The stop-start Premier League season returns with West Ham deservedly languishing in the relegation zone with just under a third of matches played. The poor fitness and energy levels shown be the Hammers, which were so obvious for so long to many supporters, were eventually backed up by pundits and statistics and so they go into today’s fixture under the guidance of the club’s sixteenth full-time manager (ten of whom have managed in the Premier League era).
The new buzzword around Rush Green is intensity and initial impressions are that preparation has a more professional and serious look about it than the casual approach employed by the previous regime. Not that fitness is the only area of improvement required to raise the bar of performances to a level more consistent with the talent available within the squad. Only time will tell whether improved fitness will translate to greater movement and cohesion allowing the team to keep and make better use of the ball. To be a decent passing side also needs to have players who are moving into space, ready and willing to receive, in addition to the skilled execution of the pass itself. I am hoping for improvement but not expecting overnight miracles to happen.
Today will be David Moyes’ first game as West Ham manager but his 500th in the Premier League and he should be given every opportunity to start with the same clean slate from the fans as the one he has offered to his squad.
The players have been really committed to what we’ve asked them to do, they’ve grasped it and got on with it, and I think they’ve embraced it too. We’ve tried to put an awful lot of work into them over the past five or six days.
– David Moyes
Our hosts today were fast out of the new season blocks, under much admired manager Marco Silva, but have fallen away recently with a run of three defeats; a run that included one of the most entertaining games I have seen for a while when Watford had several chances to bury Chelsea at Stamford Bridge but ended up losing 4-2.
Head to Head
Ignoring meetings in the Southern League and war-time cups, fixtures between West Ham and Watford are a relatively recent phenomenon starting with a Division 2 encounter in 1979. Since then the Hammers have generally called the shots winning twenty-four and losing ten of the forty-two games played. More recent history has the balance tilted slightly in favour of the Hornets who have won five and lost four of the last twelve.
On the road West Ham have won six (lost two) of the last twelve visits to Vicarage Road.
Probable absentees for the Hammers are Javier Hernandez, Michail Antonio, Jose Fonte, Sam Byram and James Collins. It would be no surprise if Winston Reid also missed out following his epic air-miles earning trip to New Zealand and Peru during the international break.
I would expect a conservative team selection for Moyes’ first game in charge with the usual familiar faces although that may include Declan Rice if Reid is considered not to have recovered from his travels. Otherwise there are unlikely to be any surprises with Andy Carroll most probably leading the line. It will be interesting, if slates have truly been wiped clean, to see how players such as Marko Arnautovic, Diafra Sakho and Andre Ayew respond to the reported new intensity and discipline injected into training and behaviour.
He (Moyes) can change everything. It is the first game and he can change. We respect the team and they have a lot of individual quality in their players. We know what we need to do to win the game.
– Marco Silva
Watford are without the long-term injured Chalobah, Success and Cathcart, the suspended Deeney and have doubts about Kabasele, Pereyra, Prodl and Kaboul. It would be a bonus not having to face Pereyra as he and Richarlison are the type of quick, clever players that typically cause West Ham major problems. At the other end it would be a shame if the accident prone Kaboul doesn’t play.
Man in the Middle
A first West Ham outing this season for Andre Marriner from the West Midlands. Marriner’s five Hammer’s games last term saw a win at Swansea, defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea and draws with Stoke and Sunderland. In eleven games this season he has shown one red and twenty-four yellow cards.
Lawro and Merson are firmly on the fence with 1-1 draws; a conclusion which look reasonable in the circumstances. Watford can be dangerous in attack but fragile at the back with a defence that has conceded almost as many goals as the Hammers. We are likely to see a cautious approach from Moyes, seeking to frustrate rather than entertain in a situation where picking up points before December’s run of death has to be the overriding priority. If West Ham can keep it tight in defence and in central midfield then they have the potential to hurt Watford on the break and from set pieces; thus I will stick my neck out and go for an encouraging 2-1 victory.