The David Moyes Doom Spiral: Is There Any Way Back From The Brink?

As with politics, almost all managerial careers in football end in failure. Are these the final days of David Moyes reign at West Ham or will he launch a counter-offensive as his side take on Leicester City?

It’s been a bad week, so far, at the London Stadium. Quite possibly the limpest performance of the season against Crystal Palace was followed by an ignominious exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Blackburn Rovers reserves.

The once muted murmurings surrounding the future of David Moyes in the West Ham hot seat has incrementally risen towards a disturbing crescendo. What was once a small hardcore of supporters ideologically opposed to his appointment in the first place, has grown to an increasing number of Remainers progressively move across into the Leave camp. Is the Grim Reaper of football gaffers heading in his directio?

I’ve never considered Moyes credit with the club was about saving us from relegation. In many ways he is an odd choice to pick as a firefighter in that his brand is more about building effort, stability, and organisation than the spirit and passion demanded of relegation battles. Instead, it is the consecutive top seven Premier League finishes and the ensuing European campaigns that have caused his spell as manager to stand out.

By almost all measures, the 2020/21 season was West Ham’s most spectacular Premier League effort ever.  For the period coinciding with Jesse Lingard’s loan spell there was a swagger and fluidity on display that was as thrilling to watch as it was effective in winning matches. But for the injury to Declan Rice on England duty there would surely have been an excellent chance of Champions League qualification.

Sadly, those heights have not been repeated and today look as far away as ever. Moyes was bewitched by what Lingard added to the team and his transfer strategy became obsessed with a permanent deal. By the time it was obvious that Lingard would stay at Old Trafford no alternatives had been lined up with similar strengths. Aside from Kurt Zouma, the summer 2021 transfer window was a disaster. I don’t go along with the view that Nikola Vlasic was not given a chance by Moyes or was played out of position. He simply didn’t have the attributes for the intensity and physical nature of English league football. He failed at West Ham, just as he had failed at Everton. He is much better suited to the Italian game.

Despite everything, the following season still showed a creditable outcome. Seventh place in the Premier League and a Europa Cup semi-final was certainly an above average West Ham season. Cracks were starting to show in the league though, as form flatlined dramatically after Christmas. In mitigation the demands of Thursday – Sunday football should not be underestimated. Not just from the perspective of player fatigue in a small squad, but also due to the limited time that is left available for match preparation.

The huge mistake of the 2021/22 season was not strengthening in the winter transfer window. The Lingard fixation continued to dominate thinking and the opportunity to boost the squad by bringing in new blood was lost. By the second half of the season, there was a sense that West Ham were no longer a surprise package, the tactics were one dimensional and opposition coaches found them easy to counter. The team were becoming stale and despite raising their game for impressive European performances against Sevilla and Lyon, a rot had set in.

That brings us finally to this season, which has been a shocker by any definition. Significant amounts of money were spent on transfers, even if most of the business was completed too late in the day to start the season well prepared. Overall, the summer signings looked decent enough on paper and the squad had a far stronger look to it. But that added strength has failed to materialise on the pitch – and will continue to do so while the manager insists on stubbornly sticking to the same tactics, just with different names on the shirts. Where Moyes initial success was understandably pragmatic – getting the best from limited resources – he has lately been attempting to shoehorn more talented players into the same style, even though it clearly doesn’t suit them.

No matter how encouraging the summer purchases appear to be, the types of players that weren’t signed are equally pertinent. Despite the drawn out and ultimately fruitless pursuit of Lingard, no-one with similar attributes (which clearly were a Moyes priority) was eventually brought into the squad. Further, no left back was signed even though a long-term replacement for Aaron Cresswell had been apparent for many, many months. The last-minute signing of Emerson as the left sided defensive backup has every hallmark of a panic buy.

Received wisdom is that integrating a host of new players into a team will always a challenge. I cannot argue with that. It is the reason why bringing in a few in January or doing the summer business early would have made clear sense. Indeed, I think many would cut the manager some slack if it looked like a more progressive, less passive style was evolving. But it hasn’t, it is more of the same. The style has remained the same, and perversely the execution has become worse. It is an unfortunate fact of modern footballing life that standing still means going backwards

The negative approach of defending deep and in numbers, the poor passing and ball retention, and the dearth of movement and fluidity through the middle, all continue to be alarmingly apparent. With everyone behind the ball, who is there left to pass to? The imbalance between hard work and flair has created a side that is pedestrian, and which expects its attacking players to spend more time focused on defence, than threatening the opponent’s goal.

The only player in the squad capable of running with the ball (and having it under control) is Declan Rice. None of the other attack minded players have either the ability or the pace to do so reliably – only Moyes believes Manuel Lanzini can still offer this. The upshot is there is no obvious out-ball to relieve pressure or to build attacks when possession is won, a further contributing factor to poor ball retention. There just seem to be so many structural faults in the side right now, and no plan to address them.

To make matters even worse, notoriously slow starts have been added to the matchday playbook. Are the first half of games written off – hoping, perhaps, to snatch something late on with the energy conserved in the first forty-five minutes? This has happened far too frequently, in too many games, for it not to be an intentional tactic.

Clearly, it is not my decision whether the manager stays or goes. That is down to the board. Previously, they have waited and waited before pulling the trigger, but there are now obvious parallels to the last days of Bilic and Pellegrini. Although loyalty is an admirable quality, the question the board members must ask themselves is: “does Moyes have what it takes to turn things around?” It’s not a simple question of fighting for survival – surely finishing anywhere in the bottom half would be regarded as serious failure after the investment that has been made. It is about having the right man in place for the longer-term development of the club. A man with progressive ideas who is not stuck with outdated ways. I would be quite happy for Moyes to prove he can do it, but to my mind, it would require a scale of conversion rarely seen outside of road trips to Damascus.

I have read elsewhere that those inside the game believe it would be madness for West Ham to sack Moyes. It’s a valid point of view to take if you are looking from a distance only at past performance. The pundit community mostly operates as a mutual back-slapping fraternity insulated from supporters who might consider entertainment just as important as results. The common pundit line is one of players letting down the manager – which does raise the question as to whether the level of solidarity in the dressing room has decayed since the departure of Mark Noble?

Timing is the other issue that the Board must consider. The imminent break for the World Cup feels like the perfect opportunity for a club thinking of a managerial change to make a move. It allows the new man time to settle in, work on new ideas and prepare for any adjustments required in the transfer window. Is it an opportunity too good to be missed?

Whatever the Board’s current inclination – and noises to date are that they are in support of Moyes – today’s game against Leicester will be an nervous affair. It will not be lost on the opposition that another frustrating start by the home side is likely to produce a toxic atmosphere inside the stadium. It will be in their interests to play on that.

Brendan Rodgers is another manager who has struggled of late in his attempts to evolve to a more possession based style of play. For a few seasons the Foxes were the team most likely to disrupt the ‘big six’ but have lost their recently way due to financial difficulties and player departures. Signs of recovery have started to show after a dreadful start to the season, and they have conceded just one goal in the last five league outings. They certainly carry enough of a threat – in the form of James Madison, Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes – to worry a hesitant and accident prone Hammers.

Despite everything, I cannot join those hoping that a West Ham defeat will lead to a change of manager. I will always want them to win every game they play and will not cross that line today. But I’m not sure what to expect. A new mindset from Moyes? A more front-foot approach from the team? Or another slow start and an uprising in the stands? The finger nails will be taking a battering. COYI?

West Ham entertain Leicester in the final game before the 2022 World Cup

West Ham United met Leicester City 54 years ago this week when I witnessed my favourite ever goal being scored

On Saturday 16th November 1968 West Ham met Leicester in a First Division game, almost exactly 54 years ago this week. It was a game I remember well and one I refer to in my book, Goodbye Upton Park Hello Stratford that was published in 2016. One of the chapters was entitled ’60 Favourite West Ham Goals’ and number 1 at the time and still my all-time favourite was scored by Martin Peters in that game. I stood on the North Bank behind the goal that it went in. I asked the question “what constitutes a great goal?” and two key elements that I identified, a spectacular volley, and a team goal were present in this goal being scored.

Bobby Ferguson was our goalkeeper and he had the ball in his hands at the South Bank end of the ground and rolled it out to Martin Peters on the edge of the penalty area. Peters advanced forward a few yards then passed it out to John Sissons on the left wing. Sissons, a tricky winger, moved forward and from just inside the Leicester half played a long diagonal cross into the penalty area where it was met by Peters on the volley as it came over his shoulder. His thunderous shot from about 12 yards almost decapitated Peter Shilton, the Leicester keeper as it sped into the roof of the net. He hadn’t stopped running from the moment he passed the ball out to Sissons.

The game ended 4-0, which included a brace from Brian Dear and came a fortnight after we had beaten Queens Park Rangers 4-3 with goals from Moore, Hurst, Peters and Redknapp. Harry’s goal in that game was number 3 in my favourite goals chapter, and Bobby Moore’s goal in the game was at number 8. Two weeks prior to the QPR game we had beaten Sunderland 8-0 when Geoff Hurst scored 6. Oh for a return to those free scoring days!

The QPR game as well as Martin Peters spectacular volley against Leicester can be seen on You Tube with commentaries from Brian Moore from the Big Match Sunday TV highlights programme, although sadly Martin’s goal doesn’t show the whole move, just the end of it. I’ve written about it before but even to this day it still remains as my favourite. I met Martin in 2007 at a book signing when I bought his book ‘The Ghost of ‘66’. He was a lovely man and we had a long chat. He couldn’t remember the goal and in fact could barely recall any of the many goals he had scored in his career. Sadly it was perhaps the beginning of the symptoms of the Alzheimer’s disease which brought about his untimely death at 76. I took along my programme from the game which I dug out of my collection and he very kindly signed it for me as well as his book.

Some interesting features from the programme:

  • The cost 1 shilling (5p)
  • The proposed teams on the inside cover (with no number 7) – of course no squad numbers in those days. The West Ham team that day was actually Ferguson, Bonds, Charles, Cushley, Stephenson, Moore, Peters, Boyce, Dear, Hurst, Sissons – it didn’t really pay to predict the team in advance, although there were fewer changes of personnel from game to game.
  • An interview with 22 years-old Billy Bonds
  • Trips by Lacey’s coaches to the forthcoming away game at Ipswich (70p)
  • A quote from Ron Springett the QPR keeper prior to the game a fortnight earlier where he said that West Ham was one of his favourite grounds, he never had a bad game there, he was leaving himself wide open to look a proper Charlie, he’d probably let four goals in (And he did!)
  • The league table prior to the game showed West Ham in 7th place (5 points from the top), with 21 points from 18 games (7 wins, 7 draws and 4 defeats) – only 2 points for a win in those days. Goals for 34, conceded 21. Only Liverpool and Everton (top and 2nd) had scored more (35 and 36)
  • Leicester were 2nd from bottom.

At the end of the season we had finished 8th, Leeds were champions, and Leicester were relegated despite reaching the FA Cup Final. We scored 66 goals, the third highest (exactly the same number as the champions Leeds, although we conceded 50 compared to Leeds 26)

So now we face Leicester 54 years on in a season that isn’t going particularly well so far, certainly on the domestic front. A look at the league table shows us in 15th place with 14 points from 14 games, having lost 8 times, and just two points above the relegation zone. The league is very tight with just 7 points separating Liverpool (19) in 8th from Southampton (12) in a relegation place (18th). If we had beaten Palace last weekend we would be in the top half, but after an inept performance we sadly didn’t. A look at the six teams immediately above us tells the story for me – Fulham, Palace, Brentford, Leeds, Villa and Leicester – all teams I would have expected to be on top of. It would take a very unlikely set of results, but if we lose to Leicester in this game it is mathematically possible for us to go into the break for the World Cup in the bottom 3. A defeat on Saturday is unthinkable, isn’t it?

The manager is getting increasingly tetchy in interviews and articles are beginning to emerge regarding his position. After two successful seasons and eight wins out of eight in Europe surely that is unthinkable too. Isn’t it?

Two West Ham games against Leicester appear in my book among my 20 favourite West Ham matches. The 4-0 game that I referred to earlier is at number 16, and at number 11 I recount the 4-2 win that took place on the morning of Boxing Day 1967 which kicked off at 11am. We came from two goals down in the first quarter of an hour to win the game thanks to the first Trevor Brooking goal that I remember seeing, and a hat-trick from Brian Dear.

Either of those scorelines would be a great result going into the break, but there is little logic in expecting that to happen given our recent form and performances. Leicester have picked up after a poor start and sit immediately above us in the table. Perhaps we can repeat the Boxing Day 1967 result? I say that more in hope than expectation. What are the chances?

Can West Ham win four successive home Premier League games for the first time in more than 20 years?

29 May 2004 is a date I always remember. Even though it is more than 18 years ago I cannot forget the long drive home from Cardiff after Palace had beaten us 1-0 in the Playoff final. It was a game I was convinced we would win to return to the Premier League but it was not to be. Fortunately we had a better result in the Playoffs the following season beating Preston 1-0. We did get relegated once again a few years later but only spent one season down before Sam Allardyce brought us back once again via the Playoffs beating Blackpool 2-1 at Wembley.

We’ve retained our place in the top flight since 2012 and Palace were promoted a season later and we’ve faced each other regularly since then. In those 9 seasons (18 games) we have won 7, Palace 5, and there have been six draws, so fairly evenly balanced.

There has been a certain symmetry to the results in that time. For example in 2013-14 Palace won both games 1-0. The following season we won one each with the away side winning 3-1 in both games.

In 2015-16, the final season at Upton Park we again won away 3-1 before drawing 2-2 at home in one of the final games. I will always remember that match for Payet’s wonder free kick.

In the next three seasons we were unbeaten against Palace winning three and drawing three before Palace won both games by a 2-1 score line in 2019-20.

The last two seasons have seen us drawing the home games 1-1 and 2-2, but winning away 3-2 both times. Our last meeting was on New Years Day when we led 3-0 at half time and held the lead until the 83rd minute. Two late Palace goals made for a closer finish than should have been the case.

If we win this game then it will be our fourth successive home Premier League win. That hasn’t happened for more than 20 years. If we look at all competitive fixtures then a win would be our seventh in a row and that hasn’t happened for 23 years.

David Moyes has only lost once as a manager in 14 games v Palace, and The Eagles have a poor away record in the Premier League this season, and also in Vieira’s time as their manager. I also noted that Zaha hasn’t scored a goal or registered an assist in any of his seven away games against us.

Going back to consecutive wins, what a great performance in the Europa Conference League where we have won eight games in a row, including six in the league, the only team to achieve a 100 per cent record in the competition. Perhaps not the strongest group but you can only beat teams up against you and we have done so with a largely second team, emphasising the improved strength of our squad. It was good to see so many Academy players given an opportunity.

For today’s game my preferred starting lineup would be:

Areola; Kehrer, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell; Rice, Downes; Paqueta; Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma.

I wouldn’t mind if Aguerd was in the team; he has looked impressive in the games he has played but perhaps Moyes doesn’t believe he is quite ready yet. It seems that Dawson may be on his way soon, and Aguerd will take his place alongside Zouma (who was excellent last week) in the centre of our defence.

I suspect my lineup won’t happen as the manager will almost certainly find a place for Soucek (definitely), Fornals (probably), and Scamacca (quite probably).

Every statistic points to a West Ham win, and as we often score three against these opponents I’ll go for 3-1, especially as both teams seem to score in these fixtures. 

In Like Flynn: Changing The Guard For The Visit Of Palace

Will David Moyes stick with caution and his old favourites or adopt the spirit of adventure and enterprise that his players can now offer?

Thursday evening’s game against FCSB turned out to be a far more entertaining spectacle than originally anticipated. Even the manager and coaches on the West Ham bench seemed surprised how well their scratch Hammer’s XI had performed. Who knew that fluidity, movement, passing the ball through the middle and early purposeful delivery from the flanks could reap such rewards?

The performances of Oliver Scarles, in particular, but also Divin Mubama generated plenty of welcome and well-deserved praise for the youngsters. As ever the club were not slow to jump on the bandwagon extolling the virtues of the ‘Academy of Football’. Yet reality tells a different story. Of an academy whose output has been sporadic at best since that golden age around the turn of the century. Hopefully, a bumper crop is on the way and it would be great to see at least two youngsters on every bench, who are given experience at every opportunity.

There can be no argument as to the effectiveness of our Europa Conference campaign to date. The group may not have offered the sternest of tests, but games still need to be won. And six out six ain’t bad! The competition now represents the most direct path to a first major title since 1980 – and a third consecutive season of European football. The most significant obstacle on the way will undoubtedly be Villareal – currently joint favourites alongside West Ham to lift the trophy in early June. Avoiding them until Prague would be good!

If you look at current UEFA coefficients, there are six clubs remaining in the Conference ranked higher than West Ham. The Hammers have climbed to 48th in the overall rankings – not bad going for a side that has only competed in two of the five seasons that qualify for points. The six higher ranked clubs being: Villareal (18th), Basel (34th), Braga (35th), Lazio (38th), and AZ Alkmaar (44th).

There is a long break now until the 9 March 2023 before the first leg of the Round of Sixteen kicks-off and we will not know who the opponents will be until 24 February. With three of their teams remaining in the hat, probability dictates that a trip to Turkey could well be on the cards.

Europe has added a lustre to an otherwise muted season for David Moyes and his team. Many appreciate the Moyesiah’s fine work since his second coming and the fact that we can realistically talk of three consecutive seasons of European football is testament enough to that. But it is clear that his approach is becoming stale. Change is needed but is happening far too slowly now that his team are no longer an unknown quantity. It really has to be time to throw off the caution both in personnel and tactics and introduce a measure of adventure into the game plan.

There is amazing consistency in the preferred side and formation that I see suggested online by significant numbers of West Ham fans. It is along the lines of: Areola – Kehrer, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell – Downes, Rice, Paqueta – Bowen, Scamacca, Benrahma (or Antonio). Can they all be wrong? Time to give it a try? I think so!

It would be a travesty if Flynn Downes does not start in his natural position, alongside Declan Rice tomorrow. Some games might need the extra height that Tomas Soucek brings as auxiliary defensive cover – this is not one of them. Downes has much more to his game; full of energy, strong in the tackle, plays on his toes, and moves the ball quickly and accurately. Every side needs a handful of players with such no-nonsense attributes. He could also prove to be the perfect foil for Lucas Paqueta, creating the space required for the Brazilian to flourish.      

West Ham go into tomorrow’s home fixture against Crystal Palace as the lowest placed of the seven London clubs. I doubt any of us expected that after thirteen games; or that the Hammers would have lost over half of the league matches played. Two wins from the two matches remaining before the break would paint a healthier picture but we will start the game no more than three points off the relegation places.

Crystal Palace sit two points better off than the Hammers, having played one game less. Their record of won four, lost four, drawn four typifies a mixed bag of fortunes and results – they have yet to win away this term. In fact, their position closely mirrors a typical Palace season, (since their return to the topflight in 2013) which usually sees them finishing in a narrow band between 10th and 14th.

Current manager Patrick Viera is the Eagles eighth since their Premier League return. His illustrious career as one of the Premier League’s finest midfild players gives him an aura that has yet to translate to managerial success.  Admittedly he inherited an ageing squad from Roy Hodgson but while he has attempted to address that, results on the pitch have yet to show much improvement. It is said that Viera has adopted a more possession based approach, yet the stats show them marginally behind West Ham on that measure.

For the eighth season running, Wilfried Zaha will pose the greatest Palace threat, unless it is one of those afternoons where he gets wound up and spends the entire ninety minutes complaining – an early encounter with Craig Dawson might do the trick. Elsewhere Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise are capable of providing dangerous but inconsistent moments, while old warhorse Jordan Ayew will spend his time looking for trouble and scowling angrily at anyone who crosses his path.

It’s been four seasons since West Ham last beat Crystal Palace at home. So, high time that authority was exerted and the natural order of things restored. A 3-1 home win. COYI!

Sliding Tackles – What If West Ham Had Beaten Eintracht Frankfurt?

The European Conference League group stages splutter to and end for West Ham with a dead rubber tie in Bucharest. Can they raise the enthusiasm to make it six wins out of six?

Seeing Eintracht Frankfurt make it through to the last sixteen of the Champions League made me wonder what might have happened in a parallel reality had things worked out differently in last seasons Europa League semi-final. What if Aaron Cresswell hadn’t had a rush of blood to the head in the 19th minute, didn’t receive a foolish red card, and West Ham had gone on to overturn the one goal first-leg deficit? A footballing Sliding Doors moment, or Sliding Tackles, in this case.

Granted it would still have required the Hammers also to overcome Glasgow Rangers in the final – no foregone conclusion if pre-season friendlies were anything to go by – but how might our boys team have fared in the glare of Champions League floodlights? Could they have emulated the admirable success of Frankfurt or would it have been the abject failure of Rangers?

Frankfurt probably got lucky in being drawn into one of the weaker or, at least, more balanced of groups – but that should not detract from their fine achievement. Their squad is not radically different to the one we met last May and net summer spending was a modest €6 million. West Ham target, Filip Kostic departed for Juventus while the largest outlay was the permanent signing of loanee Jens Petter Hauge (the player Cresswell had fouled) who was promptly loaned out to Gent in Belgium. Kostic’s replacement was another reported Hammer’s target, Luca Pellegrini, signed on a season long loan from Juventus. In addition to their impressive Champions League exploits, Frankfurt also currently sit a creditable fifth in the Bundesliga.

So what if West Ham had qualified for the Champions League? Would it have been easier to recruit new players in the summer, get the first choices in early and have a reasonably settled side before the season started? Or would the usual haggling and dithering have been just the same?

Despite never being wholly convincing, the Hammers Europa Conference campaign has mostly been a walk in the park against the also-rans of the Denmark, Romania, and Belgium leagues. How might they have fared in group games against the likes of Marseille or Sporting Lisbon? Or against one of the qualifiers from either Italy or Germany – as it would not have been possible to be drawn against Tottenham? Would we have seen the same negative away day tactics that have become the norm in domestic matches against ‘bigger’ clubs?  

Many unknowns but my feeling is that dropping down to the Europa League would have been the most likely outcome. We can never know and the best we can now hope for is another shot at the Europa League next year. It remains the easiest route to the holy grail of Champions League participation for a club like ours.

I’m sure we were all shocked when the cunning David Moyes plan of ‘not trying to score until going a goal down’ failed once again to pay dividends at Old Trafford. Do you think he has spotted a pattern yet? We will have to wait until Boxing Day when his team visit Arsenal to see how Plan B is coming along.

Back in the present reality, there is a meaningless final Conference League group game tonight as West Ham travel to play FCSB, the club formerly known as Steaua Bucharest. Apparently, a West Ham win would be the first time any club has won all six games in this particular competition’s group stages. Even the most desperate manager would be embarrassed to put that on his CV!  

By all accounts it will be a mix of second string and youth players representing the Hammers tonight. According to one unverified source, the only first-team squad members travelling to Romania were Areola, Randolph, Ogbonna, Coufal, Ashby, Johnson, Aguerd, Downes, Coventry, Fornals and Lanzini. So that could very well mean Darren Randolph doing a Les Sealey turn up front!

Still no sign of Maxwell Cornet who was last seen wandering the labyrinth of corridors in the West Ham treatment facility – searching for the way out. You can check out, but you can never leave!

I should be looking forward to seeing a few youngsters getting a run out in tonight’s game – unleashed, I think, is the technical term. Hopefully it will be for more than three minutes of added time, although with the U21s rock bottom of the Premier League 2 perhaps we shouldn’t be getting too excited. But it would be a great experience for the lads involved.

Very difficult to generate any real enthusiasm for the game with all jeopardy removed, but hoping it’s an enjoyable trip for any travelling fans. West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!

Can West Ham defy statistics and odds to win at Old Trafford?

When I was young I was interested in statistics but few were available to the average fan. We had league tables of course but little else. We had no idea regarding various statistics that are available today. Now you can know possession percentages, passes, completed passes, touches in opponent’s box, shots, shots on target, expected goals, distance covered by individual players and whole team and many more etc. etc.

Are we really interested in all these details? Some are I guess but to most of us the only real statistics of any importance are the goals scored in each game, the result, and the subsequent effect on the league table. Of course detailed statistics will have greater importance for the clubs themselves when analysing performance of individuals and the team as a whole. Bookmakers will also be interested when setting odds for games.

Having said all that I’ll now use some freely available statistics to look ahead to our game at Old Trafford this afternoon.

In their last 14 fixtures at Old Trafford against West Ham, Manchester United have won 11, drawn 3, and lost 0.

Manchester United have come out on top in their last 4 games against West Ham.

In their last 14 home Premier League games against all opponents Manchester United have won 8, drawn 5, and lost 1.

In their last 14 Premier League away games West Ham have won 2, drawn 2, and lost 10.

West Ham have kept just 2 clean sheets in their last 17 Premier League away games.

West Ham have scored just 3 away goals in the Premier League so far this season.

As an away team manager David Moyes has the following record at Old Trafford- won 0, drawn 4, lost 11.

There are thousands more that almost all point to a Manchester United win. But statistics didn’t indicate that Brighton would thrash Chelsea yesterday, that Leeds would win at Anfield last night, nor any other upsets that occur in football.

The odds for the match result are 4/6 for a home win, 15/4 for an away win and 3/1 for the draw.

With all this information I’ll predict the result of the game. I’ll go for a 2-2 draw. My bookmaker will offer me 16/1. He doesn’t think it’ll happen. I won’t mind being wrong if West Ham win the game. It hasn’t happened for 15 years. Not since that Carlos Tevez famous winner.

We’ve lost our place in the top half of the table following yesterday’s results. I’m hoping for a win to regain it but would be happy with a draw.

It’s about time we defied the statistics and the odds. What are the chances?

West Ham Head To Old Trafford On Sunday: Can They Find A North-West Passage To Victory?

The cities of Manchester and Liverpool have never been happy hunting grounds for West Ham. Can they break the hoodoo at Manchester United or will they yet again be north-west passengers?

The midweek Europa Conference game against Silkeborg ended in the type of unexceptional victory that has become commonplace in the late stage group games. West Ham were all but assured of top spot prior to kick-off and the visitors would have been aware that next week’s home fixture against Anderlecht was their key to progressing in the competition. The game really should have been more of a stroll for the Hammers but once their finishing was about as convincing as a politician’s promise.

Still. it was good to get a first competitive glimpse of Nayef Aguerd. Without being tested it provided an encouraging teaser for we might expect from a speedy, ball-playing central defender. There was also an accomplished performance from Conor Coventry. He may be some way down the defensive midfield pecking order – unless David Moyes fancies picking four of them together at some point – but he is now firm favourite for the tidiest haircut since Scott Parker award.

I can’t help thinking the club is going a little over the top with their seven home wins on the trot marketing campaign, especially when considering the quality offered by much of the opposition. I suppose they were games that needed to be won, though. As for the Conference, we can now look forward to the most pointless match ever held for next week’s trip to Bucharest. Are we allowed to field the Under 13’s?

Sunday sees a return to league action against another of the sides enjoying the rigours of Thursday – Sunday football. Manchester United have now guaranteed group qualification but must triumph at Real Sociedad next week to avoid the play-off round lottery in the Europa League.

Trips to Old Trafford may not be as fruitless for West Ham as they are to Anfield, but there’s not much in it. The Hammers have returned with all the points on just six occasions since 1958; just twice in the Premier League era with the last time being the great escape in the final game of the 2006/7 season. With an equally dismal record against Manchester City, and even Everton proving a regular bogey side, trips to the north-west rarely turn out well. Since the Hammers most recent return to the Premier League they have lost 31 of 42 league matches played in Manchester and Liverpool (won six and drawn five). Indeed it is a record that has been passed down from manager to manager.

Although facing the Red Devils is nowhere near as daunting as it once was, it should be pointed out that Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have already been beaten this season at Old Trafford. The home side may not yet be credible title challengers but they will certainly be in the mix for a top four finish.

Then there are the lurking perils of VAR. If you cast your mind back to the equivalent fixture last season, the home side won the game with the last kick of the game. Despite a strong suspicion that Cavani was offside before he played in Rashford to score, the goal was expediently awarded with indecent haste. No three or four minutes of line and angle drawing at Stockley Park on this occasion – the players were back in the dressing room by then.    

I have run the numbers and the eXpected VAR balls up ratio (xVAR) comes out as 1.9 : 0.2. This week our fate is in the hands, whistle and mouse of Chris Kavanagh (referee) and Paul Tierney (VAR). The current standard, consistency and subjective nature of officiating reminded me of playing football over the park as kids – with the legendary jumpers for goalposts. If you shouted ‘post’ or ‘over’ quickly and loudly enough, it was often all that was needed to get a goal chalked off!

I think most West Ham supporters expect a further dose of David Moyes cautious medicine tomorrow.  Initiative will be surrendered, opposition will be shown too much respect, defending will be as deep as possible, all in the hope of scoring on the break. His well-known inferiority complex preferring to hang on passively rather than forcefully targeting the host’s weaknesses.

With Lucas Paqueta again nursing his mysterious shoulder injury, Moyes may well persist with the unusual defensive midfield triumvirate of Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, and Flynn Downes that featured against Bournemouth. It screams lack of creativity and ambition but may just work if the three selected further forward are predominantly attack minded players – e.g. three from Said Benrahma, Gianluca Scamacca, Jarrod Bowen, and Michail Antonio. At the rear the much-missed Craig Dawson is adding weight to the axiom that West Ham injuries always take longer to heal than originally anticipated. Dawson partnering Kurt Zouma in the centre with Thilo Kehrer and Aaron Cresswell as full-backs provides a solid enough backline.

The hosts may make several change to the team that shot three past Sheriff in midweek, with frequent West Ham irritant Rashford replacing the increasingly petulant Ronaldo. As usual the Red Devils have a surfeit of attacking talent but invariably look shaky at the back. If only West Ham could bring their clinical shooting boots with them.

Interviewed after the Silkeborg game, Aguerd (very good English) said the team set out to win every game. Is that true, does he believe it, or hasn’t he been around long enough to know differently? Observation and experience suggest the first priority is not to lose every game. Who knows, perhaps the spots on the leopard can be purposefully re-arranged this weekend? More probable, I think, is a goal apiece draw. COYI!

On Handling The Cherries And Preparing For A Danish: West Ham Take On Silkeborg

West Ham set to seal Group B champions spot as they face Silkelborg at the London Stadium. The match may feature the long awaited debut for long-term absentee Nayef Aguerd.

I spent the weekend watching far too many Premier League games on TV than was strictly necessary. There must be more productive things to do when West Ham have been relegated to the Monday night slot. The experience left me with three random observations.

First, what is the point of the Oracle Cloud Win Probability that pops every twenty minutes or so? And are the commentators contractually obliged to mention it’s findings? Manchester City are leading 2-0 and are more likely to win than their opponents. Really, who knew? How is such an insight meant to inform or entertain?

Second, can TV producers please step back from their irritating and increasing tendency to look for arty angles to shoot the action from? As if they are filming a re-make of Escape To Victory. Doesn’t the TV viewer want an equivalent view to what would be experienced in the stadium, not a close up of Jack Grealish’s boots?

Third, and most importantly, if you have no particular skin in the game (i.e. West Ham are not involved) the entertainment value of games is not that great – for what is said to be the best league in the world. There may be momentary flashes of sublime skill, plus the occasional intriguing tactical battle, but take out the partisanship and many games tend towards the dreary for long periods. At least they did this weekend. Perhaps that is why we need the VAR talking points. To stop us nodding off or getting distracted by an animated dancing donkey video on TikTok.

The West Ham – Bournemouth game is unlikely to feature on anyone’s future list of best ever games. The various VAR debates will live far longer in the memory than any of the action on the pitch, and that seems true of so many games these days. No surprise that the West Ham and Bournemouth camps were not in full agreement on the decisions of Messrs Coote and Dean. Post match several ex-referees have given their opinion that according to the letter of the laws (or their current interpretation), both decisions were the correct ones. It is clear, though, that the offside and handball laws in particular need a thorough overhaul. Not to make them easier for VAR to review but to make them more consistent with their original sporting intentions.

Player ratings are another area where strong disagreements arise. Most are probably made up on the hoof without much thought and based on overall impressions – and influenced by individual prejudices. I doubt many are completely objective. Many years ago I think it was only the Sunday People that gave player ratings but in the modern era where it is possible to rate anything and everything (bus stops, flyovers, toilets and so on) they have become ubiquitous. Below is a selection from Monday night’s game.

Football London followed the path of least resistance and gave every West Ham player a 7, while anointing Kurt Zouma as their first among equals STAR MAN (come on Football London couldn’t that have been an 8?). iNews and the Evening Standard were all at 6’s and 7’s aside from the bold iNews decision to award Jarrod Bowen an 8; and the Standard in giving Said Benrahma, 8 and Gianluca Scamacca a sorry 5. Claret & Hugh mostly echoed the Standard ratings but with an additional 8 for Declan Rice. The award for the most creative ratings goes to West Ham Zone whose distribution included Bowen (3), Ben Johnson (4), 8’s for Rice, Benrahma and Thilo Kehrer, and a 9 for Zouma.

In comparison, the stats website, Whoscored, takes an algorithmic approach to its ratings based on a myriad of measurable player actions that are recorded during the course of the game. From that data, Whoscored rated Zouma, Aaron Cresswell, Benrahma, and Tomas Soucek as the Hammer’s top performers (all above 7.5) while Bowen lagged behind as worst of the bunch (excluding late substitutions).

Reading various message boards after the game, I saw plenty of criticism of Soucek, but much of that might be muscle memory from prior performances. I thought he was played more to his strengths against Bournemouth which, as we know, are headed clearances and ghosting in late for goalscoring opportunities. It’s unfortunate that elsewhere on the pitch the messages from his brain take far too long to reach his feet. The emergence of Flynn Downes now presents a conundrum for Moyes as a threesome with Rice, Soucek, and Flynn Downes, leaves one a defensive midfield gooseberry.

It’s a return to Europa Conference League action tonight as West Ham welcome Danish Super Liga club, Silkeborg to the London Stadium. The Hammers are already assured of progressing to the next phase of the competition while Silkeborg are the only club able to overhaul them as group champions. Although it would take a run of freak results to that. To secure top spot West Ham need either a win, a draw or to come out on top in the head-to-head aggregate score against the visitors. A 1-0 or 2-1 defeat would be good enough.

Silkeborg currently sit fourth in their domestic league, two places behind Viborg who the Hammers earlier beat in Conference League qualifying.  They are leading scorers in their league but also have one of the leakiest defences. At the weekend they went down 3-2 away to Horsens after going down to ten men just after the break.

In the reverse fixture between the two clubs, the Hammers won 3-2, recovering from an early home goal, racing to a 3-1 lead and then surviving a late scare after Silkeborg pulled one back. The Danes followed this up with two impressive 5-0 thrashings of FCSB to move into second place. Their final group match will be at home to Anderlecht next week.

David Moyes will likely ring a host of changes in the starting eleven, leaving his bigger guns on the bench in case of accident. Students of the training session videos sent out by the club are suggesting the involvement of Conor Coventry and Pierre-Emmanuel Ekwah in addition to the normal midweek shadow squad. There may even be a welcome West Ham debut for long term absentee Nayef Aguerd at some point during proceedings.    

I’m fully expecting the Hammers to do just enough to get the job done, but not expecting any fireworks. Possibly another 3-2 win. COYI!

West Ham Versus Bournemouth: All The Things You Don’t Need To Know

All eyes will be on David Moyes as he cherry picks his West Ham side to face Bournemouth at the London Stadium

In a period of rampant fixture congestion prior to the Qatar World Cup it feels perverse to ask a team involved in midweek European competition to play their weekend fixture late on a Monday night. Once a big deal in the early days of live televised football, the glamour of the Monday night match has waned to become the home of fixtures with minority appeal. A perfect example of after the Lord Mayor’s show, but still preferable to the Friday night slot.

The weekend’s games have seen the Hammers left floundering in 17th place of the Premier League standings, teetering just above the dotted line of doom. As ever, the curse of VAR continued to infect the once beautiful game. When it comes to the poor standard of refereeing, a problem shared is a problem doubled. On-pitch and off-field officials compound each other’s flawed judgements and mistakes. The probability of error is being added rather than multiplied.

If the technology were being applied correctly, there would be a move towards greater consistency, not away from it. A penalty awarded for Chelsea but denied for Arsenal in almost identical circumsatances, just as the judo throw on Tomas Soucek also went unnoticed at Southampton. Haaland being allowed to use power and strength to barge through defenders, while Michail Antonio is regularly penalised for doing exactly the same.

Add to that the two-to-three-minute delay at Manchester City (as the game went on around them) before the ludicrous award of a ‘clear and obvious’ home penalty especially with a strong suspicion that Silva had engineered the tackle in the first place.

Although bizarre VAR decisions have played a supporting part in West Ham’s stuttering start to the season, both manager and team have struggled to look anywhere close to convincing. While a plea of misfortune could be entered for points dropped in games against Forest, Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool, little evidence exists that the Hammers can reprise the exploits of the last two seasons.

If I were asked to summarise this season’s performances to date, it would be a team that is over-cautious, too willing to concede possession, poor at passing, and weak at finishing. But do the statistics bear that out?

I think the reason Moyes team appears overly cautious is the reliance on a low block and the lack of pressing higher up the pitch. The Hammers score low on number of presses, especially in the attacking third – preferring to retreat to the edge of their own area. Creating a disciplined compact defensive shape was one of Moyes tactical victories in stopping the rot left by Pellegrini. The culture persists today and only four teams in the Premier League have conceded fewer goals this season. But compact in defence can easily become congested in possession if there is not good movement. It is difficult to validate this from publicly available stats, but observation suggest a lack of fluidity, few third man runs, and a dearth of passing opportunities that feature in the play of most successful sides.

Possession stats have risen a little in the past few weeks, up now to 44% and higher than five other clubs in the division. Surprisingly, the Hammers are mid-table when it comes to passing accuracy, roughly equal to Newcastle. But when looking at the progressive distance of those passes, it shows them slipping down the table – suggesting a higher proportion of passes that are short or go sideways and backward. What is not clear to me is whether a below par passing game is down to individual player weaknesses or to match tactics which stymie a fluent passing game – which is the chicken and which is the egg?

Interestingly, West Ham sit eighth in terms of total number of shots but are well down the rankings for shots on target (and of course, goals scored). In fact, only Wolves have a worse record for percentage of shots on targets. West Ham’s 25% of shots on target is strikingly unfavourable compared to the 38% achieved by both Arsenal and Tottenham. What is the opposite of clinical?

I’ve had a long held soft spot for tonight’s visitors dating back to their time as a plucky lower league side. For some years, I lived on the south coast but the association started even before that, when I attended a Bournemouth versus Luton game in 1969 during a family holiday. It was first professional game I had gone to that didn’t feature West Ham. The battle of the Supermacs – Ted MacDougall for the hosts and Malcolm Macdonald for the visitors – ended as a 1-0 away win. The club has also had a strong West Ham connection over the years with John Bond, Trevor Hartley, Harry Redknapp, Kevin Bond, Jimmy Quinn, Scott Parker and now Gary O’Neil all spending time in the Cherry’s manager’s seat.

I half expected Bournemouth to fade back into lower league obscurity following their 2020 relegation, so full credit to them for making it back to the big time and putting together a creditable start to the current campaign, despite early season hammerings by Manchester City, Arsenal, and Liverpool. Since O’Neil took charge, the Cherrys have won two, drawn four and lost just once.

According to most reports, West Ham will be without Nayef Aguerd and Lucas Paqueta tonight and doubts continue with the fitness of Craig Dawson and Maxwell Cornet. That suggests a continuation of the Kurt Zouma / Thilo Kehrer centre-back pairing – assuming Angelo Ogbonna is not consider a credible starter these days – with either Ben Johnson or Vladimir Coufal at right back. I am hoping that Paqueta’s absence means a rare start for Said Benrahma to offer at least a hint of guile, and that Flynn Downes gets another chance to impress following his fine performance at Anfield. My concern again would be a midfield top-heavy with defensive minded players unable to provide the level of support required by the front players. We are, after all playing at home – against Bournemouth!

A home win today would bounce West Ham into the top half of the table – onto page one of Teletext, as it was. Defeat would leave them mired in a congested mob of clubs looking nervously downwards. There is a lot to play for and it is a time to boldly go for it. Maybe time for an extended look at Gianluca Scamacca and Michail Antonio as a joint attacking force. We can dream!

Apparently, the Hammers have built a reputation as Monday night masters, having won their last five fixtures on that particular graveyard shift – who keeps tabs on this sort of thing? I will be surprised and disappointed if they don’t make it six in a row. But what we do know, is that they will make hard work of it. West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!

Can West Ham make it five home wins in a row for the first time in more than ten years?

How many of us (West Ham fans) would have thought at the start of the season that when it came to the fixture at home to Bournemouth, just a week from the end of October, with the World Cup looming up next month, and with almost one-third of the season completed, that we would be sitting below them in the Premier League table? West Ham, with a sixth and seventh place finish in the top-flight in the last two seasons versus a newly promoted Bournemouth side. Surely, with what was believed to be a very successful summer transfer window, with the recruitment of current internationals (German and Italian defenders, a Brazilian midfielder, and an Italian centre forward), we would be maintaining our challenge to the top teams, whereas our south coast opponents would be languishing towards the bottom?

Yet here we are with 11 points from 11 games whereas the Cherries are two points in advance of us, both of us having won three of our opening games, but they have drawn four and lost four, whereas we have drawn two and lost six. In fact, all three of the promoted teams have done relatively well (so far) with Fulham sitting in the top half of the table, Bournemouth amongst a cluster of mid-table clubs, and even Forest, despite sitting in the bottom three, beating our midweek conquerors Liverpool at the City Ground on Saturday.

After beginning this campaign with a 2-0 home win over Aston Villa, Bournemouth then lost three games in a row conceding four at Manchester City, three at home to Arsenal, and then a record-equalling nine at Liverpool. Sixteen goals conceded without a single goal scored meant cheerio Scott Parker, and since then Gary O’Neill has been in caretaker charge.

He began with a goalless draw against Wolves, an excellent 3-2 comeback win at Forest after being two down at half-time, a creditable 1-1 draw at Newcastle, another goalless draw at home to Brentford, a 2-1 home win against Leicester, and then a 2-2 draw at Fulham. Two wins and four draws in his first six games in charge, an excellent CV if he was hoping for a permanent appointment, was then spoiled by an (unexpected?) 0-1 reverse at home to fellow south coasters Southampton in midweek. Nevertheless, the midfielder, who spent two and a half years at Upton Park, turning out 48 times for the Hammers around ten years ago, has steadied the ship, and must be a contender for the role in the longer term if he can keep them away from the bottom.

This is our seventh season at the London Stadium. Do you remember our very first Premier League game here in August 2016? On a sunny Saturday afternoon Bournemouth were the visitors and we ran out 1-0 winners when Michail Antonio headed a very late far post winner. But we haven’t had it all our own way against the Cherries in top-flight games, and in fact they lead 4-3 in wins in Premier League matches.

We head into this game (our 85th Premier League match on a Monday, more than any other team I read) with 12 fewer points than at this stage last season (11 compared to 23) after 11 games. In our first 11 games last season we had won 7, drawn 2, and lost 2, so we are some way behind where we were last time around, and have some catching up to do if we are to equal the seventh-place finish in 2021-22.

Our recent home form has been good, winning our last four competitive games. We haven’t won five in a row at home for more than ten years now. Much is made of David Moyes’ poor record as a manager against the big boys, but conversely he has never lost a game in charge against Bournemouth. Is that a good or a bad sign?

I wonder what starting eleven he will select for this game? Is Aguerd ready for consideration yet? He must be close now, but they are hoping to give him a couple of under 23 games first I read. Perhaps Cornet and Dawson will be ready after their recent injuries, although it seems unlikely that Paqueta will be risked unless he is 100%. One player I definitely want to see is Flynn Downes. He has impressed me immensely in the games where he has been given the chance, he adds some solidity to our midfield, and enables Declan Rice to go forward more, something he did superbly in his man of the match performance at Anfield in midweek.

A win would equalise our top-flight record of wins against our visitors, but more importantly we would leapfrog them in the table. Yesterday’s results meant that we slipped down to seventeenth in the table, but it is so congested that a win would take us into the top half (10th) with 14 points, just two points adrift of eighth-place Liverpool, and four below Fulham in seventh.

This game won’t be as easy as some might predict, but I reckon we’ll do enough to achieve that fifth competitive home win in a row. 3-1? What are the chances?