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West Ham 1-1 Stoke (And Other Ramblings)

Filed: Monday, 7th November 2016
By: HeadHammerShark

1. Analyse That

Boy, I'm glad that these two teams are no longer managed by Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce or this game could have ended up being a right load of unwatchable dross!

2. What Just Happened

You know that a game of football has been absolutely weapons grade, Olympic class, 9.2 on the Richter Scale, Robbie-Williams-does-Sinatra godawful when the only positive thing the Club has to say about it is that nobody was arrested.

I thought it impossible - but this game was quite possibly worse than this shit

It's days like these that really make a man appreciate the difficulties of being a recovering addict. After 50 minutes of this game there wasn't a person inside the London Stadium who wasn't openly attempting to secure Class A drugs in the hope of livening up this "Matrix Revolutions" shitshow of an excuse for a football game. And in fairness, this might actually be the most cogent explanation yet for why Adrian later came charging off his line like your best mate coming up at 5am at Creamfields.

3. The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

So we have now played 6 home games this season and have averaged 2.3 shots on target per game during that span. That is less than Hull (who aren't actually professional footballers and are really a troupe of wandering minstrels), Sunderland (who only have one player capable of physically shooting) and three times less than Liverpool who have only played 4 home games.

This might not seem like a huge deal but shooting statistics correlate pretty well with team victories. If you generally take more shots on target than you allow, then over time you can expect positive results. That probably seems incredibly obvious but, as a counter example, possession based statistics don't tend to correlate anywhere near as accurately.

What's perhaps more alarming is that we actually average 16 shots altogether per game, good for 7th in the league, but we are generally about as accurate as a Daily Mail front page when we do.

It doesn't help that our forwards have been in absentia all season, but generally it speaks to the overall lack of incision we show when playing at home. With no confidence, a peculiar tactical approach and seemingly no obvious game plan for how to break teams down, we are just not creating the volume and type of clear cut chances that typified our play last year.

And to think we're doing all this after we got rid of Emmanuel Emenike.

Glenn Whelan - A bit of a looker, and has more goals for us this season than all our strikers combined

4. Heat

It's easy, I think, to lay the blame for dropped points at the feet of players who make obvious mistakes. Today it was Adrian, previously it's been {insert whoever you want here as they've all had a turn so far this season} but first you have to look at the team as a whole. And this was a woeful team performance.

The 3-4-1-2 formation has been adhering to the law of diminishing returns for a while now, and it's telling how other teams have reacted to it. Palace were flummoxed for 45 minutes and only sorted out a response after half time. Sunderland, despite being a group of performance artists, couldn't cope for 30 minutes before making a tactical adjustment that should have got them a draw, and then last week Everton had a tough 20 minutes but thereafter beat us without breaking a sweat.

The cup victory against Chelsea remains our best performance of the season, in any formation, but did come against a largely second string visiting team and had more than a whiff of Cup Magic (ô) about it.

So, by now Stoke weren't likely to be surprised by our set up and duly had a game plan to match us. They essentially set up pretty deep and invited our back three to create something. This is a big problem for us as James Collins cannot pass and whenever Angelo Ogbonna goes over the halfway line he looks about as comfortable as a horse on a rope bridge.

By forcing these players to initiate attacks it meant Stoke could press quickly, and in numbers, on the likes of Lanzini and Payet, thus reducing them to a largely peripheral state for much of the first hour. With Antonio once again shunted out wide, this put the onus on Mark Noble to influence the game through the middle, but he struggled too, with Stoke playing Joe Allen in with Glenn Whelan and 46 year old Charlie Adam, and generally shutting down any space in dangerous areas.

What this also meant was that on the numerous occasions that we gave the ball away, Stoke were set up to break on us with pace. Jon Walters was the source of much of the danger and it's only the fact he's not actually very good at football that probably kept the game scoreless at half time.

5. 15 Minutes

I was quite surprised then, that Bilic didn't seem to do much in the interval to change things. The message seems to have been "Guys, things are going terribly - keep it up", and the lads stuck to their orders pretty well.

I have been praising Bilic on these pages for a while over his apparent willingness to change tactics on the fly when things aren't going well and in fairness to him his double substitution here paid immediate dividends. But I rather wish that it was our tactical systems causing the opposition to change their approach rather then the other way round. If 3-4-1-2 is only going to work against bottom of the table teams then so be it, find another way of playing against better opposition.

At present I can't help but be reminded of when we went to Spurs in 2013 and won 3-0 playing with a "false 9" and generally catching them totally unawares. Characteristically, Sam Allardyce was so delighted with this that he persevered with it for a further five games, despite not winning any of them, before eventually conceding that other teams had now adjusted to deal with the system.

Teams work you out in the Premier League, and once the element of surprise has gone you have to be left with players who are comfortable in the system. 3-4-3 (or our variant) relies heavily on confident, ball playing defenders to get things moving. I was fortunate enough to watch Antonio Conte's Italy side play this system to perfection in their 2-0 win over Spain at Euro 2016 at the Stade de France. However, the reality of that performance was that they had Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli to make it work from the back. We have James Collins. It might be time for a change there Slav.

Not Giorgio Chiellini - but has also scored more goals than all our strikers combined

6. The King Of Comedy

I enjoyed Mark Hughes's assertion that his team couldn't play good football today because the pitch was slow. I don't even really know what that means, but I always like it when passive aggressive football managers come up with imaginary reasons for their teams not to have played well.

I don't know about you, but whenever I see a team sheet with Ryan Shawcross, Glenn Whelan, 59-year-old Charlie Adam and Jon Walters on it my immediate thought is always "Shit, I hope that pitch is slow so those boys can't get their free flowing passing game going".

A slow pitch (whatever that is), is also presumably helpful to us as it lets us hit it long to our big physical front three of Payet, Lanzini and Ayew.

7. Mad Dog And Glory

Imagine our surprise then, when Stoke ended up scoring from a long ball despite being the free flowing, slick passing second coming of the 1994 AC Milan side.

76 year old Charlie Adam lobbed one over the top for Jon Walters, who was just about to look up and consider a cross when he caught sight of a ketamine fuelled Adrian sprinting off his line yelling all the words to "Born Slippy" and sporting a leather bracelet on his wrist that you can only buy on a beach in Ibiza.

Adrian and Ogbonna consider whether to tackle Jon Walters

Walters hoofed it in the general direction of the goal before Adrian caught him with a neck high kung fu kick all whilst yelling "lager, lager, lager, lager - going back to Romford, mega mega white thing". It was only then that we noticed the strobe light affixed to the crossbar and the mixing deck behind the goal, but it was too late as Bojan had already turned it in and two more precious points went down the drain.

As is customary when a keeper makes an error, there has been a bit of clamour for Adrian to be dropped for Darren Randolph. Personally, I'd be inclined to resist as I think Adrian has been good enough for a while now to merit some leeway, but I wouldn't be heartbroken either way.

Don't forget though, that it was only last week that we were purring over his brilliant save from uber-Scouser Ross Barkley to keep it scoreless at Goodison Park, and I'm going to discount much of the early part of the season as we played most of that without a defence.

If changes are going to come at White Hart Lane, I'd rather include Reece Oxford in place of Kouyate in the back three, and push the latter into midfield to replace the suspended Noble. If we're going to persist with three at the back, then someone has to be able to get hold of the ball and do something with it other than just rifle it 40 yards towards poor Andre Ayew.

8. Killer Elite

I believe it was William Shakespeare who said "Buy poorly in summer, Often Autumn's a bummer", which I suspect was written when his local team bought a load of dross in July and then had to go bananas in January to try and recover.

There isn't a huge amount to be gained revisiting our disastrous summer transfer window once again, but suffice to say I'm pretty sure that Andre Ayew wasn't purchased to play in a position so far in front of his colleagues that he could more accurately be described as an "advanced scout" than as a centre forward.

I still maintain that bringing Sakho back into the team would make a huge difference as it would allow us to play the 4-2-3-1 from last year, with Antonio wide right, Payet wide left and either Ayew or Lanzini just behind. But of course this falls over completely because we don't have a single solitary fit right back at the Club, and are reduced to playing midfielders and wingers there. What's particularly weird is that we bought the very highly rated Sofiane Feghouli to the Club and then promptly forgot about him, to the extent that he hasn't started a league game yet, and never will while we play this system.

I never thought I'd miss Carl Jenkinson quite so much.

9. Grudge Match

So, after the international break, it's off to Spurs we go as we finally embark upon the horror run of fixtures that has been looming for quite some time, like an iceberg over our Cockney Titanic.

By the time we've finished up playing Spurs (a), Man Utd (a), Arsenal (h) and Liverpool (a) there is every chance that we will be firmly ensconced in the bottom four, and Payet will be flirting even more shamelessly with Paris Saint Germain than he already is now.

It's also been a long standing tradition for all of our players to get injured right before we play Spurs away, so there is that to consider aswell, however I doubt that two rounds of international fixtures and loads of long distance travelling will cause any problems to our crack medical squad.

I'm beginning to feel like maybe this edition of The H List is being a bit too pessimistic. After all, we have a lovely new stadium that is working out just brilliantly, especially since the board decided to continue their phenomenally successful public relations campaign by introducing squads of Death Eaters to roam the stadium Avada Kedava'ring any season ticket holders daring to stand up at any point.

So I thought I'd check in and see how this season is comparing to previous disastrous league campaigns, so I can reassure myself that everything is going to be fine. Here they are through the first 11 games:

LWLLLLDWWLD - Slaven Bilic 2016/17 (11 points)
LLLLDWDDLLD - Avram Grant 2010/11 (7 points)
WDLDLLLLLWW - Alan Pardew 2006/07 (11 points)

10. American Hustle

One thing that you may have seen this week is that the Chicago Cubs won baseball's World Series for the first time in 108 years. In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Cleveland Indians fan - the beaten team - and thus am not terribly well disposed towards the Chicagoans even though I can begrudgingly say that it's a nice story for their fans.

For those who don't know, Cleveland took a 3-1 lead before losing in a decisive Game 7, meaning I got to experience Cardiff 2006 all over again except that this time it was at 5am and I had to get up and go to work two hours later where absolutely nobody gave a shit that my team had lost.

What's interesting about this win though, and why we should care about this as football fans, is that the Cubs are a heavily analytics led ball club. For those who don't really know what this means, using analytics is a way to move past traditional methods of scouting and player evaluation and instead rely very heavily on analysis of statistics and player profiling, to complement traditional scouting and player development.

This has become a narrative in the US about the Cubs win, but what's especially odd about that is that the Indians are probably even further down this track but they simply have far less money. So much so that the difference in their annual payroll versus the Cubs was $88m. Yes, that's EIGHTY EIGHT MILLION dollars. And the Indians still came within one run of winning the whole thing. So it does give me hope that a smarter team can go toe to toe with richer teams if they have the right people in place to do so.

As regular readers will know, I am big into analytics (but not clever enough to understand it properly) but why people over here should start to care about this is because in five years time, every Premier League team will be knee deep in this stuff. And I am pretty concerned that West Ham will be left behind.

You may disagree, because the UK media still largely consists of ex-players parroting long held sayings like "He's got to score there", as a player misses a chance that is only ever scored 21% of the time. Eventually this will pass and you will see more and more people with no playing background making key decisions at clubs because they understand the data that the club holds far better than the guy who played left wing for them in 1979.

As I wrote here, the structure at West Ham is opaque, with our Head of Analysis, Rory Campbell, our Head of Recruitment, Tony Henry, chairman David Sullivan and Slaven Bilic all seemingly having input into transfer policy.

Meanwhile, Liverpool have announced the promotion of Michael Edwards to the position of Sporting Director. This moves them ever closer to the General Manager/Manager structure of US sports where the manager is provided with a playing staff and he prepares them for games and all personnel decisions are made by a separate team under the remit of the General Manager. It's no surprise that Liverpool are owned by FSG, the same group who own the Boston Red Sox, and who are a heavily analytics influenced group themselves.

Why raise this? Because we absolutely do not need teams like Liverpool getting smarter. They already have huge financial advantages over us. So too do Man Utd and Chelsea and Arsenal and Spurs, but by and large those teams haven't needed to be smarter as they can simply outspend their mistakes. No one, for instance, could accuse anybody at Man Utd of overthinking anything they've done for the last three years.

But Leicester changed all of that. Now the big teams want some bang for their buck, as they realise that their decades long dominance can be challenged by clever scouting, good coaching and, let's face it, massive amounts of luck.

Liverpool, for example, have finally cottoned on to the idea of taking some risks in the transfer market so they can buy players for £5m instead of letting them move to Southampton and paying £30m for them two years later.

I don't know about you, but I'm still fairly concerned that the extent of our scouting network is whichever agent happens to be sitting in the Directors Box with David Sullivan that day. Ever wonder why we have a punt on a South American striker every year? It's Sullivan's weakness, and the sign that he still holds the final say on who comes into and out of the Club. No matter what happens this year, until we change that structure and put a proper team in place to manage the football side of things, we're always going to run the risk of having a summer like the one we've just had.

* Read more from HeadHammerShark at thehlist.blogspot.co.uk and/or follow him via twitter.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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