Ole, Ole, Ole! West Ham’s Three Amigos To Put Further Dents In Solskjær’s Season

Despite the Red Devils fall from grace this weekend’s encounter remains one of the season’s highlights. Do West Ham have the swagger, style and attitude to cement their top six ambitions?

True to form, West Ham fluffed their lines at Villa Park on Monday night and failed to put in the performance necessary to claim a spot in the top three.  Or perhaps they were given the wrong script.  One that was a variation on respect the point rather than the promised we’re gonna score one more than you.  Was it one point gained or two points lost?

Following the exuberance of the Norwich victory, it was disappointing that the Hammers showed such little variation in attack.  It was possession for its own sake in safe areas lacking quick breaks, penetration and precious little width.  If Sebastien Haller is to become the striker we have waited so long for, then he needs far better service from those behind him.

So, instead of putting clear daylight between ourselves in 3rd place and the rest of the table , we are at the bringing up the rear of a gaggle of six teams on eight points – including today’s visitors, Manchester United.

The Red Devils are now a pale shadow of the club who have dominated English football for much of the Premier League era.  The post-Ferguson era is playing out much like the post-Busby one did, although they are unlikely to get relegated this time around.  Now on their fourth full-time manager in 6 years, they have the look a fading star who once graced the big stage but now has to be content with the occasional appearance in panto.

It’s not that Manchester United have bad players, they just don’t have enough good ones – certainly not good enough to present the credible title challenge that their followers demand.  They have fallen way, way behind their two north-western neighbours and have no coherent plan to bridge the gap.  They are obsessed with paying over the odds for big names rather than team building.  Ole Gunnar Solskjær looks out of his depth in the Old Trafford hot-seat, like a modern day equivalent of Frank O’Farrell (incidentally the Hammer’s oldest living ex-player who will celebrate his 92nd birthday in a few weeks time).

Despite all the negativity, an encounter with the Red Devils remains one of the highlights of the footballing calendar.  Success is relative and they have a reputation and world-wide following that others can only dream of.  Champion’s League qualification (unless through the Europa League backdoor) looks beyond them once again.  Interesting to compare their odds of a top six finish (2/5) with our own at 5/1, as I don’t see so much between the teams.

Rumours of Champion’s League reform resurfaced again in the week with proposals to change the group stage from four groups of eight to eight groups of four – guaranteeing additional money-spinning games that would ensure the big teams stay well ahead in the revenue generation stakes.  Among further worrying proposals are suggestions that that domestic leagues would need to be reduced in numbers to compensate and that CL games would be moved to the weekend to attract a larger global TV audience – something I predicted some years ago.  Personally, I would prefer if the rich clubs simply packed their bags and left domestic competition altogether.  Perhaps then this could be one of our last meetings with the Manchester club.

Back to more pressing matters and Manuel Pellegrini will have at least one selection decision to make following Arthur Masuaku’s red card on Monday.  Pellegrini is not a risk taker and will likely opt for Aaron Cresswell rather than call in Ben Johnson.  Cresswell has really lost his way in recent times and badly needs to rediscover his mojo.

Elsewhere, there is a general consensus among fans (or at least those active on social media) that Andriy Yarmolenko needs to be benched this weekend after disappointing on Monday – from hero against Norwich to villain against …… Villa.  But in Michail Antonio’s absence what are the options?  We have yet to see what Pablo Fornals is all about and there are questions whether the Three Amigos (he, Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson) are too much of a muchness to mix it up in midfield and effectively unlock defences.  It looks so promising on paper but so far has been unable to deliver.

Jack Wilshere is a player who can offer something different. He is an intelligent footballer adept at progressive passing and switching the focus of attack, but the worry is that more than one of him, Mark Noble or Robert Snodgrass on the pitch at the same time leaves the team exposed for pace.  The situation may be complicated if Lanzini fails a late fitness test all things being equal, my guess is that Pellegrini will go for Fornals to replace Yarmolenko in the starting eleven.

I cannot see there being any further defensive changes (aside from Masuaku) and with two clean sheets in a row we must now be entering uncharted territory.  With the visitors seemingly being awarded a penalty every outing, I will be holding my breath every time Angelo Ogbonna makes a challenge in the box.

Manchester United will be without Pogba and Martial while James faces a fitness test.

This weeks on-field whistle blower is Anthony Taylor from Manchester (hmmm?) while the eye in the sky will be Graham Scott from Oxfordshire.  Even with a low bar set for refereeing competency, Taylor is often picked out for special mention.  Expect at least some degree of controversy during the course of the game.

Our pundit friends are once again united in their predictions and both Lawro and Nicholas have surprisingly gone for a 2-1 home win.  Part of their thinking may be that  the Reds will be tired having also played on Thursday night.  It will interesting to see if that is a factor and whether West Ham will exploit it.  I fully expect the visitors to get a penalty at some stage making a third straight clean sheet unlikely.  I do believe that the Hammers can win the game though, but much will come down to the right attitude.  I am fancying a welcome 3-1 victory.

WHU Take Me Up To The Higher Ground. Nose Bleed Time As Hammers Target Top Three

Past Performance is Not Indicative of Future Results. Can West Ham Shake Off Stage Fright To Triumph At Villa Park?

Confidence high, on a good run of form, coming up against a side still trying to find their feet in the Premier League, who are short of goals and strikers, who didn’t have the most impressive home record even in their Championship season; and with the prospect that a win will rocket them into 3rd place (or mathematically 2nd even) in the Premier League standings.  What could possibly go wrong?  If history has taught us anything with West Ham it that the proximity of disappointment is inversely proportional to degree of optimism.  Or will the new look Hammers finally manage to throw off that age-old gypsy curse that has held them back over the years?  It’s not the despair, it’s the hope I can’t stand!

The international break creates a vacuum in social media frenzy of club football coverage, in which two things happen.  One is that supporters are left to dwell on events  that immediately preceded the break – without another quick fix, pessimism deepens while optimism soars.  West Ham ended with a swashbuckling victory against Champion-slayers Norwich City that rounded off a strong run of positive results following the disastrous opening day defeat.  The law of unrealistic expectations has been allowed to flourish in this void and elevated the Hammers from erratic write-offs to realistic top six finishers.  While I hope this can be so, I sense that it’s a little too early to get completely carried away.  You can only beat what is in front of you but the fixture computer has kindly presented an unusually benign start to the season – with the one challenging fixture ending in the traditional white-flag moment against Manchester City.  Still, if the game by game improvement we have seen since can be sustained it will result in an interesting and entertaining season.

The second feature of the international breaks has been the viral outbreak of punditry where any ex-player not talented enough to go into coaching is desperate to share a controversial opinion or two to anyone willing to stand the next round.  I have never believed that, as a general population, ex-players have greater insight into the game than many supporters – but their spread has become pervasive and as difficult to get rid of as Japanese knotweed.  It makes me nostalgic for the days when ex-players simply became pub landlords or went out to sell insurance.

Over the past two weeks, a procession of pundits have been volunteering their views on the prowess of Declan Rice and declaring when he should move to Manchester United and for what price.  How dare they?  He is not the first of our current players who have been described recently as ‘too good for West Ham’, with the list variably extending to Manuel Lanzini, Felipe Anderson, Issa Diop and Sebastien Haller.  Of course, if they had said ‘too good for an underachieving mid-table outfit’ then they may have a valid point.  It is a conundrum for any aspiring top six pretender.  If you don’t show progress and ambition then you will not hold on to your prized assets.

Prior to the current round of games, I came across a presentation from a chap at Opta which showed West Ham in second place (to Manchester City) as far as ‘Expected Goals’ were concerned.  Now I’m not really sure what an ‘Expected Goal’ is but it is good to see us up at the top.  As we hadn’t scored as many actual goals as the ‘Expected Goals’ tally I assume we are better at creating chances than at converting them.  On the flip side, the Hammers ranked poorly on ‘Expected Goals Against’ where we had also conceded fewer actual goals than the stats suggested.  The upshot was that West Ham were higher up the table than they should have been statistically.  Make of that what you will!

Today’s team pretty much selects itself and, barring any late breaking injuries, it should be the same that started last time out.  The front four can cause plenty of problems for the Villa defence but they must not forget their defensive responsibilities.  Watching Liverpool at the weekend it was noticeable how prepared Salah and Mane were to regain possession once the ball had been lost – even if it meant sprinting back to their own penalty area.  Rice and Mark Noble will need to keep their wits about them to cope with the midfield threat of Grealish and McGinn and that contest could well be pivotal to the outcome of the game. Although Angelo Ogbonna has done enough to keep his place ahead of Fabian Balbuena I can’t get rid of that nagging sensation that he is overdue one of his calamity moments.

It is good to see Aston Villa back in the top flight.  England’s second city needs to be represented in the Premier League but it could well be a tricky season for the Villains.  They have invested heavily in the squad and will be expecting to see a return in the points column sooner rather than later if Dean Smith is not to become ‘at risk’ in the manager’s sack race.  As so often with newly promoted clubs it is goals that are difficult to come by and in Villa’s case the situation has been hampered by injuries and suspension.

Today’s referee is the preening Mike Dean from The Wirral, with VAR duties down to Martin Atkinson.  VAR continues to divide opinion as to how it impacts the flow of the game and remains very reluctant to reverse the on-field decisions of referees – the Haller non-penalty against Norwich being a perfect example.

Returning to the world of punditry both Lawro (BBC) and Charlie Nicholas (Sky) have the game down as a 2-1 home win.  There was a strange comment from Nicholas suggesting that West Ham were ‘predictable’ – something which I would have thought was the polar opposite of reality.  I would still like to see more width in our attacking play but there is plenty of flair.  And I would still like to see Nathan Holland given some minutes on the pitch.  It seems odd that for all his promise he still only has one sub appearance, in a September 2017 League Cup tie, to his name.

As Captain Sensible would say “You gotta have a dream” and so I will risk my 5 shillings this week on a third consecutive West Ham league win.  Resist the early Villa energy before seizing the advantage with a controlled 2-0 victory.  The resultant league table can become my screensaver for the remainder of the season.  COYI.

Can West Ham come out on top in the Battle of the Clarets?

I have to admit that I really enjoyed our performance a fortnight ago when we comfortably beat Norwich 2-0 with goals from our new French striker, Sebastien Haller, and the fit again Andriy Yarmolenko. As Norwich pressed forward when they were behind, we managed to create several chances to add to our tally, and in reality should have scored five or six quite easily. We didn’t because our finishing didn’t match our approach play, we were unlucky at times, and Krul in the Norwich goal made some fine saves. Haller finished off a fine attack with a relatively simple finish, whereas Yarmolenko showed great technique with a left-footed volley barely a minute after an early left-footed volley with similar impressive technique had rebounded from an upright.

Two things in particular pleased me about our performance. The first was that we had players who could break and counter attack at pace. In particular our front four (Haller, Lanzini, Anderson and Yarmolenko) didn’t hang around when given the opportunity to attack, and they really impressed me with the way they looked as though they had been playing together for a long time. Added to that, our two full backs, Fredericks and Masuaku, who never get the best press for their defending abilities, also showed great pace when attacking and supporting the front four, and created chances for the others. Masuaku provided the assist for the first goal, but I was impressed with them both.

The second thing to please me was the way that the front four added to the often missing concept of defending as a team. It looked as though they had been working hard in training, and they harried the Norwich players to a greater extent than I can remember our attacking players doing for a while now. They added to the efforts of Rice and Noble who both had fine games. Mark Noble looked rejuvenated, and we all know he is not the fastest player, but he showed that he can still contribute and dominate the midfield when surrounded by players blessed with more pace. Defensive organisation was first class.

Yarmolenko and Lanzini both surprised me with how well they have come back after long lay-offs, Anderson demonstrated his sublime skills throughout the game, and Haller looks to be the most complete forward since the days of Dean Ashton, a player he reminded me of with his style of play.

Norwich played but some nice tippy-tappy football but rarely threatened our goal, mainly due to the way we defended as a team, and their prolific goalscorer Teemu Pukki had barely a kick. I was impressed with Todd Cantwell in the Norwich midfield. The loss of Zimmerman was a blow to the visitors following a heavy challenge from Haller, but in my opinion it wasn’t as bad as Farke was suggesting. The referee didn’t blow for a foul even (which he should have done), but I’ve seen players booked for similar challenges but it certainly didn’t warrant any more than that.

The referee, Paul Tierney, was a poor advert for his profession in my opinion. He waved away three penalty appeals, one of which was so cast iron it was laughable that he didn’t give it. What was even worse is that VAR is now in existence, but somehow the referee working behind the scenes somehow missed it too. It seems to me that after the early (over) use of VAR which should only be used to correct decisions which are clearly and obviously wrong, it has now gone the other way, and they are perhaps under instruction not to get involved at all!

By the end of the weekend the league table (still early days of course) showed us in seventh place with seven points, which is seven more than we had after the first four games heading into the international break a year ago. If we can just match our performance of the last campaign in the remaining 34 matches, then we would finish on 59 points, which last time around would have been enough for a seventh placed finish. Of course I am hoping we can do even better than that but I am not going to get too carried away, despite the fact that we have only lost one league game since unluckily going down 2-1 at Old Trafford on 13th April, winning five and drawing two of the eight games played in that time, only losing (as almost everyone does) to Manchester City.

The two teams we have beaten this season (Watford and Norwich) now sit in the relegation places, and we face the third member of that club on Monday evening when we travel to Villa Park in front of the TV cameras. Villa had an impressive win against Everton (2-0) but were unlucky when their late “equaliser” at Palace was incorrectly ruled out by a referee blowing his whistle for a dive which was subsequently shown to be a clear foul on Grealish. Quite how it can be suggested that our referees are high on the list in the world in terms of their ability is beyond me I’m afraid. I’ve seen little evidence of that this season despite them supposedly getting help from VAR. Villa’s other defeats came on the opening weekend at Tottenham, and then at home to Bournemouth who haven’t pulled up any trees themselves so far this season.

The betting for this match is very even with West Ham the fractional favourites to win at around 6/4, with Villa around 8/5, and the draw about 5/2. A win would see us moving on to ten points from five games, with an average of two per game. This would relate to 76 points over the course of a whole season! Wouldn’t it be good if we were looking at achieving those kind of figures, which of course we won’t, but it’s good to dream isn’t it?

I would anticipate that the manager would start with the same eleven that began against Norwich, but he often throws in a surprise or two, or somebody picks up a late injury which we don’t know about. But I am confident that he won’t change it this time. A point away from home is always good, but I am hoping for three in a narrow victory, perhaps 2-1? I enjoy Monday Night football on TV when we are away from home. But is there a way of keeping the sound of the crowd but removing the commentary and punditry at the same time? I wish there was.

Who Will Cut The Mustard In West Ham Versus Norwich Goalfest?

The Hammers look to build up a head of steam with successive league wins and an improved London Stadium performance.

Last weekend I was able to sit through the Norwich versus Chelsea match immediately prior to own game at Watford.  Both games were remarkably open affairs with all four teams seemingly prepared to throw caution to the wind.  While West Ham weathered the Watford storm at Vicarage Road and finished much the stronger side, Norwich started their game on top but fell away noticeably for most of the second half.

The results left both clubs in the cluster of clubs sitting on four points who will be looking to build on their solid starts to the season.  With only Liverpool boasting a 100% record and only Watford still to register a win the table has an unusual look about it.

Daniel Farke has created an amazing transformation during his two seasons at Norwich taking them from the lower reaches of the Championship to division champions on a shoestring budget.  When you are a newly promoted club and your marquee signing in the transfer window is Sam Byram says it all.  It will be interesting to see how their season pans out compared to big spending Aston Villa – the two clubs had been relegated together at the end of the 2015/16 season.

Much of the early season buzz at Carrow Road has surrounded Teemu Pukki, whose 5 goals from 3 games has him leading the charge for the Golden Boot.  Pukki is an interesting character having experienced an uninspiring early career (including a very mediocre season at Celtic) before kicking on at Brondby and then at Norwich.  From what I have seen he demonstrates excellent movement and will be a handful for whichever central defensive partnership he comes up against at the London Stadium.  If they can keep him away from Delia’s pies it could be a very influential season for the Finn.  Another player to look out for is Todd Cantwell who looks to be an excellent prospect based on his performance against Chelsea, particularly in the first half.  Seems a bit unfair but they also have Spiderman playing in midfield.

Both teams have been involved in EFL Cup ties since last weekend.  West Ham negotiated a tricky visit to South Wales to face Newport County while Norwich crashed out against Crawley Town.  Premier League teams continue to gamble that their much changed teams have enough to edge past lower league opposition.  Manuel Pellegrini won his gamble whereas Farke did not.

All things being equal I would have expected West Ham to start this weekend’s game with same team that was on the pitch once Michail Antonio replaced Andriy Yarmolenko.  However, an injury to the unlucky Antonio has sidelined him for a while.  The options would be to persevere with Yarmolenko or call in one of Pablo Fornals, Robert Snodgrass or Jack Wilshere.  My concern that more than one of Mark Noble, Snodgrass and Wilshere at any one time reduces the average pace to snail level.  I can’t begin to guess what Pellegrini will go for.

West Ham will have plenty of opportunity to show their attacking qualities but they will also have many Norwich attacks to repel.  The Canaries like to get their full-backs forward to provide width and this could easily expose the Hammers lack of numbers in those areas if the attacking wide men do not put in a defensive shift.

When the two teams met in 2015/16 season both games ended in 2-2 draws – Cheikou Kouyate scoring an injury equaliser at Upton Park and the Hammers coming back from two goals down at Carrow Road.

This weeks real and virtual referees are Paul Tierney and Andre Marriner respectively.  An interesting aspect of VAR is that it hasn’t really overturned many actual decisions made by referees.  Rather it has become a mechanism to review each goal for technical infringements and as a backstop offside checker.  It can’t be long before offside is totally automated, just like the goal-line technology, with the referee receiving a ‘beep’ in his ear each time a forward strays offside.  After all it is a simple case of applying and measuring clearly defined rules – there is no subjectivity to it as with handball.

Everyone will be expecting the game to be a high scoring extravaganza.  I was considering opting for a 7-5 home win to claim the record for the highest scoring Premier League game (Portsmouth 7 Reading 4 in 2007) but instead will go against the flow and predict West Ham to win 1-0.

West Ham are visited by the Canaries this weekend. Who will be singing on Saturday evening?

I’ll start with a couple of quiz questions. Question One – Name the only two teams that didn’t manage to win one of their first three Premier League games this season? Answer – Watford are one, the other team are Wolves. Question Two – Name the four teams in the Premier League that haven’t lost a game this season? Answer – Liverpool and Manchester City (inevitably), Leicester, and Wolves (again). So Wolves haven’t won a game and neither have they lost one. Is it better to win one and lose two games, or to draw three in a row? Of course the goals scored, and goals conceded, makes that question difficult to answer in respect of league position, but psychologically which would you prefer? The reality is that the points attained are the same in both scenarios.

The early league table after just three matches is an interesting one. Of course it doesn’t mean a lot yet, but the team in fifth place is on four points, whereas the team in 19th place is on three points. Close then. After our opening day 0-5 reverse with two away games to follow, most of us would have been happy to be one of the teams sitting on four points at this stage, albeit at the bottom end of those because of our goal difference. Ten teams have the won one, drawn one and lost one tag, and on paper I guess we’d like to believe that we can move up to seven points after this weekend’s fixture, the last before the international break! The season has barely started and we are having an international break already. For those who don’t like to see such disruption to the domestic fixtures I’ll remind you of the breaks to come. After this one (7 September) we have the second break on 12 October, the third on 16 November, this season also sees a winter break in February 2020, and then a final international break on 28 March. I’m not a fan of these continual breaks to the season, but it looks like they are here to stay.

One paper I read described Norwich as a breath of fresh air, and if they meant by that there are a lot of goals in their games (at both ends) then it is a fair description. After an opening 4-1 defeat at Liverpool, they beat Newcastle 3-1 before going down 3-2 to Chelsea last weekend. 14 goals in three games exceeds any other team in the division, and in Mr Pukki they have the leading goalscorer in the Premier League with five goals, an excellent outcome for those who (like me) selected him in their Fantasy Football squads. The goals have been well taken, and we will do well to keep him quiet on Saturday. Our own Mr. Haller opened his account with two well taken strikes at Watford as well, so with 25 goals scored in the six games involving Norwich or West Ham this season, we can look forward to an open, entertaining game. From the West Ham viewpoint, the “naturally gifted midfielders” who merely jogged back leaving our defence exposed when Watford scored their goal last week, must add the need to defend to their repertoire, rather than thinking solely of attack.

Of course it makes for an attractive game when both teams eschew their defensive responsibilities, but if we wish to progress then this is one aspect of our game (which those of us who follow West Ham have known for ages!) that must improve. We were very fortunate when Hughes somehow contrived to miss the target from about a yard out, and if we’d gone 2-1 behind then the outcome might have been very different. But he did miss, and Haller’s well-taken two goals meant a well-deserved first win of the season. I thought that the introduction of Antonio was a key factor in the win, and surely he had done enough to start this weekend? Until the game at Newport of course! The injury jinx is beginning again. Yarmolenko will take time to get up to speed after his long lay-off, and at this stage of the season he needs to be eased in gently. Personally I cannot understand how or why Ogbonna is keeping Balbuena out of the team either, but for some reason that is the case.

The TV people believed that we were an obvious choice for an upset in the League Cup last Tuesday, and that is why we were chosen for the televised game. Sorry TV, but we spoiled your fun as for once we didn’t lose to a “giant-killer” as we have done so many times in the past sixty years I have been following the team. But until Jack Wilshere scored we always looked as though we may concede a goal. It was as interesting as ever to read some West Ham forums after the game to get a diversity of views of our fans. Of course it’s a game of opinions, but some of our fans have some wildly differing views which provide me with some amusement.

“A professional performance.” “We were c**p.” “Never in doubt.” “Lucky to win.” “Sanchez was our man of the match.” “Sanchez is dog****”. “Roberto looked a good keeper.” “Heaven help us if Fab gets injured.” – Just eight excerpts to demonstrate my point.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the Watford game, but in the end it was a highly entertaining open match. I am looking forward to the Norwich game, however, and even have a bit of a soft spot for them. But only when they are playing other teams of course. My prediction – I reckon we’ll come out on top of a highly entertaining, high scoring game, 4-3.

A Newport State Of Mind: The Fans Expect, Can Pellegrini Deliver?

A whole bunch of banana skins with potential have been seen heading for South Wales tonight. A strong West Ham side with the right attitude will be needed to keep them away.

West Ham enter the Carabao Cup fray this evening with a second round tie against League 2 Newport County at their Rodney Parade stadium.  Arguably, the League Cup is the most winnable competition for teams outside of the rich six, but it remains a feat that has been beyond the Hammers during its 50-odd year history.

Many supporters would happily trade a few Premier League positions for a decent cup run but owners and coaches have tended to take a different view – unless you go all the way the financial reward is not high.  Nevertheless, apart from those with a realistic shout at a top four finish (or those concurrently committed to European competition) it is difficult to understand why the competition would not be taken with utmost seriousness.

With a long history of embarrassing cup exits to lower league team under their belts, including the recent memory of an FA Cup exit to AFC Wimbledon last season, West Ham would be foolish to take tonight’s game lightly.  In truth, the team fielded at Wimbledon should have easily been good enough to win the match and so attitude and proper preparation is equally important.

The most recent meeting with Newport County was one of those cup shocks when the Welsh side beat a John Lyall West Ham team that included Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds, Alan Devonshire and Alvin Martin, That was a 1979 FA Cup third round tie at Newport’s old Somerton Park ground which Lyall regarded as one of his worst nights of his managerial career.  The Hammers famously won the FA Cup in the following season while Newport went on to win the Welsh Cup in the same year.  Both teams made it through to the Quarter Finals of the 1980/ 81 European Cup Winner’s Cup where they were each eliminated by the eventual finalists.

Things took a turn for the worse after that for Newport and they were forced to go out of business in 1989.  The club was reformed and embarked on a nomadic existence around the lower leagues before regaining league status in 2010.  Under current manager, Mike Flynn, they have recorded some notable cup upsets including wins over Leeds, Leicester and Middlesbrough and earning a creditable draw at Wembley against Tottenham, before losing in a replay.  They are unbeaten in this season’s League 2 campaign and will go into tonight’s game with little to fear and nothing to lose.

This will be no easy ride for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.  He may well want to rest a few who might be carrying knocks or try out a number of fringe or youth players but there is no room for complacency.  Maybe it will be an opportunity for recent signings Albian Ajeti and Gonçalo Cardoso to play a part; or perhaps some of Ben Johnson, Conor Coventry and Nathan Holland will be included in the squad.  Pellegrini cannot afford to make too many changes or take anything for granted.  A committed, disciplined and professional performance is required if further embarrassment is to be avoided.

It will be a tough test.  The TV executives obviously sensed the chance of an upset by selecting the tie for live broadcast.  I can’t see there being many goals but am hoping that, in the end, West Ham’s extra class will ultimately prevail over Newport’s determination.

Last Among Equals: Haller Brace Earns West Ham First Win – Takeaways And Player Ratings

The embryonic league table has an unusually condensed look to it. What can we learn from the Hammers first win of the season that sees them joining a host of ten clubs sitting on four points?

The Will Of The People

Looking back at the game from the final whistle, West Ham looked to be worthy winners.  Despite Watford’s greater shot count, the Hammers were the more creative and carried the greater goal threat throughout 90 minutes.  It was a remarkably open game from the start with neither side concerning themselves too much about the art of defending.  Great to watch in many ways and would fit many observer’s definition of the West Ham way.  As usual, West Ham surrendered possession easily and allowed Gerard Deulofeu far too much space and time.  Fortunately, on this occasion, he was unable to deliver much in the way of end product to round off his trickery.  The pivotal moment in the match was the glaring miss by Will Hughes just before the second half drinks break.  I have seen worse misses (when players have the ball under control) but had he converted, as he should, the rest of the game would have played out differently. West Ham grew and Watford faded from that point on.

The Return Of The Skipper

Mark Noble made a welcome return to the West Ham midfield for his first appearance of the season.  On the 15th anniversary of his West Ham debut, it was fitting that he was able to get on the scoresheet early when converting a 3rd minute penalty – following a definite foul on Manuel Lanzini but which didn’t warrant the Argentinian’s theatrical interpretation.  The goal takes Noble up to 43 Premier League goals (25 from the spot), now only 4 behind West Ham’s leading PL scorer, Paolo Di Canio.  Otherwise, he had a steady rather than a spectacular game; perhaps not surprising after a longish lay-off and curtailed pre-season.  Despite his shortcomings, he remains the best option available to play alongside Declan Rice.  The captain was seen lambasting his forward colleagues for making no attempt to track back in the lead up to Watford equaliser but his remonstrations did little to change behaviour for the rest of the game.  As I have mentioned previously, the defensive responsibilities of forward players must be enforced on the training ground, not by the captain on the pitch.

Haller Off The Mark

It was great to see Sebastien Haller grab two goals to open his West Ham account.  Have we finally got ourselves a real striker; one who is also prepared to work hard for the team?  His second goal was particularly pleasing, and hopefully the first of many to celebrate throughout the season.  Interesting to read that he didn’t feel that he had the greatest of games himself.  Maybe he would liked to have contributed more in open play but that will come once greater understanding is developed with those around him.  There was a lovely piece of improvisation in the first half when Andriy Yarmolenko headed back across goal, but his backheel flick didn’t have sufficient power to worry the Watford keeper.  Apparently, when Haller scored he caused West Ham to become the first club to reach the milestone of 150 different goalscorers in the Premier League.  Seems we are great at sharing  the goals around – just not that many from any individual player.

Masterful Substitution?

Depending which way you look at it, the decision to start with Yarmolenko rather than Michail Antonio was either a shocking selection or a tactical masterstroke.  Yarmolenko is clearly a talented footballer, with a great touch, but a long injury absence has meant he has yet to prove himself in the rigours of the English game.  Having both Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson playing on the wing of their weaker foot is an odd tactic; preventing full use of the pitch as they invariably cut back inside rather than attempting to get behind the defence.  The one time that Anderson got to the bye-line (following excellent work from Arthur Masuaku) ended up with the cross for the first Haller goal.  Once Antonio was introduced, his power and direct approach added a whole host of problems for the Watford defence – he made a real match-winning difference.  The debate will no-doubt continue as to whether the poor defensive shape is down to personnel or the way that Manuel Pellegrini sets up the team.  Could Masuaku or Angelo Ogbonna have done better to prevent the Andre Gray goal, or was the damage done when the 4 forward players made no attempt to win back possession?

An Unusual League Table

League tables this early in the season are fairly meaningless but it is interesting to see so many clubs with identical 1-1-1 won, drawn and lost records, sitting on 4 points.  The heavy opening day defeat to Manchester City means that West Ham are last of the clutch of the 10 teams in that position (technically tied last with Chelsea with whom we also have an identical goals for and against).  A little different this season is that after 3 games, only Liverpool have a 100% win record and that only 4 teams remain unbeaten, including Wolves in 15th place.  No surprise that Liverpool and Manchester City occupy the top two positions and there is nothing to suggest that the league will be anything other than a predictable two horse race.  Defeats for Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham (very ordinary when the want-away Eriksen is not in their side and no doubt Pochettino is already dusting off his CV) must give encouragement to any teams who is organised and talented enough to chase a top six place come the end of the season.  If West Ham are to be one of them they cannot afford to be so open in the middle of the park.

Player Ratings

Fabianski (7), Fredericks (6), Ogbonna (6), Diop (7), Masuaku (7), Rice (8), Noble (7), Anderson (6), Lanzini (7), Yarmolenko (5), Haller (8) Subs: Antonio (8), Fornals (6), Sanchez (6)