Written by Elliott Charles
Our man, Elliott Charles, was at the game. Here is what he has to say:
The last time I watched West Ham and Newcastle play was in last season’s finale at St James’ Park when Jonas Guttierez, waving his shirt around his head, defined a romantic final-day escape from relegation.
At the start of last year’s fixture West Ham sat mid table with Newcastle right in the heart of relegation territory, and both team’s found themselves in nearly identical positions in the table before Monday night’s clash. I was fortunate enough to be at the game at Upton Park too, and it certainly made for distinctly different viewing.
While these similarities in their table positions were obvious, both fixtures couldn’t have been more different; last year, when Newcastle played with the pride and passion of a football city on the line, West Ham were clearly occupied by thoughts of their holiday the following week. Newcastle, in dramatic fashion, went on to win the game 2-0 in front of a raucous Geordie faithful.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for Monday night’s performance. West Ham, full of energy and creative flow, were led by the impressive Dimitri Payet. Newcastle, devoid of any sort of ambition, put in a performance reminiscent of the horror shows most recently seen under John Carver.
Here are 5 talking points from the game at Upton Park:
1.) Midfield tactics:
Whenever Newcastle had the ball, Anita came and picked it up in between the two central defenders in the position of a third centre back. Considering he was so deep, and Colback often sat very deep too, Newcastle always found it very difficult to progress through the thirds of the pitch. As a result, Cisse, lacking quality in service, had very little to do throughout the game.
Whenever Mbemba looked to walk the ball out of defence he rarely had the opportunity to pass to Colback or Anita. The gaps between defence and midfield was not significant enough and for that reason, we made it very hard for ourselves to progress up the pitch. If Anita and Colback can pick up the ball further away from the defence, like Colback did when Anita was substituted, then Newcastle would surely have far better opportunities to transfer the ball into good areas higher up.
Papiss Cisse is certainly not a target man so long balls are not going to be a productive option. Newcastle looked most threatening and potent when they managed to get in behind West Ham’s defence. Alas, they didn’t do it often enough and it’s something they need to address.
2.) West Ham counter attacking play:
Related to Anita and Colback’s positions spoken about above, West Ham have already demonstrated this season that they are a strong counter attacking outfit, with the likes of Payet, Sakho and the debutant Moses offering pace and direct threat.
Therefore, whenever Newcastle lost the ball (which they often did clumsily in the final third in the first half) their central midfielders were so deep that the gap in between midfield and attack gave West Ham plenty of space to run and make ground.
Why did McLaren set up like that? You’d have hoped he had watched tapes of West Ham this season and recognised this threat. If Colback and Anita hadn’t been so deep into the defence, they would probably have either stopped Noble’s inside pass or stopped Payet’s shot for West Ham’s first goal.
When McLaren brought on De Jong and Perez in the second half, Newcastle looked a completely different team. Perez injected pace, attacking threat and energy on the wing going forward while De Jong ran good channels on the outside of West Ham centre backs and linked up nicely with Perez.
It’s no coincidence that when these two players put pressure on the final third, in both defence and attack, West Ham gave the ball away clumsily a couple of times. As we saw so many times last season, Perez has a great deal of ability and he showed that in glimpses last night. It will be interesting to see if McLaren, over the next few games, continues him in the starting XI, or whether he would be better suited coming on in the second half when there is more space to exploit and attack.
4.) Wijnaldum and Sissoko:
Evidently both these guys are good players; we’ve seen Sissoko demonstrate this in previous seasons while Wijnaldum’s start to this campaign and his international experience prove his worth. And there were definitely times last night that offered hope despite it being a rather dismal all-round display. Wijnaldum plays in a very “Dutch” way, typicalised by clever touches and quick movement and, should their relationship grow as they showed glimpses of at Upton Park, then it could develop into a fruitful combination.
5.) Half time in the tunnel:
I met someone who had been in the tunnel at half time, who explained to me that both McLaren and assistant coach Paul Simpson had been fuming walking down the tunnel at half time. In stark contrast, Sissoko had been smiling and laughing as he headed back to the dressing room. Slightly alarming for a player who has previously captained Newcastle and who the team certainly look to as the talisman, considering his talent and standout performances in recent seasons.
So there you have it, a few talking points from Upton Park, which leads me to just conclude by saying what a shame it will be when West Ham move at the end of the year.
Upton Park is a proper football ground, surrounded by terraced housing or flats where fans feel it is a true spiritual home. In my seat I was surrounded by plenty of children with their families and combined with the incredibly friendly club staff and supporters it was a very pleasant experience. Like St James’ Park, these types of football grounds must be cherished and held onto for as long as possible, if not forever. They are the real homes of football.
By Elliott Charles (@elliottcharles1)