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 16, 2017

Burnley 1 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

Two steps forward, two steps back. And so the dance continues.

West Ham with ten men? Yes, no, very strong

In the lead up to the 2012 Olympic Games, the BBC launched an under the radar mockumentary called "Twenty Twelve", which very neatly satirised the delivery team for the Games and successfully captured every type of office stereotype imaginable in doing so.

Once the games were over, the idea probably should have died but instead they moved the subject on to the BBC with a different-but-similar series called "W1A". Against my expectations I found it pretty funny as the series continued to nail all the office politics, incompetence and misplaced entitlement that pervade most large professional organisations. And I say that as an avowed lover of the BBC.

As such, when series 3 arrived I stuck it on looking for some mild amusement and instead...I have never been more frustrated watching a TV show in my life.

Instead of having the characters do or say anything interesting or believable, they just repeat catchphrases at each other for the entirety of the show, while a couple of them are now so stupid that I'm beginning to wonder if the writers are actually attempting to mock people with mental health issues.

And what, I can sense you wondering, could this possibly have to do with West Ham? Well, as with W1A, I am getting very fucking frustrated with this season.


West Ham played well in this game. There can't be any disputing that given the circumstances. Indeed, should anyone disagree bring them before me and we shall duel with pistols at dawn. This will, I imagine, be a lot less dangerous than it sounds given that if we're both West Ham fans I strongly suspect we'll both miss.

But here we are again basking in the glow of lost points and reduced to wondering about tomorrow, while bemoaning the caveats of the present.

We finally got an answer as to how Slaven Bilic was planning to fit all his attacking options into the team as he just selected every single one of them, and then had them all play Rock, Paper, Scissors in the changing room to determine that Cheikhou Kouyate would play the defensive midfield role.

This seemed particularly bonkers given that Burnley started with a five man midfield, but in fairness to Bilic it was all looking fairly rosy when Michail Antonio opportunistically latched on to a Joe Hart hoof to round Nick Pope and open the scoring.

I particularly enjoyed the Route One nature of the goal as you can't get caught short in midfield if you just smash it over the top of them, after all. "UEFA badges, I shit 'em" yelled Slav in celebration.

But again, in defence of Bilic the real assist on the goal belonged to Kouyate whose prodigious work rate in midfield saw him break up a Burnley attack and it was his backpass that Hart howitzered into the home half, and past the sleeping Ben Mee for Antonio to finish.

I could have sworn I had a brain in here when I left this morning

Sadly, having taken the lead in the 19th minute, we were allowed all of eight minutes of happiness, because West Ham, before Andy Carroll decided that was quite enough of that and got himself dismissed for two identical challenges in the space of 99 seconds. 

In defence of our pissed Geordie Samurai, I felt the first challenge was fairly unremarkable and was itself identical to a challenge by Burnley's James Tarkowski on Carroll just moments before which went unpunished. Several years of watching Carroll have probably inured me somewhat to the sheer physicality of his play, but I felt he was a victim of his reputation on the first yellow card. 

Having been booked however, it would generally be considered sensible to play within yourself for a while and only go into challenges where you're absolutely certain of winning the ball. Instead, Carroll brainlessly launched into another clash with Mee, leading with his arm albeit with his eyes fixed on the ball, and was rightly sent off. 

Thus, just like that, we lost the opportunity of seeing how could play with all this attacking talent on display or how we would perform with the comfort of a lead and instead had to watch yet another resilient, brilliantly organised and ultimately heartbreaking rearguard action courtesy of a frustrated front player too selfish to channel his anger into anything constructive. 

And so it was that we channelled W1A. The frustration of watching and waiting. Of knowing yet another opportunity to progress had been spurned. And now it's the same old catchphrases - "Yeah, no, sure" for "wait until we get everyone fit" and "so that's all good" for "you can't judge us with ten men". Great stuff, but can we hear something new, please, before I completely lose my shit?

We must now wait another week for a first chance to decide what we have here, and yet we're in October and other teams have long since been through all that fine tuning. So, unlucky though he might-sort-have-been, Carroll deserves nothing but opprobrium for leaving his team to spend an hour defending a lead in a game they could easily have won. 


I reckon the very best and worst of Slaven Bilic was on display here. 

The strength of his management seems to be very much around how he relates to his players and converting that into a loyalty towards him and the wider cause. The reason I thought Newcastle was the end for him was that it was the first time I felt I had visibly seen his team stop playing for him, in a game where they had no reason to do so. 

But, whether you agree with his team selections or the fact that he falls out with fringe players with a frequency rarely seen outside of Game of Thrones, it can't be denied that there is a resilience to his team. Here, as at Southampton, they battled gamely for over an hour with a man down and were again only denied at the death. 

I often attempt to use statistics and metrics in my analysis on here, but I think this is a weekend to abandon that in favour of some amateur psychology. Let's face it, people like me write about tactics and Expected Goals because we have no insight into what goes on in the changing room or within the team dynamic. I write about those things because it's legitimate to have an opinion about them, but when fans talk wistfully of 4-4-2 or 3-4-3 we should always remember that we know nothing really. 

We have no idea who is carrying an injury, who is in the middle of a bitter divorce, who is suffering with depression, who is in debt to local bookies, who has a family member with a terminal illness, who is trying to engineer a move away and who is little more than a drain on the morale of the wider group. All of this is hidden away from us and it's worth remembering when we clamour for the likes of Diafra Sakho to be in the team, that the dynamics of a football team probably don't differ that much from those of the office, the building site or the oil rig.

Still, in looking at Andy Carroll, it's tempting to try and figure out what is happening there. Here is a man who has gone six months - but typically, just six games - without a goal, and who had the indignity of being booed by his own fans when named Man of the Match last time out. He has seen the arrival of Chicharito and hears the jeers when the Mexican is withdrawn instead of him. 

But beyond all of that, Carroll must see the team and the players in it and realise that he is the odd man out. He can't have failed to notice how much more attractively we played yesterday after he went off, even with a man down. Twice in the early stages of the second half Michail Antonio could have doubled our lead after splendid team moves. 

The first, in particular, was a joy as we put together a move of angular precision, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Zola era and which nearly culminated in a goal that would have been a spiritual cousin to Carlton Cole's wonder strike at Wigan. 

And I think Carroll sees all of that and feels the frustration that we all do. I sympathise with him because even when we play long ball we don't do it all that well, and when we try and play shorter it doesn't really suit him. Equally, he hasn't had Lanzini to play off either, and no doubt would be looking for the Argentine to provide him some of that service he has been so sorely lacking. Indeed, we are eight games into the season and only Chicharito of our attacking royalty has been available for them all. Carroll might very well feel that he's entitled to get a crack playing alongside them all as well. 

So, it's amateur psychology alright, but if I was looking for evidence of a player frustrated and unhappy with his existence I might look at the guy who smashed into two opposition players in a minute and got himself sent off when we were 1-0 up away from home. 


But if the best of Bilic is seen in how his players stick with him, the worst most be in his tendency to crowbar players into the team rather than make more difficult decisions about dropping them. Antonio at right back was the start of all this but we've also seen Hernandez and Lanzini marooned out wide and today it was his deployment of Kouyate in a holding role. 

I thought Kouyate did well in the first half but it doesn't seem like the best use of his talent or mobility to deploy him this way. It also feels like it would be borderline suicidal to do this against better teams than Burnley. The dismissal of Carroll forced a change as Obiang was introduced at half time in place of Arnatuovic, who I imagine was fairly sanguine about the whole thing, and we looked far more solid from that point on. 

The problem with that was it pushed Lanzini out wide, although one would hope that was simply the necessity of the situation. But in the grander scheme of things, I would like Bilic to return to a basic stratagem of playing his men in their correct positions and only when completely, undeniably fit. 

In my rush to live and die by the merits of xG and xA metrics, it's true that from time to time I think I've forgotten some of the more intangible things in life. Confidence is a good example of this, being as how it's somewhat immeasurable but you sure as hell know when a team doesn't have it. 

Passion. But also brown shoes with a blue suit

And so it goes that I think Bilic can sometimes impinge on the confidence of his own team, simply by virtue of his apparent belief that good players can play anywhere. The irony of this is apparently lost on him, who as a rugged centre half didn't spend many games playing wide on the right.  

I like Bilic, even if I think he should have been dismissed a long time ago. He is erudite and articulate in a second language, and engaging in his manner. He doesn't seem to lean as heavily on ranting at his players or some nebulous concept like "passion", in the same way as the typical British manager. I still want him to succeed because if he does, I can at least accept that it will be enjoyable for me as a fan. That's slightly different to his predecessor Sam Allardyce, where success frequently meant further entrenchment of an already unwatchable style of play. 

But we can't complain about this result or performance. His team did him proud here, and having too many players for the spots available, and a multitude of possible formations isn't actually a bad thing. When that happens at Manchester United and Chelsea, it's considered a positive thing, after all. 


For all that, we rode our luck a bit here at times. Just after Carroll was dismissed, Joe Hart appeared to bring down Chris Wood with a challenge that was about as well timed as Donna Karan's defence of Harvey Weinstein. 

Referee Stuart Attwell waved that one away, perhaps still considering that he'd just sent Andy Carroll off but possibly left the referees changing room unlocked, and our luck held when a second half Gudmundson effort hit the post, then hit Hart and somehow didn't go in. 

All in all, I think we have to be happy with a point as the Burnley equaliser was deserved and a long time in the making, even if our defending looked pretty knackered by the time it went in. Winston Reid and Jose Fonte having earned the right to be exhausted by virtue of a day of dominant defensive work. 

Many seem to be pointing the finger at Aaron Cresswell for his failure to prevent the cross from coming in, but I think that ignores the fact that Arnautovic and Lanzini in front of him have the kind of work ethic that makes The Stone Roses look like Amazon employees. 

In the surge of demand for Arthur Masuaku it's surely worth remembering that he too would have nobody in front of him as cover, whilst it seems eminently likely that Bilic has told his full backs not to press too far forward as everybody else in his team is already doing that. 


I'll tell you what else I could do without; the now trademark Chicharito shake of the head and mini strop every time he gets substituted. While I appreciate the desire to play and the overall general lust to remain on the pitch, it's not really that egregious to take off a centre forward who hasn't scored or looked like scoring, especially when his strike partner has already been sent off for throwing an elbow around like he was trying to break the emergency glass. 

This is what Ben Mee looks like to Andy Carroll

Of course, if there is an upside to Carroll being dismissed it's that Bilic will be forced to try and find a way to play without him next week. We have those opening thirty minutes against Spurs to fall back on, as some kind of evidence that hope lies this in this direction, or at least it did until Antonio pulled damaged a hamstring and apparently also the fabric of time between the London Stadium and the Underworld and the next thing we knew we were 3-0 down to Spurs. 

Whether Bilic plays Sakho or Hernandez as the rapier point of his attack, he will surely restore Obiang to the line up for a bit of defensive ballast and deploy the others in advance of him. 

In that scenario, I see Carroll as a near perfect supersub upon his return. It's not so much that Carroll is a knife being brought to a gunfight, but that he is an old fashioned cannon from a Lord Nelson era warship. He's big, heavy, cumbersome, slow to load and absolutely deadly when you eventually get it lined up properly, but don't take too long because the other guy undeniably has something quicker. 

That kind of option off the bench could be gamebreaking against tiring defences, but the idea that he can do that from the start seems fanciful, and mostly destroyed by the evidence of 2017. If there is encouragement to be gleaned from history, one can look at the 2014/15 season when Sam Allardyce was forced into playing a diamond behind Sakho and Valencia due to injuries to Carroll and Nolan, and we were fourth at Christmas. 

That side had Alex Song in the holding role, which is a touch of quality missing from this current outfit, but you'd also think that between them Antonio, Lanzini, Arnautovic and Hernandez offer more quality than was available then. 

But we can't spend too much time looking back. This is the time to start our season and get some - any - forward momentum. Whatever Bilic does it would really be rather brilliant if it wasn't frustrating or in the style of a mockumentary. 

After all, I don't want to be frustrated any more - I want our season to start and not be waylaid by yet more setbacks and excuses. 

To paraphrase Ian Fletcher - another false start? 

Yes, no, that's not all good. 


  1. Another good review, H. Lots of positives in the game, but some ongoing maladies as well. I thought Bilic was slow to see that Antonio was fading fast in the 65+ minute (shoulders down, unable to track to back), and with 10 men it's vital to have fresh legs as far up the field as possible to disrupt the potential for attacking play. Still, thanks to an early yellow, we have some alternative tactics to look forward to.

    1. Cheers Paul - interesting point on Antonio as I think Bilic has been doing pretty well with his subs lately. The issue with Antonio is that he's just come back from injury and we seem to be abysmal at dealing with those situations.

      I'm quite excited by Friday, to be honest. This could be the making of Bilic.