‘Evolution’ is a word both clubs and new managers at West Ham and Newcastle seem keen to use for slightly different reasons; West Ham are trying to evolve from a depressing lump-a-thon under previous boss Sam Alladyce to a slicker, more attacking brand of football under Slaven Bilic.
Historically, the West Ham fans have always warmed to quality football and the club’s owners will be hoping a change in approach will allow the club to fill the ‘Olympic Stadium’ next season with attractive Premier League football.
As we saw for ourselves, it is difficult to fill the away end when you have to watch football Fat Sam style, never mind a 54,000 all-seater athletics track.
Newcastle seem keen to evolve from a club that had all the ambition of Lucy Pinder’s tumblers, to be seen on TV by as many people as possible to maintain a high profile, to one which wants to reward its supporters loyalty with something approaching achievement.
So how has it gone so far?
Slaven Bilic wasn’t such a strange choice to manage West Ham despite a lack of success at previous clubs Locomotiv Moscow and Besiktas. His Croatia team had always played attractive football, including when knocking England out of Euro 2008 and he was a former West Ham player, making 48 appearances for the Hammers in the mid-90s as a no-nonsense centre half.
His ability to change tactics and formations when required showed he understands the game and in all of that he is similar to Steve McClaren, so far with a little more success. Under Bilic the Hammers have won impressively at Arsenal and Liverpool, but lost at home to Leicester and Bournemouth.
Steve McClaren was a less obvious choice to take over at Newcastle, with no previous links to the club and a patchy recent management history but he seems to have gained some support from the supporters so far, we haven’t won a league game yet but we are more committed and organised than last season.
There isn’t yet as much pressure as when the managers last faced each other in a Euro2008 qualifier which saw Croatia win and go to the finals and Steve McClaren re-named the ‘Wally with the Brolly’, a game which Mike Ashley said cost him £100million in lost revenue for Sports Direct.
Defeat tonight for either manager may see their employers trigger-fingers twitch for the first time this season, neither club can afford flirting with relegation this season.
So as McClaren continues our ‘evolution’ from the gutless, disorganised and aloof rabble we saw last season to an organised and committed unit, at face value that seems like a much bigger task than that facing Bilic.
The new Hammers manager took over a team that already had the talent and organisation to be around the Champions League places late in 2014, all Bilic had to do was teach the players how to play football, like an alchemist, turn the granite into gold.
West Ham’s defence has been bolstered by £10 million Juve centre back Angelo Ogbonna, joining Arsenal loanee Carl Jenkinson, Winston Reid who has signed a new contract and highly rated James Tomkins, though they have shipped goals this season.
Our defence just about picks itself these days. With Dummett constantly injured, only Steven Taylor looks anywhere near replacing any of our back four. This gives the unreliable Haidara more time to get some consistency into his game, he’s decent going forward but can’t defend and is weak in the tackle.
Similarly, Janmaat makes far too many stupid mistakes for an experienced international defender, both of our full backs need to match the consistently solid performances put in by Colo, Mbemba and Krul if we are to get anything out of tonight’s game.
West ham are a much more attacking side than last season, they have scored in every game this season though the majority of those goals have come away from home. Last time out they played a 4-3-3 system to match Liverpool’s, which shows that Bilic is capable of tactical change and the players are capable of carrying it out, though if he changes the Irons formation to suit ours last time out, they’ll playing with 10 men for most of the game.
Against Liverpool, Payet and Lanzini played in free roles while Sakho led the line, but it’s unlikely Bilic will play the same formation tonight. West Ham had a lot of men behind the ball a lot of the time away at Anfield and seeing that is how NUFC will play, Bilic will know more men will have to play higher up the pitch if the Hammers are to get their first home points of the season.
They have options in attack as well, recent signings Victor Moses, Nikica Jelavic and Michail Antonio all arrived on transfer deadline day, Andy Carroll should have the opportunity to come on as a sub, giving him the chance to do his black beauty impression as he canters onto the pitch for the first time in donkeys.
As for NUFC
As for NUFC, as an attacking force a 4-2-3-1 system with two defensive players in the ‘2’ hasn’t worked for us so far, basically it means we have 7 defenders on the pitch. While Anita has relished this formation, Jack Colback has looked lost, aimlessly running around looking for someone to mark while the opposition passes around him. It also leaves a major burden on the striker and creative players if Sissoko is one of the ‘3’ attacking midfielders.
Decent player though Sissoko is, he doesn’t score many goals. Last season NUFC scored 40 goals, only one team that finished above us scored less than that and of the other teams only West Ham scored less than 45 goals.
If you think that a PL team needs to score more than 45 goals in a season to stay comfortably mid-table, the back 7 and Sissoko look capable of only contributing a handful of those, meaning the other three attacking positions need to all score approaching 15 goals each.
That doesn’t look likely at the moment, even if our most proven goalscorer Cisse could come into the team tonight for suspended Mitrovic, who looks more likely to get 15 red cards this season than 15 goals.
As Steve McClaren has said in a press conference late last week:
“We need to play better football, create more chances and score more goals and the results will come.”
Genius that, you don’t get that sort of footballing insight without getting your UEFA Pro Licence.
If that is going to happen we need to get forward more and have more goalscorers on the pitch, for the whole 90 minutes. If the manager wants Anita, Colback and Sissoko on the pitch then he may need to move Sissoko back to a more central holding position, either alongside Colback or alongside Anita, with Colback dropping to left back.
Suggested team and Formation
Bringing Perez into an attacking position would give us more goalscoring options, De Jong more control over the ball, NUFC have had only 30% possession in the last 3 games, a stat that even Pardew and Carver would have been embarrassed about.
Yes we look more organised and committed but we don’t shoot much and the current system doesn’t look to have enough goals in it. And getting sent off in the first half doesn’t help either.
Tim Krul has suggested that NUFC need to stay “disciplined” to get results and while that is true up to a point, discipline will only stop us losing, it is goals that will start us winning.
Stay focussed, stay on the front foot and keep the ball and we can beat a West Ham team that looks nervous at home, let them have the ball and the crowd will get behind them and their attacking players can outscore us.
(To feature like Ben, send in your articles for our website to [email protected] – all views those of the author etc etc)
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