In the end the AZ Almaar team that turned up at the London Stadium were not quite ‘as advertised’. In the pre-match build-up their reputation had escalated from being ‘no mugs’ to becoming an amazing fast raiding side who would weave intricate patterns around the pitch. In practice, they were rather pedestrian. If there was an element of Brighton about them, it was early Potter vintage and not the free-scoring De Zerbi incarnation.
Nevertheless, David Moyes had predictably treated the threat with the utmost caution. If AZ were a side who liked to break the press by tempting an opponent to commit, Moyes would counter that by refusing to press at all, and reverting to the favoured default low block. There’s nothing that takes him higher than an overdose of caution.
Ultimately, it took the gift of a poorly conceded goal to stir West Ham from their stupor. Several players were hoping for a foul, Tomas Soucek was slow to close down, and Alphonse Areola was embarrassed by a tame shot that he should easily have dealt with. It was to the Hammers credit that they eventually turned the match around, but the feeling at the final whistle was of an opportunity missed. The visitors looked uncomfortable in the face of any physical challenge, and even a modicum of adventure would surely have allowed West Ham to establish an unassailable first-leg advantage.
Instead, we are left with a tie that could go either way in the second leg. A game where Moyes is banking on his team’s resilience to reach the final. Now, I’m all in favour of resilience, but isn’t an attribute that would be called for against heavyweights such as Manchester City or Real Madrid – not against relative Dutch unknowns. A big spending Premier League side should be looking to overcome teams like AZ through the excellence of their football rather than resilience.
Sandwiched between the two European Conference semi-final encounters is a bothersome end-of-season affair at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium. Mathematically, West Ham could still end the season in the bottom three but the alignment of fortunes required for that to happen are as improbable as the United Kingdom winning the Eurovision Song Contest.
Brentford are already assured a top ten finish which is a remarkable achievement by manager Thomas Frank and his players. In certain aspects of style, there are uncanny similarities between the way Brentford and West Ham approach games. Neither is too bothered about the chore of ball possession and both favour launching it long as the cornerstone of attacking ambitions. In terms of attitude, however, the teams are streets apart. Brentford approach games without fear of any opposition, press higher up the pitch, and routinely setup with two dedicated strikers. Indeed, Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo are pivotal to Brentford’s success. If and when Toney receives the threatened lengthy ban for betting rule breaches – why has this taken so long – it will be a major blow.
The trade-off for this reckless sense of adventure is being more open at the back. No-one has made more saves in the Premier League this season than the Brentford keeper, and only Bournemouth and Everton have faced more opposition shots. Despite this, they have conceded five goals fewer than West Ham – and scored 14 more.
There’s plenty of speculation that Moyes will rest a number of players for tomorrow’s game. It would be foolish to play Michail Antonio given that he is the only player in the squad capable of playing the Moyes striker role. He may also choose to omit Kurt Zouma, Declan Rice, and Jarrod Bowen. Very likely we will see a 5-3-2 starting eleven along the following lines: Fabianski, Johnson, Kehrer, Aguerd, Cresswell, Emerson, Downes, Soucek, Paqueta, Ings, Cornet
When West Ham made it to the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1976 they took just two points from the final eight league games. It feels like similar territory that we are now in. Survival may well be mathematically confirmed this weekend and after that there will be just the one prize.
The Hammers have yet to take a point off Brentford since their promotion to the Premier League. The chances on ending that run tomorrow seem remote. But maybe there’s the chance of a scrappy end-of-season draw. COYI!
6 thoughts on “Will It Be Yet Another “Nil Points” Against Brentford For Euro Bound Hammers?”
Good question about Toney, Geoff. Why has his ban not been actioned?
I would be happier though if he was playing for us, as he could have been for a mere £10 million. Perhaps he wasn’t thought good enough by Moyse, but he will probably score his regulation goal against us tomorrow, which should be enough to ensure we get a point at best.
Still worrying me though is the fact that even with so much at stake, we turned in yet another ragged performance against AZ. Our passing was, as it has been for most of the season, dreadful and as a result we lost the ball time and time again. Also, we made a lot of half decent breaks, again as we often do, to get to the edge of the box and/ or to the byline, but rarely seem to pick the right final pass or carry it out accurately. This is what the top teams do all the time, and is something which could transform our results if only we could do it.
For the next leg against AZ let me quote a great man, “ we have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Let’s go there and tear them apart. COYI
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Agree, Toney would have been a smart buy when he was looking to leave Peterborough, even if he had needed a brief loan spell at a Championship club. Strange that we weren’t interested as he is very much a Moyes type of player.
I’ve mentioned a few times in the past that there are two elements to a successful passing game. The technical ability to execute and the availability of options for the player with the ball. Watching the better passing sides, you see players making themselves available and sprinting into a new receiving position once they have played the ball. That is rarely seen at West Ham and can only come from what is coached (or not coached).
I went the other Sunday morning to watch my grandson, aged nine, play football. During the warm up their coach ( once on Arsenal’s books as a keeper) kept shouting at them “ follow your pass”, by which I think he meant ‘ pass and move into a position for the return’.
If our lot don’t know this by the time they become professional footballers, what hope is there?
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I think it’s more about the manager’s obsession with keeping a compact shape. We just don’t create space often enough and players end up bunching together with no proper outlet
Geoff, sorry, but somehow I missed your recent Man U piece. Like you, I always believed that Kehrer was a better player than he first seemed. You don’t get to play for PSG or Germany if you can’t play at all. Unlike eg Scamacca and Paqueta, he was never allowed weeks or months to “ adjust to the Premier League” but was thrown straight into the deep end. He has, it seems, now adjusted but he had to do it in the spotlight.
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