Can West Ham’s Seaside Shuffle Launch Them Into The Premier League Top Ten?

It’s a warm day. The sun is shining. Someone says “Let’s go to Brighton”. The West Ham roller-coaster shuffles down to the seaside for the big Friday night match. Can Pellegrini’s men set sail into the Premier League top ten?

Having picked up seven of nine points from a run of games where the majority had given the Hammers little chance, they now travel to face a Brighton side in a match where the law of big money should point to West Ham success more often than not.  That ignores, however, the Hammer’s historic propensity to stumble badly (perhaps in a misplaced sense of complacency) in the wake of the optimism that follows a string of good results.  Just as the equivalent fixture last season put an end to a six game unbeaten run in the league by David Moyes’ side.

In fact, although the overall record against Brighton looks good on the surface this most reflects bygone non-league and war-time cup encounters.  In the senior leagues it is the Seagulls that have the upper hand and, in the very top flight, West Ham have won only once in the six meetings to date – a 2-1 win (Cottee, Dickens) at Upton Park in March 1983.

Last season, West Ham charitably donated six of Brighton’s forty league points as well as six of their thirty four league goals.  When the two sides met at the Amex Stadium in February this year, the home side ran out 3-1 winners but only three Hammers (Mark Noble, Pablo Zabaleta and Declan Rice) from that game are likely to be on show again tonight.

PellegriniWith no fresh injury worries there can be no debate about Manuel Pellegrini’s starting lineup tonight.  Any changes to the formation that has worked so well since being introduced at the Everton game would be a big surprise.  Whether by accident or design the manager has hit upon a system that suits the players available, giving them the freedom to demonstrate their particular talents and to play a style of football that is finally worth the admission money.  Provided that key players stay fit and over-confidence is kept at bay then I see no reason why it cannot continue to pay dividends.  The squad still has a flimsy look in certain positions but everything is looking a whole lot rosier than it was before the last international break.

No matter what system a team plays there will always be comparative weakness somewhere in its make-up that opposition team will seek to exploit.  For West Ham, it is the amount of space that we allow attacking players down the flanks.  It is a delicate balance as to how much support wide attacking players should give to the full-backs without restricting attacking ambitions.  Keeping the shape seems to work better on the right hand side where Andriy Yarmolenko tracks back effectively despite a few chaotic attempts to clear the danger.  On the left, however, the shape has been a lot less compact and it will be a key battle tonight to see how how well Arthur Masuaku, Pedro Obiang and Felipe Anderson collectively nullify the threat from the pacey Knockaert.  The Obiang role is rather confusing involving as it does a lot of running and closing down but relatively few touches.  It is interesting that in the last two games his average position has been further forward than that of Anderson.

Brighton may well have been many people’s tip for relegation at the start of the season but have shown enough spirit and organisation to suggest that they can survive for a second season.  There are certainly more than three worse teams in the Premier League at the moment.  Home form will again be important to them and they will surely be targeting a return from tonight’s fixture.

The absence of Gross is a big blow for Chris Hughton (and a bonus for West Ham) but the Seagulls may be able to welcome back Colombian Izquierdo, a player who did little last season other than embarrass the Hammers on two occasions.  One would assume that the Fabian Balbuena/ Issa Diop partnership would be too strong to be bothered by veteran striker Murray, but having written him off several times in the past I will reserve any critical judgement of his threat and abilities for the time being.  It is a surprise that Murray never featured in the long list of failed West Ham striker signings but you just know, if he had, he would have been turning out, a broken man, in the National League by now.  Instead he has had a new lease of life mixing it with the best on the south coast.

The matchday referee is Kevin Friend from Leicestershire who takes charge of his second Brighton game of the season, the previous one being the home side’s victory at home to Manchester United.  Friend is one of the lower key Premier League referees and one of the least likely to go around waving red cards.

Neither of our favourite pundits have foreseen a West Ham win tonight and, while Merson predicts a 2-2 draw, Lawro has the Hammers stumbling to a 2-1 defeat.  A win by more than two goals will see West Ham clamber into the league’s top ten, at least temporarily, at the expense of Manchester United.  It will by no means be an easy game but using the power of positive thinking to will us above Mourinho’s miscreants I will be predicting a 4-1 win.

Astonishing, Brilliant, Magnificent, Spectacular, Superb: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Red Devil Romp

Plucky Manchester United fare little better than Macclesfield Town as West Ham extend their rip-roaring, free-scoring unbeaten run to four games at the London Stadium.

Just Like Watching West Ham

Ask the majority of West Ham supporters how they would like their team to play and you might find yesterday’s performance coming closer to that ideal than anything seen for a good many years.  The ugly duckling performances of the first four games have metamorphosed into a very fine swan indeed.  Suddenly players who had previously laboured and plodded their way around the pitch for ninety minutes are playing on their toes with confidence high and a spring in their step.  It brought to mind Arsene Wenger’s original transformation of George Graham’s Arsenal with one-time donkey Tony Adams playing passes with the outside of his boot.  It is a wonder what can be achieved when organisation, teamwork and movement are introduced along with a belief that the ball isn’t something that needs to be got rid of as quickly as possible.  This was West Ham’s finest show of the season in what has turned into a nice little unbeaten run.  We can now look forward with interest to see how the team manages to maintain impetus, flair and hard-work in the next set of fixtures.  From the spectre of a long relegation battle I am now looking curiously at sixth spot in the table.

ZABsolutely FABulous

Ten goals conceded in the first four games has been followed up with just two in the next three (comprising tough games against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United) all with largely with the same back-line.  If ever there was an example of defence not being only about the back four or five then this is it.  Finally, we have the look of a team that attacks and defends as a unit rather than being made up of three discrete components working to a rule book.  However, despite the team ethic there were also fantastic individual performances all-round yesterday!  Pablo Zabaleta (as with Mark Noble in front of him) seems to have discovered a fresh pair of legs.  Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop have exceeded all expectations as a central defensive partnership (already there are envious eyes focusing on the talent and athleticism of Diop).  Declan Rice has shown a far greater deftness of touch and eye for a pass than I gave him credit for, and I even spotted a Bobby Moore tackle at one point – neatly complementing the Gordon Banks save made by the flawless Lukasz Fabianski from Fellaini’s header.  And how about the effort put in by Robert Snodgrass during his time on the pitch – playing like a man possessed.  It was a shame that the goal conceded blotted the afternoon’s copybook resulting, as it did, from a drop in concentration during the visitor’s double substitution.

It’s All About The Pass

Of all the football statistics now thrown at us, it is the ‘Assist’ that I find to be the flakiest of them all.  Two weeks ago at Everton, Noble got an assist for Andriy Yarmolenko’s second goal although his actual contribution to it was negligible.  Yesterday, without his precise defence splitting pass to Zabaleta to set up the West Ham opener there would have been no goal.  Yet as a goal can only have one assist there is no recognition.  The biggest positive out of the last three games (apart from the points) has been the quality of the passing.  For a good pass you certainly need somebody to execute it but you also need options and for others to take up positions that will provide an advantage.  The number of options available to the player with the ball has been pleasing as has the movement and anticipation that allows quick switching between flanks and for balls to played into space for runners.  There was some great interplay on show yesterday particularly, although not exclusively, between the front three of Marko Arnautovic, Felipe Anderson and Yarmolenko.  The first and third goals were a delight to watch.

That Free Kick Routine…..

I am still a little puzzled by the free kick routine where Player A takes the kick, rolls it a few yards to Player B who stops it and then retreats allowing Player A to cross into the box.  It is clearly a routine from the training ground as we have seen it a few times already this season.  I suppose it could slightly alter the angle of delivery into the box but does it really make so much difference?  Answers on a postcard please …..

Do You Know The Way To Can Jose?

No surprise, given the high profile of those involved, that much of the media attention was on the crisis unfolding at Old Trafford.  As well as the Hammers played they were allowed plenty of space and opportunity to do so by an opponent who looked dispirited, disinterested and disorganised – especially in the first half and again after the third goal went in.  Mourinho looks to be re-enacting his last days at Stamford Bridge blaming everyone for the collective deficiencies apart from himself.  Manchester United look to be a team in turmoil and with very public spats between manager and leading players it is difficult to see how this can be fixed with Mourinho still in place.  I had thought they may stumble on for a while longer but now having seen how bad the situation is it could well be a matter of days before Zidane rocks up in Manchester.

Perky Pellegrini To Mount More Misery On Morose Mourinho: West Ham v Manchester United Preview

A suddenly buoyant West Ham take-on the under pressure and misfiring Manchester also-rans at the London Stadium in what could well be Mourinho’s farewell visit.

It is no doubt a reflection of the “hope for the best, fear the worst” mentality that goes with supporting West Ham that I can’t quite make up my mind whether today is a good or a bad time to be playing Manchester United.  A lacklustre start to their Premier League campaign had already created rumblings of discontent at Old Trafford and these became amplified by the midweek League Cup defeat by Championship side Derby County.  So the question is, will the ever moaning Mourinho get a storming response out of his players at the London Stadium or will they continue to struggle in shaking off the shackles of their manager’s nineteenth century safety first tactics?

It would be no surprise if Manchester United were among the first to change managers in the Premier League this season as his style, or lack of it, falls far too short of the expectations at famous (and one-time successful) club.  However, my money for first managerial casualty would be either on Claude Puel at Leicester or Colin Wanker at Cardiff.  The transition from the Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United is looking just as painful as that which followed the retirement of Matt Busby; and if history repeats itself then the Red Devils can expect to win their next title by 2039.

It would be foolish to read too much into League Cup results these days as no-one really starts taking it seriously until reaching the quarter finals stage.  Still you can only beat what is in front of you and a stroll against League 2 basement club, Macclesfield Town, can’t have harmed the confidence in the Hammer’s camp, following on from the win at Everton and draw with Chelsea.  A fourth round tie against Blackpool or Burton Albion would do very nicely.

Today will see Manchester United’s third visit to the London Stadium where they have yet to concede a goal – last year’s drab scoreless draw being preceded a 2-0 Manchester victory thanks largely to Mike Dean’s dreadful decision in sending off Sofiane Feghouli.  The Hammers recent record against the visitors is not so good and, apart from the famous last game at the Boleyn victory, there have been no other successes in the last nineteen league meetings.  As usual the biggest obstacke in the way of improving that record will be Lukaku, who has netted eleven times in his last eleven matches against West Ham – he has also scored in each of the visitors three away league games so far this season.

We are promised the return of Marko Arnautovic from injury today and his inclusion at the expense of Michail Antonio could well be the only change from the team which started last weekend against Chelsea.  It is possible that Manuel Pellegrini will make tactical changes in the full-back positions but it would surprise me.  With Carlos Sanchez now absent through injury there are limited options left to replace Mark Noble when his legs run out around the 75 minute mark.

WHUMNU2

It was good to see several youngsters get a game in midweek and it is about time the Academy started to deliver after a lengthy barren spell stretching back almost a decade.  Clearly performances must be viewed in the light of the opposition faced and it is a huge leap in class from Macclesfield to Manchester.  However, I think there should always be room for at least one young player with potential to be on the bench as a way of introducing them to the atmosphere and expectations of league football.  It was Grady Diangana who received all the plaudits following his two goal debut in the League Cup but he will surely be behind Antonio and Robert Snodgrass in the attacking bench pecking order. So, arguably it could be Conor Coventry who is more likely to get a look in as the fresh legs cover for the Hammer’s skipper.

The referee for today’s game is Michael Oliver from Northumberland who took care of two West Ham defeats (home to Spurs and away at Everton) last season plus the home draw with Stoke.  In five Premier League matches this season he already has two red cards to his name.

BBC pundit Lawro predicts a 2-0 away win confident that Mourinho will get a reaction from his chaotic charges while Merson at Sky is sticking with a 1-1 draw.  It will be interesting to see how the game pans tactically and whether Pellegrini expects his team to sit back, as they did against Chelsea, or show more attacking intent.  A more enterprising West Ham may be just what the visitors are looking for and there is the potential for the game turning into a cagey cat and mouse affair.   Notwithstanding the curse of Lukaku I am going to stick my neck out and predict a 2-0 home victory that heaps even more misery on the morose Manchester manager.

Can West Ham deepen the frown on Mourinho’s face when Manchester United visit the London Stadium this weekend?

The Hammers face the Red Devils in this week’s early kick-off

Prior to our game against Everton just a fortnight ago I wrote in my preview that, although we were pointless at the time, I would be more than happy if we could amass eight points from the following four difficult fixtures to bring our average up to a point a game. With away games at Everton and Brighton, and home games against Chelsea and Manchester United that would be a difficult task, especially considering our performances in our opening four matches. Nevertheless, we are half way to my “target”, and based upon what I’ve witnessed in the past two games, I am confident that we can reach eight points from eight games. We just need a win and a draw from this game at home to the Red Devils, and the trip to the South Coast to face the Seagulls next Friday. Hopefully we can start with a win this weekend.

A game against Manchester United is always something special. Like them or loathe them, they have been the most successful club in England in the history of the game. They have won the league 20 times, as well as 12 FA Cup wins and various other honours including three wins in the European Cup / Champions League. They are the biggest club in England and the third biggest in the world in terms of revenue.

Of course all West Ham fans fondly remember the final game at the Boleyn just over two years ago, where we followed the script and came from behind to win the game 3-2. Despite Manchester United’s success over the years their record against us on our ground is not the best. Other “big” clubs have visited us on a similar number of occasions in history and have beaten us more times than we have beaten them. But our record against United bucks the trend and we have more wins against them than they do against us on our home turf.

I’ve written previously about the changes in personnel at football clubs, especially our own in recent times. Of the fourteen West Ham players involved on that historic night in May 2016, only Antonio (who played at right back), Noble, and Obiang (who came on as an 84th minute substitute) were on the pitch last Sunday against Chelsea. Randolph, Kouyate, Payet, Sakho, Tomkins, and Valencia have left the club, Reid, Carroll, and Lanzini have long-term injuries, and Ogbonna and Cresswell were on the bench. It’s funny how the term bench has survived; these days players sit back on comfortable padded (and heated?) seats whilst awaiting the call to enter the fray.

I’m not sure how much attention we need to pay to the supposed behind the scenes unrest at United, especially the apparent issues between Pogba and Mourinho, but in many ways they don’t seem to be a happy bunch. Based on what I’ve seen so far they are nowhere near the level of Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea, or perhaps even our North London neighbours, Arsenal or Tottenham, and given our battling performance against the blues from West London last weekend I am hopeful that we can go one better in this game.

They have won half of their six games so far, losing on their travels at Brighton, and a hefty home defeat to Tottenham. Last week they drew 1-1 with newly-promoted Wolves, so their ten points sees them sitting in seventh place, two points behind the aforementioned North London duo, but already eight points adrift of the top of the table.

Those people who bet on West Ham to win or draw against Chelsea were in profit, and you would be equally successful this weekend with the same bet, if one of those two results happen. The bookmakers are not as generous with their odds on us beating United as they were against Chelsea, with around 10/3 the going rate, and 12/5 for a draw. I think I’ll just stick with the win for this one, as I’m confident we will pick up the three points to heap more misery on the face of the opposition manager, and even more so if Arnie has recovered from his knee injury. I’m not expecting 8-0, but a good performance, and any kind of win would be good. 3-2 again?

I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Well Earned Point Against Chelsea

What we learned as West Ham happily concede possession, are rarely troubled by a predictable one dimensional Chelsea and end up spurning the best chances of the afternoon.

Possession

If Premier League football was a level playing field then you wouldn’t want to see your team playing at home on the wrong side of 28%-72% possession statistics.  Although we are now well past the point of believing that possession is everything in football, that is a very one-sided scenario.  But football is not a level playing field and, the occasional upset apart, success follows the money including the flip side that is the financial imperative of Premier League survival.  Had the Hammers made a more convincing start to the season then maybe Pellegrini could have been more adventurous against Chelsea; but with his team firmly in the recovery position the ends of a hard won, well-earned point jsutified the means of a mostly backs-to-the-wall performance.  Even so, the two clearest cut goal-scoring opportunities of the game fell to West Ham and, at the end, we were left imagining what might have been.

Position

A look at the average position of the West Ham players during the game is quite telling.  Although Pellegrini has always favoured a back four, the Hammers effectively played with a back five with Declan Rice rarely venturing into the opposition half except at set pieces.  Rice had another very good game, as he had at Goodison the previous week, and showed a deft touch as well as intelligent distribution.  The data also showed that, on average, Pedro Obiang took up a more advanced position than Felipe Anderson although both played relatively deep on the left hand side – not surprising as Chelsea did most of their attacking down the right wing.  Cover for Pablo Zabaleta on the Hammer’s right was provided mainly by Andriy Yarmolenko.  The result was that West Ham found it difficult to retain possession with too few players getting forward to mount constructive or sustained attacks.  For those interested in statistics, the Hammer’s most accurate passers of the afternoon were surprisingly Issa Diop, Michail Antonio and Arthur Masuaku.

Aggression

For what is normally a fiercely contested London derby the match was remarkably tame as far as boot flying intensity was concerned; the matter of no added first half minutes was testament to lack of physicality.  There were a smattering of fouls but mainly of the niggly variety rather than the vicious or dangerous.  Referee, Mike Dean, must have been most disappointed that he was not called upon to make any game changing decisions.  In fairness, Dean performed very well with the anonymity preferred in a referee  – particularly when ignoring Hazard’s blatant dive on the edge of the area in the first half.  There was a period around the two Antonio first half chances that West Ham (and the crowd) got the bit between their collective teeth but otherwise it was more chess match than gladiatorial battle.

Defensive

Another fine set of performances from Lukasz Fabianski, Fabian Balbuena and Diop with sterling support from Zabaleta in the back line.  Their day was made somewhat easier by an apparent lack of ideas and enthusiasm from the opposition.  Chelsea had put all their eggs into the Hazard and Willian baskets yet looked uncertain what to do with the ball once they got into dangerous positions and the West Ham defenders were able to clear their lines at will.  It was a good lesson yesterday that defence is not just about the back four or five – but is something performed as a team.  Everyone did their job in limiting Chelsea to speculative strikes and in the rare event they did break through, Fabianski was more than equal to the threat.

Offensive

If yesterday was a good example of defending as a team it was a less impressive one of attacking as a team.  We can maybe excuse the all-hands-to-the-pumps defending in the context of the match and the season but the team must be able to collectively do more when up against lesser sides.  The more creative midfield players cannot have their effectiveness blunted by too great a burden of defensive responsibility; otherwise the front man ends up isolated chasing punts from the keeper.  Yarmolenko did well to track back in support of Zabaleta and also find time to miss his sitter (a shame his head is not as sweet as his left foot).  Anderson, on the other, needs to step up his contribution from cameo guest appearance to the leading man that his transfer fee demands.  From an attacking viewpoint it was crystal clear how much the team rely on the absent Marko Arnautovic.  If the Antonio and Yarmolenko opportunities had fallen to Arnie then we may have been celebrating a famous smash and grab victory.  No matter it was a point well won, another encouraging performance and several steps in the right direction of mid-table security.

West Ham’s Autumn Flurry To Herald The Fall Of Chelsea

Hot on the heels of an impressive victory at Everton, West Ham will seek to open up Chelsea and place the blue flag where it rightfully belongs.

It is surprising the extent to which a good result at the weekend can play in creating a positive impact on your life – or at least that portion of it that is devoted to football.  Post-match euphoria has a long half-life and can easily be topped-up as with repeated highlight watching and mutual social media backslapping.  The warm glow of victory can be comfortably felt for the remainder of the week albeit with the potentially dangerous side effect of unrealistically raised expectations.

The visit of Chelsea to the east-end is always one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season and, with the added incentive of derailing the visitors 100% perfect start to the season, there is plenty at stake.  Despite the west Londoners having bossed encounters in recent history, following the injection of Roman’s dodgy roubles, a West Ham victory today would even-up the all-time record at 57 wins apiece.

It is a surprise to see Chelsea (once again under new management) start the season so positively although, with the exception of a visit by Arsenal, they have been favoured by a relatively benign set of opening fixtures.  Still their confidence will be on a high having also successfully come through a midweek European gimme in Salonika.  If only they had a half decent striker they might well be offering serious competition to Manchester City and Liverpool in this season’s title race.

Chelsea’s undoubted strength is in the midfield areas where they look particularly formidable.  The introduction of Jorginho alongside Kante provides more energy than a whole box of Duracel batteries combined and allows Hazard and Willian the freedom to menace opposition defences at will.  Hazard can divide opinion among fans of other clubs but, for me, he is one of the best and most creative players currently turning out in the Premier League.  Clipping his wings will be key to any West Ham’s success today.

I can’t see Manuel Pellegrini making any discretionary changes to his starting lineup after last week’s win at Everton – the fitness of Marko Arnautovic being the greatest concern and still uncertain.  I have read others suggesting changes to either full-back (Ryan Fredericks in for Pablo Zabaleta or Aaron Cresswell in for Arthur Masuaku) and even, bizarrely, those recommending a place for Carlos Sanchez at the expense of Mark Noble.  I am no great supporter of the 2018 model skipper but did they they not witness Sanchez disastrous short suicidal cameo last weekend?

WHUCHE-Lineup

There may be a case for changing the full-back slots where Zabaleta and Cresswell edge it defensively but fall shorter on attacking threat.  Both Fredericks and Masuaku can be electric going forward, but it depends to what extent formation and set-up allows that to happen.  This aside, and at the risk of projecting previous West Ham manager behaviours onto Pellegrini, I am confident he will not change a winning team and will stick with his latest preferred formation until its weaknesses become exposed.  The main apparent weakness being too much space left on the flanks for opponents to exploit when attacking.

Much will depend today on how effectively the midfield three of Declan Rice, Pedro Obiang and Noble acquit themselves; and the way in which they are deployed.  Last week Rice did a great job of tracking the runs of Sigurdsson and he may well be given a similar responsibility with Hazard today.  That will require Noble and Obiang to keep busy in covering the flanks and getting forward to support the front players wherever possible.

Fitness permitting, I look forward to seeing the front three of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Arnautovic pick up where they left off last week; putting plenty of pressure on the visitor’s defence.  I have never really seen the value of David Luiz and believe he can be bullied and forced into mistakes when pressed – critically this depends on the availability of Arnie.  If the Austrian is not passed fit I suppose the replacement would need to be Lucas Perez – assuming he is warmed up in time!

There can be no real debate concerning the keeper and centre backs with the current incumbents each having performed admirably in recent games, even if the goals against tally suggests otherwise.  West Ham should have particularly high hopes for Issa Diop who looks like he will be a great signing even though his performances will ultimately attract the attention of more successful sides.  To think it could have been Alfie Mawson in the back four!

Today’s referee is Mike Dean from The Wirral known for his exuberant celebration of Tottenham goals.  Dean is always a little card happy and it would be no surprise if there were fewer than twenty-two players on the pitch come the final whistle.

This afternoon sees the return to West Ham of former manager Gianfranco Zola.  The affable and grinning Italian has an undistinguished managerial career, following his time at Upton Park, but now finds himself in an assistant coaching role in West London.

There is a difference of opinion between the much loved pundits this week with Merson opting for a Hazard inspired 3-1 Chelsea win but Lawro going out on an uncharacteristic limb with a 2-1 West Ham success.  One might conclude that it is a case of wishful Lawro thinking and that his motivation for the result is that it would benefit his beloved Scousers.  Personally, I think that there is a very high chance that the Hammers will not get beaten this afternoon and pick up their first home league point of the season.  Whether it is all three and another week of glorious football well-being or whether we will have to settle for just a share is hard to call.  Naturally, a win would satisfy my raised expectations but feel a draw is the most likely outcome.  As long as it accompanied by more signs of improved performances and greater understanding then I would reluctantly take that.

Can West Ham’s team of many nationalities end Chelsea’s 100% start to the season?

I woke up it was a Chelsea Morning ………….

Well, not quite morning, but an early kick-off nonetheless. We have to leave early on a Sunday morning to watch this game. Chelsea Morning was the title of a song written by Joni Mitchell in 1968. It was initially released as a track on the debut Fairport Convention album that same year, before Mitchell herself released it as a single the following year. Ah, 50 years ago. I am old enough to remember it well.

Coincidentally 50 years ago this very weekend West Ham played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Hey Jude by the Beatles topped the chart as West Ham came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw in front of a 58,000 crowd. I stood in the Shed as a 14 year-old, not revealing my allegiance to the away team, as I was amongst the home supporters. I had to suppress my excitement as Billy Bonds moved forward with ten minutes to go and found Trevor Brooking on the right. Trevor went to the bye-line and crossed for Martin Peters to head home off the underside of the bar, the ball barely crossing the line, a trick mastered by West Ham in the sixties. Fortunately, although it was many years before goal-line technology was to send a message to the referee’s watch, an alert linesman spotted that the ball was over the line and the game was drawn. This was a good point earned against a Chelsea team who went on to finish fifth at the end of the season (we were eighth).

The game was our tenth league fixture that season and at that stage we had only lost once, 4-1 at home to Everton, who coincidentally are the only team we have actually beaten this season in a league game. The West Ham team that day was full of famous players who played many times in the claret and blue; Ferguson; Bonds, Howe; Peters, Stephenson, Moore; Redknapp, Boyce, Brooking, Hurst, Sissons.

The Chelsea goal in that game was scored by Bobby Tambling, the player who held the Chelsea record for most goals scored (202) before it was overtaken by Frank Lampard. Bobby Tambling was born in 1941 (the same year as our own Bobby Moore), and made his Chelsea debut in February 1959 (two days after my fifth birthday), scoring the winner in a 3-2 victory over (you’ve guessed it) West Ham. Our own Bobby Moore (full name Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore), also made his West Ham debut in the same season, coincidentally also in a 3-2 victory (against Manchester United).

In the same season that Moore and Tambling made their debuts (1958-59), then yet another coincidence, 60 years ago this very weekend West Ham played at home to, you’ve guessed it again, Chelsea. In those free-scoring days we won that match 4-2, to record our fifth win out of nine games played at that stage, to move up to eighth in the table. In the three league games that we’d lost prior to that match, we had conceded four goals in each one, to Luton, Nottingham Forest, and Manchester United. It will be no surprise to learn that by May that year we had scored 85 league goals and conceded 70, to finish sixth in the table in our first season back in the top flight in over a quarter of a century.

Despite an indifferent time last season we took four points off Chelsea, who were the reigning Premier League champions. In the away fixture on 8 April, less than six months ago, Chicarito came on as a substitute with 20 minutes remaining and within three minutes equalised Azpilicueta’s first half goal. Despite that game being so recent, only four players from that day were involved in our win over Everton last Sunday, namely Masuaku, Noble, Rice, and Arnie.

And on 9 December last year we had another early kick off at 12.30 pm on a Saturday lunchtime. Arnie scored his first goal for the club in the sixth minute, and we held on for a nail-biting 1-0 win to record our first victory under David Moyes in his fifth game in charge. A repeat of that scoreline this weekend would be most welcome.

For supporters who like to place a bet on West Ham to win games, then the losses incurred after the first four league games would have been largely wiped out with the win at Goodison Park last Sunday. A win this weekend would put you well in profit as West Ham are around 9/2 and upwards to repeat last December’s victory, and even the odds on a draw at around 7/2 would appeal to some. Of course Chelsea have begun the season with five straight wins in the league, and are tying for top spot with Liverpool, so naturally are hot favourites to win the game. If you think that we can repeat the same score as last season then the odds on 1-0 to us are around 18/1.

If you are looking for an omen, then the last time that Chelsea won their first five games of the season (which was eight years ago when Ancelotti was their manager), they lost their next match by a 1-0 scoreline. But having said that, they have twice (in this century) won their opening six league games, and on both occasions went on to win the title.

Barring any necessary changes for injuries I would expect the same starting line-up this week. Thankfully the manager has finally seemed to realise the necessity for greater strength and mobility in central midfield, and in my opinion the performances of both Obiang and Rice in particular were outstanding against Everton. Why they haven’t been selected to fulfil those roles before now is a mystery to me. Of course Yarmalenko took the headlines, but the front three with Arnie and Anderson added to the Ukrainian, started to show that they can cause problems for opposition defences this season. And our central defensive partnership of Diop and Balbuena could be the first choice for the foreseeable future. I can’t remember a West Ham victory when so many different players were accorded the star rating for the team by various newspaper / media reports of the game. It goes to prove how many of the side had played so well.

At half-time last weekend I was trying to work out in my mind if we were fielding a starting line- up of eleven totally different nationalities. Quite probably the answer is yes, although Diop and Masuaku were both born in France and represented them at lower age levels, but are not full internationals and their allegiances could change. I’m not sure about Obiang either – he has played for Spain at the lower age levels but could still become a full international for Equatorial Guinea. With two of our three substitutes used being Snodgrass (Scotland), and Sanchez (Colombia), we fielded (probably?) thirteen different nationalities in the match, which must be some kind of record? And in addition we have had players from Spain, Italy, and Mexico on the pitch this season, and New Zealand could be added to this list in the future. An interesting comparison can be made with the West Ham team that played against Chelsea 50 years ago which comprised ten Englishmen and a Scotsman. How times have changed!

Fabianski (Poland); Zabaleta (Argentina), Diop (France/Senegal/Morocco), Balbuena (Paraguay), Masuaku (France/DR Congo); Obiang (Spain/Equatorial Guinea), Noble (England), Rice (Ireland), Yarmalenko (Ukraine), Arnautavic (Austria), Anderson (Brazil).

It will be a difficult game against a team in such excellent form, but let’s hope for another fine performance, and perhaps even an end to Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season. 1-0 again?