Five Takeaways: West Ham Unable To Resist Rampant Reds

West Ham’s Dad’s Army put up plucky resistance but eventually succumb to Klopp’s superior firepower. What did we learn?

An Expected Result

In the scheme of things the outcome of this match doesn’t really change anything as far as West Ham’s battle for survival is concerned.  I doubt that anyone working out their predictions and permutations for the remainder of the system, from the team of analysts with a supercomputer to man with a pencil and the back of a fag packet, expected West Ham to take anything out of yesterday’s game.  If there was disappointment it was the size of the defeat and it’s resultant hit on goal difference, which at -15 is now worse that two of the teams below us.  Mark Noble claimed that the scoreline was harsh on West Ham but it could easily have been worse if Liverpool had been more clinical.  At what point a routine defeat turns into a thumping is debatable but the Hammers were well and truly beaten by a talented and in-form Liverpool side.  The Merseysiders were allowed to dictate the game and took full advantage and although the West Ham players put in a decent amount of effort the impression was that there little belief to go alongside it.

The Strangest Selection

The team selection surprised me.  I had doubted that we would see Joao Mario and Manuel Lanzini on the pitch at the same time and yet David Moyes was happy to give the combination a try.  The result was a narrow formation that lacked width without solving the usual inability to provide an outlet for besieged defenders or to keep the ball once in possession.  I thought Mario was poor throughout and although he was not alone in that it was his most ineffective game since coming to England.  Starting with one of Mario and Lanzini along with Michail Antonio would have made more sense and, for a brief period after his introduction, the presence of Antonio appeared to unsettle Liverpool’s defence.  This wasn’t a game where West Ham lacked effort but effort alone is not enough at this level.  Players giving 100% should be a given and what West Ham need are skillful players giving everything; not players who make up for lack of techniques with effort.  An honourable exception to the lack of quality on show in claret and blue yesterday was Marko Arnaoutovic who once again demonstrated what an exceptional player he can be.

Dad’s Army Defenders

When the referee called Mark Noble over following the yellow card shown to James Collins I imagined the conversation going: Referee – “what’s his name?”; Nobes – “don’t tell him Ginge”.   With the introduction of Patrice Evra into the Hammers rearguard we now have a defence worthy of the veterans league.  Looking at all of the outfield players with mainly defensive responsibilities (i.e. everyone except Mario, Lanzini and Arnie) they are characterised by an overall lack of pace throughout.  Once again the central midfield pairing of Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate failed to get even close to impressing and allowed Liverpool to attack the backline with impunity.  Evra and Pablo Zabaleta might have shown admirable commitment but with the best will in the world they are never going to be able to bomb forward to provide width in support of their forwards.  What a contrast to Alexander-Arnold and Robertson for the Reds.

Assists For The Opposition Goals

Despite Liverpool’s dominance the Hammers once again contributed to their own downfall in the goals conceded.  The opener by Can was just the type of goal I had not expected to concede; a simple header from a corner.  It did appear to me that Adrian was badly impeded but this seems one of those rules that is now considered optional by referees.  The second goal was the killer coming so soon after half-time and some blame must go first to Kouyate for a series of powder puff challenges and then to Aaron Cresswell for not getting close enough to Salah.  The third was a result of Mario giving possession away cheaply and compounded by Adrian’s poorly judged rush from the area (but please no recall for Joe Hart) and by the fourth the players were just hoping for the game to end as quickly as possible.  Giving a team like Liverpool so much of the ball was always going to be a huge risk.  The weakness in central midfield, a lack of belief in being able to keep the ball and players bunching rather than spreading play all served to surrender the initiative to the opposition.  Conceding was only a matter of time.

The Table Doesn’t Lie

West Ham slip to 13th position just three points (four if you count goal difference) out of the relegation places.  Assuming that Palace do not beat Tottenham today by two goals or more the standings will be unchanged before the crunch game next weekend away at Swansea.  At least Swansea also experienced their own thumping yesterday meaning that both teams will need to demonstrate ‘bouncebackability’.  With the bottom of the table so compressed and so many teams in relegation danger there are few yet in a position to start thinking about the summer holidays.  Leicester had the look of going through the motions about them yesterday and maybe Burnley and Everton do as well.  Some consolation in that these are three teams we have yet to play.

Where is the best place to park the West Ham bus at Anfield?

Can the Hammers bring back anything better from Merseyside than a respectable narrow defeat to maintain their relatively superior goal difference advantage over the relegation rivals?

Apparently a grand total of 29 players have played for both West Ham and Liverpool over the years but there is one other thing that connects these two clubs – that their best days were back in the distant past.  While most West Ham fans have their tongues firmly planted in the their cheek when claiming that the Hammers won the World Cup it is still many years since the scent of glory was detected anywhere near the east-end of London; in fact, the closest in living memory for the majority of supporters would be the infamous ‘drawn’ 2006 cup final against today’s opponents.

Liverpool, on the other hand, were the undoubted superstars of the English First Division for a good part of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Yet they now only sit above West Ham in the list of Premier League titles won by virtue of alphabetical order – much to the frustration of their entitled supporters.  Perhaps a more fitting anthem for the Merseysiders than the maudlin ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is the refrain from the song Sit Down which desribes their predicament most succinctly: “Now I’ve swung back down again, and it’s worse than it was before.  If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor!”

In truth, Liverpool under Klopp are one of the most exciting sides to watch in the Premier League; alongside Tottenham (whose own delusional sense of glory is based solely on winning the double almost sixty years ago).  It would be no surprise if it were one of those two teams who ended up in second place to runaway leaders Manchester City, even if they will both have effectively been lapped, come the end of the season.   The big challenge for will then be to hold on to their top performers (and managers) when the truly big clubs come-a-knocking.

Head to Head

If the north-west in general is not a happy hunting ground for the Hammers then visits to Anfield are a desolate wasteland with a return of just four wins (forty four defeats) from sixty six attempts.  West Ham are, however, unbeaten in their last three visits including the memorable 3-0 victory for Slaven Bilic’s side in August 2015.  It was, however, defeat by Liverpool at the London Stadium in November that hammered the final nail into Bilic’s managerial career at West Ham.

There are some bad memories associated with Liverpool and relegation as it was the Reds who had beaten the Hammers in the final matches of both the 1977/78 (crushing my belief that West Ham were a perennial top tier club) and 1988/89 seasons to confirm the worst.  At least there will still be ten games to play after today.

Team News

West Ham resisted the urge to jet off somewhere exotic for a spot of warm weather training during their week off; a tactic that in previous years has precipitated a run of poor form.  It is reported that both Manuel Lanzini and Winston Reid are available for selection while Jose Fonte has popped out for a Chinese.  My sense is that while Reid may play, Lanzini will be start on the bench.  Whether we will see much of Lanzini and Joao Mario on the pitch at the same time will be interesting but I can’t see it happening at Anfield.

There are no prizes for guessing what the West Ham tactics will be for the game and a repeat of the backs to the wall and hope for a smash and grab approach that almost upset Manchester City and earned a point at Tottenham is to be expected.  The problem with parking the bus at Anfield is that there is a high probability that some scally will sooner or later turn up to nick a goal (as well as the hubcaps.)  While I would have confidence in our central defenders deftly heading away crosses until the cows come home, they typically struggle against the trickery and rapid interplay that is a feature of Klopp’s team.  If and when the first Liverpool goal goes in it is difficult to see where a West Ham response could come from; and there is goal difference to play for as well as points.

Liverpool, who took a break to Marbella as reward for their FA Cup exit, have no injury worries unless a late outbreak of Spanish tummy runs through the squad.

Man in the Middle

Today’s referee is Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire who should be fresh in the memories of supporters as the man who overruled his assistant to allow the offside/ handball Bournemouth equaliser having previously shown undue leniency to a Cherries defender for a reckless red card challenge.  He owes us one for that.  He also, with some justification, sent off Andy Carroll at Turf Moor earlier in the season.  In twenty games this season, Carroll is his only red card to go along with seventy yellow ones.

Predictions

In a rare alignment of the planets, both Lawro and Merson are going for a 3-0 home win.  I admit to having drawn a huge sigh of relief at reaching thirty points after the win against Watford but subsequent results served to trim the breathing space back down to a measly four points.  This game might be seen as a free spin for West Ham but it is vital that it is not a crushing defeat.  Perhaps the away win unicorn could put in an unexpected appearance or inspired defending could secure a precious point but, in reality, confidence is not high of getting anything from the game other than a respectable scoreline and no further injuries.

Liverpool v West Ham Preview

West Ham’s record at Liverpool has been very poor in the last half a century, and on current form a trip to Anfield is as difficult as it gets. But can we get something from the game?

This weekend we resume our battle for top flight survival with a difficult away game at Liverpool, who remain unbeaten at Anfield this season, although six of their thirteen visitors have come away with a point. Five of them are not particularly surprising as they are all top half teams, namely Burnley, Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton, and Tottenham. But in December the team now rooted to the foot of the table, West Brom, managed a goalless draw there.

Although our form over the last dozen games is impressive we are still only four points above the relegation zone. 20 points in those 12 games is a magnificent haul with 5 wins, 5 draws and just 2 defeats, and is bettered only by the very top teams. The disappointing feature though is that it could, and perhaps should, have been so much better. The two losses in that run were at home to Newcastle and away at Brighton, whereas two of the draws were disappointing home games against Bournemouth and Palace. We could be well away from the drop zone by now, but instead we are still in the mix, and failure to pick up something in the next two away games starting today against in-form teams Liverpool, looking to score four goals for the third game in a row, and next week the resurgent Swansea, would keep us well in trouble.

Liverpool themselves have no real injury concerns and can field almost their strongest line-up. They have won six of their last eight games and their only defeat in the last four months came at the hands of Swansea just a month ago. I noticed a statistic on the BBC website that said that Jurgen Klopp has suffered 17 league defeats as a manager of Liverpool in the whole of his time there, and if you averaged out the position in the table of those teams who beat them – then it is 12th. We are currently 12th in the table, but that is really clutching at straws!

For some time now I have had Mo Salah in my fantasy team, and he is continuing to impress with his goalscoring and assists. We will do well to keep him quiet. And apparently David Moyes has managed 14 visiting sides at Anfield and never managed to win there. Well there’s always a first time!

The bookmakers don’t really give us a prayer in this game quoting odds of 12/1 on a Hammers win and 6/1 on the draw, with Liverpool 1/5 to collect the three points. If you believe that we can sneak a win then you can get 35/1 on a score of 2-1, 45/1 on 1-0, and 80/1 on 2-0, with some very big odds if you think we can do better than that.

One thing in our favour is that our lengthy injury list of a few weeks ago seems to be largely diminishing, but this game will be a real test of how far we have come since the arrival of the new manager, and conversely will show how much further we still have to go. I noticed that after the Watford game David Moyes was targeting a top ten finish. On paper might not seem too much of a target as we are only one point off tenth position. In fact we are only six points behind Burnley who are lying seventh, but that would almost certainly be too much to hope for, even for the most optimistic of us, given the difficulty of many of our fixtures in the last eleven games. In eight of them we play teams currently filling the top nine places in the table.

Apart from Carroll, all of our attacking players seem to be fit, and it will be interesting to see how many of Chicharito, Arnie, Lanzini, Mario and Antonio will be accommodated into the team, especially for a tricky away fixture. My prediction for the team he will pick, and I very rarely get this right, is:

Adrian, Zabaleta, Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate, Noble, Mario, Antonio, Arnautavic, Chicharito. Lanzini may be left on the bench after a lengthy lay-off together with Hugill, Rice, Byram, Reid, Hart and Cullen.

It is hard to see us winning the game, and probably the best we can hope for is a draw. But what I’ll be looking for is a competitive performance that will stand us in good stead for the run-in, irrespective of the result. 0-0 would be a very unlikely score against our free-scoring opponents and is priced at 25-1! I wonder if we can keep the score to that after 90 minutes?

Bad Publicity for West Ham again!

As if there were not enough sticks to beat West Ham with the media have been creating their own!

As if West Ham need any more bad publicity it keeps on coming doesn’t it? Following the dismissal of our transfers director, the club have now been charged over a breach of anti-doping regulations. But the one that really gets me relates to the following. So here is a quiz question for you. Which 23 year-old footballer has played first team football for the following teams but has never made a first team appearance for West Ham? Bradford City, Colchester, Rotherham, Dagenham & Redbridge, Coventry, Leyton Orient, Bromley, Stevenage, Boreham Wood, Maidstone, England U17, U18, U19.

The answer as you all know is Blair Turgott. But all the headlines of his recent alleged misdemeanour were along the lines of Ex- West Ham player Blair Turgott “gambled £16K of stolen money”. The trial still continues so nothing decided yet, despite the headlines, but the use of the words “ex-West Ham player” is just so misleading. OK he was a youth player at the club but he never played at the top level for us as he did for all those other clubs. I suppose the headline Ex Bradford City, Colchester, Rotherham, Dagenham & Redbridge, Coventry, Leyton Orient, Bromley, Stevenage, Boreham Wood, Maidstone, England U17, U18, U19 player …. wouldn’t have had the same impact. But this is yet another example of the media laying into West Ham. We do enough ourselves to garner bad publicity; we don’t need it when we are not really involved.

The struggle for Premier League survival will resume this weekend when West Ham visit Anfield

How many more points will we need?

At the beginning of each Premier League season you will often hear managers quoted as saying that their aim is to reach 40 points which will ensure that they remain in the top flight for another year. It is a sad state of affairs that, although there are 20 clubs taking part in the competition, only 6 of them at the most have any realistic chance of coming out on top. The remaining 14, which include ourselves, have no chance whatsoever. It is the same (or even worse) in all the top leagues in Europe. That is why I advocated in my previous article that all the top European teams take part in a European league and do not take part in their domestic league. Would we miss playing the top teams? I for one would not.

Take this season for example. If you ignored the top six sides then all of the remaining 14 (plus another six from the Championship) would believe at the beginning of the season that they had a chance of winning the league. It would make for a much more interesting competition when most of the teams involved could win. But that is not the case (yet) although I remain hopeful that one day it will happen.

In the meantime the most interesting aspect of the Premier League for me is the competition to finish 7th, and at the same time the battle to avoid finishing in the bottom three. West Ham fans will remember that in 2002-3 we were relegated despite attaining 42 points in a 38 game season. But that was 15 years ago. In the 14 seasons since then 42 points would have comfortably been enough to retain top flight status. Only once (in 2010-11) would it have been necessary to reach 40 points to stay up, and in fact in the season before that just 31 would have done. If you look at the last 5 years (or 10 years) then 36 is the average figure needed to avoid the drop.

According to the BBC website, data analysts Gracenote Sports have apparently run over 1 million simulations to estimate the chances of all teams being relegated. They came to the conclusion that West Ham have a 6% chance of being relegated; in other words the odds are around 16-1. After all these 1 million simulations they concluded that 40 points will definitely be enough to avoid the drop, 38 points will more than likely be enough, and any team with 34 points or less will definitely be relegated.

Without running all these simulations I have produced my own forecast based upon how all of the teams in the bottom 11 of the table have performed for the season to date, and then projected their finishing points if they attain points at the same rate. Now not all of the teams will do that; some will do better and some worse. But I believe that it is reasonable to assume that, on average, the bottom 11 clubs will pick up the same number of points per game in the run-in that they have achieved for the season to date.

The table below sets out the results of my calculations (it took me approximately 5 minutes to do this). I think I could have saved Gracenote Sports from running one million simulations, as the results of my projection suggest that 40 points will definitely be enough to avoid the drop, 38 points will more than likely be enough (but only just), and any team with 34 points or less will definitely be relegated. Pretty similar to their conclusions!

So on this basis, 10 more points from our last 11 games will definitely be enough, 8 more points will probably be OK, but 7 points or less could mean that we are playing in the Championship next season. That assumes, of course, that we don’t get a repeat of the 2002-03 season, although the closeness of the teams in the bottom half of the table suggests that will not be the case.

The bottom 11 teams in the Premier League after 27 games Points after 27 games Projected Points from last 11 games Total
10. AFC Bournemouth 31 13 44
11. Watford 30 12 42
12. West Ham 30 12 42
13. Newcastle 28 11 39
14. Brighton 28 11 39
15. Crystal Palace 27 11 38
16. Swansea 27 11 38
17. Huddersfield 27 11 38
18. Southampton 26 11 37
19. Stoke City 25 10 35
20. West Brom 20 8 28

So where will we collect the necessary points from? Six of our final eleven games are at home, although the next two (At Liverpool and Swansea) are away. That means that our performances at the London Stadium will be vital in ensuring our safety. So far this season we average 1.46 points per game at home, and 0.79 on out travels, so continuing with this average would almost certainly be enough. But we have to bear in mind that 8 of our final 11 games are against teams in the top nine in the table, and of those 8 teams the only one that we defeated in our first game against them this season was Chelsea.

The three “crunch” games would therefore seem to be the home games against Southampton and Stoke, and the away game at Swansea. Failure to win these (or at the very least pick up 7 points) would mean that it is likely that it will be necessary to get results on one or more of our travels to Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester, or at home to the two Manchester clubs, Burnley, and Everton. It will be nerve-racking if it goes down to the wire, and we need something from our final game at home to Everton. I hope it doesn’t come down to that! Based on our recent form we should be OK.

Five Takeaways: Pulling Together The West Ham Way

As David Sullivan calls for unity and the need to pull together, a Marko Arnautovic inspired West Ham bounce back from their recent doldrums to record a much needed win over Watford. What did we learn from the game?

We All Pull Together

The team performance against Watford was a perfect reaction to the disappointment of half-hearted effort on show at Brighton last week.  In David Sullivan’s attempt at a damage limitation video (that was posted on the official West Ham website) he repeated, in a style reminiscent of Theresa May’s much ridiculed strong and stable slogan, the mantra as to how we all needed to pull together to drag the club out of its current plight.  I am all for unity but for it to be achieved everyone has to see that striving for it is to their advantage.  Donating my time, effort and money simply to line someone else’s pocket is just not tempting enough to earn my unquestioning support unfortunately.  Still the players responded well and they ably demonstrated the spirit, determination and togetherness required to earn a valuable three points from what looked to be a troublesome fixture against a confident Watford side.

Arnie Is Back

In my match preview I predicted a point at best and that we would be lucky to see Marko Arnautovic on the bench.  The inaccuracy of that latter expectation had a direct impact on the imprecision and negativity of the former.  While I am in confession mode, I will admit to having been ambivalent about the signing of Arnautovic.  Not that I was a huge Stoke City watcher but the impression I had was of an inconsistent, fair-weather, sun-on-his-back type of player who would pick and choose which matches he would contribute to at the best of his ability.  His early outings in claret and blue did little to dispel that assessment.  He looked moody and disinterested and added an early blot to his copybook with a needless sending off at Southampton.  Then suddenly, after thirteen goalless outings, he was given a more attacking role by David Moyes, free from tracking back along the wing, and goes on to score seven times in the next eleven games.  And it is not only in goals that he is contributing to the cause as his overall effort, strength and impressive close control have made him into a defender’s nightmare.  It is difficult for me to remember ever being so completely wrong about a player in the past.   When the new golden age of player recruitment, as promised by the Board, becomes a reality let’s hope there are a few more Arnies up their sleeves.

The Legendary Game Of Two Halves

In many ways it was an unusual game.  The first half West Ham were very much on the front foot with great movement and invention on show.  Cheikhou Kouyate was a midfield driving force demonstrating a power and energy that has largely been missing from his game in recent times, and with the ball at their feet the combination of Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, Joao Mario and Javier Hernandez always looked threatening and capable of opening up the Watford defence.   A goal disallowed for the thinnest of offside margins, a denied penalty appeal and a spurned Arnautovic chance all preceded the opening goal.  When Hernandez headed home after a fine Antonio run and cross it felt like we were on a roll.  The second half was a very different animal and it was difficult to tell whether this was because Watford had upped their game or whether West Ham had decided the best tactic was to defend deep and deny the visitors any chance of a quick counter attack.  The inability of West Ham to keep the ball for more than a few touches and the tendency to go for the long ball was a concern but for all of Watford’s possession they created little.  Watching live it seemed a very long second half that was all Watford, but watching the highlights later it was apparent that, apart from a free kick well saved by Adrian, it was West Ham who enjoyed the clear cut chances.  Ultimately it was the Hammers who secured a further (rather scrappy) goal to seal the match and claim the points.

Heads Up

Initially the starting line-up puzzled me when it was first announced.  I was sure it was going to be a back four and when it was apparent that this was not the case I was concerned about how well the Angelo Ogbonna, James Collins, Aaron Cresswell threesome would deal with Watford’s creative players.  Cresswell has performed adequately in his new role but I am yet to be convinced that his lack of height will not be exploited by more astute opponents.  For all of Collins limitations against more mobile adversaries there are few better when the opposition decide to rely on the lofted cross as their main form of attack.  Similarly the aerial assault plays to one of Ogbonna’s main strengths; the other being wrestling with opponents at corners.  Much was made of Watford’s 64% possession but it should be obvious to most by now that possession does not equate to dominance.

Canny Jock Or Dour Scot?

It remains tight at the bottom end of the Premier League table but the thirty point milestone is a good one to have crossed with still more than ten games to go.  When Moyes took control of the team, West Ham had recorded nine points from eleven games and were sitting in eighteenth place.  In the sixteen matches since he took charge his team have amassed twenty one points and now sit in twelfth place.  It is a decent achievement and current trajectory should ensure a safe end to the season and even eyes on a top ten finish.  The likelihood that at least six out of the eight teams sitting below West Ham in the table outperform them by a sufficient margin in the remaining eleven games is a slim one.  What happens at the end of the season though is anyone’s guess.  Personally, I think Moyes should be given the opportunity to show what he can do (both in terms of success and style) after a sensibly planned transfer window.  Whether he wants to, or will be allowed to, depends very much on what the new strategy of pulling together actually means in reality.

Carry On Up The London Stadium

As the long running East End comedy gets even more farcical, can West Ham scrape together enough points to secure Premier League safety?

Apparently, the latest product to go on sale in the club shop is the claret and blue Oxo cube – and as you might expect it is being marketed as the laughing stock.  OK, so it’s an old joke but, for a club with a long history of faux-pas, self inflicted gaffes and off-field own goals, a new low of incredulity has been reached over the past few weeks.  Unfathomable transfer dealings, claims of racism in recruitment, plans for protest marches and culminating in woeful PR from the Board where the subtext of the message is ‘it’s our club we don’t care!’

While the West Ham owners have much to answer for, particularly with respect to unrealistic expectation setting and broken promises, there is now an unstoppable bandwagon upon which a large section of the media has now jumped.  It would be no surprise to read in the comin weeks that Messrs. Gold and Sullivan are also responsible for global warming and the fatberg in the London sewers.  I don’t recall West Ham ever having lovable owners (apart from that brief Icelandic big-spending honeymoon period maybe) but the current club custodians now have an approval rating that gives the Bond scheme a real run for its money.  The relationship between supporters and owners is invariably a fraught one, except during periods of success, as each group makes its own claim as to whose club is it anyway.  The apparent shambles that currently exists on and off the pitch and the lack of any empathy between Board and supporters does not bode well for creating a happy environment in which the team are meant to play football.

Today’s visitors are another of the sides embroiled in what has become the relegation play-offs; although a surprise 4-1 win over Chelsea last Monday sees them sitting three points better off than West Ham.  Rewind a few weeks to a time of greater optimism and a look at the fixture list might have led a glass-half-full Hammers fan to imagine sitting pretty at around 33 points by now.  But failure to win any of the games against Palace, Bournemouth and Brighton have necessitated a rapid re-calibration of those confidence levels.  With injuries, suspensions and injudicious transfer activity I am now looking at the expected line-ups this afternoon and concluding that Watford (yes, Watford) look far stronger on paper than a club which is allegedly in the top twenty of the world’s rich league.

Head to Head

West Ham’s overall home record against Watford is a good one although the Hornets were the first visiting team to win a league match at the London Stadium when they came from two goals down to win 4-2 in September 2016.  In the last twelve home games against Watford, West Ham have won eight and lost three.

Apart from that 4-2 reverse the last home defeat to the Hornets was on this very day in 2007 when, despite having Nigel Quashie in midfield, Alan Curbishley’s side went down 1-0 to bottom of the table Watford.  Carlos Tevez was on the bench that afternoon in the days before going on to single-handedly save the Hammers from relegation.

The reverse fixture this season was David Moyes first as manager where he witnessed an uninspired performance leading to a 2-0 defeat.  He will be expecting a better effort this afternoon.

Team News

The straw to clutch at for today is the will-he-won’t-he return from injury of the latest club saviour Marko Arnautovic – although I imagine he will be on the bench.  Other than it seems that we must look for inspiration to a 36 year old full-back who hasn’t played a competitive game since his sacking by Marseille in November 2017.  Only at West Ham could playing Patrck Evra in defence have little impact on the average age of that unit.

Best guess for the line-up would suggest a couple of changes from the team that performed so poorly at Brighton with the Pablo Zabaleta in midfield experiment being quickly abandoned in favour of a return to the Mark Noble/ Cheikou Kouyate combo that has failed to inspire confidence for much of the past two years.  Possibly Winston Reid will return in defence but there is talk that having recovered from his injury he is now laid low with a sore throat (so that talk would be in a hoarse kiwi accent.)  I don’t like the idea of Declan Rice in defensive midfield but things are so desperate that I would be tempted to give it another go.

The front three will most likely see Joao Mario and Michail Antonio supporting Javier Hernandez.

Watford are also without several injured players and there is not even any comfort for the Hammers in that given that one of the missing players is comedy defender Younes Kaboul.   The Hornets have some fine players and I have been impressed with the likes of Doucoure, Capoue, Richarlison and Pereyra in the past and there is also the question of Deulofeu, at one point linked with a loan move to the London Stadium.

The Man in the Middle

Please welcome Graham Scott from Oxfordshire a rare but lucky visitor to West Ham matches .  In the most recent Hammers encounters, Scott was in charge of this season’s away win at Stoke as well as victory last season at Southampton.  In twenty one games this term Scott has shown fifty-four yellow cards and four red ones.

Predictions

Both Lawro and Merson smell a Hammer’s victory by 1-0 and 2-0 respectively.  I wish I had their confidence as I think we will struggle badly in midfield unless there is a massive reaction to last week’s disappointment.  Even then it is not going to inject the badly missing and much needed pace into the heart of the team.  A win is badly needed but I can only see a point at best.