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At the end of the game at Selhurst Park on Saturday, West Ham United’s overjoyed supporters sang “Are you watching, Allardyce?” This song received some criticism from Sam's friends in the media who accused them of being ungrateful. These were the same journalists who predicted that the Hammers would be relegated after Allardyce left the club.
The West Ham supporters were making an important point. If Allardyce had been the manager on Saturday he would have set-up the team to keep a clean-sheet with the hope of scoring a breakaway goal. To be fair, that is what I would have done as well. Crystal Palace have shown this season that they defend deep and like to counter-attack. After the game against Sunderland I suggested that Slaven Bilić should play Pedro Obiang as the holding midfielder instead of the more attacking Manuel Lanzini. It was what probably Alan Pardew thought would happen and no doubt influenced his preparations for the game.
Not only did Bilić play Lanzini, he gave him orders to attack as often as he could. In the first minute Mark Noble found the on-loan Argentinean free on the left-wing. He took the ball to the edge of the penalty area before hitting a cross that Payet just failed to reach.
West Ham continued to dominate the game and in the 22nd minute West Ham went ahead with a finely worked goal. One of the features of Bilić is to attack in numbers. After a quick exchange of passes that included Noble and Cresswell on the left-hand side, the ball went across the field via Lanzini and Payet. When it reached Moses just outside the area, he was able to find the over-lapping Carl Jenkinson with a slide-rule pass and the full-back calmly flicked the ball past Wayne Hennessey.
Unfortunately, Jenkinson gave away a penalty less than two minutes later when his clumsy challenge brought down Dwight Gayle. It was soft and in slow-motion replay, it seemed that Gayle had fouled Jenkinson. However, Jenkinson needs to be more aware of his surroundings. It was his needless shove on Fabio Borini last week that resulted in Sunderland's first goal. It is no good arguing that the the attacker has gone down easily, if you make such a tackle, you leave it open to the referee to make a decision that goes against you. Yohan Cabaye's first penalty attempt had to re-taken because of Gayle's encroachment. He did the same a second-time but this time Mark Clattenburg allowed the goal to stand.
Gayle, who was only making his fourth league appearance of the season, was looking to impress his boss with the energy he was putting into closing West Ham down. This resulted in him getting a yellow card after diving in against Payet. A few minutes later he nudged Hammers keeper Adrián after the ball had gone out of play. Just before half-time Gayle was sent off when he received a second caution, for a late tackle on Kouyate.
Pardew decided to play the second-half with ten men behind the ball. West Ham were patient but failed to test Hennessey, although a Sakho header from a Jenkinson cross did hit a post. Bilić then made the bold move of bringing on Carroll for Noble. However, it was the introduction of Zárate with fifteen minutes left that was to change the game. At first, he concentrated on shooting from distance. Then he seemed to remember what he had been sent on for and made a couple of runs down the sides of the Palace defence.
In the 88th minute Zárate finally got a great cross in and Carroll was able to get above his marker to head the ball down. His fellow substitute Nikica Jelavic was thwarted in his attempts to scramble the ball home, but it ran loose and Manuel Lanzini fired in an unstoppable drive from close range. Lanzini was my man of the match before he scored the goal. He was everywhere and covered over 7 miles in the game.
Palace had to push forward in an effort to get a point and this left them open to the counter-attack. Zárate went on a run before passing to Lanzini, who played a superb ball forward to the ever alert Payet, who dinked it over Wayne Hennessey’s head for a goal that that further confirms his status as the most effective player that West Ham have had for years. In nine games this season he has scored five goals and had three assists. The 3-1 victory meant that Hammers have stretched their unbeaten run in the Premier League to six games.
After the match the media concentrated on the fact that Crystal Palace had ten men for the whole of the second-half and ignoring the fact that West Ham clearly outplayed the opposition before Gayle was sent off. However, as Damien Delaney, pointed out, West Ham were the best team that Palace had played so far this season. I am sure that players from Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool might have said the same thing. We also play attacking football scoring 20 goals in our opening nine games, the second best record in the league.
Bilić has brought in some exciting players including the muscular Payet and the lively Lanzini, and he is also hoping to finally get the best out of Andy Carroll. In his post-game comments, Slaven Bilić was generous in his praise for Carroll. "He’s got something that is very hard to cope with. I played as centre-half and know that position. In the box, when the ball comes in, it’s usually more about you than about the centre-forward. You are the one who has got more chance. But when the ball comes to him, it’s more about him than you the defender and that’s why we won today. He’s skilful, he’s got good vision, he’s got good ideas, he’s a great player. His biggest problem was his fitness due to injuries, but he has been training for eight weeks and it’s been very boring training to be fair: individual work, but he’s done it well. We are so happy that he is back.”
West Ham United: Adrián (7); Tomkins (7); Jenkinson (7), Collins (6), Cresswell (7); Noble (7); Moses (6); Kouyaté (7); Payet (7); Lanzini (8); Sakho (7).
Before the game West Ham had the best away record in the league. They had won all three games and conceded only one goal. This was against three of the best teams in the league: Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool.
At the same time, Sunderland was bottom of the league and had not won this season. This was probably the reason why Pedro Obiang was on the bench. He was injured and did not play in the game against Arsenal but I considered him one of the most important players in the other two away victories. Slaven Bilić tends not to pick Obiang for the home games but as I said in my report on the Norwich City game, I think this is a serious mistake. Obiang is our most under-rated player. His work often goes unnoticed as he never does anything very fancy but he is great defending our back four. It is no surprise that when he starts (Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester City) we always win the game.
West Ham seemed visually shocked by the way Sunderland started the game. Their high-pressing game resulted in a series of misplaced passes that we got away with until Carl Jenkinson conceded a silly free-kick for a needless shove on Fabio Borini when he was running away from goal. Steven Fletcher lost his marker and ran towards the penalty spot. Lanzini, who was positioned to stop such a move, did not appear to be looking when Yann M’Vila slid it low towards Fletcher who hit the ball past an unsighted Adrián.
This was not good news as the Hammers have only won this season when they have scored first. This suggests that we have difficulty changing the way we play after going behind. The situation got even worse in the 22nd minute when Dimitri Payet attempted a similar pass to the one that Noble did the previous week that resulted in Norwich's first goal. Winston Reid's lunge, like the one made by Tomkins last week, just failed to get the ball and M’Vila was able to send Jeremain Lens clear who dispatched the most delicate of chips above Adrián and in via the underside of the crossbar.
Sunderland were cutting through us at will but Bilić understandably thought that by sending on Obiang when two-nil down was probably not a good idea. Luckily for us, Fabio Borini's clever runs were not matched by accurate shots and when John O'Shea managed to get a good header on target, the dependable Adrián made a good save.
Just before half-time the tide turned. Victor Moses, who had been having a quiet game, managed to go on a good mazy run that put three Sunderland defenders out of the game. The cross found the late arriving Carl Jenkinson who scored from close-range.
West Ham dominated the second-half. This was helped by Sunderland being down to ten men after Jeremain Lens was sent off for two bad tackles. Even so, it took a bad mistake from their goalkeeper to make it 2-2. Lanzini, hit a long-range shot straight at Costel Pantilimon. However, it seemed to dip at the last minute, and he could not hold it. Dimitri Payet, who had made the original pass to Lanzini, had kept running towards the goal and was able to sweep in the equaliser. Payet is not only a superb playmaker, he also has the instincts of an outstanding striker.
For the next 30 minutes West Ham peppered the Sunderland goal with shots. However, the vast majority were off target, Lanzini and the substitute, Zarate, being the worst offenders. The only real chance was from a Payet cross that just eluded Sakho and Jelavic. After the game Slaven Bilić commented: "Emotions are mixed, a point is a point is especially when we were 2-0 down, but if we look at the last 20 minutes I am disappointed we didn't capitalise on it.... But on the other hand, we can’t afford to make those kind of mistakes or sloppy starts or whatever, especially here in the Premier League."
Let us hope we approach the next game against Crystal Palace in the same manner as we did against Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool. That means starting with Pedro Obiang at the centre of our defence.
West Ham: Adrián (7), Jenkinson (6), Tomkins (6), Reid (7), Cresswell (6), Noble (6), Zarate (5), Kouyate (6), Lanzini (5), Payet (8), Moses (6), Jelavic (5), Sakho (6).
The game against Norwich followed the same pattern as the home games against Leicester City and Bournemouth. An early defensive error put us behind and that meant West Ham could not play their natural game. At least this time we managed to get a draw but clearly we cannot go on like this.
Slaven Bilić will have to consider starting Pedro Obiang in the home games. Without him, the opposition seem to find it very easy coming through the centre of our defence. After only nine minutes Mark Noble committed the fundamental error of playing a square pass deep in his own half. This is something he has done several times this season but previously he had got away with it. Not this time. The ball was placed too far in front of Tomkins and it was intercepted by Brady, who ran on confidently to beat Adrian. Tony Gale thought that Tomkins should have realised that he was not going to reach the ball and instead of diving in he should have stepped back and defended his goal. Given the speed of the game I think that is being harsh on Tomkins who only missed the ball by a couple of inches.
For the next fifteen minutes Norwich missed two very good chances to make the game safe. West Ham were very poor during this period and every time the away team attacked it looked like they were going to score. Lanzini and Moses failed to get into the game. Payet struggled to exert his influence and when he got the ball he tried to do too much with it and the stats show he lost the ball 19 times in the match.
Even so, it was Payet who got West Ham back in the game. In the 33rd minute Sakho laid the ball out to Payet and hared forward to tap in the Frenchman’s perfect cross. It was the Senegalese striker’s fifth goal of the season. For the next half-hour West Ham were in the ascendancy but failed to convert their chances. Manuel Lanzini went inches from putting West Ham in front with a 25-yard free-kick. Sakho missed three good chances and Kouyaté could only blaze the ball wide when it fell to him in the penalty area.
Norwich continued to look dangerous on the break and in the 57th minute Bilić brought on Obiang to replace Moses. West Ham looked much more solid with this change and it looked it was only going to be a matter of time before they would score the winner. However, bringing on Carroll for Lanzini did not have the desired effect. Carroll is clearly far from fit and he constantly failed to hold the ball up on the ground and the service he received in the air was awful.
Alex Neil has still lost only one league match away from Carrow Road since taking over in January. To give them credit, they were not frightened of attacking West Ham and in the 83rd minute they regained the lead. West Ham failed to clear a corner and Nathan Redmond received the ball just inside the area. Noble failed to show him on the outside and he was able to move the ball to his right foot and his shot beat the unsighted Adrián.
For the rest of the game West Ham delivered a series of high balls into the area looking for Andy Carroll. On one occasion the ball arrived at his feet and instead of flicking the ball past John Ruddy he tried to control it. Once again his first touch was not good enough and the chance was wasted.
In the first minute of added time a Payet free-kick was aimed at Carroll. He missed it but Ruddy's poor punch hit the striker and bounced down in front of Kouyaté who was able to score with some ease. Even an unfit Carroll still has the ability to cause panic in the best of defences.
A last-minute goal changed the atmosphere at Upton Park and West Ham were able to retain their 3rd place in the table. However, once again, the Hammers have lost valuable points at home. Norwich played well and at the end of the season we might see this as a good result. Next Saturday we get the chance to play away from home again. On paper this looks a much easier fixture than the three previous away games. But, given our past history, I for one will not be investing too much money on West Ham beating Sunderland.
West Ham United: Adrián (8); Jenkinson (6); Tomkins (7); Reid (7); Cresswell (6); Noble (5); Obiang (7); Kouyaté (7); Payet (6); Lanzini (6); Sakho (6); Moses (5); Carroll (5).
I usually manage to watch Sky's Sunday Supplement. Over the last couple of seasons football journalists have regularly criticized West Ham fans for arguing that Sam Allardyce should be sacked. I did not agree with those supporters that Allardyce should go but I was also convinced that he should not be given a new contact. However, it always made me angry that the journalists were so united in believing that Allardyce was the right man for the long-term future of the team. They constantly pointed out that every team he managed, by the time he left them, were in a higher league position than when he joined. This was true, but he was only really successful at one club, Bolton Wanderers.
Allardyce clearly did a good job when he got West Ham promoted and over the next three seasons he managed to keep the club in the Premier League. The football pundits seemed to be convinced that if Allardyce was allowed to leave, West Ham would be relegated. Yet, to most West Ham fans, it was clear that he was holding us back. They are the people who watch every game whereas journalists rely for the most part on watching edited highlights and the odd game live, where they are trying to assess the performance of both teams. Fans are therefore much more reliable in their insights into their club's performance than football pundits, who rely too much on briefings given to them by managers and their cronies.
The first-half of the 2014-15, West Ham performed well and at Christmas it looked like we might finish in the top six. However, the last few months of the season saw a massive slump in form. Kevin Nolan was asked by one reporter why this had happened and he replied that it was probably because he was injured for most of the first-half of the season. It was a funny joke but some supporters thought he was telling the truth. Fans were amazed he kept his place in the team during this poor run of games. His was painful to watch. His legs had clearly gone. The stats show that he often covered the most ground in the team but it was done at such a slow pace that he rarely touched the ball. One fan commented on social media that Nolan must be Allardyce's love child. My view was that he was his security blanket. In the same way that some young children can't cope with going to bed with a blanket, a stuffed animal, or a favourite toy, Allardyce could not cope without Nolan being in his team.
West Ham finally ended up in 12th place last season. The football pundits said that is where the club should expect to finish as this reflects our spending power. West Ham fans saw it differently. They wanted to compare our achievements with clubs such as Southampton (7th) and Swansea (8th). Most supporters, rightly or wrongly, were convinced that with the right manager we could compete for a top six place.
Slaven Bilić was not West Ham's first choice to replace Allardyce (Rafael Benítez, Carlo Ancelotti and Unai Emery were all in front of him). However, according to David Sullivan, he was the first man to be approached after they sacked Gianfranco Zola in May 2010. Bilić refused to sign the contract unless they gave him £30 million to spend. This idea was rejected and they appointed Avram Grant instead.
When they went back to Slaven Bilić in June 2015 he was given the money he requested and he brought in Dimitri Payet, Pedro Obiang, Angelo Ogbonna, Manuel Lanzini (loan), Victor Moses (loan), Darren Randolph, Michail Antonio and Nikica Jelavić. This has given him squad that appears to be good enough to challenge for a top six place.
The early results suggest that West Ham fans were right in demanding a change of manager. On Saturday the Hammers won their third away game in a row. All three were major rivals for places in the Champions League. Chelsea was the last club to beat these three teams. That was in 2005-06 season and they went on to win the title that year. I am not saying that we will emulate that Jose Mourinho side but it does look like we are going to have an exciting season.
West Ham's first goal against Manchester City shows the type of team Bilić has created. Reid, Cresswell, Lanzini, Payet, Obiang, Noble, Tomkins exchanged passes in their own half. They moved it around looking for a good forward pass. It was only when Lanzini received the ball that he saw Payet loose his marker. Then, with a delightful chipped curved pass, he found Payet. This was the twelfth pass of the move. Payet took off into the space the defenders had allowed between their lines. He looked up and saw Moses with open ground in front of him. His pass was accurate and so was Moses 20-yard shot that curved out of Hart's reach and brought 572 minutes of defensive resistance to an end.
The second goal followed one of Payet's great corners. Winston Reid got his head to the ball and Fernandinho should have cleared it at the far post but Pedro Obiang stretched out and got a part of his boot on the ball that sent it across the face of the goal, where Diafra Sakho met it before Touré, and was able curl his right foot around the ball to turn it in.
West Ham now had an hour to keep out a rampant City front-line. The defensive was breached just before half-time when the highly impressive Kevin De Bruyne rifled in a superb debut. Afterwards, City supporters complained about the missing David Silva, ignoring the fact that his replacement, £54m De Bruyne, was according to several newspapers, the man of the match. It also has to be remembered that the team that played on Saturday, cost £300m, a new record in Premier League history.
Man City had more attempts, possession and touches in the opposition area than they have in any game this season. West Ham recorded season-lows in all three of those categories. They had 16 corners and 27 shots on goal. Despite these statistics West Ham always looked dangerous on the break and could have scored a couple more goals in the game.
West Ham's victory was also their first-ever win at the Etihad and brought an end to Man City's record of 11 straight Premier League victories. Make no mistake, this is an outstanding team. After the game Slaven Bilić commented: "This was a different game to the one at the Emirates and the one at Anfield. This was much, much harder. In the second half they created, pressed us and were the better team, to be fair. If they'd equalized it would have been deservedly."
Football pundits are beginning to accept that this is a special team. Niall Quinn told Sky Sports: "I love the way Bilić has got this team to operate as one. The work rate, the belief in themselves and the hard, nitty-gritty part of the game, they did so well as a group. This is the most incredible performance to win these three matches away from home." Danny Murphy on Match of the Day pointed out that West Ham are a team of real quality and show plenty of confidence and composure on the ball.
Bilić, his side now in third place in the Premier League, was understandably happy with the start that West Ham have made. “Of course it is brilliant. It is like when you come to a pub that is full of girls. You will like it.” When asked in the Hammers can stay in the top four, Bilić replied: “Hopefully. But you would be the first one to say before the season that this would be impossible. But still, just six games have gone. We have to maintain, we have to improve. There are going to be ups and downs of course. But we just have to continue working and live for every day of training and every game. Then we have a chance.... We are just going to try to play good football and win all our games. Where it will take us I don’t know, but it should be a good journey.”
West Ham United: (4-2-3-1) Adrian (8), Jenkinson (8), Tomkins (8), Reid (9), Cresswell (7); Obiang (8); Lanzini (7), Payet (7), Noble (9), Moses (7), Sakho (7).
On 25th June, 2015, I stated on this blog that I believed that Dimitri Payet would be West Ham's most important signing for many years. I said this based on YouTube videos that I had seen of his past performances for Marseille and the fact that last season Payet provided 17 assists and scored seven goals in 36 league appearances (the most assists in any of the top European leagues). He is anything but a one-season wonder. Payet has set up 51 goals over the past six Ligue 1 seasons.
Slaven Bilić had tried to sign Payet at the beginning of the 2014-2015 season but he refused to move to Beşiktaş. The former France manager Raymond Domenech advised Payet not to move to West Ham. He suggested that he was too good for the club and that he should wait for an offer from Chelsea or Arsenal. However, it would seem that José Mourinho and Arsène Wenger were not convinced that he would improve their sides.
Payet told the Daily Telegraph that he joined West Ham so he could play at the Olympic Stadium. “This project excited me, it’s an ambitious and exciting project. Playing in the new stadium influenced me in my choice to come and play for West Ham. The atmosphere will be great, I’m sure, in this new setting.”
As a result of Payet's performances this season he has been compared to David Silva, Eden Hazard and Santi Cazorla. In my view, Payet is going to show he is a more effective player than these stars. His passing and dribbling skills are as good as these players, but he is better at doing his defensive duties and I suspect he will get more goals than Silva, Hazard and Cazorla.
After five games it is clear that Bilić wants West Ham to play counter-attacking football. A large number of managers in the Premier League want to play this way. As Bilić pointed out in his post-match conference, "our target is that we want a good team that can defend with numbers and can attack with numbers". To do this you need very energetic players in mid-field. This is why there could never be a place for Kevin Nolan in his team.
It is easier to play counter-attacking football away from home. This why it was so important for West Ham to score the opening goal against Newcastle. So far this season, when we score the first goal, we have gone on to win the game. Not only that, we have kept clean-sheets as well.
The problem for West Ham in their previous two home games is that defenders made mistakes that led to goals. Before the last round of games this week, the Hammers led the table for mistakes that resulted in goals for the opposition (3). Only Arsenal came close to this record (2).
Steve McClaren realized that Payet was the danger man and he assigned Anita to man-mark him. This strategy works fairly well when the player is in mid-field but once West Ham were on the attack, Anita, tended to forget his job and dashed into his own penalty area. This is what happened in the 9th minute.
A good passage of play resulted in Sakho playing a back-heel out to Noble on the left of the penalty area. Noble rolled it to Payet lurking unmarked just outside the box. He hit is first time into the far top corner of Tim Krul’s net. Noble said after the game that as soon as he passed the ball he knew it would be a goal because Payet does it all the time in training.
With the early goal West Ham were able to concede the mid-field to Newcastle and play on the counter-attack. During the game the Hammers only had 39% possession. However, Newcastle rarely looked dangerous and Randolph had only four ordinary saves to make.
Victor Moses played an important role in last night's performance and with his blistering pace was often a feature of our attacks. Moses was born in Lagos, Nigeria, the son of a Christian pastor. When he was 11, his parents were killed. With his travel being paid for by relatives, Moses came to Britain as an asylum seeker in 2001. Since signing for Chelsea he must have felt like a refugee being loaned out to a variety of clubs. Let us hope that we give him a decent home by giving him a permanent move at the end of the season.
In the 43rd minute a delightful long-ball by Lanzini found Payet who provided a lovely delicate pass that curled around the defender's outstretched leg to arrive at the feet of Moses. Unfortunately, Moses, was slightly unbalanced and his shot went wide of the goal.
It was only four minutes into the second half when a poor Newcastle free-kick resulted in the clearance finding Moses in his own-half. Showing great speed he outpaced the two defenders and when he got to just outside the penalty area, he hit a powerful shot against the bar. If this had been last season it would have been the end of the attack. But as Bilić has pointed out, he believes strongly in attacking in numbers. By the time that Moses had made his shot, both Lanzini and Payet were in the penalty area. Just behind them were three other West Ham players and Newcastle were outnumbered. It was therefore no surprise that when the ball rebounded to Payet and he was able to stroke the ball home.
West Ham's victory has put us in 5th position with a goal difference of +5, the second best in the league. We have already managed away wins at Arsenal and Liverpool but Saturday's game against Manchester City will probably provide the biggest test of the season. Normally we would expect to loose but with Bilić's excellent game strategy I think we may hold them to a goalless draw.
West Ham United: Randolph (7); Tomkins (7); Jenkinson (6), Reid (7); Ogbonna (6); Cresswell (7); Noble (7); Moses (8); Kouyaté (7); Payet (9); Lanzini (6); Sakho (6).
When he was asked to comment on the mistakes made by Cresswell and Jenkinson on Match of the Day, former manager Sam Allardyce, replied that did not happen when he was in charge. That might have been true, but we did not win at Arsenal and Liverpool either when he was manager. To be fair, John Lyall, Lou Macari, Billy Bonds, Harry Redknapp, Glenn Roeder, Alan Pardew, Alan Curbishley, Gianfranco Zola, and Avram Grant all failed to win at Anfield. Yet our new manager, Slaven Bilić, has achieved this at his first attempt.
With two wins away and two defeats at home, it looks like Slaven Bilić is more comfortable setting-up a defensive team. After the game he said: "I know I can organise a team very well. It might not seem logical that we have beaten Liverpool and Arsenal away from home but when you think about it is, it is logical. The players knew what they were doing and we did it very well." Is it therefore logical to say that when we play at home the team does not know what they are doing?
Looking at the results so far this season, a pattern seems to be emerging. In the first 38 games there have been only 7 home wins. Bilić is clearly right, coaches are getting to know how to stop a team from scoring. I remember Sam Allardyce's team getting a 0-0 at Stamford Bridge. However, that was very different. As Bilić said at his post-match press conference: "We parked the bus but we didn't put the handbrake on. There is nothing wrong with that. It means when the opponent has the ball you stop them. When needed we were there with nine men but when we had the chance we had players in their part of the pitch."
Brendan Rogers might go on about having 63% possession but clearly West Ham were more effective when they had the ball. Not only did the have more shots on target than Liverpool (5-1) but had more corners (7-5). The first goal in the 3rd minute showed West Ham's willingness to attack in force with Sakho, Cresswell, Noble, Kouyaté, Payet and the scorer Lanzini in advanced positions.
It was the same with the second goal. It started with a dreadful error by Dejan Lovren. Lanzini’s pass to Sakho from the by-line was intercepted by Nathaniel Clyne and at first it looked like the chance was gone. However, with this West Ham team, when an attack begins, they get plenty of players forward and the ball broke for the in-coming Noble to slide a measured finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty box.
The players have to be fit to play this way and Kouyaté and Obiang both ran over 7 miles during the game. The same would have been true of Noble if he had not been sent off in the 77th minute. It was a ridiculous decision and will almost certainly be overturned on appeal.
It has been a good week for West Ham with Kevin Nolan agreeing to leave the club on Thursday. His replacement in the team, Lanzini, had an outstanding game. Not only did he constantly cause problems for the Liverpool defence but had enough energy to give good protection to his full-back Tomkins. Payet did the same for Cresswell. They defended together and when the opportunity came, they attacked together.
When I saw Lanzini and Payet play in pre-season I saw them both as luxury players and thought that it would be impossible to play them in the same team. I was completely wrong about this. They both deserve to play because they are willing to do the unromantic work of stopping the opposition from running at isolated full-backs. My one worry is that Lanzini likes to dribble his way out of defence and mistakes in that part of the pitch could prove costly.
Bilić thought that Lanzini had a great game: "Manuel was fantastic and not only because he scored a goal. Defensively he not only covered the left-back, Gomez, but he cut inside on Coutinho and Milner when he went outside. He was great. When he came in some of the people who were not for him and were for other players were slagging him off and they said he looks more like a jockey than a football player. Maybe, but he rides the challenges."
Pedro Obiang had a great game as the holding midfielder. He kept the Liverpool forwards quiet and helped instigate counterattacks with quick, snappy passing. According to Opta Stats he contributed with two tackles, four interceptions, seven ball recoveries and an impressive nine defensive duel winners. He also completed 25 accurate passes during the game.
Sakho was the lone-striker but he was never isolated and he was often joined in attack by our energetic midfielders. His perseverance was rewarded when he pounced on another Liverpool mistake to score in the 92nd minute.
In two away games we have kept clean-sheets and scored five goals against two teams who are expected to compete for the title. This is clearly top-four form. However, we cannot forget that we have also lost two home games against teams that were apparently in danger of being relegated this season.
I have been very impressed with Slaven Bilić's press conferences. He does not talk in football clichés and although English is not his main language he has the ability to express his thoughts in meaningful metaphors (the idea of the parked bus with its handbreak off was brilliant). I am convinced he is intelligent enough to develop a system that will work for us when playing at home. If he does, it is going to be an exciting season.
West Ham United: Randolph (7); Tomkins (8); Reid (8); Ogbonna (8); Cresswell (8); Noble (8); Obiang (8); Kouyaté (9); Payet (8); Lanzini (8); Sakho (7).
West Ham's great defensive display against Arsenal away has been followed by two woeful displays at home. Slaven Bilić could not say he had not been warned. Cresswell and Jenkinson had been terrorized by the wingers in the game against Leicester and the same thing happened on Saturday against Bournemouth. Hat-trick hero, Callum Wilson, admitted that Eddie Howe had identified West Ham's weakness and that all week they had been coached to attack them down the flanks.
After the game Bilić agreed that his full-backs had experienced a torrid time but insisted you cannot look at Cresswell and Jenkinson in isolation. He said that no full-back can deal with a fast and tricky winger without some sort of protection. Last season, West Ham defended and attacked down the flanks in pairs. This has not happened in the last two games and Bilić is the one who has to take the blame for this.
I became very nervous about the game when news arrived that Kevin Nolan was in the team. Last season I considered Nolan the worst player in the Premier League. I saw nothing in the early Europa League games to change my mind about this. Now, without the patronage of Sam Allardyce, I thought Nolan would be paid off and found a club in the lower divisions. Not only did Bilić play him, he made him captain. This seemed to upset Noble who had a terrible game while he was on the field.
After the first few minutes it seemed that Nolan was playing in a floating role just behind Sakho. Nolan must have been pleased about this but it caused serious problems for the rest of the team. It was difficult to see who was providing protection for the full-backs.
In the eleventh minute Cresswell found himself near his own goal with no one to pass to. He lost the ball when he attempted to dribble past Simon Francis. His cross was driven in by Wilson giving Randolph little chance to improve his recent record against Bournemouth (12 goals conceded in two games).
Cresswell could not blame a lack of cover for his next mistake. He received the ball in his own area and just prodded it towards the goal. To the spectator it looked like a subtle pass to Wilson who made no mistake in making it 2-0. Clearly changes had to be made but it was a surprise to me when he took Ogbonna off to replace him with Tomkins after 35 minutes. Ogbonna was no worse than anybody else in the defence and it seemed to be poor man management to drag him off in this way.
To spare Nolan the danger of being booed off, he was substituted at half-time. Jarvis was brought on to provide protection for Cresswell and he definitely had a better second-half. It also helped the team and within 8 minutes of the restart it was 2-2. Noble from the penalty spot and Kouyaté, who followed up a blocked shot from Sakho. With captain Noble driving them on it seemed that West Ham would go on to win the game.
However, the problems that Jenkinson had in the first-half had not been addressed. In the 66th minute Jenkinson dived in to a tackle on Pugh, who calmly side-stepped him to curl the ball into the far corner. Eleven minutes later the hapless full-back lost the ball near the half-way line to Max Gradel. He compounded this error by pulling back the flying winger once he got into the penalty area. He was sent off and Wilson scored from the spot.
In the 82nd minute it was Bournemouth's turn to gift the opposition a goal. Their defence split like the Red Sea and Maiga ambled through the gap. He seemed to miss hit the shot but this fooled the goalkeeper who went the wrong way and the ball trickled into the goal. The ten men piled on the pressure but were unable to get any shots on target and Bournemouth were able to get a well-deserved first win in the Premier League.
Hopefully, Bilić has now learnt his lesson and he will set-up his team right for the game against Liverpool. Payet must be played just behind Sakho and not assigned to any defensive duties (it is pointless to do otherwise as he is incapable of doing that side of the game). Jarvis needs to come in to help Cresswell and Bilić needs to come up with a defensive partnership to replace Jenkinson.
West Ham United: Randolph (7); Jenkinson (3); Reid (5); Ogbonna (5); Tomkins (6); Cresswell (3); Noble (5); Obiang (5); Kouyaté (7); Payet (6); Nolan (3); Jarvis (5); Sakho (6).
Last week Slaven Bilić showed us he knows how to set-up a team playing away to high-quality opposition. On Saturday he faced a different problem and it was one he was unable to solve. This is not the first time that Bilić's West Ham team had difficulty breaking down a packed defence. The same thing happened against Astra Giurgiu and Birkirkara.
West Ham enjoyed 63% possession with an 83% passing accuracy in the first-half, but did little damage with it and did not manage a shot on target before the break. Meanwhile, Leicester had scored two breakaway goals.
For the first, Reece Oxford matched Shinji Okazaki run from the half-way line but once he reached the penalty area he stopped and allowed the Japanese striker the freedom to score on his second attempt.
The second goal followed another break on the left-hand side and Riyad Mahrez converted the pass by Albrighton, who caused Jenkinson problems all afternoon. He was also poor going forward and probably had the worst ever game for the Hammers. Cresswell was also disappointing and was partly responsible for the second goal.
It looked like West Ham was going to get back in the game just before half-time when Schmeichel brought down Sakho as he pushed the ball past him. Schmeichel's reactions was of a man who had conceded a penalty. However, Anthony Taylor and his two assistants, were probably the only men in the ground who missed Schmeichel's raised arm that hit Sakho hard in the chest.
The largely anonymous Reece Oxford was replaced by new signing Obiang. West Ham dominated possession even more in the second-half and hopes were raised by Payet's fine goal in the 55th minute. After another ten minutes of continuous pressure it became clear that Leicester was having little difficulty dealing with the Hammers front-line. Except for a Sakho chance that he hit straight at Schmeichel, the home-side rarely looked like scoring.
One of the problems that Bilić's faces is the quality of his bench. Lanzini replaced Kouyaté but he failed to make an impact. A very poor Zárate remained on the field until the 83rd minute. However, you can see Bilić's point as his replacement was Maiga. West Ham desperately need to sign two or three dangerous attackers to give us a squad capable of competing at this level. One of the most disturbing aspects of the game was that Leicester, who is expected to be involved in a relegation fight, had a far better bench than we did.
Slaven Bilić put forward other arguments for the defeat: “We weren’t good enough at winning second balls and dealing with long balls. Leicester were getting all of them, there are plenty of those situations in a football game, and if you lose the majority of them then it is impossible to win.... I can’t accept that too many times, we weren’t doing the basics, and that makes it much harder. If you don’t win the first ball, you have to run, 20, 40 metres back to recover and that is a waste of energy.”
There is no doubt that Payet will make plenty of chances for the forwards this year. It will be a tragedy if we do not have the quality of player needed to convert these chances into goals. There has been a lot of talk about Charlie Austin and he no doubt will improve the team. But we need more than that. I would take a chance on signing a young player who has already shown that they can score when given the opportunity. Someone like Benik Afobe might make a very good addition to the squad. There is also talk of bringing in Andre Grey but when I saw him playing last season I thought he would find it difficult in the Premier League.
West Ham Utd: Adrian (8), Jenkinson (5), Reid (7), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (6), Oxford (5), Noble (6), Kouyate (6), Payet (8), Zárate (5), Sakho (6).
I was one of those who criticised Slaven Bilić for playing a second-string eleven in Romania on Thursday. I questioned the logic of him saving his best players to to take part in a game against Arsenal where they were unlikely to get a result. How wrong can you be. The players he left behind achieved a stunning 2-0 victory over a side that many pundits are claiming will win the Premier League this season.
Bilić also selected the 16-year-old Reece Oxford to play in front of Ogbonna and Reid in the centre of defence. The Edmonton born youngster had an amazing debut and achieved a 95 per cent pass success rate - the highest of any player from either team. Oxford also did a magnificent job keeping Özil quiet and it was noticeable that Arsenal made their best chances after he was replaced by Nolan in the 79 minute.
Bilić set-up West Ham in a 4-4-2 formation with Payet just behind Zárate and Sakho. Arsenal made most of the chances in the first-half but Adrian was able to keep a clean sheet without making any outstanding saves. The nearest they came to scoring was when Ramsay's shot hit Cresswell on the back and it looped up to hit the bar.
In the 43rd minute West Ham was awarded a free-kick. Dimitri Payet’s delivery was excellent and Cech was tempted to come out for the ball. However, Kouyaté reached it first and had the simple task of nodding into the empty net.
In the second-half Arsenal began to have more of the ball but the West Ham team held its shape and once again Adrian was able to easily deal with shots from outside the area. When they had the ball they kept it very well and were rarely guilty of giving the ball way.
The Hammers also made regular attacks and in the 57th minute Cresswell attacked down the left. He was crowded out and an attempted clearance by Oxlade-Chamberlain was picked-up by Zárate and he twisted and turned trying to find a good angle for a strike at goal. Finally, he shaped up to curl it in the top corner. but then hit it on the ground towards the opposite corner. Cech, who had placed his weight on his left leg was unable to change direction and he got nowhere near the ball.
Arsenal put West Ham under a lot of pressure during the last 30 minutes but they coped very well and even made the odd breakaway that could have resulted in a third goal.
After the game Bilić was full of praise for Reece Oxford, the sixteen-year-old born in Edmonton, traditional Arsenal territory: "It was going to be a risk but he has got something. I thought we needed someone to sit in front of the defence who is cool and can be a third defender, but who can also play on the ball. I am very proud of him. Only on paper he is 16, he is a part of this new generation. Put it this way, if Lionel Messi was in front of me I would be more fazed than Reece." Winston Reid added: "He's only 16 and look at him, he's bigger than me and probably better than me!"
Slaven Bilić is obviously a hard task-master as he told the press he complained about the team's performance in the first-half. He suggested that West Ham needed to be convinced that they could beat Arsenal on their own ground. Maybe, he is right. The fact that West Ham had not won at the Emirates since 2007 might have influenced their attitude. We saw that happening last season every time they played away at a top side. If Bilić can change this negative view we might be in for a season to remember. (9th August, 2015)
West Ham Utd: Adrian (7), Tomkins (7), Reid (8), Ogbonna (8), Cresswell (7), Oxford (8), Noble (8), Kouyate (8), Payet (8), Zárate (7), Sakho (7).
West Ham News (1) (16th June - 25th June, 2015)
West Ham News (2) (26th June - 6th August, 2015)
West Ham News (3) (9th August - 17th October, 2015)