I’ve always had a small place in my heart for West Ham United. Rarely do you find a sports team whose nickname, derived from their locale, so easily fits into their origins. The Philadelphia Phillies are an attempt to make something from nothing. But the Hammers are not only from West Ham, but the team was founded as the team of Thames Ironworks; shipbuilders, metal forgers, WORKERS. There’s a certain romantic element to that idea that has always appealed to me, Marxist that I am (yes, the fact that I’m a supporter of a club nicknamed ‘the Reds’ is coincidental, but fortuitous, too.) In more recent days, my friend, Leigh, and one of the bartenders at LFC Detroit’s pub, Thomas Magee’s, have also been West Ham supporters. I have a lot of friends who support a lot of different teams, but not many that are supporters of what can only be termed a lost cause about 99% of the time. So you have to respect that, to a certain degree. I mean, as soon as Liverpool isn’t on the pitch with them, I’d be happy to see the Hammers steamroll everyone in their path. But I’m even happier seeing today’s result because it’s even more romantic seeing the Reds tear everyone to shreds… (Love you, JayMo.)
Liverpool picked up right where they left off last season, smashing West Ham 4-0 today. It could easily have been more than that without a man-of-the-match effort from Lukas Fabianski, the Hammers’ keeper, who robbed Salah, Firmino, and Trent of what would have been sure goals with only slightly less effort/talent. Even with that, Liverpool still had its first string of three games in a row with four or more goals against the same Premier League opponent and also had its largest opening day win since 1932. LFC was in total control throughout the match and West Ham did themselves no favors with their approach to the game.
Put simply, no team in the world should be attempting to run an offside trap against Liverpool. It’s suicidal. The Hammers played a really high line and kept daring Liverpool to run behind them… which, of course, they did. Repeatedly. That left West Ham’s back line scrambling to keep up with the most potent forward line in the league and possibly all of Europe. If all of last season wasn’t a sterling lesson as to why not to do that, all they had to do was watch the Roma game from last year’s CL semifinals. Bad. Very bad. I don’t recall that Manuel Pellegrini had a tendency to employ that strategy from his time at Man City, but if he thought that was the way to slow LFC down, he was very, very wrong.
All of that said, some allowance has to be made for the circumstances the Hammers found themselves in. They had five new faces in their starting XI. They have a new manager, who employs a fairly intricate middle-third possession system that takes time to adapt to, especially when the other half of that starting side has been playing long ball, dump-and-chase like the 1980s Red Wings for the last few years.
Man of the match. Has to be Naby Keita. He had total control of the left side, which exhibited itself in Robertson’s unencumbered charges forward and Mané’s easy access to the ball on a regular basis. Not far behind is cybernetic rugby warrior, James Milner, who did a similar job on the right side and also put in his usual array of spot-on crosses, including a saved ball kicked back into the box that Mané converted into his first in first half stoppage time; followed by a perfect corner to Sturridge who tapped in an easy one for a goal just seconds after coming on to the field. And, as I mentioned to a couple people at Magee’s today, I’m actually warming to the idea of Gini Wijnaldum at the 6. He’s done a fine job of containing opposing pushes through the middle and generally running interference in front of the back four. The fact that he still misses opportunities from point blank range is a down side, but as long as we have actual goal scorers appearing from every dimensional angle (New name for the front line: Tindalos Trio? No. Way too nerdy.), I’m OK with it for now. The best thing about that midfield trio is that all of them can do good work in all three midfield roles, making them almost interchangeable, which is a great sign for both adaptability on the field and depth throughout the season.
Speaking of transfers… Still not a year into his Liverpool career and the price for VVD looks even more reasonable with every passing game. Combine that with Joe Gomez now being able to play his natural position at CB (and the Best Defender in the World™ somehow neglecting to mention his serious medical condition until recently), the excellent defensive play of Robertson and Alexander-Arnold and, of course, Alisson and Liverpool suddenly lacks a defensive weakness for the first time in well over a decade. Feels weird.
Magee’s is booming. For those of you in the Detroit area who have not yet partook, you really should come down to the bar for a game. Today had twice the crowd we normally get for an early morning game and everyone is clearly very geeked for this season. The post-game rendition of YNWA was the loudest and strongest I’ve heard for a regular EPL game in some time.
Elsewhere around the EPL
- City was City as Arsenal still looks like a poor man’s version of the Gunners of yore. That didn’t stop ESPN from going into conniptions about how City is better than last year after one game.
- Wolverhampton’s return to the top division after six years was a sloppy game against the sloppiest of foes, Everton, who managed a draw with 10 men for the second half after Phil Jagof- ahem -Jagielka did one of his usual things.
- OTOH, Crystal Palace- still with full-time Wilfried Zaha! -managed to keep the other long-time returner, Fulham, in check.
- The only other vaguely interesting result was Chelsea’s ebullient dissection of Huddersfield Town. I’m afraid the latter is still a Championship side with League One facilities somehow playing in the Premier League. Even so, Chelsea look revived under Sarri, playing free-wheeling, attacking football; almost like Napoli (surprise!) or… Liverpool.
This week’s musical accompaniment: