Time For West Ham’s Three Amigos To Step Up And Make Brighton Rock?

Once again West Ham’s plans are once again hampered by injury concerns but now is time for key players to live up to their reputations and kick-off the Hammer’s season for real.

It is safe to assume that the average football supporter experiences a far greater roller coaster of emotional volatility than do the players and coaching staff.  While we have had a week of festering after the early season optimism was so mercilessly crushed last weekend, we must hope that on the training ground there has been a more measured reaction to resolving problems. After all, very few people would have expected there to be any points on the board from our opener although most would have expected fewer entries in the goals against column.

To a certain extent the scale of last week’s defeat was overshadowed by debate of the tactical fouling employed by Manchester City.  With Manuel Pellegrini voicing his displeasure at the City tactics it brought to mind shades of Ron Greenwood, whose gentlemanly approach had him avoid the tough tackling enforcers favoured by many of his management contemporaries.  In truth, successful teams always have their tougher, darker side and even if the game has moved on from the outright thuggery of Revie’s dirty Leeds, a hard, uncompromising edge is still required to consistently bring home the trophies.  Like Greenwood, perhaps Pellegrini is just too nice.

West Ham’s woes aside, the Premier League season kicked off with a great deal of enthusiasm.  Word is that a new breed of managers with new sets of ideas are going to be breath of fresh air, at least in the lower reaches of table.  Farewell, the dour, attritional tactics of Allardyce, Pulis, Hughes and Hughton; welcome, the daring and enterprise of Farke, Wilder, Hasenhüttl, Smith and Potter.  The latter, of course, is now at the helm of today’s opponents, Brighton and Hove Albion.  Only time will tell whether the brave new spirit of adventure survives beyond the barren depths of winter – or whatever the modern day equivalent of a cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke is.

The Seagulls were the surprise package of the opening weekend with an emphatic 3-0 away win against a muddled Watford side.  Brighton’s expansive style was a far cry from what had been served up under Chris Hughton – but which did ensure Premier League safety for two consecutive seasons.  By all accounts Graham Potter prefers a fluid and flexible formation that switches between 3, 4 or 5 at the back; something which will provide an interesting contrast to Pellegrini’s more predictable (tried but not fully tested) set-up.

Just a week into the season and the perennial injury jinx may have already have raised its ugly head.  Depending on what you read, there may or may not be concerns with the fitness of Felipe Anderson, Sebastien Haller, Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko for today’s game.  Old-timers Mark Noble and Winston Reid are definitely unavailable.

The prospect of the Three Amigos (Anderson along with Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals) forming a mesmerizing attacking midfield alliance seemed to promise so much just a week or so ago.  These are players with big reputations, hefty price tags and fat wallets who need to step up to be more than mere supporting parts.  With good fortune it can start today but maybe injuries will force us to wait a little longer to see if it can work in practice.  Will it reinvent West Ham as a team of rapid movement, quick passing and smart interplay or will it once more be all icing and no cake?  I have a lingering concern that exciting as the trio could be it lacks anyone with a cool head and range of passing to take the game by the scruff of the neck and pull the necessary strings.  It is Wilshere that is probably best suited to such a role but not if his freedom is curtailed by having to fill the problem area in central midfield alongside Declan Rice.  The sad thing is that with Noble injured there is no credible alternative to replace him if it was decided to deploy Wilshere further forward.

For a team that has just conceded five goals in a home match we are only likely to see one change in defence where Arthur Masuaku is likely to step in for the hapless Aaron Cresswell.  Since Cresswell’s England call-up a few years ago his form has dropped off significantly, apart from a brief spell as part of a back three under David Moyes.  Perhaps he only looked good at left back when he had Payet to set up perfect overlapping and crossing opportunities.

Injuries permitting here is how I think Pellegrini will line up:

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If Haller is really not available, I hope we don’t have to put up with another 60 minutes or so of Javier Hernandez wandering about forlornly to no effect.  Best option in my opinion would be for Michail Antonio to come in to lead the line.  I thought he was very unfortunate to be hauled off at half-time last week.  You know what you are going to get with Antonio – someone with pace, power and muscle who will unsettle defenders.  His lack of finesse doesn’t make him a good fit for a the softly, softly, tippy-tappy style.  Alternatives are Yarmolenko or Albian Ajeti although I don’t see Pellegrini opting for either of these two as a starter.

On the subject of Ajeti, I think if I was a twin and my parents called by brother Adonis it might leave me with an inferiority complex.  A little like “Hi, I’m Brian and this is my twin brother, Thor!”  Maybe Albian also has a significant meaning in Albanian that I am missing.  I am certainly looking forward to seeing him play.

Today’s Physical Assistant Referee is Anthony Taylor from Manchester while the person making all the important decisions will be his Virtual counterpart tucked away underneath the stands.  My blogging partner made some excellent points yesterday in his article about how VAR looks to be exceeding its original brief of righting the wrongs of clear and obvious mistakes.  TV pundits were unanimous in hailing VAR as an overwhelming success although to me this is from the perspective of football as business rather than as an entertainment.  While it cannot be said that VAR got anything wrong last week the danger is that it will spoil the matchday experience for the paying customers in the ground.  Fans will be unable to fully celebrate any goal until it receives official confirmation several minutes later.

For the record, today’s Virtual Assistant Referee’s name is Bond, Darren Bond – Dr No Goal, You Only Score Twice, Dive Another Day and so on.

On this week’s pundit watch we have Lawro back on his favourite fence with a 1-1 draw while Charlie Nicholas fancies West Ham to sneak a 1-0 away win.  As we all know, the Hammers will need to score at least twice to win making allowance for the customary Glen Murray goal.  I have a feeling there could well plenty of goals this afternoon, especially if the promised West Ham attacking creativity gets itself into gear and the defence remains as characteristically charitable.  My optimistic prediction is for a 4-2 away win, although this can only come about through a significant upgrade in resilience and commitment; ensuring that we are not out-fought, out-thought and out-maneuvered by what will be an enthusiastic opponent. COYI!

West Ham’s Sorry City Surrender: Takeaways And Player Ratings

Another new season gets off on the wrong foot as West Ham’s early endeavour gives way to a familiar thrashing by Champions, Manchester City. Where did it all go wrong?

Nothing But Shattered Dreams

As opening days of the season go this couldn’t have been much worse.  The last three openers have now seen 13 goals conceded without reply.  This year hopes had been built a little but the dreams have faded and died just as rapidly.  Sure this was against a Manchester City side, the league’s finest, who have now extended their London Stadium record to played 5, won 5, goals for 22 and goals against 1, but that is not a reason to not compete.  There is undoubtedly a huge gulf in class but why such a large difference in fitness, spirit and organisation?  I doubt many really expected West Ham could win the game but we didn’t expect capitulation.  To go down fighting is one thing; to meekly wave the white flag of surrender is unforgivable.  The Hammers staked their runaway claim for the most incompetent performance of the weekend despite honourable mentions from Watford and Chelsea.  The only positive I can come up with is that at least we have got this fixture out of the way early doors (© Big Ron).

From The Beginning

West Ham actually started the game quite brightly and for 20 minutes or so seemed to unsettle their opponents by their enterprise, although without really threatening.  The physical presence of Sebastien Haller and Michail Antonio created an uncertainty in the visitor’s defence leading to an uncharacteristic sloppiness on the ball.  The danger, though, was that the approach left too many claret and blue shirts forward as spectators when possession was lost.  The Hammer’s daring appeared not only to surprise supporters but also Manchester City.  However, once they got into their stride and started to exploit the space left in front of our defence the warning signs were too apparent.  It may have been an admirable gamble by Manuel Pellegrini but trying to out-play City was always going to be extremely long odds.  The Sky Blues rare defeats are usually as a result of packed defence and snatched goals from breakaways or set pieces – not be playing them off the park.  Once the first goal went in the result was not in doubt – only the margin of defeat.

The Dark Side of The (Blue) Moon

As I had highlighted in my match preview, Manchester City are masters of the cynical tug and shove in preventing opponents the opportunity of rapid counter attacks – something that has featured widely in post match analysis.  That the fouls are largely innocuous and committed in safe areas of the pitch means they rarely garner any serious attention from the referee.  On Saturday, Mike Dean allowed Rodri to get away with several such challenges and Fernandinho has been doing it for years.  It is as much a City tactic as their sweet passing and movement.  Pellegrini mentioned after the game that his own midfielders needed to be a little nastier in that respect.  Maybe this is part of our manager’s laissez-faire approach to defending allowing players to act they see fit rather than under instruction.  I am fairly certain that cynical fouls and the art of diving in the area, are part of the training regime at the majority of top professional clubs.  The line between fair play and naivety is a fine one.

Style Over Substance

Reading through our list of midfield players and it is easy to believe that it is mightily impressive.  One can imagine it full of the type of silky Latin skills that personify the beautiful game.  If only that were the reality of what we saw this Saturday.  The promised passing, interplay and movement didn’t show up.  Decision making was poor and there was no width or penetration.  On those rare occasions where an opportunity to cross was engineered, delivery was shockingly bad.  The first decent cross didn’t arrive until the introduction of Robert Snodgrass in the second half.  Manuel Lanzini buzzed around to no effect, Felipe Anderson was anonymous apart from an early foray down the right wing and Jack Wilshere is not athletic enough for a deeper lying role and it removes him from areas where he can do the most damage.  Collectively the team were unable to create space and our play became condensed in pointless triangles well away from the danger areas.  Declan Rice and the central defenders were left exposed time and again as City were given the freedom of the park.  Ryan Fredericks defending has improved but the there was little evidence of the electric pace going forward that is meant to be his strength.  Aaron Cresswell was run ragged all afternoon.  Bags of flair without hard work and organisation is not going to win many games and even though Pellegrini must have known how City would play he could do nothing to resist it.

New Kids On The Block

It is impossible to judge any player on one game but Haller showed that he could have the right physical attributes and a good enough touch to thrive in the Premier League.  Of course, he is there primarily to score goals and there was limited opportunity to see what he has to offer from that perspective.  Pablo Fornals, on as a second half substitute, made little impression and I don’t recall any significant contribution.  Apparently, he had 23 touches with a 85% pass completion rate but there was nothing noteworthy out of those statistics.  Not a dream debut but obviously needs to be given time to adjust and show what he can do.

Don’t Mention The VAR

The jury is out for me on VAR and the impact it will have on flow of the game.  Some interesting decisions at the weekend with Sterling’s armpit being caught offside and the Wolves goal ruled out at Leicester for accidental handball in a penalty box melee from the preceding corner.  At least the disallowed City goal gave the London Stadium faithful one thing to cheer on Saturday.

Player Ratings

Fabianski (6), Fredericks (5), Diop (5), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (3), Rice (6), Wilshere (5), Anderson (4), Lanzini (4), Antonio (5), Haller (6). Subs: Fornals (5), Snodgrass (6), Hernandez (5)

West Ham Star Men On Mission To Eclipse Blue Moon

We’re gonna score one more than you! Have new look West Ham got the pizazz to cause an opening day upset against the reigning Premier League champions?

The big day has arrived.  It’s time to fish out the lucky underwear, try to retrace those superstitious morning routines and then head out for your preferred match-day refreshment.  Peak pre-season optimism will continue up until the team sheets are revealed, at which point pre-match tension (PMT) will kick-in with the realisation of just how strong today’s opponents are.

I was trying to remember back as a young supporter, looking forward to a new season following Ron Greenwood’s West Ham, whether I ever believed the Hammers were in  with a chance of winning the league.  Even then my expectations probably weren’t that high, but now a title challenge is well beyond the realms of possibility.  So what am I looking for – why bother?

For me a successful season is one where we look committed and are competing in every game – both league and cup.  We would be trading blows with the monied elite and making sure they know they have been in a game.  We should look to entertain but not be intimidated by the more physical opponents, whose priority to is contain and spoil.  We should be in with a shout (or be part of the conversation in modern footballing parlance) of European qualification right until the final weekend and be prepared to embark on barnstorming cup runs.  Not a lot to ask is it?

The pundits are always talking up the Premier League as an excitingly competitive pursuit but really it is most predictable, at least for the present moment.  There may be a big six when it comes to counting the money and overseas following but only two teams  have any real hope of lifting the trophy.  Manchester City will resume their long running weekend leapfrogging contest with Liverpool before finally recording their third title on the trot in the closing weeks.  Then there will be a gap to Tottenham in third place followed by a bigger gap to Arsenal in fourth.  After that the placings might get a little more interesting this time around, with clubs including ourselves, Everton, Wolves and Leicester fancying their chances of muscling in ahead of potentially distressed Chelsea and Manchester United sides.  Not that there is much hope of ever breaking into the top six longer term (not without significant outside investment) but it would nevertheless be amazing as a one-off event.

I was relatively pleased with the transfer window recruitment although only time will tell how well the new players adapt to life in the Premier League.  It was good to see signings in the right age profile rather than more of the traditional practice of boosting retirement funds for fading superstars.  Like many supporters I would have liked to have seen more but appreciate there are constraints.  It is strange how so many fans saw reinforcements in defensive midfield and at full-back as close season priorities and yet these have been left untouched by Manuel Pellegrini and his team.  A clear indication of where his football philosophy lies.  We have no option but to trust the manager but pre-season did nothing to allay the fears concerning wide open spaces left for opponents to exploit in midfield and on the flanks.

Today will be Manchester City’s 5th visit to the London Stadium with a record that reads played 4, won 4, goals scored 17, and goals conceded 1.  Guardiola has created a formidable team that pose a threat all across the pitch.  They weren’t so bad when Pellegrini was at the helm but are now fitter, more compact and more together.  They are also highly professional and even their most gifted of their players is prepared to do his bit defensively even if this involves a niggly, cynical foul to thwart an opposition breakaway.  A slight tug of the shirt or minor body check in the opposition half rarely receives more than a finger wagging censure from referees.

The Sky Blues were relatively restrained (for them) in the transfer window spending a mere £130m for Rodri (a Fernandinho replacement) and Cancelo (another expensive full-back).  It is without doubt the strongest squad in the league although today they will be without Sane and Mendy.

For the Hammers, the pre-season friendlies have offered a good indication of how they might line-up with the attack minded quartet of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller looking to cause City problems.  The anticipation of some excellent movement, passing and interplay between the forward players is quite mouthwatering.

Declan Rice will adopt his usual defensive midfield role leaving Jack Wilshere (in the absence of Mark Noble) as the remaining midfield option.  If he stays fit, Wilshere can be a magnificent asset this season but playing in a more withdrawn position may not be conducive for his best work to be on view.

At the back, I am hoping to see the Fabian Balbuena/ Issa Diop partnership return to its optimum level of cohesion following an uncertain pre-season.  The full-back pairing is most likely to be Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell.  I doubt that we will see so much of Pablo Zabaleta’s weary legs this season and although I believed Pellegrini preferred Arthur Masuaku on the left, he didn’t feature a great deal in pre-season.  Incidentally, it was Cresswell who netted the Hammers only London Stadium goal against City and he will probably skipper the side today.

It goes without saying that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are with Lukas Fabianski being passed fit to start in goal.

WHUMCI4

Is this a team that can cause an upset?  I don’t think we can rely on complacency or rustiness from the opposition and so it must be down to a cunning and perfectly executed game plan.  Strangely, the weakness in central midfield might not be as important in a game like this where we will be forced to defend deep with most players behind the ball for long periods anyway.  We do now have players able to cause problems on the break provided that focus, shape and discipline can be maintained throughout.  It is not a game where we will boss the possession stats!

Mike Dean is today’s referee and there is a huge likelihood that we will get to witness a controversial VAR incident or two at first hand.  But will it be to rule out Aguero’s last minute equaliser for offside or to confirm that Diop’s boot lace was sufficient to send Sterling tumbling in the box?  In theory, I welcome VAR but am worried about its execution.  I can envisage multiple incidents every game with players surrounding referees and making TV shaped gestures with their hands.

Lawro returns to the BBC with a 2-1 away win for Manchester City while punditry duties at Sky seem to have transferred to Charlie Nicholas who opts for a 3-0 away win.  At least both predicted outcomes would keep us off the bottom of the table after Norwich’s defeat at Liverpool last night.  Personally, I am going for broke, keeping everything crossed and predicting a 2-1 West Ham home win.  COYI!

How High Can They Fly: What Would Represent A Season Of Success For Gung-Ho Hammers?

As the new Premier League season approaches can Manuel Pellegrini get the best from his array of talented attacking players, or will defensive lapses continue to plague the Hammers?

All of a sudden a new Premier League season is almost upon us.  Just one more week to reach peak optimism before the reality of an opening weekend clash with Champions Manchester City kicks in.

Although you can never be certain how well new players will adapt to the English league, the signings of Sebastien Haller and Pablo Fornals look to be exciting acquisitions; and with the return from injury of Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmalenko there are many good reasons to expect an above average season for the Hammers.  Not that ‘average’ sets a particularly high bar at West Ham where, in 21 years of competing in a 20 team Premier League, the average finishing position lies between 11th and 12th.

Only the most pessimistic supporter will be contemplating involvement in a relegation battle, but just how much higher can those bubbles fly?  In those same 21 seasons, a top ten finish has only been achieved on 7 occasions, with a high-water mark of 5th in 1998/99.

It is difficult to see beyond a third consecutive Manchester City title with Liverpool and Tottenham in their wake.  Perhaps a high-spending Arsenal will be reinvigorated, if they can sort out their defence, but Manchester United and Chelsea are likely to be well off the pace under their rookie, panic measure, ex-player managers.  There is certainly an opportunity for other clubs to take advantage and having a tilt at the lower reaches of the top six – and a gaggle of clubs including Everton, Wolves, Leicester and West Ham might all think that they are in with a shout of a break-out season.

It goes without saying that to win football games you need to outscore the opposition.  Yet there are different approaches in trying to achieve this.  There are too many recent bad memories of bus parking managers preferring to strangle the life out of the game in the hope of snatching a goal in a breakaway or from a set piece.  Manuel Pellegrini’s approach, on the other hand, is looking more and more to be the polar opposite – all out cavalier attacking and fingers crossed that it works out at the back.  It promises to be exciting, but can it be successful given that free-flowing football is the more difficult style to sustain over a long season?

In the past few years, West Ham have saved their best performances for matches against the better sides, while struggling against those set on attrition, spoiling and denying space.  A perfect example was the recent Asia Trophy game in Shanghai where Newcastle put an extra man in midfield and the Hammers created few meaningful chances as a result.  Admittedly, it was only a friendly and there were several key players missing from the Hammer’s lineup, but it is a lingering concern – as is the amount of space that is left vacant in front of the defence.   While it is great to see West Ham give the top teams a run for their money, the season will ultimately be defined by how well they perform against the remainder – that is where the majority of points lie.

Although there is still a week of the transfer week to go, the noises coming out of the club is that there is little cash left to splash.  Maybe there will be last minute surprises if the owners can be persuaded that they have yet to do enough to push beyond their survival comfort zone.  If there is any true ambition, or dreams of nights of European football, then spending just enough to stand still is a misplaced strategy.  Apart from attacking midfielders, the squad remains very vulnerable to injuries in several key areas – notably the fitness of Lukas Fabianski, Fabian Balbuena/ Issa Diop, Declan Rice and Haller.  It is not as if West Ham are strangers to long term injuries.

I prefer to think that West Ham are suspect at defending rather than in defence.  The weaknesses are as much about team shape and cohesion as it is about individual players.  When possession is lost we are slow to reform into a compact shape and thus allow opponents far too much time and space to mount counter-attacks both in central areas and on the flanks – a feature of all three goals conceded to Hertha Berlin during the week .  The defence plays very narrow, relies on a tricky offside trap and with only one defensive midfielder it is no surprise that Fabianski is the busiest keeper in the league.  I wonder if his agent has considered negotiating a productivity bonus – as he won’t be picking up many clean sheet payments?

On paper, the attacking midfield resources available to Pellegrini are awesome.  Individually, it is packed with talent and we can only hope that he has the instruction sheet on how to assemble them together into an effective unit.  I would like to see a lot more width from the midfield and a greater willingness to get behind defences than we have seen in recent years.  Apart from Robert Snodgrass (who is unlikely to be first choice) decent delivery into the box has been in short supply. Relying mainly on the full-backs for width, as a number of other sides do, would only make us more susceptible to the counter attack.

I am expecting great things from Haller leading the line.  He looks to have all of the attributes to do so effectively.  Can he be the player to finally beat Paolo Di Canio’s record of 16 West Ham goals in a Premier League season – or even become the first to reach 20?  I would like to think so, but then again I tipped Arnautovic to do the same last season!  Backup striker remains a big problem and with Javier Hernandez looking to be even more of a spent force (a Mexican has-bean) it may well fall to a rejuvenated Michail Antonio to provide support.

If striker and defensive midfield reinforcements arrive during the next week then I would be delighted.  Although the squad lacks depth it does now include a number of very talented players.  Sadly, the better ones will not stick around for very long if the team doesn’t progress beyond its average mid-table position.  It might be all well and good to pocket £200m in player sales next summer but not if their replacements are the modern day equivalents of Rigobert Song and Titi Camara.

I can see it being a very interesting season.  Lots of entertainment but with the usual frustrations where we fail to compete against the more resolute and uncompromising (physical) opponents.  Somewhere between 5th and 7th would exceed expectations; whereas below 9th would constitute a failure to progress.  Or perhaps this will be the season to put an end to 40 years of hurt; to finally lift another piece of cup silverware.

I am probably, once again, expecting too much!

El Hokey Cokey! All the “Ins” and “Outs” will be good moves by Pellegrini?

With a new season appearing on the horizon, do West Ham have a clear 2020 vision; or will it just continue to muddle along?

Between the finale of the last Premier League season and the start of the new one was a total of 90 days.  We have now spent 40 of those days in the wilderness and there are just 50 more before it all kicks off again.  In two weeks’ time West Ham return to training and the pre-season preparations build on from there.

The 2019/20 season the Premier League sees the introduction of a mid-season break in the middle of February (although it is staggered over two weekends) and along with 4 international breaks (3 before Christmas) plus those annoying getting knocked out of the cup early breaks, it promises to be another disjointed campaign.

The fixture list was, course, published last week and controversially West Ham yet again have to play each of the other 19 teams home and away.  With its sense of the absurd, though, the fixtures computer has come up with a sixth consecutive opening day encounter with a top six side for West Ham – on this occasion completing the full set against reigning champions Manchester City.  For a welcome change, however, the Hammers find themselves at home on both the opening and closing weekends – an end of season clash against Aston Villa coming just one week before a long awaited return visit to Wembley for the FA Cup Final, perhaps!  Still no sign of a home Boxing Day match though; clashing as it would with the start of the post Christmas sales at Westfield.

With less than 50 shopping days until the slamming of the transfer window, the speculation industry is at full throttle.  To date there have been more outs than ins as the Hammers embark on one of their periodic dead-wood clearance sales – the hope this time around is that we don’t then start collecting more!  Moore than just a club for one last payday!

I have tried to avoid wasting too much time following transfer news on the basis that the majority is made up nonsense.  Rumours have become more of a device for generating internet traffic than sharing credible news.  Instead, my time-wasting has been focused on watching old Youtube videos of West Ham greatest goals – an enjoyable claret and blue tinted way of viewing the past.  One thing that struck me was the contribution from either Eyal Berkovic or Yossi Benayoun to many of the sweeter attacking moments.  Both had only fleeting Hammer’s careers but were the type of player that has been sadly missing for much of the interim period.  Now I can build up my hopes that Pablo Fornals will be the player to fill that gap.

The recruitment of Fornals came as something of a surprise as I believed another attacking midfielder would not be top of the club’s priorities.  I can only assume that there is a fair bit of business still to be done as we remain very light in attack, short of numbers in holding midfield and lacking a defensively competent left full-back.

Not surprisingly the performances of Declan Rice and Issa Diop have caught the attention of the circling richer clubs – both are young players who put creditable Premier League mileage under their belts last season.  As long as West Ham remain a mid-tier club, the best players will always be at risk of big money bids from sides offering European competition.  Ultimately, every player has a price but I would like to think that both players will realise that another season (at least) in the Hammers first team is beneficial to their long term development.  Even worse than losing either player would be taking any washed up Old Trafford cast-offs in part-exchange.  Beyond that, any hope of holding on to players such as Rice and Diop (and potentially Fornals) requires significant progress on the pitch and why further recruitment is so vital – players who will be challenging for a starting position, not as back up.

The pursuit of Maxi Gomez is becoming the summer’s long running blockbuster transfer saga.  Past performance suggests that it will eventually fizzle out to nothing – but something needs to be done urgently to supplement the club’s meagre striking options – which otherwise will be down to one gloomy pot-hunting Austrian who may still prefer to take his sulking elsewhere.  Talk that Gomez was looking for assurances that he would be first choice would seem to be an odd deal breaker – would any manager give such as assurance?  Only performance on the pitch can guarantee selection!

Overall, I feel quietly optimistic over what is happening this close season.  Much of the deadwood has been shifted and I would expect/ prefer several more to follow (Obiang, Ogbonna, Sanchez, Hernandez), the Sullivan’s have maintained commendable radio silence and player recruitment looks to be focusing on younger (mainly Hispanic) players.  Plenty of opportunity for it to all go horribly wrong but so far so good!

Everything Is Average Nowadays: A Typically Inconsistent West Ham Season

The 2018/19 Premier League season was close to average for West Ham. Slightly below where we might have expected to finish but slightly better than we have typically done in the past.

The 2018/19 season finally ended on a positive note with West Ham recording a third successive win that allowed them to sneak into the top half of the table at the expense of Watford.  Better than anticipated a few weeks ago but no open topped bus parade! A first run of back to back victories since December allows us to go into the summer break with an unexpected sense of optimism.

The general consensus in the media was that it was a good first season in charge for Manuel Pellegrini and but for a disastrous start (and the usual collection of dubious refereeing decisions) it could have been even better.  In truth, pundits don’t pay detailed attention to clubs outside of the ‘big six’ and their views are often superficial and patronising.  Which players from the likes of West Ham, Leicester, Wolves or Everton could attract interest from the elite is the usual extent of their insight.

The exciting last day finish together with the dominance of English clubs in the European finals has reignited claims that the Premier League is both the best in the world and the most competitive.  It certainly has the best players money can buy but, in reality, it is largely predictable.  If you rank and compare finishing positions with the revenues of each club you will find a very high level of correlation.  In any year there will be over-achievers (Wolves, Watford) and under-achievers (Manchester United, Southampton) but the majority of clubs finished the 2018/19 season within two places of what their revenue ranking would suggest.  My research suggests that West Ham are 8th highest revenue earners suggesting that a 10th place finish is just below average.  Of course, it is not just about having money – you need to use it and use it wisely!

Looking at West Ham’s performance against their Premier League history you might conclude that it was a slightly above average season.  The following table shows how this season compares with the average for the 21 seasons in which the Hammers have competed since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches (eagle eyed observers will note that points does not tally with the results for the average season – this is due to rounding) :

P W D L F A W D L F A Pts
Average 38 8 5 6 28 24 4 5 10 19 31 47
2018/19 38 9 4 6 32 27 6 3 10 20 28 52

The 9 home wins was the best return since the move to the London Stadium.  The last time West Ham won more than 9 games at home during a season, however, was back in 2001/02 (12) while the most successful season was 13 home wins in 1997/98.  That same season also saw the fewest home defeats (2) with the worst being 9 in both 2006/07 and 2010/11.

Away from home, 6 victories is towards the top end of West Ham’s on-the-road achievements and has only been bettered in 2005/06 and 2015/16.  However, the move away from the cautious ‘respect the point’ philosophy saw a below average number of away draws.

Aside from the record points haul of 62 in 2015/16, this year’s total was the highest since 2005/06 and the 7th highest out of the 21 seasons reviewed.  The 2015/16 season is famously the only Premier League one where West Ham have finished with a positive goal difference and this season’s total (-3) was in the top six outcomes and bettered the 21 season average of -9.

If goals are what you like then the best teams to follow in 2018/19 season would have been Bournemouth (126), Arsenal (124) and Manchester United (119).  West Ham matches saw 107 goals awarded – ranking in 10th position.

Most would agree that the style of football has improved significantly this season, even though a shocking inconsistency has frequently overshadowed this.  Excellent performances in matches against top sides were balanced out by some shockers with struggling sides.

In summary, there are enough positive signs to believe that Pellegrini is moving the club in the right direction but recognising there is plenty of work to do and plenty of additional investment necessary if the club is to consistently achieve its expected position of 7th or 8th.  Unfortunately, any progress beyond that (unless there is another collective top six blip as happened in 2015/16) would require massive external investment – the idea of a next level without that happening is really wishful thinking.

That leaves us with looking forward with interest at how the summer player recruitment and sales pan out.  How much money can be made available, can we hold on to our better players and will the club be able to make further astute signings that suit Pellegrini’s style of play and ensure that relegation battles are a thing of the past?

Mind The Watford Gap: A Welcome Break To An Average West Ham Season

West Ham and Watford go through the motions in their final Premier League game of the season at Vicarage Road. Can a third straight win add a little gloss to the Hammer’s campaign and allow them to slip into the top half of the table?

If the weekend Premier League fixtures were a music festival then the West Ham game would be scheduled for a small tent behind the portable toilet cubicles.  There will only be one act on the main stage and that is to know where the make-believe helicopters need to deliver this year’s league trophy.  The title going down to the wire is a marketing dream for the Premier League and they are sure to wring every ounce of tension out of it.

It would be fitting in the final match in the pre-VAR refereeing era if the title were to be decided by a monumental blunder by officials that gifted the title to Liverpool.  Having seen Fabinho’s outlandish dive at Newcastle last week, whatever happened to the ruling about gaining an advantage through deception that saw Manuel Lanzini receive a retrospective suspension a few years ago?

Turning attention to more mundane matters and West Ham end their 2018/19 campaign by travelling to the edge of the known world to meet the club that is almost but not quite in London.  Inside the M25 and on the London Underground, maybe, but certainly not a London club!  Nevertheless, the Hornets have enjoyed a commendable season and may potentially not sack their manager even if they lose the upcoming FA Cup Final.

It might be safe to assume that the Watford team will have at least one eye on next week’s Wembley appointment with a mostly meaningless end of season commitment against West Ham being viewed as an inconvenience.  Even if the financial rewards to the club (from an extra league position or two) are not much different from winning the cup, there is no comparison when it comes down to the glory and kudos to be had from bagging a trophy.

I can remember Watford’s previous cup final appearance (in 1984) being a very disappointing effort and they will want to do a lot better this time around.  Not that their task is an easy one and they will almost certainly lose against a rampant Manchester City side who could be looking to complete a domestic treble.  As Elton might have said: “I guess that’s why that call it the blues!”

Despite the Wembley distraction, Watford showed tremendous commitment in their game at Chelsea last weekend.  They bossed the first half during which time Deulofeu, Pereyra and Doucoure all looked threatening; they would have been disappointed that the scores were still level at the break.  They subsequently ran out of steam and it would not be a surprise if Javi Gracia rested a few of his key players this weekend to keep them fresh and injury free.

West Ham’s final league position is now confirmed as somewhere between 9th and 12th.  Interestingly the Hammers are closer in points to Chelsea in third place than Chelsea are to second place Liverpool. The worst-case scenario will happen in the event of defeat on Sunday and Palace winning at home against Bournemouth.  It would be most disheartening if the Hammers ended the season below the south Londoners once more.  The most favourable outcome will occur should the Hammers win at Watford and Leicester lose at home to Chelsea – now that Chelsea’s Champion’s League qualification is sealed this seems unlikely!  That leaves today’s game as a nail-biting 10th/ 11th place play-off scenario in which our boys must endeavour to bridge the Watford gap!

A West Ham win today would be three in a row and a decent note on which to end the season.  It would providing a gloss that leaves behind a lingering sense of optimism to carry us through the empty summer weekends.  I have to admit that when last week’s team-sheet was announced I feared the worst; only to be pleasantly surprised by an efficient and buoyant performance, albeit against a side content to sit back and reflect on having preserved their Premier League status the previous weekend.  The surprise absence of two of our best outfield players was a worry.  What had Declan Rice and Felipe Anderson been doing together to get struck down with a mystery virus?  Was this a Bishop and Morley scenario all over again?

At the beginning of the season I had backed Marko Arnautovic to break Paolo Di Canio’s Premier League West Ham goal-scoring record.  With just seven needed today to equal that milestone (both for him and Felipe Anderson) it seems that the search for a reliable and consistent goal-scorer enters another summer!

It is difficult to see any surprise team changes for the game and there are several players in the match-day squad who we will probably never see again in a West Ham shirt – farewell and good luck to them!  After today’s game we can concentrate fully on the important business of transfer speculation and the size or otherwise of Manuel Pellegrini’s supposed war-chest.  Will it be spending to stand still or is incremental improvement season by season really possible?

Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire gets the whistle for this week’s game in what will be his sixth Hammer’s appointment of the season – won one, lost two, drawn two.

A difference of opinion with pundits this week with Lawro firmly on the fence at 1-1 and Paul Merson confident that the Hornets minds will be elsewhere allowing West Ham to ease home with a 3-1 win.  For me, it is important to keep the faith and hope that we can creep back into the top half with a sneaky 2-1 success.

I heard there were some games played in a minor midweek competition for teams not good enough to win their domestic leagues which ended in wins for both Liverpool and Tottenham.  Is there any way that neither of them can end up winning in the final?  Perhaps a thought to dwell on is that when Tottenham became the first English team to win a European trophy in 1963, the Hammers followed suit two years later.  That could be a history worth repeating!