Melisandre came to us in the fires of R’hllor and prophesied this was to be the season West Ham United would no longer live in sheer mediocrity. In a way, she was correct. West Ham weren’t just mediocre against Manchester United, they were downright awful. Top to bottom, fans to pundits agreed that the Hammers largely failed to show up on Sunday. Where Manchester United were fit, eager, and ready for action, West Ham were missing their most creative players in Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio. There were few bright spots, which left for a pretty dark showing. And as we all know, the night is dark and full of terrors.
With that said, let’s dive into this week’s player ratings to their respective Night’s Watch characters.
"Here, a man gets what he earns, when he earns it."
The youngest, and last surviving, child of Lord Rickard Stark. Surviving is an interesting choice of words considering who, or rather what, Benjen is at this point in the story. When we first met Benjen he was a brave and celebrated ranger of the Night’s Watch, a figure Jon Snow wants nothing more to emulate, mostly to make his father proud. After being thought lost during a ranging expedition north of the wall, Benjen finally makes an appearance in Season 6, helping young Bran and Meera navigate through the unsettling forest towards the old Weirwood Tree near the Wall. This half-dead, half-living ranger continues to fight the good fight north of the wall, and is almost certain to make an appearance as Jon and his “Magnificent Seven” now march towards the frigid winter.
Since we’re discussing half-dead rangers, let’s talk about some lifeless performances on Sunday.
Pedro Obiang - 3 - What happened to the old Pedro Obiang?! Look, everyone is allowed a bad match at some point, and Pedro hasn’t had a lot of them. So let’s hope this is just a blip on the Hammer radar and we can expect more from our stopper in the future.
Arthur Masuaku - 3 - I’m a massive Masuaku fan, really. I’ve spent most of last season writing and campaigning for his succession over the largely disappointing Aaron Cresswell. Like Obiang, Masuaku is much better than this and we can only hope it’s a hiccup. One question though, who the hell told Arthur to mark Romelu Lukaku? I don’t ask Tyrian to duel the Hound, we shouldn’t demand the same from Masuaku.
"For the Watch."
Olly serves as a perpetual reminder that, while there are larger forces at play all vying for the Iron Throne, everyone else is just along for the ride, or worse, just collateral. Olly, sadly, is the latter. He never really had a chance. His village was overrun by wildlings, his family murdered. A boy living among men of the Night’s Watch, he quickly had to grow up and adapt to harsh realities most lads south of the Fingers only had nightmares of. We feel the same sense of guilt and sadness as Jon, when he tightens the noose around Olly’s neck.
The North is anything but forgiving as West Ham fans know all too well. Any time they travel north to Manchester, it just never ends well. They are a summer child, not accustomed to the cold, ignorant of what’s coming.
Andre Ayew - 4 - I made a comment to a friend of mine within five minutes of the match. “Oh wow, look at Ayew get physical on the ball and defend! He’s got something to prove”. A minute later I forgot he was on the pitch. Really, try to visually remember anything he did on Sunday. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Edimilson Fernandes - 4 - Much like Ayew, Edi looked a bit over his head. He played much of the match as an attacking midfielder and it just looked... awkward. At no point was he able to transition from defense to attack, without losing possession or making an errant pass. The occasion clearly got to him. I’m not terribly worried as the young midfielder has a super future in front of him, only at the age of 21.
Grenn & Pyp
"We hold the gate!"
And now their watch has ended...
One of my favorite themes from A Song of Ice and Fire is the rise of great men from humble beginnings. Perhaps that says more about me than of George’s writing, but I relish the idea that Grenn, a simple boy from a simple farm, saved Castle Black by holding off the gate and defeating the giant known as Mag the Mighty. Just a man doing his duty, alongside his brothers, because that is what is required.
Mag the Mighty in this case is Romelu Lukaku, and unlike Grenn and Pyp, these brothers failed to stave off his advances.
Joe Hart - 5 - I don’t know how tough to be on Hart. Much like young Olly, Hart was just caught up in a mess he didn’t create. West Ham spent 85% of the match pinned in their own half giving Joe plenty of work. Was he bad? Probably not. Was he good... can’t say that either.
Winston Reid - 5 - I can’t give the defense too much flack after being forced to hold off relentless attacks from Manchester United. Reid’s only real error was not stepping in front of Marcus Rashford’s through pass towards the feet of Romelu Lukaku. He looked as if he were caught off guard for a second and then immediately regretted what happened.
Angelo Ogbonna - 5 - It was good to see Oggie back in a West Ham kit. Angelo had a decent match considering everything. I don’t think he was as poor as some were making out, though he was caught out of position a few times. Gotta get to work on those set pieces, Angelo!
"I can't steal her. She's a person, not a goat."
Originally, I wanted to keep main characters out of this article, however I couldn’t bring myself to talk about heart and fail to mention Samwell Tarly. Contrary to the beliefs of his recently deceased father and brother, Samwell has more bravery and courage than most men. In a lovable twist of irony, Samwell will have a larger impact on shaping the world to come than either his sword-wielding brother Dickon, or his duty-driven father, Randyll. Not that he needs to impress them anymore...
Mark Noble - 6 - I’m giving Mark a six here purely based on the size of his big, claret and blue, heart. Was he at his best? No. Were many of his tackles ill-timed and placed? Yes. How long will I continue to ask myself leading questions? As long as I see fit.
Marko Arnautovic - 6 - I may very well be in the minority but I was slightly impressed with Marko. His defensive work rate was stellar and he helped cover up some major mistakes employed by Masuaku. He also held individual accountable for poor passing and vision. Sure, he had a chance in the second half that you’d expect a better effort with, however this is only week one and I like what I saw so far.
"Thousands of books, and no eyes to read them. Old age is a wonderful source of ironies, if nothing else."
Aemon is one of the more tragic story lines that doesn’t involve murder, betrayal, or an untimely death. Well, not his own anyway. The strength it must have required to watch your whole family lineage be destroyed, unable to do anything because you took an oath, is a strength I may never truly understand. Of course, Jon made the same choice when Winterfell was taken by the Boltons, yet it remains unique to Aemon. He spent years counseling a dozen Lord Commanders, yet never wavered from his duty, even when learning there was, in fact, one more Targaryen fighting for survival. He gave his life to Wall, to a struggle he knew was far more important than any game of thrones.
Let’s pay homage to some other players who never gave up in the fight...
Javier Hernandez - 6 - You know it’s going to be a frustrating afternoon when they only way to get a touch on the ball as a striker is by going to the halfway line. Chicharito was on his own island and couldn’t catch a break.
Pablo Zabaleta - 7 - My man of the match, by far. I shudder to think what the scoreline would have been had Sam Byram or Cheikhou Kouyate been placed at the right back position. Man United just sent waves of Marcus Rashford and then Anthony Martial at Zabaleta who, for the most part, warded away their advances like the professional defender he is. I look forward to that kind of play from him all year.
Slaven Bilic - 6 - The man used what he was given. I can’t fault tactics or lineup choice here. I will say Declan Rice looked just as good as anyone on the field wearing black. Other than that, there’s not much to discuss. Andy Carroll, Michail Antonio, Manuel Lanzini, Cheikhou Kouyate were all unavailable and didn’t give Slaven much of a choice in selection. The next few weeks should give him more options.