopper then the logic of his move becomes clear very quickly. He's going to get plenty of chance to do it with us. 

Declan Rice made a surprising cameo from the bench and looked pretty decent. Perhaps the logic of that perplexing decision to loan out Reece Oxford is simply that they think Rice is better? I have no idea - divining a strategy in any of our moves these days is like watching toddlers play chess. 

Elsewhere, I don't really have very much to cling on to. It perhaps speaks volumes that having watched the game in its entirety I still have no idea what our gameplan was today. We seem tactically bereft, like one of those early 20th century British army units marching with great gusto toward certain defeat, led by a general with no military ideas beyond a belief that everything will be alright in the end.

We're away next week again, of course, courtesy of the gift that keeps on taking - the athletics stadium with a football pitch on it. This makes it difficult to regroup and difficult to roar back. Maybe we'll win 3-1 again at Southampton, and all of this will just be yet more of that negative whinging so many of you criticise me for, but for now the pessimists are winning, I'm afraid. 

It's early of course, and nothing is won or lost on opening day, but I'm waiting on a sign. I want to see something to tell me that this year will be different to last. Something to encourage me that we are going to be more competitive, more organised, more steely when the going gets tough. Even for those who believe these articles to be too negative must concede that performances like today are a disgrace, just as I will concede that there were some mitigating factors. 

Tomorrowland - are we nearly there yet?

My main overarching issue with the current leadership of the club is the failure to develop and adhere to a cogent overarching strategy to develop the team over time. Instead everything is done reactively, expensively and on such a short term basis that it all has to be ripped down and rebuilt again every couple of years. 

I would happily accept performances like today if I felt it was the necessary cost of progression. But it's not. It's just the result of having an old, slow team, a terrible injury record and the opposition being as rich as Croesus. And Lukaku. Always fucking Lukaku.

If we have to think in such a short term way, then it doesn't seem unreasonable to want some returns on a fairly short term basis. Our next three games are Southampton, Newcastle and Huddersfield - each tricky in their own way but there are points to be taken there. And they'd better be taken. This is Sullivan's borrowed time and therefore it's Bilic's too. We can't keep waiting for tomorrow because at some point we have to win today.

So I've had enough with the injuries and the good young players a couple of years away and the settling into the new stadium and all the other stuff that stops the team playing well. When your Director of Football admits he is implementing a strategy that is "not good for the long term" then you lose the right to bring those things up. It's tough shit. 

We're all about the here and now, so I want some fucking results here and now. I want my back four to look like they've met before. I want my left back to actually leave the ground when he jumps. I want my defence well enough organised that we don't have the smallest member marking Lukaku at free kicks and corners. I want my captain to be so influential he can last ninety minutes. I want an attacking strategy that can actually cause trouble to defenders as average as Phil Jones. I want a net spend bigger than Watford. I want a manager who can find ways to make us competitive against better teams and not one who has us conceding four every time we play anyone half decent.

And most of all I want it today. Not tomorrow. 

1 comment:

  1. But we did discover Hernandez is great in deep central midfield...