Are West Ham On Course To Sink Faster Than The Pound?

There’s no crisis, I have a clear plan. Losing five of the first seven games was the right thing to do, insists embattled Hammers premier.

The vacuum created by a blank weekend of perfunctory international fixtures was firmly filled, as far as the mood at the London Stadium was concerned, by a steady stream of increasingly glum negativity . As was explained with the sharp fall in the pound, momentum started to take over and then accelerated away. Not only to lambast David Moyes for the dithering and lack of adventure that has blighted the start to the season, but also to pillory the individual performances of each West Ham player turning out for their national teams. For example, according to one headline, Lucas Paqueta was ‘hooked off’ at half time for Brazil against Tunisia, rather than ‘being one of several players rotated’ when his side were leading comfortably.

Of course, a brief glance at the league table is all that is required to understand the obvious disquiet circulating among Hammer’s fans.  Having invested heavily during the summer, nobody expected to see the team floundering in the relegation places with seven games played. Even if the points tally might have been higher had it not been for dubious refereeing decisions, the performances have generally been well below par, both individually and collectively.

Losing to a poor, tentaive and ineffective Everton side at Goodison Park two weeks ago was particularly galling. If an example of Moyes excessive caution were needed, then this was it. It took falling behind to Maupay’s fortunate mis-control and strike before any serious attempt to pressure the opposition goal was made. Any team who had gone into that game with a sense of adventure would have had it easily won well before the end.

It is quite surprising how quickly David Moyes stock has fallen among supporters. There have always been doubters, never convinced by his dour persona, waiting in the wings ready to pounce when things turned bad. But two fine seasons will have earned him plenty of credit with the owners – or at least with Gold and Sullivan, who have never been inclined towards trigger happiness in the past. Will Kretinsky see things differently? He might expect more for his money, whether that is success or entertainment.

A run of poor results is a long-time in modern football and Moyes will come under increasing pressure to improve matters between now and the break for the World Cup. If the Hammers are still in the bottom six by then, his job will surely be seen as high risk.

A huge part of that improvement must be to jettison the blind loyalty to long-term under-performing players such as Pablo Fornals, Tomas Soucek, Vladimir Coufal and Aaron Cresswell. A lot of money has been paid to bring new players into the club (even more now if the instalments are due in Euros) and they must be central to the evolution of style that involves better ball retention, greater passing sucess and enhanced mobility. West Ham need to take back control of the ball. Continuing to rely solely on counter attacks and set pieces has no future. It’s all very well wanting to ease new players in gently, but it makes no sense when the old alternatives have been well below average for many, many months.

As things stand, we are second last to Bournemouth on average percentage possession (41.3%) for the season to date. Add in only three goals scored, and none in the first half then it suggests it is major changes that are needed, not minor tweaks. Is the manager up to it? Can he still turn things around or are we already past the point of no return? Many have speculated on the degree of unity within the camp but who knows what to believe.

In my preview of the Everton match I offered the following suggested line-up: Areola – Kehrer, Zouma, Dawson, Emerson – Rice, Paqueta, Downes – Bowen, Scamacca, Antonio. Equally, I would be happy to consider Said Benrahma and/ or Maxwell Comet as alternatives to Jarrod Bowen or Michail Antonio. Indeed, any three from those five up front would provide options and a level of goal threat that has been missing for some time.  More is needed than just different players in the same tired 4-2-3-1 format.

Today’s visitors are Portuguese giants, Futebol Clube Andarilhos de Wolverhampton. Os Lobos have made a similarly unimpressive start to the new season, joining West Ham as the league’s lowest scorers. In direct contrast to the Hammers, all Wolves goals have come in the first half.

Wolves manager Bruno Lage will point to the continued absence of Raul Jimenez for his team’s woes and has recently recruited free agent rent-a-thug, Diego Costa to boost his attacking options. Costa will most probably start on the bench today. Of the other Wolves players, Neto and Podence, would be capable of mayhem if they are paired up against the sluggish Coufal and Cresswell. I also like the look of Max Kilman at the back – a real shame the Hammers were not in for him, given that he was playing for Alan Devonshire at Maidenhead before moving to Molineux.

So what is likely to happen when a team who can’t score in the first half comes up against one that can’t score in the second? From what I have seen of Wolves they enjoy much better possession (52.1%) than West Ham (as do rock bottom Leicester with 53.9%) but have little cutting edge. Unless we see a change of style from Moyes it may well be another case of erring towards caution, rather than starting on the front foot. The manager must know something radical needs to change in his approach. If he feels our league possession is more down to bad luck than poor form, then the club may well be about to enter a doom spiral.

Trying to be the optimist, I hope for Moyes to see the light on team selection and will predict a 2-1 win. In the circumstances this will require the Hammers to recover from a half-time deficit to claim all three points. COYI!

Can Moyes Substitute Courage For Caution: West Ham Seek Premier League Points At His Old Stomping Ground?

In a game that has the look of a banker stalemate, can either team break free of their shackles and climb away from early danger?

We are spoiled this weekend with a glimpse of Premier League football matches before it all stops yet again, this time for an enforced international break. It seems an age now since the farcical VAR farrago at Chelsea which established a new low-water mark in the rich history of shocking refereeing. At least the Chelsea manager did the honourable thing and got himself sacked in the immediate aftermath. More than can be said for the two hopeless officials who walked away unscathed and with their whistles intact.

At least the Hammers have enjoyed two kick-abouts since then as they kicked-off their Europa Conference League group stage campaign. This phase of the competition has a going through the motions feel to it and, although unconvincing, two wins is a decent start in what is arguably our best chance of glory and a continued run in Europe. In contrast, it is the first action for Everton since their hard-won point in the most recent Merseyside derby, a game which for once provided decent entertainment.

A West Ham visit to Goodison Park is invariably framed as the return of David Moyes to the ground where his reputation was originally built. Like many fans of other clubs, I never paid close attention to the ins and outs of his time at Everton, but the take-away was always a period of relative success punctuated by unexpected poor starts to the season. If that is an accurate assessment, then history may be repeating itself now at West Ham. Is this a manager who continues to have difficulty dealing with transition and evolution? Does he struggle to adapt his side’s playing style once they have become a known quantity? Is he overly loyal to players who have served him well in the past and overly cautious when looking to introduce new players? The answers are eagerly awaited.

This season’s poor start in the Premier League – having already dropped fourteen points – makes an assault on the top six for the third season running look like a very long outside bet. After two seasons of being part of the ‘conversation’ being marooned in mid-table obscurity would be a huge disappointment. A double bubble of disappointment in the context of the significant investment made to the squad during the summer. Even though I am confident of improvement, a barnstroming run to the top of the table feels improbable in a safety first environment.

On the evidence of the season to date, any discernable tactical change to the Hammer’s style has been impossible to detect. What we have seen so far is the same plot but with a slightly different cast – Lucas Paqueta a replacement for Manuel Lanzini and/ or Said Benrahma; Gianluca Scamacca an understudy or replacementfor Michail Antonio. The prospect of Antonio, Scamacca and Jarrod Bowen collectively ‘unleashed’ to rattle an opposition defence is one for fantasy league enthusiasts only.

Moyes has been flirting with three/ five at the back in certain games this season but I really don’t see how we have the players, notably wing-backs, with the skill-set to handle that. Such a system relies heavily on wing-backs to provide width and pace to attackes, attributes that are not apparent with the current personnel. On the left, Aaron Cresswell has gone some way past his best and we have yet to see exactly what Emerson has to offer. On the right, Vladimir Coufal remains way short of his first season form and Ben Johnson appears worryingly injury prone. A look at what Thilo Kehrer can bring as a full-back/ wing-back would be interesting now that the centre back shortage has eased with the return of Craig Dawson and Angelo Ogbonna.

It was a surprise that Flynn Downes was not given another opportunity in midweek. Has he been held in reserve for this weekend? He would offer more energy and greater ball retention than Tomas Soucek does, but without the defensive height and attacking goal threat. If Soucek is not deployed to focus on the things he is good at, he is a very average player.

The other apparent undroppable is non-stop Duracel bunny, Pablo Fornals. There’s certainly no doubting his effort, likeability and commitment to the cause, but does he really do enough with the ball at his feet for an attacking midfield player at the top level? Unfortunately, I think not!

Having looked at a few of the predicted lineups in the media for the weekend’s game, many have gone for what is effectively last season’s team but with the addition of Paqueta. That would be a very strange move after a multi-million-pound spending spree in the summer. Surely, eyebrows would raised in the boardroom. For what it’s worth this is what I would like to see given a try: Areola – Kehrer, Zouma, Dawson, Emerson – Rice, Paqueta, Downes – Bowen, Scamacca, Antonio. One can dream.

Everton currently sit one place above West Ham by virtue of a superior goal difference. Apart from Leicester, they are the only side in the division without a win this season. They have, however, only lost two to the Hammer’s four, amassing their four points courtesy of draws with Forest, Brentford, Leeds, and Liverpool. They certainly played with a lot of spirit in the Merseyside derby and were able to survive thanks to a string of fine saves by Pickford, now missing through injury. The Toffees (like West Ham) are a low possession, counter attacking side who rely heavily on the pace of Gordon and Gray to drive attacks. It might suggest a paint-drying match played mostly backwards and sideways across the middle-third.

With Everton the draw masters and West Ham a mixture of slow starts and stifled ambition I can’t see past a share of the spoils for this one. Even the Orcale Cloud Win Probbaility will struggle to predict a winner for this one. COYI!

West Ham Head Up West To Take On The Second Best Team In Fulham

Unbeaten in two, the resurgent Hammers look to extend their recent improvement as they visit a stuttering Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

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!

West Ham and Tottenham Clash In The Hammers First And Firiest London Derby Of The Season

The win at Villa Park and stunning signing of Lucas Paqueta have baked in a new sense of optimism at the London Stadium. Can a win against the old rivals put the icing on the cake?

The West Ham Transfer Advent calendar has just two windows left to open but has already revealed an eclectic mix of expensive gifts that go way beyond my historic expectations. Could there be even more to come? Past performance suggests the chances of our crack negotiating team signing and sealing further deals inside a two day deadline is highly improbable, but these are not normal times at the high spending Hammers. David Moyes prayers have been answered and he has been given a whole new set of tools to play with. The pressure is now on him to show what he can build with them.

The interest in Lucas Paqueta came as something of a surprise to me, although Moyes claims to have been tracking him for some time. It really is the most mouth watering signing for some time if he delivers anywhere close to his Youtube showreels. The reported transfer fee is a huge one for a player signing from a Ligue 1 club – in fact, second only to the fee paid by Real Madrid to sign Tchouameni from Monaco. Will it be money well spent?

How heavy the burden of being the Hammer’s most expensive ever signing will sit on Paqueta’s shoulders will become apparent over time. Not only must he adapt to the pace of the Premier League, but others must be tuned into the same wavelength. Otherwise the flicks and tricks will look out of place. To the more flat-footed, workaday members of the squad, his speed of thought and movement must be like watching a timelapse video.

I took David Moyes comments on needing time to adapt as setting expectations that we might not see the best from Paqueta straight away. Not that it was his intention to bed him in as a 75th substitute for the initial ten game period. I hope I’ve got that right. His presence in the side will represent a very different dimension for opposing teams to counter, and as well as creating and scoring himself he will be freeing up spaces for others to fill and hoepfully exploit. Can I already hear the cries of “¡olé!” reverberating around the London Stadium?

It was a welcome win at the weekend courtesy of a first West Ham goal of the season in almost six hours of trying. True, the goal had a few slices of luck about it but deflected shots are more common these days with defences willing to encourage shots from distance. Always happy to take what comes our way!

The first half experiment of a back five failed miserably as might have been predicted. For it to work and not be a negative tactic, fast raiding wing-backs and a pacy, mobile front three are required – not obvious strengths of the eleven players taking the field. With Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek more concerned with what Coutinho was doing, attacking opportunities were non-existent, passing and movement were at a record low, and Villa were gifted an ever increasing level of possession as the game progressed. Thankfully, the hosts had few ideas of their own and the West Ham defence stood firm in an afternoon of heading-the-ball-away practice.

To his credit, Moyes acted with uncharacteristic decisiveness to change things around at half-time, leaving the bewildered Stevie G to persist with what hadn’t worked in the first period. The upshot was that suddenly it was the visitors who looked the most likely if there was to be an eventual winner. It was typical football irony that Pablo Fornals, who hadn’t put a foot right all afternoon, was the player to pop up with the deciding strike. 

A goal and a win should provide a much needed boost to confidence but today’s opponents, Tottenham, will be nowhere near as obliging as the Villains were. Along with their north London neighbours, Spurs are among the early season Premier League front runners with three wins and a draw from four games played. They have also recruited heavily in the summer. Remarkably, four of the capital’s clubs (Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham, and Arsenal) are among the top ten spenders across Europe this window.

Despite the recruitment, Conte has largely put faith in the players who secured Champions League qualification last year. But the strength on the bench looks daunting. Talking of subs, with Richarlison coming off the bench to join Kane and Son, there may well be shouts of “Dive!, Dive!, Dive!” whenever the ball is played anywhere near the box. VAR must ensure it has its periscope up at all times.

At time of writing I haven’t heard whether Pacqueta has received HM Government work permit clearance to feature in tonight’s hostile environment. I fear the midweek game has come too early for him in any case. Maybe a place on the bench is the best we can expect. I would imagine Moyes starting eleven to be the same as the one that started the second half at Villa Park.

The home encounter with Tottenham is the Hammers premier London derby of the season. Arguably, the most eagerly anticipated clash of the season. Difficult to call a game between two sides who prefer to counter attack. On form, the visitors have the edge and they are faster and more clinical on the break. Still while there is Eric Dier, there is always a chance.

Losing three opening home league games on the bounce would be a huge blow for all concerned. Not sure when that last happened but no doubt we will be told. If Rice and Jarrod Bowen remember to get their socks pulled up, I’ve a feeling we can take something away from this game – even if it is a hard fought draw. COYI!

Hammers At Villa Park: Any Plan To Address The Energy Crisis In The West Ham Midfield?

I never felt more like singing the claret-and-blues. Two of the leagues disappointing and downcast sides go head-to-head at Villa Park as West Ham take on Aston Villa

I’ve just opened my Golden Goals ticket for the time of West Ham’s first goal. I’ve got October, so could be in with a very good chance of winning.

These are strange times at the club with the Hammers sitting rock bottom of the fledgling table with ‘nul points’ from three games played. It is not unheard of to see clubs in the lower leagues with points deductions for some financial irregularity or the other. But these deductions are rarely self-imposed by the clubs themselves, as it is in our case. A failure to act quickly in strengthening the squad and then refusing to play those we have brought in has saddled us with a unwanted nine point penalty.

As there is so much nonsense written during the transfer window it’s not easy to get to the bottom of exactly what has been going on. Slowly but surely, sizeable amounts of money is being spent, but why it it such a long drawn-out process with West Ham. And why do do many supposed deals simply fizzle out? Sure, it would be foolish to simply pay the asking price as the window would end with the club getting far less for their money, at a time when the squad is painfully thin. But that shouldn’t mean that negotiations get interminably bogged down haggling for the greatest deal. Thankfully, it will all be over this week.

If the Lucas Paquetta transfer goes through as anticipated it would represent an eighth summer signing for the club. And with chatter of even more to come. In terms of numbers, it is largely in line with what many fans were calling for. Our recruits look to be mainly mid-career signings rather than the unearthing of young, unknown talent that might have been anticipated with the guidance of Rob Newman. Perhaps our scouting network is still too flimsy for that to happen. Big money signings have an uneven track record at West Ham but the balance between proven ability and future potential is a tricky one to negotiate.

With more options to choose from, we must wait to see how (and at what speed) David Moyes goes about implementing the transition. It is often said that introducing more that three of four new players into a team at one time is fraught with difficulties, especially where organisation is one of your major strengths. But the Hammers current indifferent form stretches way back into the final three or four months of last season as well as the start of this one. Bringing in replacements would hardly be upsetting a finely tuned machine.  While Thilo Kehrer was given an entire game due to a centre back shortage, only 85 minutes for Gianluca Scamacca, 22 for Maxwell Cornet, and 1 for Flynn Downes, in a run of three defeats, is a puzzling outcome.

Today’s game at Villa Park is the latest opportunity to get much needed points on the board. The Hammers face an Aston Villa side who have also failed to impress in their early matches – maybe because I had tipped them to have a good season. After this game, West Ham face London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea in quick succession and the prospect of played six/ no points must have occurred to most supporters. If ever, there was a time for a performance, it is today.

Moyes will have plenty of credit in the bank after two top seven finishes and two European campaigns, but that won’t make him bullet proof if the ‘Relegation’ word starts getting mentioned repeatedly. Remember Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester less than a year after winning the Premier League title. Moyes will be safe up until the World Cup whatever happens. Hopefully a Paquetta inspired side will be marauding into the upper reaches of the league by then!

It will be hugely disappointing if significant changes are not made for today’s game. A massive dose of energy and fluidity must be injected into the side and the playing style has to far less predictable than it has become. Relying solely on counter attacks and set pieces has to be eliminated. And Declan Rice cannot be the single conduit through midfield.

None of the following players merit a starting berth today based on recent and current form: Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Creswell, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini. Is it also time for Alphonse Areola to be handed the keeper’s jersey?  For me, Scamacca, Cornet and Emerson Palmieri must be guaranteed starters today. And Ben Johnson is a far superior option at right back than Coufal.

Villa have their own problems with Stevie G struggling as much as FLJ to impress from the managers seat. The hosts record in the final months of last of last season and into this is as indifferent as the visitors. Does that indicate a share of the spoils in a tame draw?  In theory, the Villains have enough firepower in Ings and Watkins to test an unsettled Hammer’s defence, but it is the running of players such as Ramsay and Bailey that often cause our defence to be exposed.

It has the feel of one of those games that will be decided by mistakes rather than inspiration. Both defences are as shaky as a three legged chair and Moyes must make his selection to exploit that weakness in the opposition. More of the timid, one-paced, unambitious approach of previous games won’t work and has to be replaced with energy, width and movement. With a few isolated exceptions it has been many months since the Hammers demonstrated sparkle and swagger out on the pitch. It’s return is eagerly awaited. And today would be the perfect time. COYI!   

Can West Ham Shake Off The Brighton Bogey To Put Some Points On The Board This Weekend?

No goals, no points and no ideas! Is it time for David Moyes To put faith in his new signings for Sunday’s Premier League clash?

Although it has been a few months now since West Ham endured their most recent fruitless encounter against Brighton and Hove Albion, it is only three games ago in match terms. Back in May, when a win would have secured a place in the top six for the Hammers, things had looked rather rosy at the half-way stage. But a simple tactical switch by Seagull’s boss Graham Potter in the second period bamboozled our boys and they slumped to the most convincing of defeats. A performance that was typical of many seen during the season run-in.

On the evidence of this season to date, the lethargy that has shrouded the club’s on-field performances since last January has yet to be shaken off. New signings have been trickling through the doors during the summer, and while additional bodies are welcome, I’m yet to be convinced the resources have been assembled to vary style, tactics, and approach according to changing circumstances. Is there now a Plan B or now just multiple versions of Plan A?

Even during the last two (very impressive) seasons the wit to break through organised opposition defences was clearly absent in the squad – resulting in points dropped against sides we would have expected to beat. This gap in the squad has yet to be filled. My worry is that if a new attacking midfielder is brought in, it will be as a battering ram rather than someone capable of picking locks.

Following the two early league defeats it was certainly a relief to get a win under the belt against the Danes from Viborg in Thursday nights Europa Conference qualifier. Not that it was a performance to take much comfort from. In a game played at half paced it was another stilted, low-gear showing from West Ham – papered over by three well-constructed goals which will probably be enough to claim the tie.

Indeed, it was the visitors who showed more endeavour when it came to passing and moving through the midfield areas. The absence of Declan Rice leaves a massive void in the Hammer’s midfield as all attacking momentum goes through him these days. Even against pedestrian opponents Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals had no magic to weave and made no impression as far as play-making was concerned. Thankfully, Viborg for all their energy were short of end product – a possible Brexit bonus as their two forward players were unable to enter the UK due to new visa restrictions.

For our own part it was mostly monotonous side to side passing across the back, with Tomas Soucek and Conor Coventry particularly culpable. Forward movement, other than hopeful punts, appeared to have been outlawed and the full-backs rarely crossed the halfway line. Whether this was a cunning tactical plan or the consequence of playing three right backs in the back four was not obvious.

Still a win is a win and there were brief encouraging flashes from Gianluca Scamacca, Maxwell Cornet and Said Benrahma – although each would have benefited from a greater level of involvement. The game also saw a welcome return for Angelo Ogbonna, back in the side after his lengthy injury lay-off, and an opportunity to have a first look at Thilo Kehrer.

With a return to league action on Sunday the need to avoid a third straight defeat will be on everyone’s mind. It’s a mystery why West Ham have found it impossible to come out on top against Brighton in recent years, a run that now extends to ten matches. No doubt that Potter is a tactically astute manager, but the Hammers were equally unsuccessful while Chris Hughton was at the helm. Perhaps it is just one of those odd quirks found in football and all talk of the Seagulls as a bogey-team will be swept away once a first win is recorded. Could it be this weekend?

Last weekend I was convinced that Scamacca and Cornet would feature in the starting eleven at Nottingham Forest but failed to gauge just how conservative Moyes is when introducing new players into his system. Understandable if you are in the middle of a hot winning streak but less so when you have only won two of the last ten league games. Whether the manager will do anything more radical in team selection than the usual lucky dip between Benrahma, Lanzini and Fornals is anyone’s guess. He is unlikely to regard Ogbonna or Kehrer as potential starters leaving Ben Johnson to once again partner Kurt Zouma in central defence. Personally, I would like to see Scamacca, Cornet and Kehrer all start but the chances of that happening are slim.

Brighton have made a promising start to the season with a win at Manchester United and home draw against Newcastle. They have lost Bissouma and Cucurella since last term and have signed a handful of young players who have yet to feature in the first eleven. Potter is likely to start with a tried and tested side and hope that Gross, Trossard, and Welbeck continue to unsettle the rigid West Ham defences.

A huge improvement from the opening two games will be required if the Brighton curse is finally to be lifted. Maybe with a returning Declan Rice and a little more competition on the bench can tomorrow be that day?  West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!

Hammers Need To Be Forest Fresh Following Stale City Opener

West Ham must dampen the enthusiasm of newly promoted Nottingham Forest in their first Premier League home game for twenty-three years if they are to leave the City Ground with today’s spoils.

With the inevitable opening day defeat to Manchester City out of the way, we should ideally be focusing on the nuts and bolts of the nascent season and the potential for another tilt at a top six finish. Yet, it is the failures, frustrations, and foreboding of the transfer window that continues to grab the attention. Football matches tend to come along as a distraction to the latest blind alley pursuit of exciting major signings from across the continent.   

I’m prepared to accept that making sensible transfer decisions might not be as easy as we fans imagine, but equally surely it isn’t as difficult as West Ham repeatedly make it. I’m really not a fan of the transfer window extending beyond the start of the season and had always feared that most of our business would be left right until the end.

The dilemma facing David Moyes & Co is how to find and attract players who will improve the squad, who can be recruited at an affordable (knock down) price, and who are not going to be on the radar of more illustrious and well-to-do clubs. The panacea would be a shrewd scouting network uncovering a stream of young talent, from home and abroad, even if it means they use West Ham as a stepping-stone to future glory elsewhere. Decent scouting has long been neglected at the club although I suppose that is what led to the pursuit of Onana – but his was a hefty price tag for a bet on potential.

It also appears impossible for West Ham to keep any of their proposed deals under wraps until the ink has fully dried. A habit that allows opportunity for others – Everton and Newcastle – to nip in and hijack the deal at the eleventh hour. Especially, with our Board unable to resist the temptation of engaging in drawn out haggling processes, a few quid at a time.

It is unfortunate that the Hammers are starting from such a position of weakness in squad numbers and ability. A consequence of neglect and bad decisions over the preceding years. While Moyes achievements over the last two years have been remarkable it is built around the phenomenal talent of Declan Rice and an effective style of play (organisation, set pieces and counter attacks) that has made the best use of resources available. It has worked wonders but can only do so until opponents understand it limitations and how to combat it – as we saw from Manchester City last week. There simply aren’t the players available with the pace, finesse, and creativity to pose different questions and mix things up. To me, these limitations are equivalent to what Moyes said about the team being stale last Sunday. A team without ideas once their A-game is thwarted.

On the face of it, the signings of Gianluca Scamacca, Nayef Aguerd, and Maxwell Cornet are just the type of players needed. But it is only a start. Another four or five additional top-notch signings, at least, are required before the end of August if the season is going to amount to anything worthwhile. It is staggering that one of the league’s thinnest squads has seen more players leave than arrive so far. OK, so we now have a striker, but remain alarmingly short in other critical positions – left back, centre back, play-maker – with the season already underway – and with another four league games to be played before the window closes. Fair enough, teams can recover from a poor start (Arsenal last season is a good example), but that’s a lot of important points to put at risk due solely to self-inflicted transfer incompetence.

Having fallen into the trap of tunnelling down the transfer rabbit hole, we should turn our attention to today’s Premier League encounter against Nottingham Forest. A first top-flight meeting between the two clubs this millennium following Forest’s relegation in 1998/99. That season witnessing a scoreless draw at the City Ground in September 1998 and a 2-1 Hammers win (Ian Pearce and Lampard Jr) at Upton Park in February 1999.

The hosts were something of a surprise package last year but despite buying enthusiastically looked short on quality when losing to Newcastle last weekend. Still, there will sure to be a cup-tie like atmosphere at the City Ground today and West Ham will need to be on their toes to weather the early storm. And, of course, there is the goalscoring peril of Judas Lingard to keep quiet. It could well be a tough season for Forest and Lingard is an odd choice to build your team around.

It would be a huge surprise to me if Scamacca and Cornet don’t start today but maybe I am underestimating the caution of Moyes. The major West Ham selection issue though is at centre back where, with even less options to chose from, Ben Johnson is a probable to continue alongside Kurt Zouma. Elsewhere, we can only hope the manager can prise more than huff and puff from the combined talents of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma.

I can’t see this game being a classic and assuming West Ham can snuff out the early Forest threat, I predict we will go on to win 3-1. COYI!   

Scouting For Moyes: Same Again Hammers Look Unprepared For New Season Challenges

A summer of hesitation and haggling in the transfer market leaves the West Ham squad little changed from two seasons ago. Will treading water see them swept away by Manchester City?

The life of a football supporter is not always a happy one. No sooner had we hung up our bobble hat and rattle in May than we are bombarded with a daily onslaught of speculative transfer stories. From the sublime to the ridiculous, exciting to depressing. Where is the time to unwind on the beach with a pina colada and a Harold Robins paperback? Then suddenly the new season is on us, as premature and uninvited as the strains of Noddy Holder in a shopping mall in early November. The start of interrupted campaign, severed in two by the misguided award of the World Cup to Qatar.

By any measure, the Hammers give the impression of being ill-prepared for their new task. Lack lustre friendly performances can rationally be overlooked, but the struggle to reinforce an already threadbare squad before of the opening round of matches brings consternation to all but the most delirious of optimists.

I did write in a previous blog that I wouldn’t be shocked if no more than two new signings featured at the London Stadium pitch on the opening day of the season. With the window not closing until the end of August, it is no surprise that clubs with a fetish like ours for haggling would continue to-ing and fro-ing until the final knockings. On the one hand it is reasonable to want value for money but it is also a risky strategy as the clock ticks down and desperation sets in.

As it is, with unfortuante injuries and fitness concerns, the starting eleven on Sunday now looks limited to those who palyed out the end of last season. Or, for that matter, those we ended the 2020/21 season with plus Kurt Zouma. And all without the option to call on Noble, Yarmolenko, Fredericks and Masuaku from the bench.

As there is so much nonsense written about transfers in the media it is difficult to separate fact from fantasy. Does David Moyes keep changing his mind about his targets? Is David Sullivan continually throwing curve balls into negotiations at the last minute, demanding easy payment terms and quadruple green shield stamps? Who knows? I don’t believe we have been pursuing unattainable targets but there is a sense of spending too much time and effort pursuing some deals when it would have been more sensible to insist on a time limit and move on.

On paper, the deals that have been completed look encouraging. Both Gianluca Scamacca and Nayef Aguerd should strengthen the first team and provide Moyes with more options to vary fornations. Flynn Downes may well turn out to be an astute purchase but will likely be limited to cup competitions, for the time being at least. And, of course, Alphonse Areola has finally become permanent heir apparent to Lukasz Fabianski – it’s only a matter of time! At time of writing it is also widely being reported that Maxwell Cornet will also be signing.

We are told that further signings will definitely happen before the end of August. Ideally that would be a minimum of four or five additions although past performance with progressing deals in parallel does not inspire confidence. The outstanding priorities in my opinion would be a left back (crucial), a touch of finesse in central attacking midfield, pace wide on the left of midfield (may be Cornet), an additional backup striker option and further cover either in defensive midfield or at centre back.

How well we recruit will determine what is achievable during 2022/23. We have enjoyed two exceptional seasons, by West Ham standards, but there can be no room for complacency. The manager and team have overachieved through effort, team spirit and a canny organisation of limited resources, but the style of play and its weaknesses are now known quantities to even the dimmest of opposition managers. Failure to adapt and pose different problems for opponents will lead to gradual decline, following Leicester down the Premier League table. Improvement requires more creativity in the final third and greater athleticism at the back, where Aaron Cresswell, despite an admirable Hammers career, is an obvious weak link. Although it’s great to see West Ham compete against the big boys it is needlessly dropped points to teams in the lower half that must be eliminated if the run of top half finishes is to be continued.

In what could well turn out to be a sticky run of opening games, the Hammers curtain raiser couldn’t be much tougher than entertaining serial Champions, Manchester City. The Citizens are sporting something of a new look up front with Haaland and Alvarez replacing the departed Sterling and Jesus. Also newly recruited is Kalvin Phillips who presumably takes over the tactical fouling role vacated by Fernandinho – the Brazilian joining a large exodus from the Etihad along with Zinchenko and a dozen others I’d never really heard of.

It is difficult to see past City or Liverpool for the title, or past the usual big spending suspects for the remaining top six placings. Outside the big six, Newcastle will surely be the most talked about and over-hyped club of the season – with flabby bare-chested Geordies rarely away from our TV screens and internet streams. Clearly, they are now best placed in terms of financial clout to mount a challenge to the ‘natural’ order things, but that may take a few seasons to emerge. I have an unaccountable feeling in my water that Aston Villa will be the surprise package of 2022/23. My other tip is for Ralph Hasenhuttl as the first managerial casualty of the season. My full predicted final league placings are as follows:

1 Liverpool, 2 Manchester City, 3 Arsenal, 4 Chelsea, 5 Manchester United, 6 Tottenham, 7 Aston Villa, 8 West Ham, 9 Newcastle, 10 Brighton, 11 Leicester, 12 Crystal Palace, 13 Nottingham Forest, 14 Everton, 15 Wolverhampton Wanderers, 16 Brentford, 17 Leeds, 18 Southampton, 19 Fulham, 20 Bournemouth

The best hope for Sunday’s game is that City’s new boys are still finding their feet and are not yet ready to click. Football folklore is littered with marquee signings running riot on their debuts against West Ham. The story of a Haaland debut hattrick is one that every headline writer and pundit will be looking out for. Can we keep him quiet? It is a classic case of hope versus expectation. My fingers and hammers are crossed!

West Ham’s Transfer Tribultions: Your Infrequently Asked Questions

We wonder what is going on as the Hammers embark on yet another haphazard venture through the troubled waters of the transfer window. There’s still plenty of time to do nothing!

Who Is Masterminding West Ham’s Cunning Transfer Plan?

The oft repeated mantra is that it is David Moyes who has full control over transfers. That sounds straightforward enough but is open to interpretation depending on where you believe the boundaries of full control lie. I take it to mean that no player will be signed unless it has Moyes blessing. There are to be no more ‘Sullivan Specials’ signed from a favoured agent and presented to the manager as a surprise birthday gift. Beyond giving that stamp of approval to his targets it is improbable that any manager these days is intimately involved in the complexity of contract negotiations. He may, however, be asked for input on the fees and terms being demanded where this has significant implications on the size of overall budget available.

But Isn’t Dave Moyes Known To Be A Ditherer?

Moyes picked up the ‘Ditherer’ sobriquet during his time at Everton. It was the result of the lengths that he went to in checking out the character as well as the footballing abilities of potential targets. Whether that diligence paid dividends in the long run is impossible to tell, but it allegedly led to opportunities being missed according to Everton fans. Nevertheless, in his ten years at Everton he signed seventy-four players and, despite the occasional duds, there were plenty of success stories, including: Cahill, Jagielka, Arteta, Kilbane, Howard, Baines, Lescott, Yakubu, Saha, Fellaini, Coleman, Distin, Pienaar, and Stones. It has been a difficult reputation for Moyes to shake off and was further reinforced during his brief reign at Old Trafford. The jury is still deliberating as to whether dithering was at play in last January’s debacle.  

What About This Rob Newman Fella? What Exactly Does He Do?

There are a variety of views as to what the responsibilities of a Head of Recruitment might be. In the absence of any clarification from the club you can make up your own mind. Ideally the role should be independent from the manager, but with close co-operation. He should be focused on strategic long-term planning and succession as well as finding short term tactical targets. Possibly working something like this: the manager has identified a need for a pacey, left sided central defender so the head of recruitment calls on his extensive scouting knowledge/ network to draw up a shortlist of candidates potentially within the club’s price range. Then its back to the manager to decide.

His true value would be in unearthing up-and-coming talent and those from lower leagues capable of playing at a higher level. West Ham are not a club able to compete for established stars and signing fading ones has not been a rip-roaring success in the past.    

Why Do West Ham Complete Deals Inch By Inch? What Happened To The Good Old Fashioned Transfer Swoop?

I remember tuning into the radio on my drive home from work and hearing that Harry Redknapp had signed Eyal Berkovic for West Ham. It was out of the blue and a shock because everyone believed he was on his way to Tottenham after a successful season long loan at Southampton. There had been no weeks of stories about bids being prepared, contact being made, deals hitting the buffers or hijacked by Newcastle. Wham, bam, he was a Hammer. It was different days back then of course. No internet clickbait, just Club Call and Ceefax to keep us informed, or misinformed which is more often the case.

Completing deals at West Ham does appear to be a far more drawn out and complicated process than elsewhere. Or is that just a perception as we don’t typically follow all the chatter from other clubs? Negotiations are the most probable cause of delay and if you have a Chairman who is obsessed by brinkmanship and pulling off the smartest deal, then delay is sadly inevitable. Pay the full asking price and a swoop is still possible, but may not provide the optimum value.

Who Keeps The Keys To The Transfer Kitty War Chest?

Although it is the size of transfer fees and net spends that make all the headlines, for the owners it is a matter of cash flows, budgets, and operating expenses. The totality of a deal includes wages, signing-on fees, agent fees, image rights and add-ons (whatever they might be). While the board will agree overall budgets collectively, it is David Sullivan who is said to lead the final negotiations. And that may well be where most of the problems lie. Sullivan’s art of the deal, with low-ball bids, loans to buy, low deposit, extended repayment terms – as if he’s buying a sofa – have the potential to scupper any negotiation. The type of person who when buying a house comes back with a much reduced offer just as contracts are about to be exchanged.   

What Is Needed To Bring The Hammers Mother Hubbard Squad Back To Respectable Levels?

As things stand, the squad comprises seventeen senior players. And that includes several who are for emergency use only. Far too many positions have no cover at all while others have the numbers but lack the quality. On top of that, more variety is needed if Moyes is to address the difficulties seen too often last year in overcoming apparently ‘lesser’ opposition. I make that a minimum net increase of six to eight over what we have today – goalkeeper, left back, centre back, defensive midfield, a truly creative attacking midfielder and two strikers. Each of the other clubs aspiring to challenge for a European place – Leicester, Newcastle, Wolves, Villa – will be busy strengthening. West Ham must be recruiting to improve, not to tread water.

Will Any Players Be Leaving?

The assumption is that neither Declan Rice nor Jarrod Bowen will be leaving this summer. There has been talk of potential leavers featuring Nikola Vlasic, Arthur Masuaku, Issa Diop and Said Benrahma. Not that we couldn’t do with upgrades on each of those but it only further complicates the recruitment requirements. Could we really sign ten players in total if two of those left? We might also be aware of the possibility that Angelo Ogbonna might still be a long way from, or never regain, match fitness. I hope he does, but the best part of a year is a very long lay off for a 34-year-old.

When Will Something Happen?

By all accounts the signing of Nayef Aguerd is as imminent as something can be without actually being finished. The deal for Alphonse Areola is rumoured to be not far behind. It’s a start, I suppose. If Aguerd turns out be as good as his reviews and Youtube reel, then he is just the type of player we should be after, ready to challenge for a starting role from the off. I don’t see the club shelling out BIG money for a left back, not when strikers and attacking midfielders will be making a major dent in the budget.

How Will It All End?

Past performance tells us that we will be underwhelmed and disappointed once the transfer business has been completed. It is 48 days to the start of the Premier League season and 72 days until the transfer window closes. Even at the best of times, integrating a host of new faces into a team in one go is a challenge. Especially when you are team where cohesion and discipline are one of the major strengths. The level of confidence in West Ham completing a significant number of deals in advance of pre-season is low. A maximum of one or two new faces running out against Manchester City on the opening weekend would be my guess. It would come as no surprise if we are still be scraping around for signings in the final hours of deadline day. Ending with a four or five player net increase to the squad, rather than the six to eight required, wouldn’t be a surprise. Perhaps the academy can help out at last, but that should be viewed as a bonus not as a solution to the chronic lack of numbers. Still, there’s always January.

West Ham’s Seaside Shuffle Can End The Brighton Hoodoo And Gate-crash The Top Six

As the final curtain is faced, a few lingering regrets remain that more could have been achieved in an otherwise well above average West Ham campaign

If you were in an elevator and someone asked: “what sort of season did West Ham have?” you might reply that while it was well above average, it maybe wasn’t as good as it might have been. A reflection of how our expectations had shifted over the course of the season.

When the season started and with a first ever European league-based campaign to contend with, any top half finish may have been considered a reasonable outcome. Indeed, my own prediction was that West Ham would finish tenth – expecting the routine of Thursday – Sunday football to take its toll on league form.

But by the year end, having breezed through the Europa League group stages, and sitting fifth in the Premier League, the dreams were flying much higher. A shrewd investment here and there at that time and anything might have been possible. That we were left scratching our heads at no January activity is now consigned to Hammer’s folklore.

In hindsight, the club hadn’t recruited well in the summer either. Kurt Zouma was an excellent addition but he turned out to be the only practical upgrade to David Moyes preferred starting eleven. Nikola Vlasic and Alex Kral failed to come anywhere close to the required standard and while Alphonse Areola looked a decent enough deputy, he remained behind Lukasz Fabianski in the pecking order.

From a historic perspective, the season has been well above average, regardless of what happens today. Since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches, West Ham have only exceeded 56 points (the current total) on three occasions (2020/21, 2015/16 and 1998/99. They have finished with a positive goal difference just twice (2020/21 and 2015/16) and for a side with so few striking options, scoring 59 goals (the current total) has only been bettered in those same two seasons. A win today would bring up a tally of seventeen victories, the highest apart from last season’s nineteen.

Despite that decent win percentage, it is the points dropped against the likes of Leeds, Burnley, Southampton and Brentford and the two avoidable defeats to Manchester United that might ultimately take the wind from the sails. That, plus the self-inflicted failure to get past Frankfurt in the Europa League semi-finals. After a promising first half of the season it is a disappointment not to make it to 60 points. In truth there have been few sparkling performances and too many victories when we ‘weren’t at our best’.

The final day of this year’s Premier League season must be a broadcaster’s dream. It is rare for the title, plus Champions League and relegation places to remain up for grabs on the day the curtain comes down. By comparison, our own battle for 6th or 7th place is consigned to an outlying stage, well away from the main arena. No helicopter hovering over the South Downs ready to deliver the final Europa League qualifying certificate at the final whistle.

Qualifying for the Europa League again would be a massive bonus in that it comes with another route to Champions League qualification. But the Europa Conference should not be sniffed at and may represent the best opportunity the club has next season to end its long overdue silverware drought.

The history of today’s fixture might suggest one of those mysterious gypsy curses that inhabits football. Since Brighton were promoted back to the top-flight in 2017/18, West Ham have failed to beat them in nine attempts – with the last six all ending in scoring draws. It is really no more than coincidence that can easily end today.

The Seagulls are a hardworking and well organised side with several very good players (Trossard, Cucurella, Bissouma, Sanchez) but this season’s home record is less than impressive, with only four wins on the board. Apart from the top three, they have had more possession than any other team but it rarely goes anywhere with only an average of one goal per game to show for it. In theory, such an opponent should be ideal for a West Ham side who thrive on the quick breakaway and have been scoring relatively freely.

As well as our own efforts at the Amex Stadium, though, the Hammer’s fate will also be determined by the the result of Manchester United’s visit to Crystal Palace. Top six hopes may well end up to be pie in the sky – even if the Hammers beat the Seagulls, they need the Eagles to do them a good Tern!

Once the season is over there will be little time for reflection. Transfer speculation is already gathering pace and the frenzy will ramp up even further as the window opening ceremony approaches. I have already counted over thirty players linked with a move to the London Stadium. It will be a telling time for the club owners to demonstrate their ambitions. A time when the squad needs both a refresh and a net increase in quality and numbers.

Until the dust has settled we won’t know if we have witnessed a brief run of overachieving seasons (on the back of several exceptional players and a great team spirit) or whether there is true progress taking place. Is the club moving in the right direction? Without wise investment it will be just another false dawn.

A very big well done to the players, manager, and coaches for a highly satisfactory season and making West Ham massive. Their effort, determination, and commitment cannot be faulted. As for today’s game, West Ham can finally put the Brighton hoodoo to rest with a 2-0 awayday bonanza. COYI!