This is not a blog I expected to be writing. And I know things could could change very quickly. But…
West Ham are in the top four and playing brilliantly!
Today we beat Man City, last season’s Premier League champions, 2-1. Four games ago we beat last year’s second, Liverpool, 3-1. In between we’ve polished off a couple of the promoted teams, QPR and Burnley. There has only been one bad defeat all season – at home to Southampton – but given that they are playing even better than us, and have risen to second place today, that doesn’t seem so bad now. The other defeats, to Spurs and Man Utd, were both unlucky.
This is SO different to last season. The team is playing fast, incisive, attacking football. The energy is high, the commitment huge. Confidence is flowing through the team as they realise what they can do. No longer is it just long balls up to the big man, hoping for scraps. It’s still direct, there is still a lot of crossing from the wings, but that’s OK, because it’s precise and players are getting forward to support the target men. Last season, you might get a ball punted to Carlton Cole or Andy Carroll, and at best two or three people running into support positions. Now there are five or six.
What’s the difference? Well, clearly the raft of signings in the summer has delivered. Valencia (who played for Ecuador in the World Cup) and Sakho up front, Kouyate, Amalfitano, Zarate and Song in midfield, full backs Cresswell and Jenkinson. As I watched all this purchasing, I admit I felt a bit of scepticism. I liked the ambition, but a lot weren’t that well-known and you had to wonder whether they would gel. But they have. Every single one of those players has done well.
Valencia and Sakho (from French team Metz) have been extraordinary up front. Both fast, strong, sklilful and with a good eye for goal. Sakho has scored in six successive matches. Valencia terrorised the Man City defence today. Even the mighty Vincent Kompany was rattled.
Zarate has been in and out of the team but has shown good vision in the hole behind the front two. Amalfitano, bought from Marseille, with previous experience at West Brom, has shown skill and vision out wide and did an excellent job today. Kouyate, from Anderlecht, had been awesome in midfield until he got injured, and it was good to see him back as a sub today. And then there is Alex Song. Ex-Arsenal and Barcelona. How did we get him? Never mind, we must keep him. He was magnificent today, the dominant midfielder, outplaying Yaya Toure. A destroyer and a creator – he initiated the first goal with a superb pass behind City’s left back Clichy, to Valencia, who sped through and cut back to Amalfitano for a tap in. An amazing move. I had a shiver down my spine – this sort of thing has not been happening at West Ham for years.
The two young full backs – Cresswell from Championship Ipswich and Jenkinson, an England international unwanted at Arsenal (bizarre) on loan – have looked assured, good going forward and… just excellent!
And around all these new players, Mark Noble remains busy and effective in the midfield holding role (outrageously overlooked by England), Tomkins, Reid and Collins (perm two from three) have been solid in central defence and Stewart Downing has been reborn as the high point in a midfield diamond. Adrian has been excellent in goal. There is experience on the bench: Jarvis, Demel, Cole, Nolan, Vaz Te, with Andy Carroll due to return in the near future.
Blimey, how did this happen?
Last season was so poor that the majority of West Ham fans (me included) were calling for the manager’s head. Big Sam, it was acknowledged, had got us back into the Premier League and consolidated well in the first season. The second was disappointing, we flirted with relegation and the football was ugly, unadventurous, all about percentages. Antithetical to the West Ham tradition of attractive football (even if it wasn’t always that successful). Things had to change. The Board clearly realised this, initiated the summer spending spree, got ex-England striker Teddy Sheringham in as attacking coach and told Sam, publicly, that he had to change his ways. The suspicion was that it would all end in tears, but it hasn’t. The football has improved hugely and the results have come. The energy, the pressing, the interchanges, the chances created today – against City – were a revelation.
Fourth in the Premier League!
Only nine games in. Anything could happen. Injuries could wreck the momentum. It could all be a false dawn. The recriminations could begin again. But something feels better. The optimism – and relief – marking the comments on Twitter today was unprecedented.
Football fans are a fickle bunch – they could turn if we lose to Stoke next week. But this feels so much better.
So credit to the Board for getting the chequebook out and demanding a new style. To the new players for adapting so quickly to new surroundings and the established players for adapting to the new formations and style. And, yes, to Sam Allardyce, for shaking off his caution and rigidity and presiding over the renaissance. He will argue that he would have done it anyway, given the resources, and that it was a natural progression. He will point to his past record with Bolton. Well maybe, but it didn’t feel that way.
Anyway doesn’t matter how it came about right now, because we are all happy!
Let’s hope Sportsthoughts (125) in December isn’t asking where it all went wrong…