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, December 11, 2017

West Ham 1 - 0 Chelsea (And Other Ramblings)

"You're part of the plan
For a new man, to come through"
- Van Morrison, "A New Kind of Man"

Yeah, so Match of the Day hasn't improved much since I last watched it in 2016.

Still, this might not have been a victory hatched hatched in Skokie, Illinois by a barbershop quartet, or required the services of a lawyer by the name of Kobayashi but this was a game won with a plan. And I am not used to that. We are a team that tends to win with the inexpert deployment of freewheeling chaos and lose with similarly spectacular implosions. What we have seen in these last two games has been something a bit more akin to precision engineering, as David Moyes has convinced his men to wed themselves to the notion of becoming hard to beat, and trusting in moments of quality to get a foothold in the game. 

Five at the back isn't a new idea

And so it came to pass that Moyes established himself as our very own Verbal Kint. The man with a plan. The Cockney Keyser Soze by way of Glasgow, who turned to the customary names - Adrian, Reid, Noble and Cresswell, to drive us through. And maybe at the end of the season it won't be enough and, like that, he will be gone but for right here and now there is much to admire about what he is doing, even if you've never seen the seminal The Usual Suspects and are wondering if the simple act of winning has pushed me into writing gibberish.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*

Anyway, perhaps the best thing about this victory was that it wasn't an "event" game. This wasn't Friday night at home to Spurs to end their title challenge. This wasn't a desperate save-the-bosses-job rearguard action against some fellow denizens of the depths of the Premier League. Instead, this was a big game, for sure, but it was more ordinary than the usual games we've tended to win since moving to the London Stadium. This was a derby, but not a vitriolic one, played in the low morning sun of a freezing December Saturday and without that frisson of something that hangs over such games when the lights are on. 

But what happened here was that the team gave us a lift. By scoring early and then by looking competent, hard to beat and organised they gave us something to latch on. It's hard to be bang up for a game when you've only been up for a couple of hours after a heavy Friday night, but it's a whole other plate of biscuits when Marko Arnatouvic has scored after five minutes, Arthur Masuaku is pirouetting past their wing backs like Darcey Bussell and Adrian has brought his wall shaped gloves. 

Above all, what this reminded me of was a game at Upton Park. We arrived with a bit more hope, by virtue of the Manchester City performance and left with the cast iron knowledge that this team can actually compete, and with a bit more trust in the men in the dugout. The crowd were dragged into it, and stayed with the team even though our second half attacks were little more than speculative punts in the vague direction of Antonio and akin to lobbing coins at fighter jets. And when the final whistle went there was a feeling that, in some strange indefinable way we had got back a little of what we lost by moving ground. That will mean different things to different people, of course, but if I had to describe it I would say that by showing us he is a credible candidate to lead this fight against relegation, Moyes has successfully united everyone behind him. And that's a pretty good start. 


"When you're lucid, you're the sweetest thing
I would trade my mother just to hear you sing"
- Camera Obscura, "The Sweetest Thing"

This sort of thing. More often, please. 

I don't want to go too far overboard about a single victory, but there was much to be enthused about there. Certainly, if Moyes can extract this level of performance in the majority of the remaining games, and instil this level of discipline into our defensive efforts then we will stay up. If nothing else, this team should be able to get points at a greater rate than the likes of Swansea or the freefalling promoted clubs.

We won here by virtue of a lovely effort from Arnautovic, who exchanged pinpoint passes with Lanzini before curling home delightfully past an unsighted Courtois. He then jumped in the crowd with a Gene Kelly style sidekick, which at least reminded us all of the Golden Age of Hollywood while he was getting booked.

Arnautovic gets a yellow card

The Austrian was perhaps a surprise recall given that the Manchester City performance was largely built on hard work and defensive endeavour, but he performed admirably here, and served the important function of giving us an outlet further up the field. He played just behind Antonio who was the lone striker and was excellent in harrying the Chelsea back line with his pace and physicality. It was also a healthy reminder not to write off players too soon when injuries, illness, confidence and even unwelcome comments from chairmen might be affecting them.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*

What was so different here to the rest of the season, was that the team had more than one option when they looked forward. Either Arnautovic was drifting out left and looking to exploit the space ahead of Masuaku, or Antonio was running in behind Cahill and Christensen and forcing them to deal with a mobile threat. The contrast to those long afternoons of watching Andy Carroll play Musical Statues, or of Chicharito marooned out wide was stark. Indeed, watching these last two performances against two of the best teams in Europe should really be hammering home to people just how badly Bilic did in those first few months of the season.

I sense that while Moyes is determined to build from the back, he has decided that Arnautovic is a project worth pursuing, and you could see why today. He didn't have huge amounts of defensive responsibility but worked hard and, crucially, did enough in advanced areas to keep Chelsea occupied. What is encouraging is that against weaker teams, you can see how this set up can be progressive too. Masuaku can be pushed further forward, and Lanzini can be freed to get closer to the front two and we won't spend entire second halves frantically bailing water in the face of a continual onslaught.

Selecting Arnautovic does cause a certain problem for Moyes because he traditionally hasn't had too many of those mercurial types in his teams, and seems a bit distrustful of any one who doesn't get up and run five miles before breakfast, but if he can successfully integrate our record signing then you sense there may be more days like this ahead.


"Did you ever have to finally decide?
And say yes to one, and let the other one ride?"
- The Lovin' Spoonful, "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?"

It might have only been a few weeks but Moyes already seems to have made a few seismic decisions about this squad. His insistence that the players weren't fit enough might have just been the standard new manager schtick, but we are five games in and Joe Hart and Andy Carroll are on the bench, and Aaron Cresswell is a centre back, so I think it's fair to say that he's now forging his own path.

The goalkeeping decision was straightforward in terms of form, but not in the sense of the profile of the players involved. Hart's World Cup ambitions are what led him to us, and with typically short sighted hubris we lapped that up and forgot we already had his equal here. Quite apart from the cost involved, it's not difficult to imagine the raised eyebrows that might have caused among the strong Spanish speaking contingent in the squad.

Pashun, or PASHUN as we yell on the Costa del Sol

So Adrian deservedly kept his place here while Winston Reid undeservedly reclaimed his, and both were excellent in repelling an off colour but still dangerous Chelsea. In fact, calling them off colour is probably unfair to us - it's weird how both City and Chelsea both had off days when confronted with our well drilled back four isn't it?

In front of them Mark Noble returned at the expense of Edimilson Fernandes, which I initially thought was a mistake as the latter's mobility was a crucial factor last week, but once the game started and it became clear that Chelsea don't play at the pace of City you could see the merit.

Noble may be slowing like Damian Green's computer, but he still possesses the experience to manage games like these. Even in the first half when he misplaced a few passes and the crowd began to "weerrrrrr" he still kept playing, because he realised the crucial value of getting out of your own box and stretching these sort of teams. So it was that most of our better moves had Noble involved somewhere, and in the dying moments it was he who did most to keep the team from exposing our backline to the kind of rapier quick counter attack that did for us here last season, as astutely observed by Michael Cox at ESPN. 

While Chelsea dominated the ball they really didn't do a huge amount with it, instead choosing to pass it round a lot before losing patience at our surprisingly resilient defending and attempting something extravagant. Kind of like when your local decides to become a gastropub and then googles the price of quinoa and admits defeat.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*

What was also noticeable was how differently referee Anthony Taylor treated the fouling of the two sides. Like Manchester City last week, Chelsea are the masters of the sly foul to prevent teams breaking on them quickly. They tend to allow four or five seconds to recover the ball and if they don't they foul. The likes of Cahill and Fabregas have it down to a fine art. What's really interesting is that because these transgressions are generally so far from the goal and so innocuous, referees rarely book players for them, especially if the team in question is trailing. However, when a team is defending a lead, then it seems to me that players will almost certainly be booked immediately for any kind of foul, as officials seem to view these all as cynical attempts to slow down play. And so it was that while both teams committed ten fouls, we picked up six bookings and Chelsea managed just one. Must be nice.

But despite that we held firm for ninety five minutes, and should even have had a penalty when an Arnautovic flick was fairly obviously handled by Christensen. As it is, we are now a team who have conceded twice as many goals in our games against Watford and Everton as we did against Manchester City, Chelsea and Leicester. Welcome to East London, Moyesy, it's mad here.

Reid and Ogbonna were in their element today, however, as Chelsea started looking to hit Morata with crosses, and whenever they were absent then Cresswell was there to help out, as his positioning and passing were excellent. It is noticeable how much better we look when we pass out through the left with Cresswell and Masuaku then when it goes the other side through the Hit'n'Hope twins Zabaleta and Reid, who combined to make less accurate passes in this game than Cresswell on his own.

But for all that, the system worked and we funnelled plenty of attacks out wide and away from goal, and that showed up in the fact that Chelsea mustered just two shots on goal all day and both were in the first half. And so the Caley Graphics xG map might show a slightly fortuitous win, that doesn't tell the whole story. We battled, blocked and battered our way to a win, and what a feeling it was.

This was genuinely the first time I have a left a game all year where I couldn't really identify a poor performer in Claret and Blue. I could have picked any of them as Man of the Match and not been wrong. Drink up these days, for they don't come often enough.


"Get on yer dancing shoes
You sexy little swine"
- Arctic Monkeys, "Dancing Shoes"

On a day of claret cheeks and blue fingers, it was a bit of a surprise that our best performer was a twinkle toed African left wing back, but Arthur Masuaku has been defying expectations quite a bit recently. He has always looked comfortable on the ball but has generally displayed all the energy and drive of a traffic warden in his previous performances. But, somewhere at the end of last season he began to run with the ball, and he hasn't looked back - quite possibly because if he did he'd just see a massive wide open gap and Aaron Cresswell on his knees, weeping.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*

In this game Masuaku was exceptional, as his runs repeatedly gave us an option and a way out of from Chelsea pressure. Most fans were purring at his dragbacks and turns, but I just enjoyed seeing one of our players look like he could carry the ball into those rarefied advanced positions without getting a nosebleed, and his quick interplay with Lanzini and Arnautovic was a big part of our first half performance.

Call me after, yeah?

He also did his bit defensively, especially after Victor Moses came on, and it is to the credit of Moyes and his team that he didn't choose to make the Creswell/Masuaku decision a binary one and instead found a way to accommodate both. I could do with Masuaku toning it down a little bit in his own half, but given then he successfully went past 11 opponents in this game - a season high for the anyone in the Premier League - it's probably churlish to argue.

What I have also enjoyed about Moyes is that he seems to have got the team to buy into a concept bigger than themselves. We fans tend to view games as single, discrete events but there is little doubt that the confidence from the Manchester City performance bled across here. Now the players had some belief in what they were doing and that was never more evident than when Masuaku had the ball and we were going forward. With Antonio running the channels, and Noble and Obiang intelligently covering behind him we just looked so much more solid as a unit. This must have been what it was like when they finally fixed the Hyperdrive on the Millenium Falcon.

And as much as I'm loathe to say it loud, we have done most of this without Cheikhou Kouyate, who is perhaps the best example of a player who had deteriorated physically and tactically under Bilic, and seemingly has so much more to give then we have seen lately. I'll never not believe in the Senegal captain, in the same way as I will never accept that TJ Hooker was anything other than world class television programming, but when he comes back he is going to have to match this level of work and decision making to hold down his spot. Which is as it should be.

*Stops to pick up Alvaro Morata who has inexplicably just fallen over at my feet*


"Do you remember when the ship went down, you left me on the deck?
The Captain's corpse jumped up
And threw his arms around my neck"
- The Pogues, "The Turkish Song of the Damned"

There are other things I could talk about here - that very bizarre Antonio substitution, the general tendency Moyes is showing to make his replacements too late or the bird that literally died half way through the first half and fell from the roof to the athletics track after a particularly wayward Fabregas effort. But no, instead I'll address the elephant in the room - David Sullivan has given an interview everyone!

And so here we go - an H List within an H List. Kind of like Inception and dreams within dreams, except that Tom Hardy isn't riding around on a snowmobile shooting anyone and maybe you'll be able to understand this after just one viewing. Although I'm not promising anything.

"Oh excellent - the Chairman has been speaking to the Press. I foresee no issues at all"

If you haven't read the interview, you simply must stop what you are doing right now and click on the above link to do so. It is by The Guardian journalist, West Ham fan and friend of The H List, Jacob Steinberg, and I think it's a brilliant piece because it isn't confrontational but draws so much out of Sullivan.

Some might feel that focusing on this after a victory isn't the done thing, but it's timely and in some respects, more relevant to our long term future than any single game. Perhaps the easiest thing to do might be to take some of the comments and explore them in a little more detail. I accept that we can't be entirely privy to the tone or context of each of these statements, but I keep hearing about how Sullivan's spent thirty years in football, and therefore I'm going to assume that he understands how dictaphones and, you know, interviews work. Albeit, that's not a conclusion you would draw from actually reading any of it.

"I work my socks off, but sometimes it's not good enough"

It starts like every bad appraisal meeting I've ever had to take. It is such a common thread among poorly performing professionals that they equate how hard and how long they work with being good at their job. This isn't unique to Sullivan, by any stretch, but when you're in your office at 2am and all your peers are home in bed there's a reasonable chance it's not because they're less dedicated than you and far more likely that they are simply better at their job than you.

I should add here that the overriding feeling I had when I read this piece was one of sympathy. It's never fun to watch somebody try and do a job they care a great deal about, but don't really have any idea how to do. But sympathy can only go so far - I wouldn't be that understanding of a surgeon who was stood in an operating theatre quickly reciting "...the knee bone's connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone's connected to the hip bone!..." before cutting open my patella. And so my empathy for Sullivan only stretches so far - he might be finding it harder than he imagined and he might be at a loss as to how he's ended up here but that's tough. There is another option available to him whereby he steps aside for someone competent, and every day he doesn't do that harms our club a little more.

"David Gold is 81, it's is whole life. He has nothing in his life except West Ham. He has no hobbies. He has a family but he has one granddaughter"

Excuse me a moment while I load up my shotgun and just blow a few of these fish out of this barrel.


*In the distance Alvaro Morata falls over*

I have to imagine some of this has been lost in the translation. To talk so dismissively of an old friend and business partner is just odd. To insinuate, even unintentionally, that having a granddaughter is somehow worse than having boys is also a bit of a misstep, shall we say. The following morning Gold then "liked" a Tweet from a fan commenting that he felt sorry for Gold having Sullivan as a business partner.


*Loads up shotgun again*

"Jack's learning his trade, he was desperate to do it. He worked in every department at West Ham for a week. He knows everyone. He has opinions on everyone....He or Dave could possibly be chairmen in the future"

Leaving aside the rather obvious point that nepotism isn't generally a great trait for any business, this is still such a bizarre thing to say. I don't have any particular issue with Sullivan's two boys wanting to follow him into the family business, but I certainly have an issue with them doing it in such a public way. Wouldn't be nice if they were instead sent off overseas for a year or two to learn their trade at progressive, well run clubs overseas? He could find them internships at Bundesliga or MLS clubs and they could learn how different organisations operate, and gain crucial knowledge of overseas markets while they do it.

Instead they've done a week putting names on the back of shirts in the Club Shop and now Jack has just fired his first manager. Get up Morata, I want to shoot you again.

Perhaps even more galling is that Gold's two daughters - Vanessa and Jacqueline run large multinational, successful companies already. Giving people jobs because of who they are related to isn't generally ever a good thing, but we can't even get the bloody nepotism right.

"We're about £10m a year better off - it's not going to change our lives...I just think we feel like a big club. Not a tinpot club."

So, in the week that the Mayor set his sights on West Ham for having a one sided deal involving public finances, our owner decided to announce that a £10m a year profit wasn't all it's cracked up to be. I get that the context was probably vastly different, but it does rather highlight the constantly tone deaf nature of Sullivan's public utterances. E20 - who run the stadium - have a best projected annual return in the next decade of a £10m loss. The tabloids are circling. The mayor is fuming. Your local council are out £40m in a time of eye watering austerity. There's a time and a fucking place, man. 

But even that pales next to the notion that our Chairman feels like we are a big club. It inadvertently says so much about where we are now that our owner, presiding over a team with the 13th highest wage bill in Europe and the largest season ticket holder group in the country only "feels" like he's in charge of a big club. 

"I'm sure there's a hundred things I've said that I regret"

Today? In this interview? Have you ever considered not saying them? No? OK, as you were. 

"If we go down, we'll come straight back up. We always do...(but)...I should have got rid of him in the summer, but beating Tottenham in the last home game and beating Burnley was just enough. My family gave me such grief for not doing it"

So. Many. Things. 

Going down and coming straight back up isn't a skill you want to acquire. Spurs wasn't the last home game - we played Liverpool and lost 4-0 immediately after. We beat Burnley at a fancy dress funfare where a game of Premier League football broke out. Sofiane Feghouli played the whole game in a mankini and still scored. Basing any decisions off that result would be like deciding to hire me to direct the next Star Wars film because I did a great job capturing the cake cutting at a wedding on my iPhone. 

Your two teenage boys were giving you grief? And you care? And you think we care?

Where's that gun? Morata you better get back up again cos I'm definitely going to put one in your right foot, son. 

Every Google image of Morata looks like this

"I'm not really the Director of Football...I'm not involved in the strategy. The manager said he wanted Fonte and Snodgrass. My kids begged me not to sign them"

What's really noticeable at this point is how little the interview is really about West Ham, and how it's much more about Sullivan. Here, in two sentences, he throws five people under that bus we parked at Chelsea a few years ago. Bilic, Fonte, Snodgrass and his kids - all traduced in order to preserve the image of Sullivan as an innocent bystander. So, while he may have started by saying that he hadn't done well enough personally, we have really arrived at the meat of it here. Now he is upset that he's given Bilic too much rope, and is blaming Fonte and Snodgrass, two men he still employs, for the simple sin of accepting his stupidly bloated contract offers. You know, I begged you not to sign them too David, but once they joined I kind of expected that we would at least give them a chance to show what they could do before trashing them in a national paper. 

I wonder if the Board will ever be able to draw a straight line from comments such as these to their constant failure to hire the people they want to hire as managers, coaches or indeed players?

As for Sullivan not being Director of Football, let's just gloss over the incorrect statement from our Vice Chair in her annual report for the accounts, and simply gaze in wonder at the fact that we apparently have a huge gap at the centre of the club structure. Who is dealing with all those things that don't include coaching or recruitment? Who is looking at analytics and youth development? What about the link into the sports science department? Remember when Allardyce led that initiative to check the players teeth a couple of years ago? Or how about making sure there is sufficient language support for new foreign players? 

Maybe all of the above is moot and all that stuff happens seamlessly, but the very strong signal from these type of comments is that perhaps they no longer happen at all, or if they do, then nobody is tying it all together. 

I'd just like to point out at this stage that if they need someone to cover the position until Jack has finished his week in the ticket office, then I am available. 

(On a Director of Football) "There is one very good one in the Premier League. I would seriously think about taking him on in due course and I know he would come because he's approached me"

I won't lie - I'm deeply suspicious of anyone who has grown sick of the constant competence at another club and wants to work in our Looney Toons setup. On the other hand, perhaps the West Ham job is the ultimate goal because there is so much demonstrable opportunity. 

Where Sullivan does deserve credit here is for seemingly having the intellectual flexibility to think beyond what hasn't been working so far. Of course, the difference between talk and action is substantial, but perhaps there is a glimmer of hope here. He'd better hope we're still in the Premier League when he finally comes blinking into the modern age, however, or he'll find his options are far less appetising than than they might otherwise be. 


"I'm movin' on up now
Gettin' out of the darkness. My love shines on"
- Primal Scream, "Movin' On Up"

So on to Arsenal we go. I feel for Moyes because after Manchester City and Chelsea, he deserved something easier like Brighton or Newcastle but Bilic already wasted those games. Perhaps Wednesday will tell us a lot about the direction of our travel, or perhaps it will simply be a little detour before we crash into reality at Stoke on Saturday. 

But what he has done is instil something in all of the team and the crowd, and Moyes deserves credit for that. Maybe it won't last long, but so far the signs seem to point at us having Everton era Moyes rather than the Grim Reaper who turned up at Sunderland. Indeed, it feels like he's already achieved more here in a month than he did in an entire season in the North East. So, I continue to be cautiously impressed because, if nothing else, he seems to be a man with a plan. 


  1. AdamL6:47 PM

    These posts are completely outstanding - thanks for doing them and keep them coming.

  2. Cogent and thought provoking as usual, H.

  3. Another great read.

    On Morata, I was more aggrieved at how often he shoved Ogbonna in the back every time a cross went in, sending him sprawling. If I could see that from my seat over in the bit of the east stand that falls under E15, how could the ref keep missing it?

  4. Cheers lads - and yeah, Morata...I was not impressed.