Talking Point

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here”

I try my hardest to be optimistic about West Ham but Pellegrini is making it near impossible to view the upcoming league games after the international break with any real confidence and excitement. As West Ham fans we’ve been accustomed to peaks and troughs as a football club, with the peaks few and far between in recent history, but it looks particularly grim as we begin to look towards a busy festive schedule with tough games.

I’ve no doubt regardless of how hard some fans will have tried to stop thinking about West Ham and the miserable state of affairs going on at the club, we have all seen the speculation about Pellegrini’s future, and who might eventually replace him. You have to think the board will stick with the Chilean for as long as possible, especially given it will reportedly cost anywhere up to £20 million pounds to get rid of the 66 year old and his backroom staff. However, if the former Man City manager cannot arrest the depressing slump in form which personally I don’t think he will, he’ll have to be shown the door because of both poor results and performances that’ll see us perhaps in a relegation battle. I have no doubt I’m repeating what most fans have already seen or feel, but to achieve 1 point out of a possible 12 against Everton, Sheffield United, Newcastle and Burnley is unacceptable. I do subscribe to the view that sections of the fan base overrate our team and chances of competing for the European spots and I certainly have done for quite a while. Although, when our manager is on around £7 million a year and I believe is the best paid manager after Guardiola and Klopp, we understandably should expect better results and performances.

With the exception of Norwich at home, I’m not sure we’ve actually played well in any other game. The wins against Watford and Manchester United were more about the opposition being poor as opposed to us playing extremely well. With Spurs at home up first after the break, obviously we always want to win and especially against them but I think we’ll struggle if the manager persists with his stubborn tactics and formation which sees Haller consistently isolated.

One way or another I don’t think Pellegrini will be managing us come the end of the season but, if he is, I would expect a new man in the dugout for the start of the 2020/2021 campaign. We’ve got some great results under the Chilean’s stewardship but he is not flexible enough with changing formation and his substitutions are often poor and incredibly predictable. Questions that I imagine most of us fans have asked this campaign about Pellegrini include his bizarre inclusion of 34 year old Zabaleta who is painfully slow up against Saint Maximin who is rapid. Other decisions include Balbuena’s return to the team when Ogbonna had been our best centre half; you feel the Italian surely has to return to the starting line-up against Spurs.

In an attempt to look for a glimpse of optimism, I thought while writing this about the routes to us getting better… When the London stadium announcer declaims Fabianski’s name in a starting 11 that may well get the biggest cheer all season as he will certainly help. I tried to defend Roberto but after his outing at Turf Moor and the previous week against Newcastle he is indefensible. He is just bad, he has made some reasonable saves but he flaps at everything and gives the defence no confidence whatsoever. Our Polish No. 1 has been superb for us and has been missed massively, both last season and up until his injury he was covering up how poor the defence has been and continues to be. A statistic to prove how bad our defending has been: Burnley average 4.1 shots on target and against us had 12, likewise Newcastle were averaging 3.4 and had 9 at the London Stadium. Those statistics are a damning indictment on this team’s ability to defend.

Whether it’s in January or in the summer, the club must look for a dynamic midfield partner for Declan Rice. In interviews recently, Mark Noble has effectively admitted he did not expect to be playing as much football this season and, while he always puts in a shift, the midfield desperately needs more balance. A dynamic and energetic midfielder would lift some of the pressure off Rice who at the moment has to cover every blade of grass to cover for Noble’s lack of mobility, while also allowing the attacking players more license to stay forward a bit more at times. Look at the likes of Ndidi at Leicester, his elite defensive contribution allows the likes of Tielemans and Maddison to go forward. Even Nakamba at Aston Villa who is dynamic and wins the ball back well has improved them. We need a player like that who can play alongside Rice and immediately we would look a more balanced side, my concern is that under our current manager this crucial issue has not been addressed.

I hope everyone enjoys not having to watch West Ham this weekend but we must hope that we can get three points against Spurs. Ultimately though I think it’s going to get worse before hopefully getting better. We must keep hoping despite how difficult the board, manager and players make it!

Trust everyone is well, and has a good week!

Talking Point

The Joker Is Wilder

West Ham’s embarrassingly poor performance against Everton on Saturday afternoon slightly soured what was a fantastic week from a personal point of view. While Pellegrini was preparing the team for what resulted in a very poor display on Merseyside, I was down in Winchester for the week celebrating graduating with a 2:1 in English Literature.

Me and a friend had to check out of our hotel by midday, we then headed into town and I went to a pub opposite my first year accommodation to watch the football. I missed the opening 8 minutes of the game as the bloke behind the bar took a while to change the channel from the rugby to BT. I’d missed Roberto make a great stop from Tom Davies but, as the game came on the screen, I could see Everton were starting to take control.

In general I try to remain as positive and optimistic with West Ham as is possible, but surely last weekend’s performance was one of the worst under Pellegrini’s stewardship? The fact the Chilean stated after the game that if he could have done, he would have taken all 11 players off speaks volumes. Creative players we have such as Lanzini, Anderson, Yarmolenko, Fornals etc. will blow hot and cold, and in the case of the young Spaniard he still needs time to adapt and assimilate in the culture. Some of the abuse so called ‘fans’ hurl at the players is laughable; in the case of Fornals he’s not had the easiest start but we have to continue to support him and hopefully he will gain confidence and improve week on week. Anderson was extremely poor and I was not particularly surprised when he was brought off for Yarmolenko at the half time break. Lanzini was also very poor, and moving forward these players must get closer to Haller in order to support him.

After Everton’s superb finish right at the conclusion of the game, I left the pub and headed for the train station annoyed at such an abject performance and wondered what we could do to return to winning ways in the next game. Is it time to properly see what Ajeti can do and play two up front against Wilder’s organised Sheffield United? Our record signing, Sebastien Haller has proved that he can work extremely well alongside a strike partner given his fruitful partnership with Jovic who now plies his trade at Real Madrid. We need to see more of Ajeti, I think he could be quite good but given he’s been limited to league cup games and until Saturday no league minutes, perhaps Pellegrini does not rate him. Sheffield United will be extremely organised and have a great defensive record already, Haller will struggle up against three centre backs if Pellegrini opts for the same formation and the creative players do not get close enough to him. Defenders nowadays are quite rarely confronted with the task of marking two strikers as most teams play with one up top, so I’d love to see Ajeti get his first start on Saturday.

The defence generally has been ok with Ogbonna in particular playing consistently well. The only weak areas are the goal keeper and the left back position. Roberto clearly isn’t as good as Fabianski but he made some decent stops whilst also being partially at fault for Bernard’s opening goal. With the veteran keeper we have to hope with more games he gains more and more confidence, but the return of our Polish No. 1 will be a wonderful Christmas/New Year present. The chop and changing of Cresswell and Masuaku is far from ideal as well; it seems one has a string of decent games and everyone agrees they should stay in the team, then that one gets injured and the other one comes in and has a good run of games but then they get injured and so on… Whoever starts at left back on Saturday I hope can remain fit and have a solid run of games because ideally the defence should remain unchanged for as long as possible.

We definitely will need to be at our best against Sheffield United because they counter attack well and do not give up many chances. The fact we will have had a fair amount more recovery time than Wilder’s men should theoretically help but with West Ham you never know! If we can get Haller good chances you have to hope he will score, but that means players like Anderson, Lanzini and Yarmolenko need to play well and put in maximum effort from minute 1 to minute 94. After such a bad performance against Everton you have to hope that the players will want to respond with a good performance and 3 points. In my previous articles I’ve predicted whether I feel we’ll win and since doing that we’ve only beaten Norwich! I’m far less confident given how structured the newly promoted side are, and how well we will have to play to break them down, so I’ll go for a 1-1 draw in the hope of not predicting a win means we will come out victors.

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week!

My graduation ceremony for anyone interested was at Winchester cathedral on Friday and Dame Judi Dench was receiving an honorary degree. It was great to see such a legendary actor and British icon. Also got to shake Alan Titchmarsh’s hand as he was the Chancellor of the University but will no longer be as of now. As I shook the gardener’s hand I lied to him and said I had read one of his novels and really enjoyed it!

Talking Point

Haller to halt Hodgson's Eagles?

The last three matches of football involving Pellegrini’s men have been fascinating, and illustrate where we are as a team. I do not want to touch on the disappointing loss to Oxford too much, what I gathered from that was players on the periphery who often sit on the bench in league matches are no closer to challenging what is now an established first team.

By all accounts he’s a top professional and has undoubtedly carved a great career for himself in English football but 34 year old Zabaleta cannot keep up with the pace of the game anymore. Equally, given he’s reportedly on quite high wages, one has to wonder why Carlos Sanchez is still at the club when he is not very good. It was an extremely poor performance and the only positive that I can identify is Nathan Holland getting minutes. I feel sorry for the very promising Holland that he had to feature in such a bad showing but, from reports, he was a bright spark while he was on the pitch.

Bournemouth became a really significant game following the embarrassing cup exit. Others have already spoken illuminatingly about the game so I’ll try to avoid going over well-trodden ground. It was my Dad’s birthday on Saturday, and we went for a walk as the 3pm kick offs rolled around. I was pretty nervous given our relatively poor record at the Vitality Stadium. Yarmolenko’s wonderful finish in the 10th minute settled my nerves but halfway through the walk my Mum informed me of King’s equalising goal. It sounded like a decent game as I read the match feed with both sides attacking well, a good advertisement for Premier League football. I was mightily impressed by our first goal, Yarmolenko’s left foot is brilliant and he took the goal very well but Haller’s touch from Anderson’s lofted pass was exquisite. The Frenchman plucked the ball brilliantly as he had to jump for it. The club’s record signing might not have scored since the Norwich game but he’s integral to our build up play, and I firmly believe more goals will come for him.

Looking ahead to the Crystal Palace fixture, I’m very excited as I’ll be going to the London Stadium with a few mates, one of which is a Palace fan. My Palace supporting friend is apprehensive given we have a good record against the South London side at home in recent times. Anderson’s goal last season against Hodgson’s side was superb, and hopefully he can open his account for the season on Saturday. Lanzini also enjoys playing against Palace having scored a few goals against the Eagles in the past. Palace have defended reasonably well thus far this season but have lacked creativity and any real impetus up front. Having said that, it will not be easy as we look to extend our unbeaten run. If we can limit their obvious danger man in Zaha, then I believe our talent in the forward areas should be too much for Palace. It’s safe to say my friend Dan certainly does not look forward to the match up of Joel Ward trying to defend against Felipe Anderson!

Both sides will be missing at least one key player this weekend, with our No. 1 sadly being ruled out for a couple of months, and Palace’s captain and midfield anchor, Milivojevic, is suspended. Palace like to play on the counter so we will need to ensure that, while we are likely to have the lion’s share of possession, we do not get caught out. Fabianski’s injury is a massive blow for us given the incredibly high standards he’s been playing at. The Pole was genuinely one of the best shot stoppers in the division last season and has continued that form into this season. Hopefully the 34 year old recovers quickly, but all fans have to support Roberto now. Roberto has flattered to deceive thus far but a run of consistent game time will hopefully boost his confidence and we’ll see good performances. Fans are clearly entitled to an opinion, and most fans are slightly concerned about Roberto, but to hear that some supporters booed him on Saturday is extremely poor. There is a substantial difference between thinking a player is not very good and not supporting them. We must get behind the Spaniard because booing him and abusing him on social media will not help his confidence.

I hope following the full time whistle on Saturday we will be on 15 points going into the international break, and I can repeatedly remind Dan that we just beat his side convincingly! Our defence has looked pretty solid in recent weeks with Cresswell playing well and scoring two in two games, Fredericks has looked good and Diop and Ogbonna have worked well as a duo. A clean sheet would do Roberto the world of good, and I look forward to seeing our talented attacking players in the flesh again.

By no means do I think Palace will be an easy game as Hodgson has done an admirable job with limited resources but, as I’ve previously stated, I think nullifying Zaha goes a long way to them creating very little and us getting a clean sheet. I believe we will win, the team has never lost a game when I’ve watched the game live so I hope that does not change. I’ll go with a prediction of 2-0 to us, goals from Haller and a rare goal for the brilliant Declan Rice!

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

Talking Point

Anderson fillip

We are only four games into the season, and I’ve already seen some West Ham fans predicting our final league position and who we may or may not finish above! The opening day hammering from Man City is the exception to what has been a positive start for Pellegrini’s men, and there is definitely reason to be optimistic.

After the first weekend of Premier League football, we were rooted to the bottom of the table with a -5 goal difference but since then we have drawn one and won two conceding only twice and netting six times. While I think our defence this season might at times be slightly unconvincing, I have no doubt Issa Diop will continue to improve. The former Toulouse defender is integral to the back four, and has been a mainstay ever since coming into the side early on last season away at Arsenal. While he might have his defensive frailties, Arthur Masuaku was brilliant against Norwich achieving an assist for Haller’s first home goal and an 8.8 rating on ‘’ earning him a place in the team of the week. There’s definitely room for improvement in both Masuaku and Frederick’s games, and I have no doubt that both players are working hard to get better. The more games we play with a consistent back four will certainly help both full backs, and they will hopefully contribute to more clean sheets as well as providing added impetus on the right and left flanks.

It speaks volumes about the performances of the team in recent weeks that £25 million pounds worth of talent in Pablo Fornals can hardly get a look in. The Spaniard has admitted he needs time to adapt to the intensity of the Premier League, but the competition for places is fantastic and must please all fans. Manuel Lanzini has started the season in wonderful form accruing 2 assists and has created 14 chances which is only two behind Kevin De Bruyne, not bad company given the Argentinian spent the majority of last season out injured. Pellegrini often praises Wilshere as well, so Fornals will have to ensure he takes his chance when he next features.

The only real negative for the club and fans so far this season is Michail Antonio’s hamstring injury. Antonio looked to be in good form after coming off the bench in both the Brighton and Watford games, and making a really positive impact particularly at Vicarage Road. Whilst it’s unfortunate that the former Nottingham Forest wide man will be out for a reported three months, a positive is that Andriy Yarmolenko appears to be returning to form. With more game time we have to hope that the Ukrainian will continue to get better and chip in with goals and assists because if he’s firing we’ll be very dangerous on both wings.

After his performance against Norwich, Felipe Anderson deserves his own paragraph! He worked really well down the left side with Masuaku and when he plays like he did against the Canaries he’s an absolute joy to watch. The pace, skill and effectiveness of our Brazilian winger was tremendous to see. I was on a train from Hemel Hempstead back into Euston while we were playing Norwich, and I checked Twitter to see one of his nutmegs and I laughed at loud it was that good (probably looked a bit weird to other passengers). Anderson was inspiring and I have no doubt that most Premier League teams would love to have him, but fortunately he’s all ours!

In terms of other players so far this season and particularly against Norwich, I’ll briefly mention them. I feel very safe with Fabianski in goal and he’s just a very good keeper, and by all accounts he put in a stellar display the other night against Arnautovic’s Austria! Declan Rice continues to go from strength to strength and while some fans from other teams might criticise him in an England shirt, he’s still only 20 and very rarely puts a foot wrong. I thought he did his job very well against Bulgaria, nevertheless he’s loved by West Ham fans and that’s all that matters. Mark Noble puts in his trademark performances and leads in exemplary fashion, is it a coincidence we’ve won two games since he’s been back in? I think not! Let’s not forget our new talisman, Sebastien Haller. I already love the Frenchman to be honest, he’s scored three so far but he offers so much as well as goals. It’s actually amusing watching English pundits who know very little of him describe him. The likes of Shearer describing him as a big target man on Match of the Day after the Watford win, but he’s far more than a big lad. Haller can hold the ball up, but he’s also very skilful and brings the likes of Anderson, Lanzini etc. into the game. While hopefully scoring a lot of goals for us, I firmly believe he’ll be one of the most creative forwards in the league.

A positive start overall for us and in my last article I predicted a win against Norwich, I think we should leave Villa Park with three points as well. I saw a statistic that Aston Villa have allowed their opponents the most shots per game so far this season with 19.25. We will need to defend well as Villa will be desperate for their second win, but I think we’ll have too much for them going forward. Haller hat trick maybe, let’s hope so!

Hope everyone is well, have a good week.

Talking Point

Haller be thy name

My Saturday afternoon consisted of a family shopping trip, meaning I had to follow the opening 45 minutes at Vicarage Road via my brothers phone. Ordinarily I would obviously use my own phone, however I had run out of data! To my brother’s annoyance, every 10 minutes I asked for an update. To be honest, after Gray’s equalising goal I did not really check up on the game but the pessimist in me assumed we’d be trailing at half time.

We arrived home as the second half kicked off. By all accounts, Watford started the second half with a couple of chances and I feared the worst. I’m definitely an advocate of free flowing attacking football, but too much pressure is put on Declan Rice to intercept opposing attacks it appears. After the Watford goal, Noble was shouting at the attacking quartet to work back. Creative players such as Anderson and Lanzini do need to consistently track back otherwise we will be left far too exposed and concede unnecessarily.

I was pacing around the house nervously during the early stages of the second half. I was just expecting the inevitable notification from BBC Sport to appear saying Watford 2-1 up, and had it not been for a staggering Will Hughes miss I would have had that notification appear! Thanks Will for putting in an early entrant for the miss of the season, greatly appreciated by West Ham fans!

I was with my Dad listening to the radio when we heard there had been a second half goal, thankfully it was our record signing getting off the mark in the Premier League! Upon watching the MOTD highlights, I really enjoyed Haller’s goal to make it 1-2 to us. Whilst his acrobatic bicycle kick was undoubtedly impressive and a great relief, his first was a proper striker’s finish. I am not convinced at all that Arnautovic would have scored that tap in from Anderson’s cross, mainly because he wouldn’t have made that run. In Haller we have a powerful talisman who can win aerial duels, but he picks up great positions and makes the right runs. Arnie was always a winger converted into a striker, and to be fair did well for us for awhile but Haller has the instincts of a forward. The Frenchman will be integral this campaign, he’s going to score important goals and become a fan favourite (if he’s not already!)

I will avoid going over well trodden ground with regards to captain fantastic, Mark Noble. The man from Canning Town makes us better and motivates players when necessary. You have to feel that we missed an opportunity in the summer window because we should have looked to take the burden off the captain. The No. 16 will continue to put in exemplary performances in the engine room with his underrated passing, however we should not have to rely on the 32 year old as much as we do.

Definitely still work to be done on the defence, and whilst a run of games for a back four is ideal, I wonder whether Balbuena may regain his place sooner rather than later. I’ve always liked Ogbonna, he seems like a funny guy, and an experienced international at the end of the day. He has mistakes in him, and I’ve always felt he’s more comfortable in a back 3 which was the regular formation when he got a game at Juventus. But I hope the Italian stays in the team and makes it hard for Balbuena to regain his place.

Based on the opening three results for both us and Norwich, our next Premier League opponents, you would predict a fair amount of goals. If we can tighten up the defence perhaps in our second home fixture of the season we can keep a clean sheet, but that unfortunately seems unlikely.

Norwich have impressed me thus far, like us they play an attacking brand of football and showed very positive signs despite losing to both Liverpool and Chelsea respectively. I hope the Pukki party does not continue at the London Stadium…

After watching the Canaries’ lose to Lampard’s Chelsea on BT in the early kick off last weekend, I saw areas our attack can definitely exploit. Farke likes to push the full backs Aarons and Lewis high and wide which could leave space for Anderson and probably Antonio to attack. Similarly, I was impressed by the young centre back, Godfrey, however Grant Hanley is a championship level defender and I think Haller can give them real problems. The less accomplished Tammy Abraham grabbed a brace and they couldn’t deal with his physical presence and hold up play, so I would hope our No. 22 can capitalise on their potential weaknesses. It will be a difficult match as they all are at this level, and whilst I think their attack can give us problems, I feel our firepower going forward coupled with the home support will see us gain our second win of the season.

Overall, Pellegrini still has things to consider and work out about this team and the balance but a clinical striker in Haller helps tenfold. An injury to Rice however would derail the season and we’d be a significantly worse team. In January you have to feel there will be investment in a holding midfielder who improves the squad and can confidently back up Rice, as well as potentially a defender or two. I still feel reasonably optimistic about this season, the players need to work hard to improve on areas of weakness in training, but on our day we have a really exciting attack which will cause most teams issues. In Haller I hope!

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

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