THE contrast could not have been greater.
Watching on TV as England humbled the almighty All Blacks with a brilliant display of precision and power and coming away from the game breathless and exhilarated. Then later in the day trudging through the Stratford drizzle to see West Ham bumble and fumble their way to a lame draw against recently promoted Sheffield United.
Yes, they are different sports being played at quite different levels but if you aspire to be the best it must be worth adopting the processes that lead to being the best in all codes. There are parallels to be drawn, particularly as West Ham’s financial turnover is roughly equivalent to that of the RFU.
Ignore those telling you the boys with the red rose on their chest won because they showed “passion” (possibly one of the most overused and meaningless words in sport) and bellowed the National Anthem with gusto. England beat New Zealand because they analysed the opposition and sought weaknesses before putting in place a blueprint to exploit the flaws they found.
Coach Eddie Jones picked a team of individuals best suited to maintain discipline and carry out the game plan as the implemented individual skills to for the greater good. Most of all trusted they their defence, brilliantly organised by John Mitchell to hold out safe in the knowledge they had the players to hurt the Kiwis in attack.
It isn’t clear if Hammers manager Manuel Pellegrini uses statistical analysis to prepare his sides. Frankly, it’s doubtful; certainly, he never mentions it at pre or post-match pressers preferring to keep his comments as anodyne as possible and repeatedly speaking only of “big-team mentality” (heaven only knows what that means).
Team selection and formation against the Blades seemed capricious. Having struggled with a lack of midfield presence the Chilean decided to remedy the situation by playing Declan Rice on his own in a 4-1-4-1 formation(!) Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson wide with Robert Snodgrass and Mark Noble given the job of supporting striker Sebastien Haller.
Arthur Masuaku, Ryan Fredericks, Angelo Ogbonna, Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals were dropped from last week with Aaron Cresswell, Fabian Balbuena, Pablo Zabaleta, Robert Snodgrass and Yarmolenko coming in. Changing three-quarters of a back four seems odd, especially when the problems at Everton last week were further forward. Rather than a set of changes to improve the whole it appeared as though a frustrated and confused manager was punishing various players for heaven knows what. As a friend commented: “This is a team picked by Twitter”.
The system failed. The game plan had not been thought through. Without a tackler alongside him to break up play Rice was repeatedly outnumbered. Worse, the attack was a mess. Nobody was able to get alongside Haller, never mind advance in front of him leaving the Frenchman isolated and frustrated as he attempted to hold the ball up and play in … nobody. Meanwhile the wide men and fullbacks hit crosses in to … nobody.
Haller is an incredible striker with so many skills in his repertoire but the team are not playing to him. Pellegrini’s pre-match criticisms seemed both out of character and inappropriate. Without a second striker (given our lack of central midfield options we wouldn’t advocate 4-4-2) or better still a goalscoring midfielder coming from deep the former Eintracht Frankfurt player is wasted. Essentially Pellegrini is attempting to recreate the style he used at Manchester City without the individual skillsets.
The home side scored, as Pellegrini sides seem to, not through overwhelming the opposition but by a piece of brilliance – in this case a lovely cushioned volley from Yarmolenko that set Snodgrass away to finish calmly just before half-time. The Northerners equalised mid-way through the second half after two failed headed clearances by Issa Diop allowed an unmarked Lys Mousset to mishit his shot under a collapsing Roberto Jimenez in the West Ham goal. The rest of the game degenerated into sloppy pub football.
Once again we faced the drizzle.