Seventy Five Days To Lift The Hammers

With the promise of a bulging war-chest, a stream of new players and a new enterprising style of football what can Manuel Pellegrini realistically achieve in the next seventy five days?

It has been an interesting week down in the East End as for once the club moved with uncharacteristic efficiency to install Manuel Pellegrini as West Ham’s seventeenth manager, and the sixth in the last ten years.

The ink was barely dry on his £5m/ £7m/ £10m per year contract (delete as applicable) before reliable journalists and in-the-knows close to the club were headlining a rag-tag assortment of new recruits for the Chilean to bring to the London Stadium.  Typically, these included any player that Pellegrini had previously worked with during his managerial career, as well the usual pick of players that were not good enough to prevent their own team being relegated last season.  Of all those names mentioned so far that fit the hill (Toure, Hart, Rondon, Cazorla, Shaqiri) none of them fill me with great excitement.

Pellegrini was initially reported as saying that he wanted to bring four or five new players into the squad (leaving us still at lease three short of a comfortable top ten side) but subsequently extending his shopping list to seven new faces; presumably after watching re-runs of some of last year’s matches.

The change of manager has certainly lifted the mood around the club and it will be fascinating to see how long the positivity lasts once the nature of summer recruitment starts to reveal itself.  At least we can draw a veil over the 2017/18 season and pretend it didn’t happen.

There has been a good deal of speculation about the size of Pellegrini’s transfer war chest with a figure of £75m being bandied around, while others are reporting that this could be even higher depending on the proceeds of player sales.  One assumes that the new manager has some assurances regarding what he is able to do but it is always a little bit fuzzy on what war chests are meant to include.  Is it only for transfer fees paid or does it also include agent fees, signing on fees, loan fees and player wages?  It is rare for a club to pay the whole of a transfer fee in one lump sum and wages add a significant extra over the course of a contract.  Take Andy Carroll for example who was signed for £15m in May 2013 but has probably been paid somewhere in the region of a further £20m in wages during his time at the club.

David Gold said on Talksport something to the effect that “we will probably spend more than we have ever done during the transfer window.”  Now that is a bar that is not set very high and we could have done without the ‘probably’ in there as well. If the club does not better its transfer spend record then there could well be mutiny.

There has been some speculation as to whether the protest at the Burnley game in March  spurred the Board into action.  Perhaps it had some effect but it was more likely the dwindling season ticket waiting list that set their alarm bells ringing for the two Daves.  I have been told that those who were number 22,000 on the list a year ago are now being asked exactly where they would like to sit!

My recollection of transfer windows during the summer of major tournament is that they become a little fragmented as clubs, players and agents hope that a Gary Breen like performance can inflate transfer fees, wages and commissions.  There is not too much West Ham interest in this year’s finals although Manuel Lanzini, Cheikhou Kouyate, Javier Hernandez, Edmilson Fernandes and Joao Mario (who I guess is still shown as a Hammer until his loan expires at the end of June) may all play a part.  I wonder how many of them will still be with us by August?

A number of backroom staff have cleared out their lockers at Rush Green but I have yet to see confirmation of any new appointments or what that means for the structure of the club going forward; particularly for player recruitment.  Although David Sullivan has made noises about keeping his nose out of transfer business it is difficult to believe that he will not be there in the background jealously guarding the only copy of the West Ham United cheque book and seeking to impress players with a tour of his tasteful Essex mansion.  I would predict that, in the circumstances, it will take several more weeks for Pellegrini to get settled in London, organise his support team and find a hairdresser to tend that magnificent head of hair before he focuses on bringing in new players.

If, as expected, we are to get a style of football that requires our players to keep the ball more then most of the past five years needs to be unlearned.  If that also involves a more athletic and intense approach then it is younger, fit players rather than Manchester City cast-offs that are needed – unless they are prepared to let Aguero, De Bruyne or Fernandinho go.

What would be very disappointing is if we lost either Marko Arnautovic or Lanzini during the summer and I think both players are likley to attract interest.  Whether either is of the quality required to be a regular at a top six side is a matter of opinion but they would certainly be useful squad additions for a number of top clubs.  I am somewhat ambivalent regarding Hernandez as it is difficult to see where, despite his undoubted goal poaching ability, he fits into a side that is set up to graft for each other.  No matter who you are in the Premier League, skill and technique has to be backed up by organisation and hard work.  All of the league’s current top scorers offer more than simply hanging around the six yard box.

There are just seventy-five days until the new season’s curtain raisers on August 11.  It is a relatively short time in which to overhaul the squad, sort out the coaching staff and instil a new style of play that all of the players can master and understand.  It is certainly going to be an interesting summer.

Manuel Pellegrini: From Galácticos to Geriacticos

Is the apparently incoming Chilean manager the right man to bring both stability and a touch of flair to West Ham? And will the erstwhile duplicitous Board finally change its spots and allow him to do the job?

It would seem that West Ham’s search for a new manager is close to completion with many commentators predicting that Manuel Pellegrini will sign a three year deal at the London Stadium within the next few days.  Obviously, any Hammer with more than a few seasons under their belt will know not to count their chicken until it has been fried and the potential of a last minute Sullivan bombshell, such as the Chilean not being prepared to accept a 50% wage cut, cannot be discounted.

If the appointment goes ahead then I would be reasonably happy with it and will hope that it is a speedy rather than a hasty decision; letting things drift is simply not an option.  Maybe a younger manager with fresh ideas would have been more exciting but beggars can’t always be choosers, and the queue of those prepared to work with our current owners may not be a long one, even in single file. After Paulo Fonseca decided to play safe and stay at Shakhtar Donetsk, the shortlist was reduced to two, and with Newcastle desperately trying to keep Rafa Benitez the appointment of Pellegrini has become the path of least resistance.  Each of the managers targeted has a very different approach to the game which suggests to me that the selection criteria was ‘find a big name manager to keep everyone happy’ rather than ‘what is the most suitable appointment to support the long term strategy of the club’.

Pellegrini has a long and distinguished managerial career highlighted by spells at Real Madrid and Manchester City.  He was only at the Bernabeu for a year where, despite achieving a then record haul of points, his side was unable to pip Barcelona for the title.  That failure led to him being replaced by Jose Mourinho and upon his departure Pellegrini shared his frustration that the Chairman’s Galácticos policy prevented him from creating a cohesive unit in his team.  We must hope that history doesn’t repeat itself only this time with our own Chairman’s Geriacticos policy of bringing in washed up loan players.

Pellegrini’s time at City was largely successful one boasting a return of one league title and a brace of league cups, as well as laying down the foundations of the current record breaking squad.  Success is measured very differently by City’s owners and, with no Champion’s League success, his contract was not renewed after a three year tenure.  His attacking style of play was much admired during his time at the Etihad.

It is his time at Villareal and Malaga, however, that are more relevant to a club like our own and in both he performed so admirably that is caught the eye of bigger clubs.  During the years at Villareal between 2004 and 2009 the club regularly qualified for the Champion’s League including a second place La Liga finish in 2007-08.  In his first full season in charge at Malaga (2011/12) the club finished fourth in La Liga and achieved Champion’s League qualification for the very first time in their history; a campaign that took them as far as a semi-final defeat by Borussia Dortmund.  Malaga were subsequently hit by UEFA Financial Fair Play sanctions and barred from competing in European competition.  Pellegrini may never have won the Champion’s League, the holy grail of football management, but he has over-performed in taking relatively unfashionable teams to the party.

Most recently Pellegrini has been managing at Hebei in the Chinese Super League where he has one time Hayden Mullins understudy, Javier Mascherano, as part of his squad.  Hebei finished fourth in his first season but are sitting mid-table now as the league enters its mid-season break.  There are only so many noodles that he can buy with his colossal salary and no surprise that a return to European football is on his radar.

It would be interesting to know what sort of assurances might have been given to candidates regarding investment in the squad.  A lot of work needs to be done in clearing out the dead wood and establishing a better balance in terms of ability, athleticism and age.  This will not come cheap and, although net transfer spend cannot be viewed in complete isolation from money spent on player wages and agent fees, significant investment is required to attract better players quickly.

I have read that Pellegrini likes his teams to enjoy a lion’s share of possession; a style that would be a significant change from the last three manager’s preference for mass defence and counter attacking.  It is also a task that would considerably stretch the abilities of the current squad for whom the concept of ‘pass and move’ has been shown to be totally alien.

The transition from attritional, safety first, respect the point football is not an easy one as supporters of Stoke and West Brom would be quick to testify.  Given sufficient opportunity I believe that Pellegrini can provide the type of football that West Ham supporters yearn for, allowing them to take their minds off the move away from the Boleyn Ground at least for a while.  Whether those in the Boardroom are prepared to dig deep enough to fund that opportunity is what will make or break any new manager.

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss?

Will we all get fooled again by a Board big on promises but low on delivery?

If there was any intention to keep David Moyes on the list of managerial options for next season (as suggested by David Gold) then it was handled in a typically ham-fisted way by his partner in crime, David Sullivan.  Perhaps tact and sensibilities do not come into play when you are casting for Saturday Night Beaver but trying to attract high calibre football managers is a totally different proposition.  It is no surprise that Moyes opted not to throw his hat into the ring.

Whether it is right to have parted company with Moyes will only become apparent in the longer term with the hindsight of ‘what happened next?’  He is not a particular exciting or progressive manager but then he was dropped into a less than exciting or progressive club; one that was already in crisis.  He inherited a lopsided, ageing, unfit and unmotivated squad (assembled with no thought as to how they might play together) and got them successfully, if stutteringly, across the finishing line.  Whether or not he was complicit in the stupidity of the January transfer window is difficult to know.  What is certain is that it was an awful season but he achieved the task he was set to do.

If anyone believes that by changing manager all of the problems at the club will disappear then there glass is not merely half full it is close to overflowing.  I have heard people argue that we have the nucleus of a good squad but the only way that can be said to be true is if a nucleus can be as small as three or four players.  With well below average training facilities, an under-performing academy, an amateur meddler as director of football and no discernible long term strategy the club requires major surgery.  What would a Guardiola or a Klopp make of it all?

Like it or not survival will continue to be the over-riding priority for the foreseeable future.  The holy grail of expansive football, cup runs and exciting youth prospects looks a long way off from where we now sit.  A knowledgeable and visionary manager can certainly be part of the solution but not in isolation.  Investment in the squad and facilities and keeping the Chairmen locked up in the Boardroom and away from the day to day action is a must,

The leading contenders at time of writing, at least according to the bookmakers, are Fonseca, Pellegrini, Benitez, Emery and Silva.  There is some debate as to whether Fonseca has already ruled himself out and there is also the fact that the same names are likely to feature on Everton’s shopping list as well.  Given a straight choice I wonder which employer most would choose?  Of the five names mentioned three (Pellegrini, Benitez and Silva) have the Premier League experience which, depending on which way the wind is blowing, is inexplicably raised as an essential criteria by our Board.

The problem is that any veteran of previous player transfer windows will immediately start to smell bullshit.  As Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young?) might have put it “we have all been here before”.  It is a path much travelled in Gold and Sullivan’s tenure, promising high and delivering low.  Stories will emerge of burning the midnight oil, working twenty four hours a day, leaving no stone unturned only to find that Newcastle won’t allow us to take Benitez on loan.

Experience suggests that one by one the targets will either sign new contracts at existing clubs or be tempted elsewhere by decisive boards with wads of cash.  By then it will be the World Cup and everything is put on hold while attention is focused on the violence in Russia.  Come July it will be back to pre-season training with the same squad (apart from those that have been sold) and with no new manager until the club reveal the return of Alan Pardew.  Even then there will be some mug on twitter explaining that he would take him back in a heartbeat because he has passion and a nice line in T shirts.  It would be miserable to go through all this and end up with another from the pragmatic manager’s stable that has given us Allardyce, Dyche, Hughes, Bruce, Pulis & Co in the past.

Perhaps cynicism is getting the better of me and that the turmoil of the past season will have been a ‘road to Damascus moment’ (without the chemical weapons) for our leadership.  Maybe they have listened to the gripes of supporters and are finally prepared to act.

Personally, I would be happy with any of the above mentioned names.  Whoever gets the nod deserves to be given a chance. I just hope that there is a quick resolution and not a repeat of the long drawn out transfer fiascoes that we have become so used to.

West Ham Face Everton In Season Finale Protect The Point Derby

West Ham and Everton meet up for a contractual obligation end of season encounter that is unlikely to be remembered much past closing time.

If you were to go to the theatre in the West End or to see your favourite rock band it would be particularly irksome to discover that, as it was the end of a long run or tour, the participants were only going to go through the motions today; maybe mumble the words or cut back on the more arduous action parts.  Strange then that it has become regarded as almost expected and acceptable in top level football that, unless you are competing for a European football place, teams can start to take it easy once the survival target has been reached.  With all the television money sloshing around not even the prospect of a few extra million quid place money seems worth getting out of the metaphorical bed for.

Overlay that with the fact that today’s two teams have been prepared and motivated by a pair of the Premier League’s pragmatic ‘respect the point’ managers then it would be absurd to anticipate a carnival of expansive football in the season’s final act at the Londn Stadium.  Not that David Moyes and Fat Sam Allardyce are the league’s only pragmatists.  Outside of the top six almost all fall into this category (with the possible exceptions of Rafael Benitez and Eddie Howe) where survival trumps any pretence at entertainment.  Maybe it is acceptable at financial minnows such as Burnley, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Brighton where top flight football is a novelty but at relatively more wealthy clubs like Everton and West Ham supporters expect to see more.  There is nothing odd or deluded about it; these are rich and well supported clubs for whom year on year survival cannot be the extent of all ambition.

It is always laughable when the football pundit brotherhood leap to the defence of the old school managers extolling their expertise at getting the job done, achieving what they are paid for and guiding their teams over the forty point survival line.  For them it is a top six league only where the remainder of clubs is a homogeneous group existing only to fill the gaps on the fixture list.  Who knows what will happen in the boardrooms of West Ham and Everton during the summer but there are few supporters who would lose any sleep if a management change were to come about; although simply swapping one dinosaur for another is equally as pointless.  The problems on the footballing side at West Ham run particularly deep and a massive overhaul of the entire set up is required if any improvement is to be seen.  We appear in no better position than a recently promoted club and I wouldn’t advise holding your breath.

Head to Head

Everton are traditionally a West Ham bogey-team with the Hammers having one only once in the last twelve meetings (3-2 at Goodison in March 2016) and only once in the last twelve home encounters (Bobby Zamora in a 1-0 win in the April 2007 great escape run-in).

This year’s reverse fixture was a humbling 4-0 defeat for the Hammers in the last match of David Unsworth’s caretaker regime – although Allardyce likes to claim credit for this one when highlighting Everton’s improvement since he rode in to the rescue.

Team News

It would be a huge surprise if there were any unexpected changes in the West Ham lineup.  The usual uninspiring mix of the journeymen, the washed up, Marko Arnautovic and Declan Rice.

The good news for the Hammers is that both Rooney and Walcott could be missing from the Everton team; both must surely put West Ham close to the top of their most rewarding opponents lists.  Rooney is rumoured to have played his last game in English football as he prepares to terrorise the defences and glamorous grandmothers of Major League Soccer.

Man in the Middle

The man charged with bringing the curtain down on the 2017/18 season is Graham Scott from Oxfordshire.  West Ham have a 100% record under his control this term with wins at Stoke and at home to Watford.  His season record is 29 games, 79 yellows and 5 reds.

Predictions

Both Lawro and Merson predict a West Ham home win going for 2-0 and 1-0 respectively.  A tame draw is the most probable outcome but as a rallying call I am predicting our boys to overturn the Goodison result with a 4-0 rout of our own.

West Ham thank Jon Moss for the moment when safety for another season was guaranteed

With just two games of the Premier League season to play we were safe – following the point gained against Manchester United, how high can we get in the table with a win today?

Sunday 22 February 2015. West Ham playing at White Hart Lane. Ten minutes to go and we lead 2-0. Being West Ham you have a good idea what can happen. A mis-hit shot brings it back to 2-1. The referee Jon Moss adds on five minutes of extra time. The time passes slowly but we hang on. The five minutes are up but Tottenham are attacking. The ball goes into our penalty area, Harry Kane goes down, penalty. You could see it coming, but it was very soft. Just time for the penalty kick to be taken and then the final whistle should blow. Kane steps up and the kick is saved. Moss should blow the whistle for full time straight away. But he doesn’t. He just allows time for the rebound from our keeper to be put back into our net. 2-2. Poor refereeing. We were robbed.

Sunday 17 April 2016. West Ham playing at Leicester. The ninety minutes is up and we lead 2-1. Being West Ham you have a good idea what can happen. The referee Jon Moss adds on four minutes of extra time. Three minutes 35 seconds have elapsed and Valencia has the ball. Just keep the ball in our possession and the game is won. Oh dear. Valencia fails to keep the ball under control and Leicester regain possession and move towards our penalty area. Three minutes and 56 seconds have gone, and Andy Carroll lightly brushes against a Leicester player who throws himself to the ground. Book him for blatant diving! But Mr. Moss has other ideas and awards a penalty. Leicester score. 2-2. Poor refereeing. We were robbed.

Saturday 5 May 2016. We beat Leicester and reach 38 points. Everton playing at home to Southampton. If Southampton do not win the game then we are mathematically safe from relegation. Southampton had a midweek fixture at Swansea to look forward to after this game. Therefore only one of them could overtake us. Stoke and West Brom both could not. Southampton take the lead in the game and hold on to the slender goal advantage as 90 minutes is up. The board is raised and indicates an additional four minutes. At this time a Southampton player suddenly goes down with an injury. Teams know that injuries in time added for injuries rarely get fully added. He stays down for about a minute.

The ball is pumped deep into the Everton half close to their corner flag and an additional five minutes has now elapsed. The referee is a long way away as he is struggling to keep up with play. Redmond tackles an Everton defender. The linesman who is standing close by sees nothing wrong with the tackle. Jon Moss from some distance away does though, and awards a free kick which is dubious to say the least. Everton take the kick about 15 yards ahead of where the alleged infringement took place. About a minute later the ball ends up in the Southampton net via a wicked deflection. Mark Hughes is furious. All Southampton fans cannot believe it. But thanks to Jon Moss West Ham are safe. Of course the result of one match on its own isn’t the reason we will be playing in the Premier League next season. But this was the moment when safety was assured. Poor refereeing. Southampton were robbed. But we don’t care. Thank you Jon Moss.

And who was the referee appointed for our Thursday night game at home to Manchester United? Of course you know the answer. Mr. Moss refereed a tedious game but kindly refrained from sending off Mark Noble when many referees would have done so when he raised his arms to Pogba.

The point against United moved us up to 39 points and we remained in 15th place in the table, just two points adrift of tenth placed Newcastle. None of the teams from 10th to 15th are playing each other, so theoretically we could still end up in the top half of the table with the right set of results. With a difference of around £2 million for each additional place in the final table at stake, then a rise of 5 places could add £10 million to the “kitty”.  For this to happen we need to beat Everton and then hope that Chelsea beat Newcastle, West Brom beat Palace. Burnley beat Bournemouth, Manchester United beat Watford, and Liverpool beat Brighton.

The accumulative odds against those six results occurring is around 56-1, so of course the chances of us finishing tenth are very slim. Nevertheless it is not impossible and worth a couple of pounds of my money as a fun bet. I don’t honestly believe it will happen as Newcastle and Palace will win their games in my opinion. But switching the accumulator by just one result and predicting Newcastle to beat Chelsea lengthens the accumulative odds to 200-1, and this has produced another fun bet for me.

Of course when you place an accumulator bet there is always one shock result that ruins it. Nevertheless if we do beat Everton, the other fixtures are such that we stand a decent chance to rise in the final standings. Of course this shouldn’t mask the deficiencies of a disappointing season and a complete overhaul is necessary to avoid a repeat next time around.

So this is my penultimate visit to the London Stadium for a while. I’ve got one more which is a present of a tour of the stadium. I did the Upton Park tour shortly before we left there and it will be interesting to see how the behind the scenes facilities compare. I renewed my season ticket some weeks ago when our future was still in the balance. I will continue to follow the club whatever league or division we are in, but I am relieved that we are still in the top flight.

Three seasons ago Everton came to Upton Park on the final day of the season, and despite us taking a lead on the hour mark through Stewart Downing, Everton equalised and then snatched the winner in time added on. The fans deserted the stadium on the final whistle and not many remained to watch the “lap of honour” that is traditional at the end of the final home game of the season.

Today let us hope that we can end the season in style and see off a very average Everton side who will probably finish eighth in the final table. It would be good to think that we could finish that high next season. A lot of changes will be necessary for that to happen.

West Ham’s Real End Of Season Party With Manchester United

Will it be a big bang or a damp squib for West Ham as they face Manchester United free from relegation pressure

The Premier League season continues to fizzle out prior to what should have been its ultimate finale on Sunday requiring the assorted media and commentators to dig deep into the hyperbole to find a story of any significant interest.  With the title having been wrapped up months ago and the relegation places all but settled ( a hearty pat on the back to Huddersfield) there is only the jostling for positions in the top four still up for grabs – about as compelling as the third place play-off match at a World Cup.  It no longer really matters where you finish in the top four for the purposes of the Champion’s League money-go-round and so the only matter of consequence that remains unresolved is the unlikely prospect of Chelsea pipping Liverpool for the final qualification spot – unless, that is, Swansea can put ten past Stoke.

Football seasons are becoming increasingly like fireworks displays for me.  Despite all the lessons of history I still get excited by the prospect of a new one starting and yet all too quickly it becomes routinely predictable.  Unless you are a small child you have seen it all before and you can’t help but look at your watch hoping that it will all be over as soon as possible; and without any accidents.  For all the whizz, bangs and whistles the underlying product has become less interesting and more cynical each year.  Still if there is to be one final big bang it might as well be against Manchester United rather than the actual scheduled climax against Fat Sam’s Everton side which has all the appeal of a damp sparkler.

The visitors need one more point from either tonight’s game or at home to Watford on Sunday to claim second spot despite having been lapped some time ago by their City neighbours.  They also have the FA Cup Final to look forward to and thus it is difficult to gauge their level of commitment and motivation for this one, particularly after their defeat at Brighton last weekend.

Should the extraordinary happen and West Ham win their final two games, the record books will show a comfortable mid-table finish for the Hammers which, as we know, is a long way from what actually happened.  Now that our heroes have secured survival we can only speculate as to whether the reaction will be a performance lacking in fear or one lacking in effort.  Generally, the team makes an attempt to turn up against the Red Devils which can only be a good thing.

Head to Head

Two years ago today West Ham came from behind to beat Manchester United 3-2 in the very last competitive game at Upton Park.  Two short years but it could well have been a lifetime ago such has the mood changed around the club.  The Hammers have won three and lost five of the last twelve home games against the Manchester Reds, including last year’s defeat inspired by a piece of Phil Jones cheating to get Sofiane Feghouli sent off by hapless referee Mike Dean.  Which reminds me what happened to that new rule about retrospective red cards for players who deceive a referee?  Seems it was abandoned after Manuel Lanzini (and a Stoke player?) were banned – either that or there has been no cheating going on ever since!

Team News

Without a doubt David Moyes will name the same team that won at Leicester and will probably also make exactly the same substitutions at roughly the same stage of the game.  It seems that, thankfully, Marko Arnautovic has recovered from his injury which means there is at least some hope of making a game of it.

Manchester United are without Lukaku (we do not have to go into the game already a goal down) and also ‘elbows’ Fellaini, who might otherwise be trying out the home dressing room for size.  On the other hand Sanchez (who also likes to score against the Hammers) could make a return having missed the game at Brighton.

The really good news coming out of Manchester United is that Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be on the road to recovery.  If only their current manager were half as talented or half as good as he thinks he is.

The Man In The Middle

Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire takes charge of his fourth West Ham fixture of the season in which the Hammers are incredibly unbeaten.  These were a home draw with Arsenal, an away win at Huddersfield and the home win over Southampton.  In 33 games this season he has shown 118 yellow cards and 4 red ones.

Predictions

Merson is back on the case predicting a 2-1 away win while Lawro goes for safety and a 1-1 draw.  Whether the natural desire to want to beat Manchester United overcomes the normal end of season, nothing to play for stupor will be key for this game.  If Moyes can put up a rocket up the players, in support of his own personal vendetta against one of his old clubs, then I back West Ham for a surprise 3-1 win.

West Ham To Profit From Foxes On The Run?

Can a desperate West Ham take advantage of Leicester’s late season atrophy? Or will David Moyes overly cautious, softly softly approach once more fail to catchee monkey?

An end of season game against a side with nothing to play for, who have only won four of their last eighteen games and who have an injury list as long as a line of supporters streaming out of the stadium before the final whistle.  What could possibly go wrong?

Today the West Ham roadshow travels to the home of former champions Leicester City in search of the remaining precious points that will seal Premier League survival – at least for one more season.  David Moyes says that the mood in the camp is good despite the disappointment of last Sunday’s performance but I would take that very much with a pinch of salt.  In all probability today’s approach will be to try to contain Leicester, protect the point, and maybe hope to hit them on the break.  Recent history will already have taught most of us that containment is a risky strategy for a side with league’s worst defence but continuing to flog a dead horse has long been a favourite pastime for West Ham managers.

Leciester for their part have continued to wallow through the afterglow of their never to be repeated Premier League crown; but at least they have done it once which is more than most.  In appointing Claude Puel they seem to have accepted that mediocrity is their place in the world and it is a measure of own incompetence that mediocre looks a mighty fine place to be from right down here –even though a fine run of 5 or 6 – nil wins could still see us overhaul the Foxes.  Despite a lacklustre season for the club, Jamie Vardy has still managed to plunder seventeen goals and if there is one team who are not yet wise to the ball over the top of the defence ploy then it will be ours.  I suspect that the Hammers have spent all week practising how to defend against it but, even so, a collective amnesia will once again strike once they leave the tunnel.

 Head to Head

The home fixture against Leicester was Moyes first West Ham point back in November last year.  In the last twelve away fixtures with the Foxes, West Ham have won three, lost five and drawn three.  The last Premier League away win was in January 2000, a 3-1 success courtesy of Wanchope (2) and Di Canio – Emile Heskey scoring for the home side.

Team News

Moyes must look at his squad in much the same way that a woman rifles through her wardrobe prior to a night out and declares she has nothing to wear!  There are only the same tired unimaginative combinations to choose from while the expensive mistakes (that seemed like a good idea at the time), the ones that have seen better days and those that no longer fit are quickly discarded.  Hopefully there will be no place for Patrice Evra (whatever was he thinking last week) or Edmilson Fernandes but is there anything better available?  I don’t see anything special in Josh Cullen but could he do any worse than Mark Noble or Cheikhou Kouyate have performed of late?  Andy Carroll spent time during the week on the naughty step and his now back in contention for a place on the bench.

The West Ham academy continues to disappoint and offers no exciting alternatives. Apart from Declan Rice, the only other player who has impressed (admittedly from only brief online glimpses) is Nathan Holland.  Reece Oxford appears not to want to return to the east end and the other youngsters out on loan rarely get a game at their struggling clubs.

As mentioned Leicester have a long injury list but they still have Vardy and Mahrez available to taunt West Hams.  Also a likely starter is Iheanacho, one of the many apparent failed targets for the Board during last summer’s smoke and mirrors transfer window.  As well as those missing through injury, Leicester are also without the suspended Albrighton.

Man in the Middle

When the referee appointments are made each week there is one website that routinely proclaims ‘Referees are announced and it’s bad news for Moyes’; the logic being the existence of lucky or unlucky referees.  In truth we lose so frequently that any referee can be proved to be unlucky.  Today’s candidate is Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire and, indeed, his one and only ever West Ham game was this season’s cup defeat at Wigan – where he sent of Arthur Masuaku for spitting.

Predictions

It seems that Paul Merson couldn’t be bothered to make any predictions this week (at least not at time of writing) while Lawro goes for a 2-1 Leicester win.  I would be more confident had the Foxes not been so humiliated last week but I believe this game has a draw written all over it.