At long last the daily dose of red-hot speculation, tabled bids, failed deals and last-minute hijacks is finally over. The window is closed, its hinges oiled; it is securely bolted, padlocked with the curtains drawn until winter. The omnipresent Fabrizio Romano can give his twittering finger a well-earned rest and Rob Newman can toss his list of 2022 targets into the recycling. According to reports, he has already ripped a fresh sheet of paper from his pad, written “2023” on the top and underlined it twice. In the coming months a new list of exciting names will be progressively added to it.
There can be few complaints (there will always be some -ed) on the amount of money that has been committed by the owners this summer. It’s early days, but the incomings look to be a significant upgrades on the departed. Perhaps we are now business class rather than premium economy? But is this level of transfer activity a one-time splurge or the start of a new abnormal at the London Stadium? A golden era of enlightenment from Gold & Sullivan or the emegent transition of influence towards Daniel Kretinsky?
Incidentally the Czech Sphinx was in the news for different reasons this week, having purchased a whole chateau in France for roughly the same outlay as recruiting Lucas Paqueta. Kretinsky’s net worth is now reported to be a whopping £3 billion. A fortune, it is said, that has been largely assembled through buying up a string of unloved assets – “do they mean us?” (© Derek Jameson)?
David Moyes feels the Hammers now have a squad capable of competing at the top end of the table. On paper, that is true, and it is now up to him to translate that potential to performances on the pitch. A win and a draw have moved the narrative from three consecutive defeats to unbeaten in two. It is imperative to maintain that momentum in the league while navigating the Europa Conference group stages which start next week. In total, West Ham face eighteen matches and one international break in the ten weeks prior to the World Cup. Careful squad rotation is necessary to claw our way back up the league and keep the UEFA co-efficient ticking over.
The squad now has realistic options and competition for most positions on the pitch. Perhaps a change in style is also on the cards. Relying less on counter attacking and creating more with the ball to provide penetration against opponents who refuse to play our game and are willing to surrender possession. It also gives us more room to deliberation on team selection other than pondering which two from Pablo Fornals, Manuel Lanzini and Said Benrahma will be starting this week.
Possible variations to formation away from the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 has also been mooted with some suggesting Moyes may now favour three at the back. Personally, I’m not convinced that we have the wing-backs offering defensive competence and pace and width going forward that such a switch would require.
It was a much improved performance in the midweek game against a highly cynical Tottenham side, particularly after the break. By the end, it was disappointing not to have taken all three points. What was even more remarkable was that our goal came as a result of a throw-in – a West Ham throw is invariably among the quickest ways to return the ball to the opposition. The last throw-in inspired goal I can recall was King Arthur’s humdinger against today’s opponents, Chelsea, in December of last year.
It is difficult to know what to make of Chelsea in the post- war (the Ukraine one) era. They have invested heavily during the summer but the bottomless pit of dodgy Russian money that had financed success over the past twenty years will no longer be sloshing around. They are a team in transition that has made a stuttering start to the season and, like Tottenham, their most realistic target this term is to target the fourth Champions League spot.
Looking through the Chelsea team sheet no longer strikes the fear of god into opponents as it once did. They have good players but not great ones. Tuchel has his side playing a fast, enterprising style of football that creates plenty of openings, but without enough product at the end of it. For me, James and Sterling are the players to watch out for. Interestingly, their line-up today may include both Gallagher and Broja, two players heavily linked with a move across London during the summer, and who partly built their reputations on fine performances against the Hammers in the past.
I suspect a further dose of Moyes caution today by leaving Paqueta and Gianluca Scamacca (if fit and well) on the bench for the first hour. Emerson might well be preferred over Aaron Cresswell but otherwise predict the same starting eleven as on Wednesday. Some have been calling for Jarrod Bowen to be benched but thought he was starting to look a threat again against Tottenham – and the only potential replacement would be to shift Antonio out wide. Pablo Fornals is another who has been dividing opinion. His work on the ball has been well below required levels but I’m convinced Moyes will stick with him due to his tireless pressing off the ball.
Quite a few Hammer’s fans I have spoken to are very bullish about today’s game. Their sense that of the two games played this week, away at Chelsea had greater points potential than home to Tottenham. Not sure I fully share that optimism, although the game is there to be won if the attitude is right. A second half performance from the first whistle would be a nice change. The tendency for slow starts and undue respect for once glorious opponents must be flushed from of the system.
If Declan Rice and Thomas Soucek continue their return to form and the excellent Thilo Kehrer and Kurt Zouma remain alert to the forward runs from deep, it could be a profitable afternoon for the boys in claret and blue (or white and orange). I do think, though, that another draw is most likely outcome. COYI!