Thankfully the transfer window has settled safely back in its frame for another few months and attention can return in its entirety to action on the pitch, even though I suspect the ghostly tones of “We’ve got Payet” will reverberate around the cavernous stadium and in the media for several weeks to come. It turned out to be a pragmatic window for the Hammers, rather than an exciting one, and much still rides on the continued fitness of Andy Carroll, the only remaining credible striker option in the continued and long running absence of Diafra Sakho. I was encouraged to hear Carroll say that he was now conscious of picking his battles on the pitch and that he no longer felt the need to try to win every ball; hopefully this should serve to minimise the stresses and strains on his body.
Blah, blah, blah, Dimitri Payet, blah blah blah…..
– Slaven Bilic Press Conference
The closing of the window is unlikely to shut out all of the noise about ‘two-bob’ ‘penny-pinching’ owners but in the context of mid-table obscurity (with an outside chance of Europa League in the event of extraordinary planetary alignment) it is better to keep the ‘war chest’ safely buried until the summer, when there is better value and greater options. The majority of supporters will not remember a making-up-the-numbers January signing when it comes to scrutinising and comparing future summer investment.
Today’s visitors are one of the few clubs where transfer budgets are meaningless and for whom the odd £50 million thrown around is simply loose change burning a hole in the pocket of a dishdasha. They were quiet this window (unless you count £27 m Gabriel Jesus who was signed in the summer but has only recently arrived) but their net spending for this season still exceeds £150 m.
I am always torn on match-days between a natural, but understated, optimism for a West Ham victory and a litany of reasons why just now is a bad time to be playing this week’s particular opposition. The recent indifferent run by the Blues and the resultant media focus on Pep’s performance are the anxieties that will gnaw away at my confidence and create growing pre-match-tension as kick-off approaches.
Head to Head
It is a mere 3 weeks since our last encounter with City at the London Stadium when once again the head to head advantage clicked a further notch in their affluent direction. We have won just two of the last 16 meetings between the two clubs. In the recent FA Cup tie it was difficult to determine to what degree the final outcome was the result of City’s brilliance or the Hammer’s pitifulness. Either way it will require one of those special ‘obscene’ all-hands-to-the-pump displays if we are to take advantage of an early opportunity for revenge.
The injured are still injured, Andre Ayew is busy scoring penalties at the African Cup of Nations and Cheikhou Kouyate continues to queue at Heathrow immigration. According to the Physio room both Andy Carroll and Mark Noble have knocks but are expected to recover. It is the manager’s style to keep the same team and formation until we lose a game and so, with the exception of Jose Fonte in for the injured Angelo Ogbonna, I expect to see the same line-up that started at Middlesbrough. Personally, I would put Snodgrass straight in at the expense of Feghouli but he will most likely be introduced from the bench at two-nil down. If I owned a hat then I would offer to eat it if either Feghouli or Calleri ever make it as regular Premier League players. There is a story that Brian Clough once went to scout a player but left after the warm-up because he didn’t like the way he ran; well that is how I view these two, neither of whom look like top-flight footballers – not that I would compare my judgement to Cloughies – and clearly Bilic has seen something he likes about them in training.
“He’s so important, we’ve played a lot of games without him, and I’m happy he’s back. He’s not an aggressive player. He’s tough. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. We accept the ban and don’t complain.”
– Guardiola on Fernandinho
For Manchester City, there is good and bad news. The bad news is that Kompany is fit again, Aguero has recovered from injury, Fernandinho is available after suspension and everyone else is available. The good news is that only 11 can be on the pitch at any one time and that one of them is likely to be Claudio Bravo.
The Man in the Middle
For the first time this season we’ve got a Friend in the shape of Kevin from Leicestershire. A comparative stranger to West Ham games, the single coming together last season was in the historic away win at Liverpool where he erroneously sent off Mark Noble. In his total of 21 games this term Friend has flaunted 73 Yellows and 1 Red card.