West Ham have ended a bad run of three defeats with a 2-2 draw against Leicester – that‘s what will be on record when someone looks up the last third of Manuel Pellegrini‘s first season at West Ham Stats in years to come. It’s just a pity though that there won’t be a footnote to this result stating that West Ham would have won the game if the assistant ref hadn’t got it wrong with Lucas Perez’s second goal! But never mind, now I’ve got an other trip to London and two cup finals to look forward to, and also VAR is just around the corner!
With only minutes to go and West Ham 2-1 up against the Foxes, courtesy to goals by Michail Antonio and Lucas Perez, the latter one had latched on Pedro Obiang‘s pass and rounded Leicester’s keeper Kasper Schmeichel to kill the game off with what seemed to be the 3-1 for West Ham – only to be wrongly flagged offside by the linesman. And after that incorrect decision, fortune was hiding again from the Irons when Leicester substitute Barnes put his team level in injury time!
New carpet, old mistakes
Therefore that draw tasted like defeat to the West Ham faithful on a bright sunny Holy Saturday which had brought us a new claret carpet around the pitch of the London Stadium; a carpet which had got caressed by goal scorer Michail Antonio who put West Ham up with a brilliant header in the first half. But in the end the carpet didn’t play a main part and wasn’t so supportive to West Ham’s squad as we had thought it would be, following Slaven Bilic’s remarks about the difficulties the players had with assessing the size of the pitch with the former green carpet under his tenure at London Stadium.
Nevertheless I am already curious about what the ground will look like with its new dress when we are going to be back to London Stadium in two weeks time for the last game of the season against Southampton! And we’re also looking forward to the unveiling of the 2019 Hammer of the Year, who in my opinion will be Declan Rice quite certainly.
But much more certain is that last year’s HOTY will not play any role in this season’s contest: Marko Arnautovic hasn’t scored since his “China saga” in January, and he and the team have been inconsistent (to put it mildly) since Arnie’s premature waving good-bye when he was substituted throughout the second half in West Ham’s win over Arsenal. That was the last game I have watched in the London Stadium so far, and I think I haven’t missed very much during my absence before coming back to Stratford at the beginning of May. Apart from the Liverpool draw, a game which the Hammers would have won if a blatant offside goal for Liverpool had not counted, West Ham have more or less underachieved in most of the games since that famous 1-0 victory over the Gunners with Declan Rice’s first goal for West Ham just two days before his twentieth birthday.
Back in January we had thought that a good cup run was on the cards and that Manuel Pellegrini’s pledge to fight for 7th place in the Premiership could be successful. But a lot has gone wrong since, with West Ham tumbling out of the FA Cup against much lower opposition, and they never regained the winning mentality Manuel Pellegrini had seemed to have instilled into the squad back in autumn and December. Well, one of the reasons quite certainly were the usual series of injuries that have plagued the Hammers all season (short and long term), but maybe it was also the club’s handling of Arnie’s transfer request which had a detrimental effect on the squad. And we haven’t got an in-form natural born striker in the team with Andy Carroll injured (again), Chicharito inconsistent or injured too, and Arnie … well, he’s far from being our talisman, as he was last season when his goals kept us up, the “China saga” has turned his head, and no turnaround is in sight so far. West Ham thoroughly miss a forward to score the goals you need to win a game!
Can’t wait for VAR now
Having already spoken about the offside incorrectly given in last weekend’s game and the wrongly ignored offside in Liverpool’s opening goal in the aforementioned draw with the Reds, that leads us to the recently much repeated call for VAR. Being a traditionalist I wasn’t so sure if I was happy with the implementation of the video assistant in the Premier League next season, with all the interruptions of the game and the wait before we will know if a goal is going to stand or not. But in recent weeks, with Manuel Pellegrini rightly saying Manchester United’s penalties in West Ham’s 1-2 loss at Old Trafford a week ago would have been overturned with VAR, and having watched that blatant misjudgment this weekend on TV, also for me VAR now cannot come quick enough. It’s obvious that the referees need assistance and our beautiful game will become more fair with VAR. I think with VAR already implemented in the Champions League and in Germany and other countries, it‘s overdue in the Premier League now!
So this season will not only be remembered for the beginning of a new area for West Ham United, dubbed the ”Pellegrini Revolution“ by me in a former post (maybe a little too early taking into consideration the bumpy ride that followed towards the end of this season!). It will also be the last season without VAR. Well, I now hope and expect that the video assistant having the last word in tricky decisions will help the referees to get right what they have got wrong much too often this season.
An inconsistent campaign
And what went wrong with West Ham and the “Pellegrini Revolution”, as we will in all likelihood not achieve the target of finishing in the top ten of the Premier League? I know many say that we should be happy with mid table security and the fact that despite a really bad start (with 4 games lost in a row) West Ham never was in danger to be dragged into the fight against relegation. But with quite a lot of money spent last summer and a high calibre manager at the helm the Irons should have done better and been much more consistent throughout this campaign! Now I think the gap that has opened between 10th place and the Hammers’ points tally will be too big to be bridged with just three games to play!
I think that MP will have to be more open to developing a “plan B“ in some matches if his “plan A“ of possession football and ball on the floor is not working. We will need more steel in midfield next season as Declan Rice and Mark Noble haven’t got enough support in the middle of the park, and we will have to buy a proper striker in summer. Throughout the season I had hoped that the trio of Felipe Anderson, Arnie & Nasri could develop a real threat to our opponents, but due to various facts that never materialised. And also the defence needs improvement as opposition goals have gone in much too easy, not only in recent games! I like Zabaleta and Masuaku going forward and beating their opponents in wing positions, but their crosses frequently lead to nothing and they are beaten themselves much too often in counter attacks. And unfortunately Cresswell and Fredericks haven’t delivered much better either imo. Issa Diop has played very well as a central defender especially in the partnership with “General” Balbuena, but he’s still young and seems to be “overplayed” and out of form recently. I hope MP will get a decent transfer kitty, our long term injuries will come back in the summer, and West Ham will be able to offload some of the fringe players and to buy wisely; then a new season and a fresh attempt to become a real force in our big claret carpet stadium can start!
Two Cup Finals and a conference ahead
As regards football here in Austria my favourite club Rapid Vienna has done much better in the domestic cup than West Ham have, and reached the Austrian Cup Final! Oh I’m sorry, I almost forgot that this criticism of West Ham only applies to their men‘s team! The West Ham Ladies have sensationally reached the Women’s FA Cup Final v Manchester City in Wembley – only to be played the same afternoon as the men’s game for which I already have got our tickets! It’s annoying that it has not been possible to shift one of the games to the Sunday in order to allow to watch both of these games. But that this isn’t a possibility is much to my wife’s pleasure though, she now can avoid a “football overkill” on our trip!
But back to the mighty SK Rapid of Vienna whose club chaplain Christoph Pelczar I have been able to meet recently (pic with midfielder Dejan Ljubicic): After a very disappointing Bundesliga campaign in which Rapid have not reached the “champions play-off” of the best six clubs in Austria’s new league format, they won a thrilling penalty shoot-out against LASK Linz in the Cup semis, and now we’ve really got two cup finals ahead with West Ham and Rapid Vienna! Unbelievable!
Fortunately there won’t be conflicting schedules as regards the Austrian cup final and my trip to London: The final in the Austrian Cup will be played three days before we fly to London to watch West Ham and participate in the LC19 leadership conference in Royal Albert Hall after the weekend!
Rapid Vienna take on Red Bull Salzburg on the 1st of May in Austria’s most beautiful ground in Klagenfurt, hoping to win their first silverware since 2008! Two years ago Rapid have lost the final against the same opponents at the same venue – now this is an other chance to beat the odds and defeat RBS, the club that have dominated Austrian football for years now. As Rapid is the only club which already has beaten Salzburg in Austria this season, why not do that in the Cup final again?
So I do hope to come to London in high spirits at the beginning of May, and then we’re going to cheer on the West Ham and help them finish the season in good mood, too! I’m sure the LC19 conference will inspire and motivate us then anyway, regardless of the outcome of the football games, though I have some doubts about how it will feel to know that this visit to the UK now will be the last one before Brexit comes into effect. Albeit we’ve already thought that of our last stay, back in January, too!
Well, you never know with West Ham, and with Great Britain either nowadays …
Come on you Irons!