You may have heard the story about the scorpion who asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung by the scorpion but is reassured by the scorpion that if it did that, they would both drown. The scorpion climbs onto the frog’s back, but midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why it had stung him, to which the scorpion replies “I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.”
This would seem to sum up West Ham and their efforts in cup games against lower league opposition. Never mind the occasional success or the reassurances that they will treat the cups with the utmost seriousness. They just can’t help but resort to complacency and disrespect – it’s in their nature. It is difficult to take the post-match words of apology or embarrassment, from manager or players, seriously. It was not a bad day at the office, it was a case of not really caring whether we won or lost. The shame was not in losing to Oxford United, it was in the disrespect shown to the fans, especially those that travelled.
It is back to league action today against one of the other teams who meekly surrendered their EFL Cup lace to league opponents. The lazy reaction is to present today’s clash as one of two clubs looking to bounce back from midweek defeats. But in the context of today’s game those games were meaningless, having been forfeited with indifference. Both teams have enjoyed promising starts to the season – good enough, in fact, to earn the billing of an unlikely top six clash. A clear reflection that, to the money men who run the game, each additional league position offers greater value than the glory of a cup run.
There has been much debate in the media about the chances of other clubs breaking up the ‘rich six’ monopoly this year; with much of that debate focusing on the prospects of Leicester and West Ham. I saw a number of West Ham fans on social media peeved that Leicester were generally receiving a better press than the Hammers. While you could argue that there is little to choose between their respective strongest starting elevens, the Foxes do look to have greater strength in depth. There may be a few household names among the West Ham backups but collectively they tend towards the old and the slow. Injuries haven’t helped, but it is rare to see any exciting options sitting on the Hammers bench – where Manuel Pellegrini is reluctant to take risks with younger players.
Even today’s opponents look to have better options in reserve. Assuming the Cherries stick with the same eleven that started in last week’s win at Southampton they can attack with some variety. The power of Solanke and the pace and movement of Wilson and King are sure to unsettle our defence, even with its new found enthusiasm for clean sheets. The Cherries have a solid, hard working midfield but will be able to call upon the services of Fraser and Lewis Cook from the bench if something different is required. I really like the look of Cook (who has just returned from a long layoff) and both he, and the injured Brooks, will have big futures ahead of them.
According to Sky Sports, Manuel Lanzini is back in the West Ham squad for today’s game. If that is true then it would be excellent news, even if he is not a starter – relying on Robert Snodgrass or Carlos Sanchez as game changers from the bench does not inspire any confidence. It would be no surprise if Pellegrini selected the same side that started in the defeat of Manchester United, except for any enforced change due to the fitness of Ryan Fredericks. Although Pablo Zabaleta is one of the more able deputies in the squad, I do worry about how well he will handle the pace that Bournemouth have down the flanks.
The whistle and headset referee today is Stuart Attwell from Nuneaton. The VAR-meister waiting to use the offside micrometer and furiously checking back phases of play for technical infringements is Andrew Madley (the older brother of refugee referee Robert ‘Bobby’ Madley).
Pundit wise, we have Lawro predicting a 2-1 home and Charlie Nicholas anticipating a rip-roaring 2-2 draw. This is a match that typically provides plenty of goals and there are good reasons to believe that the trend could continue today. Bournemouth’s weakness is their defence which has a tendency to be accident prone – something the Hammers must be ready to take advantage of. Just eight goals from six games is not an impressive statistic and turning possession into meaningful chances is one of the key areas requiring improvement. Sebastien Haller is potentially the most competent striker we have had for some years but he needs to be given decent service.
West Ham need everyone on the top of their game and to be in the right frame of mind from the off. This will be no stroll along the prom but with a determined performance, especially in the middle of the park, they have the quality to extend their unbeaten away record (in the league, at least) and even go on to win the game. Although I have some reservations about how well we can cope with the hosts attacking pace and power, I will back West Ham to exploit the uncertainties in the home defence and come away with a thrilling 3-2 win. COYI.