Monday, 31 October 2016
Sunday, 30 October 2016
I know I’m at risk here of sounding ‘glass half empty’ and pouring cool water over a fine display and excellent away result yesterday - I certainly don’t mean to.
Perhaps it’s a little frustration finally seeping out after half-a-dozen, back-to-back failed attempts to win a game; a period that also saw us fail to keep a clean sheet and where we conceded a whopping 12 goals in those 6 fixtures. Perhaps…
Don’t get me wrong; I gave a firm, clenched-fisted salute / celebration at the final whistle and left the pub, where I watched the match, with a beaming smile. That pleased look on my face was for 4 reasons – a very good, overall display; some excellent moves for the goals along with some superb finishing, the fact that we’d ‘bettered’ both Arsenal & Liverpool’s big away wins to stay top of the league on goal difference…and relief at ending such a poor period of results.
But at the same time, what I couldn’t get out of my head was just how much room the home side gave us; particularly in midfield and the fact, therefore, that we couldn’t exploit it even more than we actually did. Yeah, of course, Albion retreated and packed ‘2 lines’ of players behind the ball as we’ve seen so often against us and in particular this season and, for that, I’m very pleased indeed that we were able to unlock them 4 times!
But West Brom did nothing like a 'Spurs or plucky Swansea (in the league game) number' on us – for the most part The Baggies just didn’t close us down and, instead, simply allowed us to play our game; giving us plenty of time to create moves and pick out passes.
The exception to that – and it was so very obvious when it happened – was early-to-mid way through the second half; when they eventually attempted what they hadn’t done, for the most part, in the first 45. The ‘lead man’ on that for them was Irish international winger James McClean; who looked like he was simply fed up of his team not-having the ball! In fact, his frantic, perhaps slightly overzealous chasing around & challenges resulted in a yellow card…and I think he should have had a second one / red too.
Perhaps I should give our lads more credit
As I absorbed the game in my head whilst walking home, I had to remind myself that we had been a team suffering with a big confidence drop. I’m still reminding myself of that now. I honestly couldn’t tell you the reason for their loss of self-belief but I’m pleased that Albion’s ‘stand-off approach’ helped us in that regard.
We were buzzing at times yesterday; zipping the ball around well and a growing sense of conviction throughout the team was tangible…and that’s despite a couple of very little wobbles at the back.
Special mention has to go to Fernando, Fernandinho, Gundogan & Silva; all of whom had 7.5 to 8/10 games. But clearly the MotM was one, Sergio Aguero! He who, like the team, started the season SO very well but who then inexplicably went off the boil; causing the gutter press to-then issue their own speculations of him being sold to either Arsenal, Tottenham or Real Madrid as early as January!
Remember when journalists used to investigate and then report rather than sitting there making up stories?
Sergio’s finishing was SUBLIME yesterday and his general link-up play and work / assist for Ilkay’s first goal was a joy to watch.
During that 6-game period where Sergio stuttered & spluttered in front of goal, there was also assumptions circling from those same press sources that all wasn’t well between the Argentine and his new boss WITH, I might add, absolutely no foundation or even a suggestion as to what the ‘root cause’ of any possible issue was. I must admit that our pocket battleship striker wasn’t exactly looking happy for a time but does any striker when they’re not scoring?
Now I haven’t for one SECOND ever had Sergio down as a lazy striker - and I’ll refrain from naming all the strikers we’ve had in the past who could-easily come under that category - but what I hadn’t ‘factored in’ was just how much Pep Guardiola demands from his players!
So, I was thankful to Match of the Day’s guest pundits from last night’s programme (that I watched this morning) who highlighted just how much running Sergio did at The Hawthorns yesterday in order to attempt to retrieve the ball. In fact, there was one highlighted occasion in the first half when he lost the ball; paused for a very brief moment before thinking better of it [with his manager no doubt immediately entering his thoughts] and so ‘reengaged’ and went charging at the Albion player in possession of the ball…and won it back!
The inference of the BBC pundit was that this level of effort isn’t often in Sergio’s game; adding, in fairness, that it’s not usually deemed necessary due to his other, highly-skilled attributes. However, he continued, this is what Pep demands of his strikers (and others of course) and that shortfall in work rate may have been an issue between the two of them in recent weeks.
So, the press may feel a little justified in their recent suggestions…although to go as far as suggesting that ‘all wasn’t well between them’ was taking it too far in my opinion; more accurately it was an employee and his boss simply trying to improve performance in a place of work and nothing more.
A timely boost, then, ahead of ‘Barca Part 2’ on Tuesday night. But I’m betting too that our next 3 opponents in the league…
Crystal Palace (A)
…who MAY have raised their eyebrows of late at us-showing some vulnerabilities [as we appeared on their distant horizons] might now be a little warier; after our confidence-boosting, 4-0 away demolition of West Bromwich Albion.
And we can only get better (again)...
1. Nolito for ANOTHER headbutt simulation yesterday! Got away with a yellow this time [after a straight red at home to Bournemouth]. He had a decent game yesterday...but what a melon!
2. After being fined for comments made against a referee before their game against Liverpool recently; Jose Mourinho then gets sent off into the stands in their 0-0 home draw with Burnley yesterday…AND now may face another stadium ban [as he did during his time at Chelsea] for his clash with yesterday’s ref! I had him down for crackin’ up at Cold Trafford mid-way-through his second season in charge but it’s happening already to the Portuguese 53-year old (AKA the ‘ticking time bomb’)!
3. There are already calls for West Ham United’s new ground, the London Stadium, to be demolished after being labelled as, “Not fit / safe for football”. This comes after several, quite serious clashes between home & away supporters in the ground; with fans also reporting incidents around the ground where the open spaces, lack of segregation and any real sense of organisation when exiting the area via trains etc. are causing issues. I must add, though, that I have also seen and heard of clashes between fellow West Ham fans earlier on in the season, during poor performances and when home-game-results weren’t going their way! Deary me... Perhaps they could ground-share with Millwall or Chelsea while they build ANOTHER new stadium. No?
Friday, 28 October 2016
The word bouncebackability means to have, “…the capacity to bounce back quickly from a setback”.
Well our “setback” is a 6-game winless run and, so, it’s hardly ‘bouncing back quickly’ really is it…unless you count 'the setback' as-being knocked out of the League Cup to our neighbours from Trafford just 3 days earlier?
Not exactly a cheery way to start a blog-posting now, is it?
Straight to it then with a, “v West Bromwich Albion”…
Predicted starting 11, subs and outcome.
Fluid 4-5-1 come 4-3-3 come 4-2-4:
With Pep Guardiola, apparently, being a 'little cagey' in his Press conference this afternoon regarding injuries – and with half-an’-eye perhaps on Tuesday night’s home game against a certain Barcelona - this could be another difficult starting 11 & subs for me to predict.
Claudio “in net” is the obvious one, which I doubt I’ll get wrong.
We’re likely to see a ‘back 4’ for our away trip on Saturday, I think, and at left back it’s likely to be Gael for this one. Not QUITE knowing if both Bacary & Pablo senior are still recovering from injury or have been secretly ‘fixed’ in time for tomorrow; I’m going for our manager to be bold and give Pablo junior his second game in just 3 days…especially having had a decent enough game against Manyoo. Having been withdrawn at half time on Wednesday through tiredness - but clearly wanting to keep our skipper’s game fitness ticking along / progressing - I think we’ll see Vinny start again against Albion. We might see 60 minutes from the Belgium central defender this time and then, perhaps, withdrawn ‘in preparation’ / ‘as a precaution’ ahead of the Spanish visitors in 3-days’ time. John to partner him in the middle of defence.
Rested on Wednesday; Fernandinho gets his starting place back and is highly likely to be joined by [rested also] David. Is Kevin fit? Well…rumours are that he has been training for a couple of days at least so, like Vinny, I think we’ll see him start and then get withdrawn ‘in prep for…’. Although Jesus Navas got the local paper’s MotM with an 8/10 performance in the League Cup; I don’t think he’ll be rewarded with another start in the Midlands (but expect him to come on, perhaps for Kevin early in the second half). I think, instead, we’ll see Raheem on the right and Leroy on the left.
Sergio to get his starting place back…I think!
Willy to resume him place on the side and is joined by 2 defenders in Aleks & Nicholas. After that, though, it’s a very creative & attacking quartet of possible changes in Ilkay, Jesus, Nolito & Kelechi.
Notable absences: Bacary Sagna (injured / close to a return I think), Pablo Zabaleta (injured / close to a return…again, I think), Fabian Delph (injured and still no return date) and Yaya Toure (not being selected after an agent / club ‘bust up’).
Do I agree with Pep’s (predicted) line-up?
Fine with me…and I hope we see some progress made by Leroy tomorrow.
Result? After a ropey start to the season in the league during a period of The Hawthorns being an ‘unhappy ship’; where rumours floated around that they might lose their manager – a time that also included an early League Cup exit on penalties to Northampton Town – WBA have certainly galvanised somewhat and ‘tightened up’ results a little.
The ‘last 5’ of W D D D L suggests that they have got their act together a little and conceding “just” 1, 1, 1 & 2 in their last 4 games (the 2 coming away at Anfield) suggests also that they are a little difficult to break down of late. That’s the sign of a Tony Pulis team…and not a good sign for a team who appears to be struggling to find the keys to unlock opposition doors of late.
However, I’m going for us to end our run of 6 games without a victory tomorrow – yes it’ll be tough and possibly a 'bruising encounter' too (not good with Tuesday looming) but I’m going for us to breach their defences more than they’ll breach ours. It’s an away win…finally!
Expected weather conditions during the game: Very dull / overcast (perhaps heads in the clouds at the highest league ground in England?) but a reasonably mild’ish 57F for late October.
Wednesday, 26 October 2016
Both managers, I’m sure, would have liked to have rested regular, first-team players for this one and test a few fringe players in this League Cup clash. Indeed, it was only two or three weeks ago that Pep admitted that this competition was the lowest priority of all 4 cups – an honest admission when a lot of managers would have rolled out the, ‘We take every game / competition seriously’ line.
But this is a Derby and, of course for us, another away one - I just can’t see, therefore and in our case, too many EDS players starting this game at least.
As for the home side, well they’re not exactly doing as well as they’d like in the league and so Mourinho might decide to change his 11 a lot; using this opportunity to test something new. Then again he might just ‘go again’ in order to attempt to fix any issues they’re currently struggling with.
It’s a hard one to call all round really…
Predicted starting 11, subs and outcome.
Change of keeper for this one, with Willy coming in to start.
A change also to a ‘back 4’ I think [after a 3-6-1 starting formation last Sunday] and, for this, Gael to come in for Aleks on the left I’d say. Having got it wrong at the weekend; I’m going for ‘second time lucky’ in predicting that we’ll see Pablo junior start on the right of defence. Vinny to be ‘eased back in’ and, so, dropped from the 11 for this one – it’s Nicholas & John in the middle at the back.
Fernando to get a rare start this evening and in a ‘protecting role’; Gundogan & David have to ‘go again’ and are the more creative of the midfield, central 3. Largely rested 3 days ago; I think we’ll see Nolito & Jesus start on the wings.
Kelechi to start this one up front.
Claudio to get a rare side view; Aleks & Vinny are the defensive replacement options next to him. Aleix might see some action from the ‘side 7’; the more experienced - and very attacking trio of - Raheem, Leroy & Sergio join the youngster.
Notable absences: Bacary Sagna (injured), Pablo Zabaleta (injured), Fabian Delph (injured), Fernandinho (rested / not selected), Kevin De Bruyne (injured) and Yaya Toure (not being selected after an agent / club ‘bust up’).
Do I agree with Pep’s (predicted) line-up?
Bit concerned about David having to play another game but with Kevin out again – and if we are to give ourselves a chance – then options are a little limited in that area. Other than that…fine.
Result? Can we really go 6 games without a win? I would hope not. But this isn’t exactly an ordinary 4th-round, League Cup game – it’s a Derby and a Jose v Pep one at that!
Erm...…if Manyoo hadn’t-have been hammered 4-0 and totally outplayed by Chelsea last Sunday then we wouldn’t be in danger of seeing the ‘reaction factor’ from tonight’s host. As it was, ‘they did’…and so I think ‘we will’.
It’ll be close - goals at both ends - but they’ll want to bury that Stamford Bridge drubbing well behind them and, so, I think that’ll give ‘em the edge, I’m very sorry to say. A narrow victory for the home side and, for us, half-a-dozen games without a victory. Despite it being of such low priority for our manager; I hope I'm very, very worng with my result-prediction of course...
Expected weather conditions during the game: Unlike the 'ground atmosphere', I'm sure, it’ll be a cool & calm evening; overcast, very little in the way of a breeze and 54F.