A large part of winning football matches is the belief that you are going to win when you step out onto the pitch. As West Ham prepare for Saturday’s early kick-off against Newcastle, the sense is that the Hammers have lost that winning feeling, just as the Magpie’s have suddenly found it.
Last week’s draw at Leicester was a perfect example of the current apprehension at the club. In itself, a point at Leicester is no disgrace, but after taking an early lead against a side seemingly bereft of any attacking ideas, the reluctance or inability to press home the advantage was a disappointment and would ultimately cost a couple of points.
Quite what Aaron Cresswell was thinking in conceding that blatant penalty just before the break is a mystery, but it proved the ideal half team talk for the host’s manager. It came as no surprise at all when Leicester bagged their second to edge in front. Barnes had been giving Vladimir Coufal a torrid time in the second period and, not for the first time in recent weeks, Cresswell lost his man as Pereira ran in to score. Thankfully, we managed to show some character in the closing moments as Craig Dawson shouldered home a late corner.
The next two home games against Newcastle and Wolves, followed by a tricky FA Cup trip to Southampton, will now set the tone for the remainder of the season. The threadbare squad has to rediscover its spark if they are to make anything of it. Otherwise the season might fizzle out with Europe the only lifeline.
At least, we were able to watch from the sidelines as the Europa League Knockout Round got underway. There were good wins for Rangers, Sherrif and Sevilla in the first legs but the other ties remain on a knife edge. Some way to go before West Ham know their Round of 16 opponents. The Spanish sides by far the greatest threat.
A run of three successive league wins has pulled the visitors clear of the relegation places, which increasingly look to be a foregone conclusion. The cash rich Geordies were able to throw money at the problem without the usual concerns that buying a few duds, or spending on short term fixes, will hamstring them in future windows. A stark contrast to West Ham, at the other extreme, who preferred to risk a huge opportunity rather than invest on much needed reinforcements because they might be less than perfect.
No doubt, we will see Newcastle competing for honours at some point in the future, but with a whole new squad of players and after two or three managerial changes.
As things stand, David Moyes may have the fewest realistic options for team selection than any other manager in the Premier League. Reportedly, Kurt Zouma is available again after his mystery illness to is tipped to replace Issa Diop, who to be fair, put in a very good performance at the King Power.
Personally, I would prefer to see Ben Johnson replace Coufal and have no idea why Ryan Fredericks is seen as the first choice replacement at right back. Fredericks sole attribute is his pace, yet is so reluctant to use it. With a team shape that relies on the full-backs for width, none of them get forward frequently enough or far enough to be consistently effective.
Other than that, it is down to the weekly permutation of any 2 from 4 to play alongside Jarrod Bowen in attacking midfield. The Hammers did look a livelier once Said Benrahma and Nikola Vlasic replaced Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals at Leicester, but all four have both positives and clear shortcomings. Benrahma potentially offers the greater creativity and goal threat but his decision making remains woefully erratic.
By default, the out of sorts Michail Antonio must continue up front. My preferred team would be: Fabianski, Johnson, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma, Antonio.
West Ham are becoming increasingly dependent of Declan Rice and Bowen, the only two candidates for Hammer of the Year. Despite their brilliance, we should not ignore how their changing roles have impacted other areas of the Moyes machine. Rice’s greater freedom showing up Tomas Soucek’s limitations once you take away his goals, despite the good defensive work he continues to offer. Bowen has been given/ taken up more central and forward positions in the most recent games. This is understandable from an attacking perspective but has reduced defensive cover on right hand side, exposing Coufal’s lack of pace to a wider audience. A couple of tweaks from the coaching side may well be necessary.
West Ham versus Newcastle games have a history of plenty of goals. Saturday’s game is likely to be no exception. In a fit of desperate optimism I take the Hammers to match their opening day success and run out 4-2 winners. COYI!