Not quite “must win” yet for West Ham as they face Southampton, but it will be if they don’t start picking up points soon

Two teams that gained promotion from the Championship at the same time (in the 2011-12 season) meet today. Whilst Southampton gained automatic promotion by finishing as runners-up to champions Reading, we, of course, came up the “fun way” defeating Blackpool in the play-off final at Wembley. Both clubs have consolidated within the Premier League in the seven completed seasons since that promotion and have similar records. We have finished above them on three occasions whereas they have been above us four times. Of course we have both flirted with relegation at times, although our lowest finishing position has been 13th, whereas today’s opponents have finished closer to the trap door with final positions of 14th, 16th and 17th.

Our best finishes have been 7th and twice finishing 10th, whereas Southampton had a purple patch from season 2013-14 onwards when ending up 8th, 7th, 6th and 8th in consecutive seasons. Even when we had that marvellous last season at Upton Park finishing 7th, they pipped us to end up one place and one point above us. Southampton have picked up 341 points in those 7 seasons (average 49) compared to our 334 (average 48).

If you calculate the average finishing position in those 7 campaigns then we both have identical results, showing an average of 11th. The head to head record in the period matches the all-time historical record with West Ham winning more games than our South Coast opponents. In the 15 games since promotion, West Ham have won 8 to Southampton’s 4 with 3 drawn games. We have won the last 4 meetings – until then the records were equally matched. The record when we have been the home side reads won 5 and lost 2 in 7 meetings, scoring 16 goals and conceding 9.

After a few games this season it looked like we were going to overtake Southampton in the comparisons since promotion. We started the season well and Southampton were languishing close to the bottom. However our form had slumped by the time we visited Southampton a few days before Christmas, and both managers were under pressure. On that day we won 1-0 with a goal from Sebastien Haller to relieve the pressure building on Manuel Pellegrini, whereas our opponents remained in the relegation zone.

But following that day Southampton’s season took off collecting 16 points from the next seven games to climb into the top half of the table. They haven’t kept up that pace in the last few games, but nevertheless they sit in a comfortable 12th place in the table on 34 points, 10 clear of ourselves – of course we are in the danger zone in 18th.

We are at that stage of the season now with just eleven games to go when games such as these are almost “must win” fixtures for us. It is not quite critical yet, and a win would see us leapfrog Aston Villa (who play in the Carabao Cup Final this weekend), and could see us move above Bournemouth if they fail to beat an out of form Chelsea side. That would be a boost.

There are currently 5 teams that are not averaging a point a game, and Brighton in addition are just above that figure. It seems likely that the three relegated teams will come from those six unless one of the teams immediately above has a disastrous run (similar to the one we have had!). 37 or 38 points could mean safety and that would probably mean four wins and a couple of draws. There are no guarantees of course but that might be enough. It’s sad though isn’t it when a season that started brightly has come to this. My prediction at this point sees us escaping the drop with Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth going down. But in reality, all of the bottom six teams have a number of difficult games, and it could be very different.

Bookmakers generally have 7 clubs in the mix for relegation, with current odds of about 1/20 Norwich (virtually already down), Villa 8/13, Bournemouth 10/11, West Ham 5/4, Watford 7/5, Brighton 11/2, Newcastle 6/1.

Even Brighton supporters, despite their points cushion at the moment, cannot feel comfortable, especially if they fail to beat Palace tomorrow, as their March and April fixtures are against Wolves, Arsenal, Leicester, Man United, Norwich, Liverpool, and Man City.

We can take heart from our visit to Anfield even though we took no points. Despite the obvious gulf in class we came closer to defeating them than most teams have this season in the Premier League. It’s a shame that our usual saviour Fabianski chose the game to have possibly his worst outing since joining us. He was obviously at fault for the second goal, and didn’t cover himself in glory for the other two either. But that’s water under the bridge now, so let us hope that normal goalkeeping service is resumed today.

I wonder what team we will see today. My selection would be:

Fabianski; Ngakia, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Snodgrass; Fornals, Anderson, Bowen; Antonio.

I am not sure Noble is up to two games in close succession and have gone for Snodgrass in a central midfield role for this game, with his dead ball delivery an important factor in my choice. Such a shame about the injury to Soucek – I thought he was looking like exactly the player we needed in midfield. I doubt that Mr Moyes will agree with my choice, but we can all play football manager when it comes to team selection.

I started this article by talking about the relative merits of the two clubs since promotion in 2012. In our first meeting in the Premier League following promotion, we comfortably beat Southampton 4-1 with a couple of goals from Mark Noble, one from Kevin Nolan, and a mazy dribble and finish from Modibo Maiga (remember him?). Adam Lallana scored for the Saints. If you go back to the very first meeting between the two teams at our ground in April 1900, the score that day was Thames Ironworks 4 Southampton 1.

What chance a repeat of the 4-1 win today? We’ll all be going home happy if we win by any score.

West Ham’s Escape Plan Revealed: Start Winning A Few Games Or Rely On The Coronavirus Pandemic

Not yet a ‘must win’ game or ‘we’re down if we lose’ but at home to Southampton is an important obstacle to overcome in the Hammer’s increasingly desperate battle for survival.

Recent events have proven that the world is about as prepared for a global virus pandemic as West Ham are for a Premier League relegation fight. With the level of anxiety rising on both fronts it has led to speculation on the possibility of the football programme being suspended or even abandoned as the consequence of a UK wide lock down on travel and public gatherings.

Imagine the outcry on Merseyside if the season were declared null and void some time in the next few weeks. It is not to be sneezed at! That is assuming there isn’t some footballing equivalent of the Duckworth-Lewis method that would be used to calculate final standings based on Opta Stats – no doubt, precipitating a raft of legal challenges.

For now, such a scenario will need to remain Plan-B, with a continuing focus on preserving Premier League safety through more conventional means – starting with Saturday’s home fixture against Southampton.

There was a notable improvement in the Hammer’s performance against Liverpool on Monday (when compared to the Manchester City game) and had it not been for the rarest of off-days by Lukasz Fabianski, one of the shocks of the season could have been on the cards. It is easy to understand fan’s frustration, though, as to why the same level of effort and commitment cannot be applied in all matches. For some reason the team have found it easier to play against Liverpool than City in both home and away fixtures this season. In the end, we expected zero points from those last two games and that is exactly what we got. More important now, however, is how the team shapes up for Saturday’s game. Will there be some carry over momentum from Anfield or will it be a return to the slow starting, low intensity team that we have been used to in the recent past?

Among the many West Ham weaknesses are an inability to break down hard-working, organised defences and preventing teams hitting us on the break. Southampton will provide a test on both fronts. Not throwing away another lead would also be welcome.

The Saints are 5th in the away table while West Ham sit just one off the bottom in the Premier League home table. Their style is well suited as a smash and grab away team in the modern style; not endowed with a great deal of midfield creativity but direct in rapid counter attacking and dangerous from set pieces -with a red hot striker at the moment in Danny Ings. They are, however, as prone to defensive howlers as the Hammers – as their goals against record (the same as ours) clearly illustrates, although nine of those did come in one game.

The question on all West Ham lips then is how will David Moyes set his team up to exploit Southampton’s weaknesses and deal with their obvious threats? Equally, what level of motivation will we see? Any chance of starting on the front foot, playing with energy and intensity, and giving the crowd something to get behind? The first twenty minutes could well be crucial in setting the tone of the game.

It is very unfortunate that Tomas Soucek is unavailable as he and Declan Rice could have provided a solid foundation in midfield to protect the defence, allowing Mark Noble to sit this one out. I would prefer not to see both Noble and Robert Snodgrass (too old and too slow in combination) on the pitch at the same time but fear that might not now be the case.

Popular opinion is that there should be starts for Jeremy Ngakia, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen. I would go along with that but difficult to know whether the manager sees it the same way. Moyes reverted to a back four at Anfield but possibly only due to the enforced absence of Arthur Masuaku. It would be foolish to change back again and I am hoping to see an unchanged back line. Key decisions will be a choice between Snodgrass or Fornals and whether Felipe Anderson is considered ready for two games in a week. Opinion is very divided about the clubs two most expensive signings – Anderson and Sebastien Haller. I can’t say either is delivering value for money but would start with Anderson (if fit enough) as he is the one player capable of the unexpected. I don’t see anything but the bench for Haller. This would be my starting eleven but think Moyes will opt for Snodgrass over Fornals for his dead-ball contribution.

lineup

Anthony ‘Red Card’ Taylor from Cheshire is the matchday referee with Stuart Atwell as his virtual buddy in Stockley Park. I was interested to watch Mike Dean coming across as quite human in the Peter Crouch podcast this week – a reminder that refs might not be as incompetent and aloof as they seem in real life. Worth a watch if you have ten minutes to spare.

At time of writing, Lawro has not published his predictions – I expect his default 1-1 setting. Charlie Nicholas, who predicts far too many West Ham wins for his own good, has gone for a 2-1 home win. It would wrong to call games ‘must win’ at this stage of the season but it surely is one of the contests that we would pencil in as winnable. Attitude might well be the match winner. Keep on your toes at all times. Beware the pace of Long and the predatory instincts of Ings. Defend those set pieces properly and make sure Lukasz has his catching gloves on. I can’t see a lot of finesse in midfield from either team and it could end up as a dead-ball contest. I am hoping a fast start can see us get our noses in front. But if we do, can we finally keep it there. It could be a stressful afternoon all round but I will go for 3-1.

The Incapables take on the Invincibles in the Monday night match. West Ham expectations are at an all-time low.

As West Ham visit Anfield for their annual charity giveaway, the big talking point is whether the Hammers will produce a shot on target

When Arsenal embarked on their famous ‘Invincibles’ season in 2003/04, West Ham were taking one of their regular sabbaticals in the Championship – and, thus, unable to put a spoke in the celebratory wheel. With Liverpool now looking a great good bet to emulate Arsenal’s feat, the Hammer’s have a final opportunity to make something of their season by snatching victory and becoming the ultimate party poopers. As long shots go though, this is a lob from well inside your own half.

Coming off the back of the latest disappointing and uncontested defeat to Manchester City, the instinct is to write off this match, get it out of the way with as little damage as possible to the goal difference. Without doubt, the performance at the Etihad was painful, but those supporters seemingly remembering a time when West Ham could come away from any game with an against the odds victory may have their nostalgia filter set too high  – maybe the occasional home win against a title chaser but rarely on the road – and even more rarely in the north-west. A quick reminder that the Hammers have recorded just one victory at Anfield since the mid-1960’s puts tonight’s game into context – and in some of those games we even had a decent team.

It is no stretch of the imagination to believe that tonight’s game will pan out in a similar way to last Wednesdays. We have little to offer in terms of competition to a relentless and ruthless Liverpool side that has only dropped two points all season. Not that this should be an excuse to throw in the towel before a ball has been kicked. We can accept and forgive heroic failure but not unconditional surrender.

David Moyes is doing himself no favours if he wants to earn any supporter sympathy. It is one thing to park the bus, it is yet another to abandon it and set it ablaze. Being content to concede possession is fine, if it provides an opportunity to hurt your opponent on the break – not so smart if you simply give the ball straight back whenever you gain possession. A gulf in class can be understood and tolerated, but it is still 11 against 11 and a team should never appear out-numbered – as West Ham so frequently do. Sadly, a collective lack of pace, and an absence of belief or commitment in individual players will likely prove our downfall once again – both tonight and possibly in the months to come.

It is easy to cherry pick statistics to prove a particular point but if you ignore the promising start to the season (11 points from the first 6 games) it gives you a return of just 13 points from the last 20 league outings – relegation form in any season.  It is all well and good having a run of winnable games on paper to end the season with, but the points still need to be won. Right now, it is not obvious how that is going to happen.

The good news from the weekend was an almost clean losing sweep for our relegation rivals with only Brighton (on the fringes anyway) picking up a point. With Norwich looking a lost cause, there remains a chance that two of Watford, Villa and Bournemouth will continue to struggle and save us from the drop. Watford and Villa were well beaten while Bournemouth fell to a VAR inspired defeat at Burnley – VAR at its finest in turning an apparent equaliser into a penalty at the other end. Not something that would ever happen to Liverpool.

Roly-poly referee, Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire, will once again be on hand to ensure that most of the decisions go the host’s way. VAR responsibility, for picking up accidental handballs and offside shin pads while ignoring stamping assaults, will fall to Lee Mason. What a farce VAR has become, but at least it gives the commentators something to talk about.

TV pundits, Lawro and Charlie Nicholas, have both opted for a conservative 2-0 home win. The logic, I suppose, is that Liverpool will want to do just enough to ensure victory before calling it a day – game management as it’s known in common parlance. I don’t suppose there is any chance of Liverpool being complacent or over-confident?

It would nice to think that Moyes and his Hammers will make a game of it and give the long-suffering travelling support something to cheer. We did, at least, create a number of chances in the reverse fixture last month, despite being easily outplayed. Perhaps a combination of Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen in the most advanced players can ask a few questions of the Liverpool defence. Perhaps we will abandon the zonal defensive system that has left us so vulnerable from set pieces. Perhaps we won’t line-up as the slowest team in the league. Perhaps there might be a rare start for Pablo Fornals. Who knows what goes through a manager’s mind?

I heard a story many years ago about when Joe Louis was due to fight Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight boxing title in 1936. Louis was red-hot favourite and every newspaper correspondent except one tipped him to win. The dissenting voice figured that if Louis won no-one would be interested to remember his tip, but if Schmeling won (which he did) he would be able to dine out on it for years to come. On that basis, I am predicting West Ham to win 1-0 tonight – with a late Liverpool equaliser ruled out by VAR causing Jurgen Klopp to spontaneously combust.

COYI.

Liverpool v West Ham – a few facts to help you decide who is likely to come out on top!

Let’s examine a few facts to help us decide the potential outcome in tonight’s visit to Anfield.  But as they say in the world of investments “Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results”. As far as betting on the match is concerned, you can get up to 20/1 on a West Ham victory and 7/1 on a draw. I have seen 200/1 quoted for West Ham to repeat their 3-0 victory at Anfield in 2015. But some bookmakers don’t bother to quote odds for that scoreline, obviously believing that nobody would want to bet on it.

  • Liverpool have played 26 Premier League games so far this season. They have won 25 of them and drawn the other one, giving them a total of 76 points out of a possible 78.
  • They have been top of the league all season apart from after the first match when Manchester City were top on goal difference (as a result of winning 5-0 at the London Stadium!)
  • In the last 7 games between the two sides, Liverpool have won 5 of them and drawn the other 2, scoring 4 goals in 4 of the 7 matches.
  • In the Premier League (and Division 1 before the Premier League was formed), the two sides have met 57 times at Anfield. Liverpool have won 39, 15 have been drawn, and West Ham have won 3. The West Ham wins were in 1928, 1963, and 2015.
  • Liverpool have won their last 17 league games. The record for consecutive wins in the Premier League (and Division 1 before the Premier League was formed) is 18 held by Manchester City.
  • Liverpool have won their last 20 home league games. The record for consecutive home wins in the Premier League (and Division 1 before the Premier League was formed) is 21 held by ….. Liverpool!
  • Liverpool last lost a league game 14 months ago when they went down 2-1 to Manchester City. They haven’t been beaten in their last 43 league games, winning 38 of them.
  • In all their Premier League games going back to 7 December (11 matches), Liverpool have only conceded one goal (in a 2-1 victory away to Wolverhampton). But in their 8 league games prior to that they didn’t keep a clean sheet.
  • Since 1901, Liverpool and West Ham have met 140 times in all competitions. Liverpool have won 75, 37 have been drawn and West Ham have won 28.
  • West Ham once scored 7 goals in a game against Liverpool (1930). Liverpool have never managed more than 6 in a single game against West Ham.
  • David Moyes has been the manager 15 times in visits to Anfield. He has never won a game there.
  • West Ham have 5 points from their last 8 league games. On form in the last 8 games that is the poorest record in the Premier League.
  • West Ham have thrown away 19 points from winning positions this season. That is the most in the Premier League.
  • West Ham haven’t lost 5 away league games in a row for more than six years. We’ve lost our last 4!
  • Antonio has played against Liverpool five times in the Premier League. He has only failed to score in one of them.

Not many positives there! But at least almost all of the teams in the relegation battle with us lost this weekend (apart from Brighton who drew at Sheffield United).

Hammers Pledge City Support By Refusing To Compete In The Champion’s League

With a Premier League points deduction mooted for Manchester City, tonight’s storm affected fixture takes on the potential of a relegation six-pointer

The re-scheduled visit of West Ham to Manchester City, previously blown away by Storm Ciara, has now been overshadowed by the fall-out from Storm Mansour. With the Hammers unlikely to be pulling up any trees themselves at the Etihad (or should that be Mansour) stadium this evening, the footballing world has been wetting its collecting pants over the hosts impending ban from European competition.

It is possible that if the UEFA sanctions are sustained, then the Premier League will also be forced to act – with a points deduction that could effectively turn tonight’s encounter into a relegation six pointer.

The Abu Dhabi millions will, no doubt, ensure the story runs and runs through whichever legal avenues they choose to pursue it. City’s owners have, to date, demonstrated a staggering arrogance in their response to the allegations of misrepresenting the true source of sponsorship funds, originally leaked in the German press. Rather than share their apparent ‘irrefutable’ evidence that the charges are incorrect, their defence has appeared to be that supreme wealth puts them above the law – as it would do in their home country.

On the face of it (and from what we know from the leaks), it looks apparent that City broke the rules as they stand. That’s not to say that the rules are necessarily sensible. They do appear drafted to preserve the status quo rather than really addressing any concept of financial fair play – if that means at least creating the semblance of a level playing field. There are also very valid questions as to whether all serially big spending clubs were being judged equally.

Reaction to the ban has been interesting and, for me, has parallels to our own Tevezgate episode – where the majority of West Ham fans felt themselves to be victims while everyone else believed us to be as guilty as hell – breaking another of football’s difficult to understand rules. The outrage form City fans has likewise been seismic.

Year on year, football has become more of a media product and less concerned with the afternoon out for the matchday supporter. The proliferation of streaming services and the involvement of tech giants will only make matters worse over time. The packaging of the product is more important than what is inside the box. Media money is king and the role of those in attendance is mainly to create atmosphere for the cameras – arguably they should be paid as ‘extras’.

The Champion’s League sits at the top of the football money tree. Once the icing on the cake, it has become the cake itself and its participants turned into brands rather than clubs. It is only a matter of time, I think, before CL games are switched to weekends in order to better exploit the global TV audience – a UK evening kick-off is just too inconvenient for the armchair followers in Asia and North America. The Premier League will be forced to shuffle its scheduling to even more annoying times accordingly.

Perhaps we should applaud our own owners for refusing to compete in the Champion’s League – it seems they have the supporter’s interests at heart after all.

I’m joking by the way (about our owners). But it wouldn’t bother me if the ‘elite’ clubs broke away to form a European super league – if resigning from the Premier League was a pre-requisite. We could then return to the sanity of a competitive domestic league that had true financial fair play with fixed squad sizes and a monetary salary cap.  It could still be possible to qualify for a new knock-out European competition – maybe we could call it, the European Cup. Sadly, I don’t really expect any of that to happen.

As for the game itself, nothing has materially changed from when it was originally scheduled. The European ban will be a media talking point (a pleasant relief from VAR) but I don’t see it impacting performances on the pitch. For West Ham, this and the Liverpool game remain damage limitation exercises and coming away from the two games without a substantially worse goal difference may be counted as a success.

David Moyes plan will be one of containment but without any ideas what to do if/ when the defences are eventually breached. From his pre-match comments it sounded like he is reluctant to ‘unleash’ Jarrod Bowen for tonight’s fixture – possibly not wanting to risk him in a game that he believes we will lose anyway.

In theory, legs should be fresh after a two week break but prior experience doesn’t back up that view, where players have returned from breaks more rusty than revived. West Ham are typically slow starters after every break.

Nevertheless, we continue to live in hope and maybe a miracle can occur, despite the body of evidence that would indicate otherwise. If we are to survive, we should be looking to cobble together six points or so between now and the end of March. I don’t see any of them coming here.

Can West Ham spring a major surprise at the Etihad?

I’ve just been re-reading the article I wrote prior to the away game at Manchester City originally scheduled for the Sunday before last. Most of what I wrote still stands, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Climatically, not only have we endured Storm Ciara, the reason for the postponement of the original game, but this was followed a week later by Storm Denis wreaking havoc across much of the country with strong winds and heavy rain.

But in a football sense, perhaps the biggest storm has been the one that has descended upon the blue half of Manchester, where the club have been found guilty and been given quite a kicking by Uefa, who showed no love on Valentines Day by dishing out their stiffest sanctions ever, penalties imposed for breaches of Financial Fair Play and licensing rules. I guess they’ve been dancing in the streets of Madrid and Barcelona especially, where there is a belief that City have got just what they deserved, and many feel the same about Paris St Germain too. I doubt that it is just the Spanish either, and suspect there are wry smiles in Italy and Germany also.

City have had massive success domestically in the last couple of seasons and were generally felt to be the best team in the country, until Liverpool won the Champions League last season and have literally run away with the Premier League this time around, holding an almost unassailable lead. Many will feel that there are parallels with the game of Rugby Union, where the Premiership, which has now been in existence for 32 years, slightly longer than its football counterpart, is dominated by money. I wrote an article recently that demonstrated the link between revenue and success in football (West Ham were the exception!), and I believe that Rugby Union has similar ills. For me, money is ruining both games, with teams chasing success using win-at-all-costs strategies. In Rugby Union, Saracens, the leading, and most successful team in recent times, were found guilty of breaching salary cap regulations, and were given a points deduction so severe that it guaranteed relegation at the end of this season.

City’s punishment is massive too, although it is of a European not domestic nature. The fine of around £25 million will not harm them; perhaps the cruellest sanction from their viewpoint is the two year ban from European competition? What will this do to enable them to retain their renowned manager, and their leading players? And more than that will they be able to attract the top players going forward? I suspect not.

The big difference between the Saracens and Manchester City situations is very clear though. Whilst Saracens have accepted their punishment and are not contesting the fine and points deduction which means relegation, it would appear that this will not be true for City. From what I’ve read they have signalled their intent to make a legal challenge to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and of course have limitless funds to appeal and challenge the decision. Effectively I reckon they could tie up the decision for years to come with appeals and legal challenges.Of course it is not their first offence. They received a massive fine a few years ago for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, and haven’t there been issues around breach of transfer rules, and a ban on signing Academy players in recent times too?

I don’t know the rights and wrongs of all this, and really don’t understand the intricacies of the Financial Fair Play regulations. What I do know is that, for me, the financial imbalance in the revenues of the leading football clubs when compared to the rest, does nothing for the game of football, and leads to a predictability that makes Premier League football boring. What effect will the last week have on this fixture, City’s first game since the bombshell was dropped? Will it demoralise the players or lead to an increased resolve?

From a West Ham viewpoint the players have been taking their mid-winter break, and in fact we haven’t played a game now for two and a half weeks. The players resumed training last Saturday and should certainly feel fresh. New signings on the pitch and coaching staff have hopefully given the team a lift, although rumblings of discontent from the fans in respect of the owners continue to grow.

In normal circumstances, to play Manchester City away from home is as tough a fixture as you can get. They beat us 5-0 at the London Stadium on the season’s opening day, but whilst they haven’t been quite as formidable this season as last, they are still easily the second best team in the country. They have failed to score for two games in a row, so must be relishing the thought that West Ham are the next team up. I wonder how long it is since City failed to score for three games in a row?

Hopefully the majority of our squad are now fit, and when you add the signings of Soucek who made a promising debut, and Bowen who arrives with many praising his potential, I am confident that we can score move forward from here. My main worry is that we face the two toughest games in the calendar next, and hope that we don’t lose confidence, or too much ground, on the teams around us.

I read on social media that some of our fans hated Tottenham’s last minute winner against Villa. Whilst not being keen on our neighbours from North London, surely we need to look at the bigger picture and be pleased with the result, which adds to the problems of Villa, one of our main rivals in the relegation fight?

If you look at the games that we all have to play, then all teams around us have difficult fixtures in the run-in, although ours come sooner rather than later. We really need to stay in touch with the others over the course of the next few games, and then when we get to the final half dozen or so games, it will be in our own hands, with (on paper) some fixtures that are most definitely winnable.

Who will be in our line-up against City? Of course we’ll have Fabianski in goal. But will he choose the experienced but fading Zabaleta for a final hurrah against his old club, or the faster, but perhaps more error-prone Fredericks at right back? Balbuena’s wretched form surely ensures starts for Diop and Ogbonna, whilst Cresswell is most definitely a safer option at left back than Masuaku.

In midfield I assume he will have three “defensive-minded” players for this game, which I reckon will be Rice, Noble and Soucek. Surely he can’t be tempted to use Sanchez, can he? This leaves three more places to be filled for more attacking players and a choice from Haller, Antonio, Bowen, Fornals, Lanzini, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Masuaku, Snodgrass and Ajeti. Have I forgotten anyone? I don’t think that any of the youngsters like Silva or Ngakia will be considered for this game.

Of course we all have our own opinions, but I would expect to see Antonio, Bowen and Anderson as the three. That would surely be the fastest trio, adding more pace to the side? That would be my choice. I’m sure others (including the manager) may have differing opinions. For more midfield “energy” then perhaps Snodgrass could play instead of Noble, or if we intend to be even more defensive minded then he could play in addition, and only have two really “offensive” players. I hope not. We have a lot of good attacking players in the squad, and if used correctly, I’m sure we can score goals. The problem will be keeping them out!

This Might Hurt A Bit: Part One Of West Ham’s Damage Limitation Double Header

West Ham’s visits to the north-west are rarely fruitful. Coming away from today’s encounter against Manchester City with self-respect intact is possibly the best we can hope for

Several years ago, I had an abscess on the back of my leg. The doctor decided he needed  cut it out out but that due to its location behind the knee it would not be possible to administer a local anaesthetic. Just before scalpel cut into my skin he warned me: “this might hurt a bit.” He wasn’t wrong. To make matters worse, the wound had to kept open until all signs of the infection had gone. This involved opening up the flaps of skin and cleaning it out every few days. That too hurt a bit. In the end, though, it was a happy ending, and a complete recovery was made.

The story seemed a perfect metaphor for West Ham’s current predicament. Having slipped into the bottom three, they now face consecutive away games against the two best teams in the land. There is going to be pain – and things will get much worse before any hope of getting better. As to whether this story too will have a happy ending depends as much on others as it does on the Hammer’s own efforts. Will there be three worse sides in a season where 40 points is looking increasingly like the minimum requirement for safety.

My expectations for the next two games are set very low. West Ham are sure to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League all-time losses table (377 to Everton’s 375) Anything better than zero points but with the goal difference deteriorating by less than five goals would be a bonus. It is damage limitation pure and simple.

These two fixtures are separated by the Premier League’s first ever mid-season break; as if the season isn’t already interrupted enough by international breaks. For a team that is not in Europe, gets eliminated in the early rounds of the cup and runs less than all the others, West Ham really don’t need a rest. Best just to get it over with.

I always try to find some crumbs of optimism but reality invariably gets in the way. Any team suffering a relative dip in form, as City are right now, tend to find a visit from the Hammers the prefect antidote. Guardiola will have given up any hope of the title but he will want to finish as strongly as possible. His primary target will be the Champion’s League but with a week’s break there is no imperative to rest players for this one. At least they will be without Sterling today.

There has been a clamour among supporters for Declan Rice to switch into defence for this game, particularly in light of last weekend’s Keystone Cops defending. But following on from David Moyes comments that Rice is arguably the best holding midfield player in the league, I am not sure this will happen.  In fact, with City being a team that like to pass through the opposition and gradually wear them down I am not convinced this would be the best policy. If West Ham are to get anything out of the game (even if it is merely a sense of pride in having made a game of it) they need to be strong and compact throughout and break forward quickly. If City have a weakness it is to rapid counter attacks. A central midfield partnership of Rice and Tomas Soucek would be my choice for keeping a good shape and not conceding lots of unnecessary free-kicks just outside the penalty area.

It will be interesting to get a first look at Jarrod Bowen who I believe will partner Michail Antonio as the most advanced of the Hammers. I can see no reason why Sebastien Haller would merit a starting berth in a game like this. As mentioned last week I find Moyes stance with Pablo Fornals has been puzzling – just when he was finding form he has been relegated to the sidelines. I expect Robert Snodgrass will again be preferred to the Spaniard today.

Graham Scott from Oxfordshire is the matchday referee. Scott is one of the league’s leading red card issuers so far this season and was previously in charge of the Hammer’s 4-0 win against Bournemouth. Doing his very best to create some much needed talking points from the VAR eye in the sky will be Craig Pawson.

Top media pundits Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are united in predicting an emphatic Hammer’s defeat, at 3-0 and 4-0 respectively. If there is anything united among West Ham fans it is desire for new owners. We have regularly highlighted the obvious lack of direction or strategy at the club on this blog, and we are by no means alone in that regard. But now, several mainstream media journalists have jumped on the bandwagon to ridicule the two Daves. It is a sad state of affairs and the reaction by the board to the comments made on Sky Sports were a massive own goal. Still I don’t see any chance of the them selling up until after the 2023 repayment deadline in the stadium agreement. Equally, anyone hoping that relegation would spur them into selling is sadly misguided in my view. It would only prolong the agony.

As for today’s game I can’t help thinking that losing by only two goals would represent a good result. We can live in hope that the unexpected might happen, though – at least for the first twenty minutes or so.