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!

West Ham Versus Manchester City And The Case For A Champions League Play Off Place

As the Hammers make a tilt at finally beating City and overtaking United, why is there no play-off for the final Champions League spot?

One thing that is missing from the top level of English football is the Play-Off. If Play-Offs are considered a vital element for maintaining interest and excitement during promotion races from the lower leagues, why are they not also used for the allocation of the final Champions League place?

How much more exciting it would be if Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, West Ham and Wolves still had hopes of snatching a qualifying place going into the final games. What rip-roaring memories could be had from a two-leg semi-final win over Arsenal and then beating Spurs in a final at Wembley. The spectacle would instantly become the biggest single game of the season. A climactic season finale. FA Cup? Chicken feed! Championship Play-Off? Loose Change!

Conspiracists might suggest the Big Six would veto any such such move, but it really doesn’t disadvantage them any more than the current system – even provides a ‘get out of jail card’ in the event of a poor start or managerial change. And the Big Six aren’t equals in any case. Right now, it’s made up of Manchester City and Liverpool plus the four stooges. Maybe tinkering with qualification is not permitted by that anal suits at UEFA Headquarters. Forbidden in the rule book small print alongside clauses on minimum circumference of the half-time oranges and regulation referee hairstyles.

Premier League Champions-in-waiting, Manchester City visit the London Stadium on Sunday for the Hammers final home fixture of the season. In theory it is an opportunity to plant a spoke in the visitor’s wheels, but recent results have all but confirmed a second successive title, and the fourth in five years, for the Citizens. The ten goals scored against Newcastle and Wolves have effectively left them in an unassailable position, barring a miracle or two.

While a West Ham win would cause a temporary setback to City’s title hopes it would have significant implications for their own European ambitions, plus those of the visitor’s Manchester neighbours. The Hammers would leapfrog Manchester United by virtue of superior goal difference and nabbing the Europa League spot would then require West Ham to at least match the Red Devils result on the final day of the season. If only there hadn’t been a late missed spot kick and a last minute winner in those two games against the Reds.

History tells us that beating Manchester City is easier said than done, however. The Hammers last won a home league game against them in October 2014 (2-1: Amalfitano, Sakho). There was another 2-1 win, in September 2015, this time at the City of Manchester Stadium (Moses, Sakho), but since then it has been a run of two draws and ten defeats at an aggregate score of 32 to 8.

The injury news has been largely positive during the week with Craig Dawson and Michail Antonio both reported to have recovered from knocks that saw them leave the field at Carrow Road last weekend. Said Benrahma, however, remains doubtful following his assault by the Norwich pitch.

The visitors are experiencing their own injury crisis in defence and are now down to their last £50 m centre back in Nathan Ake. Injuries to Stones, Dias, Laporte, Fernandinho and Walker requiring Guardiola to shuffle his resources. A shame that Aaron Cresswell will not have the opportunity to see Fernandinho execute the true art of the professional foul, and how to get away with it.

A weakened City rearguard should give hope to West Ham, allowing them to end the season with the record of scoring in every home league game still intact. It will then come down to a simple matter of outscoring their gifted opponents, restricting the likes of De Bruyne, Silva, Mahrez, Foden, Jesus and Sterling to speculative long shots.  Watching Manchester City is rarely riveting but they do have a knack of ultimately wearing teams down, running their legs off. Their intensity on the pitch as relentless as their sportswashing off of it!

As ever, the Hammers limited resources makes little room for speculation over team selection. Who plays at right back is about as heated as any discussion might get! Cresswell will be a worry for me. I’m guessing David Moyes will play him, but he will be hopelessly exposed by pace down the right, and prone to losing Mahrez at the far post.

The game will be a last at home for Mark Noble who is hanging up his boots at the end of the season. Nobes has been a reliable, honest, and committed performer for all of his eighteen years at the club. He never puts in less than 100% effort and has been a great example to those around him, even during the last few seasons where he has been largely a squad player. I hope the club can find a new role for him, preferably not sweeping the London Stadium dressing rooms until retirement: “Watcha Dave, I’ve been using the same broom for 20 years now. It’s just had 17 new heads and 14 new handles”

The last home game of the season generally enjoys a celebratory party atmosphere. In that spirit, West Ham to win 4-3 with a Mark Noble winner in the 6th minute of added time. COYI!

Canary Test Set To Check Toxic Atmosphere At West Ham

The European dream is dead, long live the European dream. West Ham must shake off the midweek woes to seize qualification opportunity

Expectations are funny things. Had the prospect of top six finishes and Europa League semi-finals been dangled in front of us two years ago we’d have thought fate was having a laugh. A season free of relegation anxieties would have been the optimistic extreme of our hopes back then.

But mysteriously we find ourselves in the depths of despondency following midweek failure to barge past Eintracht Frankfurt to book a place in the Europa League final. As it is, the results don’t lie. West Ham didn’t have the wit, the guile or the luck to overcome the Germans. Frankfurt are no world beaters, but over two legs they were comfortably the more accomplished side.

I had felt quietly confident from the opening exchanges in Frankfurt that all was not lost. The Hammers started with purpose and the uphill task of overturning the first leg deficit looked a possibility. Until a moment of madness from Aaron Cresswell changed the whole complexion of the game. You can argue why him in that position, but his red card was for a challenge he simply didn’t need to make. So much for experience!

Craig Dawson might also have done better to prevent the only goal of the game by sticking with his man, but after that rarely threatened. It would always be difficult with ten men to score twice and the changes from David Moyes came far too late. Never mind time wasting ball-boys, Said Benrahma and Andriy Yarmolenko should have been introduced much earlier in the second half. What was there to lose?

While the disappointment was obvious and the emotional reaction understandable, I was still flabbergasted to see Hammers fans calling for the manager to be sacked after the game. Perhaps it was only a vocal minority, but the lack of perspective is staggering. While we remain a (relatively) low budget, short arms, deep pockets club I can think of no better candidate for manager.

It’s back to league action this weekend and the big question is how will the players recover from the low of Thursday’s events? Where will the performance measure on the Iain Dowie’s Bouncebackability Scale? Of the games remaining the visit to Norwich is the one most of us would have put down as a banker three pointer on our run-in calculators. Interesting that after Manchester United’s collapse at Brighton yesterday, finishing sixth is back again in our own hands, making victory today essential.

The not so good news from yesterday was Wolves 97th minute equaliser at Stamford Bridge. There was a feeling that West Ham could end up finishing 7th by default even if they failed to pick up any more points. That unexpected bonus for Wolves now puts that in doubt.

Although many may have pooh-poohed the Europa Conference while Tottenham were in it, I think it is important to compete regularly in European competition if the club really is going to progress . It will bring experience, raise profile, and is another chance of silverware. It would also tick up the all-important UEFA co-efficient.

Norwich are effectively, if not yet mathematically, certain to return to the Championship for next season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them back again in a year’s time if they invest the parachute payment wisely. Aside from being a bit of a whiner, Dean Smith is a decent manager, but then so too was Daniel Farke. They may need to find a more suitable brand of football if they want to enjoy a longer stay in the Premier League.

As usual Moyes won’t make many changes for the game, mainly because he doesn’t have too many options. I wonder whether Cresswell will be replaced by Ben Johnson and I would prefer to see Benrahma starting in place of either Manuel Lanzini or Pablo Fornals. It would also be nice to see one or two youngsters used from the bench if we get our noses in front, but won’t hold my breath on that one. Ex-Hammer Sam Byram is likely to featuring in defence (at centre back according to some reports) for the hosts.

The Hammers recent form is hopeless as is our record before and after European ties. It will also require heaps of character to recover from defeat in Germany. Despite all that I will allow the heart to rule head once more. West Ham set to bounce-back with 3-0 win!

For Better Or For Wurst: West Ham Prepare To Batter Frankfurters

Your task should you wish to accept it, is to win by two clear goals. It’s a tough assignment but no mission impossible as the Hammers head to Frankfurt

All the West Ham eggs are now firmly in a single basket labelled Europa League semi-final second leg. Nine months of competition season distilled into ninety minutes (plus) in which the Hammers must turn the tables and emerge victorious if they are to keep dreams of glory and silverware alive.

Defeat in the first leg was disappointing. As much for the deflation and failure to live up to events of 46 years ago as the outcome of the match itself. But all was not lost and the tie remains alive. It is not ideal to start the game a goal behind, but it makes winning a difficult task, not a monumental one.  A draw at the London Stadium would still have required victory tonight, the only difference being how the two teams react to the circumstances they find themselves in. Will Eintracht, no longer the underdogs, risk sitting back on their lead – do they stick or do they twist? The challenge for West Ham is clear – play with intensity, avoid conceding sloppy goals and find the guile to get behind and beyond the host’s defence?

Both managers fielded weakened sides in league matches at the weekend. Eintracht dropping into the bottom half of the Bundesliga following defeat to third placed Leverkusen, West Ham losing out in their London Derby against Arsenal to effectively end outstanding hopes of consecutive top six finishes. I doubt form will count for much tonight, though. It’s a one-off game that will test character and resilience as much as it will ability.

If there was a takeaway from the first leg it was that Eintracht performed technically and tactically better than West Ham. The Hammers either lacked quality in the final third (a recurring theme) or their threat was snuffed out by superior German tactics. The match statistics, however, painted an interesting picture that provides at least a straw of encouragement for the return. West Ham had more shots, a greater share of possession, won more corners, had a better pass success rate, made more successful dribbles, and won more aerial duels than their opponents. And of course, struck the woodwork three times. But the only stat that wins matches are goals scored. To win we must outscore the opposition. Certainly not impossible.

It should be a fully fit squad for David Moyes to select from with the exception of extended absentee, Angelo Ogbonna. The only uncertainties are probably Ben Johnson or Vladimir Coufal at right back, and which two of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals or Said Benrahma feature alongside Jarrod Bowen in the attacking midfield positions. I’m fairly confident that Lanzini will start which then boils selection down to a preference for Fornals energetic defensive cover or a hoped-for moment of magic from Benrahma. The introduction of Benrahma certainly livened things up in the first leg but his starts are routinely characterised by bright starts fizzling out once the tricks and flicks fail to come off. But we need invention tonight, so my predicted starting eleven would be: Areola, Johnson, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Benrahma, Antonio.

Eintracht Frankfurt welcome back two players (Ndicka and Jakic) suspended from the first leg but may stick with side that steered them to victory in London.

The game might prove to be a fascinating tactical battle. Both teams preferring to play on the break but neither having demonstrated the soundest defensive conviction in recent matches. To succeed West Ham must be clinical on the break and make better use of the set pieces that come their way. At the back, the greatest worry is the weakness and lack of pace down our left-hand side. It is going to be tense from start to finish.

It is the second leg of European encounters that usually deliver the most memorable games. Forget group matches, this is where the excitement is, unless the first leg has made it a foregone conclusion. We were already treated to thrills and superb performances in previous rounds against Sevilla and Lyon. And with all to play for tonight, we must believe the team can deliver once again.  Big performances will be needed from the likes of Zouma, Dawson, Rice, Bowen and Antonio

Personally, I am mentally prepared for extra-time and even the spectre of penalties tonight, although hopefully it won’t come to a shoot-out lottery. With only limited resources available from the bench, and a manager reluctant to use them in any case, a victory in normal time would be nice. In a kind of reverse symmetry to 1976, a 3-1 away win would be absolutely wunderbar. COYI!  

It’s A Game Of Four Halves: But Is Today Gunner Prove A Distraction For West Ham?

Another pesky London derby gets in the way of Europa League business with the visit of Arsenal to the London Stadium. How will David Moyes balance his priorities?

In the end West Ham – Eintracht Frankfurt: The Sequel didn’t live up to the high standard set by the original. If Occam had a philosophical razor for football matches it might suggest the higher expectations are raised, the deeper the depression when they are not satisfied – at least, as far as West Ham are concerned. But it now opens up an even greater and more memorable achievement if the one-goal deficit can be overturned in the away leg next Thursday.

After all, the situation at what is effectively half-time in the tie, is exactly the same as it was 46 years ago. If Jarrod Bowen’s spectacular effort had levelled the score in the dying minutes, we would still need to win in Frankfurt to go through to the final. And even if the Hammers were taking a slender lead to Germany, there would still be the fears and anxieties of sitting back too much to hold on to the lead. Sure, it will be an uphill battle, but all is not lost. They are not unbeatable and neither of the previous rounds followed the same pattern in both legs.

There was widespread agreement that Thursday’s performance fell well short of what was needed. Only a few players came close to their usual standard. Stage fright, perhaps with the weight of expectation or occasion holding them back? Most definitely a lack of quality in the final third but isn’t that something we hear most weeks? What I didn’t see, though, was a lack of effort, as some suggested in comments I read online.

Conceding such an early goal certainly set the tone on proceedings. The defence were all over the place for that one, collectively dragged across to the right hand side and leaving a huge space in behind on the left. Despite the equaliser, West Ham were unable to build on it and impose themselves on the match. That was the disappointment and control of the midfield areas will need to improve in the return.

No doubt, the second coming of the Moyesiah has seen a MASSIVE improvement in the Hammer’s fortunes.  But we have to accept it is an improvement built around getting the absolute best out of a small and committed group of players. It would be great to have a Plan B when the going gets tough, but we simply don’t have the players to do that. We are very good at making the most of our strengths – breakaways or set pieces – but limited beyond that.

Time has yet to tell whether the improvement we have seen on the pitch can develop into genuine progress throughout the club. By which, I mean a platform that can be sustained beyond the current group of players. To achieve that requires better facilities, a productive academy and forward-looking player recruitment. The summer transfer window may provide pointers to whether an appetite exists to both upgrade and deepen the strength of the squad.  

With a fully fit squad, one of the greatest limitations is creativity in attacking midfield. Someone to pull the strings and offer a different dimension in unpicking tight defences. None of the options – Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma, or Manuel Lanzini – fit the bill. If Nikola Vlasic was meant to be the answer, we asked the wrong question.

The most sparkling period of football during the last memorable two years was when Jesse Lingard was doing just that last winter – although I no longer see him as the long term solution. Someone like Martin Odegaard from today’s visitors has the ideal attributes. He is the one individual who has provided the spark for Arsenal’s assault on the top four – as well as sparking their revival from three goals down in today’s corresponding fixture last year.

The Gunners are now firm favourites for the final top four place. It would be fantastic to put a spoke in their bid but maybe a Pyrrhic victory if it opened the door to Tottenham. Much will depend on the north London derby to be played on May 12.

The Hammers Premier League aspirations remain complicated. The Europa League is clearly the bigger prize but putting all the eggs in that basket would be costly if qualification from domestic league position is sacrificed as a result. Fortunately, Wolves have been eager to help out on that score. Yet, the possibility of finishing above Manchester United in sixth remains in our own hands, at least in theory.

The question then, is how will David Moyes set his priorities for today and Thursday? The team selection against Chelsea almost did enough to preserve the point it had started with, but Craig Dawson’s dismissal was a blow, both then and now. Will Kurt Zouma be fit enough to start or is that a risk too far for Thursday? Do Michail Antonio or Tomas Soucek need a rest? I suspect it will be a similar approach to the Chelsea game with a back three of Zouma, Ben Johnson and Aaron Cresswell, and further outings for Mark Noble and Andriy Yarmolenko.

Arsenal have some exciting young talent to call upon and their pace down the flanks has to be a concern for Moyes. They don’t have the deepest of squads and will miss the injured Tierney and Partey, while Xhaka is always one challenge away from a red card. They were quite fortunate to beat Manchester United last week and owed much of their victory to Fernandes stupidity with his spot kick.

It is difficult to like the Gunners under the management of Lego-haired supremo Mikel Arteta (or is it Duplo hair?) They are too taken with the dark arts of whinging, diving, and simulation to be admired. The tolerance of referees to cheating and simulation continues to cast a dark shadow on the game. The professional dive and the professional head injury are just as distasteful as the professional foul invented by Willie Young

As the game is another that is difficult to call, I dug out my Ouija board to get this week’s prediction. According to the spirit world, it’s West Ham to win 3-1 with goals from Vlasic, Yarmolenko and Masuaku. COYI!

A Bridge Too Far? Can West Ham Put European Excitement To One Side As They Travel Across Town To Chelsea?

With important Premier League points still to play for, the Hammers must rise above European distraction and injury misfortune in the east-meets-west London derby

When Friedrich Nietzsche coined the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, he obviously hadn’t contemplated playing three crucial season defining fixtures in the course of eight days with only one fit central defender. Proof that German philosophers are no better at football punditry than Jamie Redknapp, Garth Crooks, or Michael Owen.

While I’m still clutching at the flimsiest of straws that Kurt Zouma might be back and available for Thursday night, the injury situation leaves a massive hole to fill for today’s encounter at Stamford Bridge. It now seems the Hammers final league position will be somewhere between 6th and 8th – dependent on whether they can scramble ahead of an increasingly shambolic and disinterested Manchester United and/ or holding off the challenge of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The understandable distraction of the Europa League and the extent of the injury situation will have a huge bearing on where that ends and how history ultimately represents the 2021/ 22 season.

To achieve a repeat of last year’s points tally would require four wins and a draw from the remaining five fixtures. A tall order with games against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City to come in the season’s finale. Reaching 60 points may now be a more realistic target. The Hammer’s league campaign has been steady rather than breath-taking. With a European campaign to contend with, having become a known quantity and little transfer activity that is maybe no surprise. Points won have been the result of a much-quoted resilience rather than due to footballing magnificence. The season’s most exuberant and barnstorming performances have been saved for Europe – second leg ties against Sevilla and Lyon. The possible exceptions are the two home victories over Liverpool and today’s opponents, Chelsea.

As the league campaign nears its conclusion it is clear that Manchester City and Liverpool are ahead of the field by some distance. Chelsea will most probably hold on for third, despite their recent poor run, after which it is the unpleasant prospect of a team from north London taking the final Champions League position.

If West Ham were to triumph in the Europa League, there would be a fascinating scenario of three London clubs participating in the Champions League group stages. Yet if the Hammers should manage to qualify, they would end up earning less money than their more illustrious neighbours given that a significant proportion of broadcasting revenue is distributed according to ten-year UEFA coefficients. A consequence of the Super League by stealth project.

When a slice of Masuaku magic defeated Chelsea in December 2021, it prevented the Blues from leaping to the top of the Premier League table. They had been early season favourites before gradually and steadily falling well off the pace. In truth, they have an excellent, well-organised coach but with good rather than great players. I don’t see too many Chelsea players who would be coveted by the top two. Without doubt they have stronger squad depth than West Ham.

Any suggestions as to how David Moyes juggles with the defence today is complete guesswork. A variety of options have been discussed online, some more appealing than others but none that stand out as ideal. Personally I would always prefer the least disruptive change, which in this case would mean either promoting a central defender from the Under 23s or shifting Ben Johnson to the centre. Moyes came out as reluctant to drop an inexperienced Under 23 into such a high profile game, which maybe highlights the folly of rarely giving young players a taste of action from the bench.

Moving Declan Rice back and/ or playing three at the back are other possibilities. The Chelsea threat is one of speed and movement rather than aerial, a consideration that Moyes may have in mind. The difficulty for me is with Rice so pivotal to both defensive and attacking midfield operations, we would struggle to string anything together in his absence. It merely weakens two positions.

In even the toughest of games I can usually muster some degree of optimism that there is a chance of a point or three being stolen. It is proving difficult to find that hope today. The prior record ahead of midweek Europa League games, the distraction of semi-final glory, the injuries, and Chelsea’s desire to bounce back from successive defeats all accumulate into a major serving of bad feeling. But then I remember the David Martin game from 2019. I wonder if he’s any good at centre-half? COYI!  

West Ham Set To Rise Again At Easter: Burnley Left Hot And Cross

Another chance for West Ham’s Europa League heroes to make a statement of intent and end the weekend 5th in the Premier League standings

Oh what a night, hypnotising, mesmerising me. It was everything I dreamed it’d be. As I remember, what a night!

The Europa League campaign has now served up two of the most memorable West Ham performances in living memory. And all within the space of four weeks. Victories against Sevilla and now Lyon are victories that will be talked about for years to come.

There can’t have been too many supporters who didn’t fear the worst after last Sunday’s defeat at Brentford. Not just that we lost but the manner of the defeat. It was the look of a jaded team. One where the spring had left the step and fatigue had taken over. The Hammers looked to have a mountain to climb as they headed to the foothills of the Massif Central.

The style and panache that was demonstrated in Lyon was as fabulous as it was unexpected. True there had been a shaky start, but once into their stride West Ham were imperious. It feels impolite to single out individual players from a team of heroes but Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio were each at the top of their games. Honourable mention also for Issa Diop and Ben Johnson who might have been exposed but in the hour (and a half) of need were more than up for the challenge.

Compared and contrasted to the Brentford performance, the difference was not of tiredness but of mindset. Will this be the story for the remainder of the season. The glamour, excitement and anticipation of Europa League glory forcing mundane Premier League matches to the back of the mind. Results yesterday have, for the second week running, left the door to the top six finish teasingly ajar. Can the opportunity be gratefully seized this time around, allowing the Hammers to spend the rest of Easter in 5th place?

To quote a well-worn cliché David Moyes must take each game as it comes. The record following midweek European games has not that impressive to date, his team having won only three and lost five of nine matches. Although two of those wins were against Tottenham and Liverpool.

In an ideal world today is the perfect time for the fresh legs of fringe players to give key individuals a well-earned breather. But I don’t see that happening this weekend. What happens in the Chelsea and Arsenal games that sandwich the Europa League semi-final ties will cause more of a selection dilemma.

There will be changes today but the starting eleven will closely resemble that which triumphed in Lyon. Lukasz Fabianski and Aaron Cresswell will likely return, and there may be a toss up between Vladimir Coufal and Ben Johnson at right back. Possibly Said Benrahma or Nikola Vlasic could receive the call in place of Manuel Lanzini, but that would be an outside bet. Predicted team: Fabianski, Johnson, Dawson, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Fornals, Antonio.

The pre-match debate has been dominated by the surprising news that Sean Dyche has been sacked as Burnley manager. In a move reminiscent of turkeys voting for Christmas, the Claret’s board have virtually guaranteed relegation for the club. Fat Frank couldn’t have believed his luck when the story broke. The timing is quite bizarre, unless there have been behind the scenes shenanigans that we are not aware of. I’ve never been a huge fan of Burnley’s agricultural style under the gravelly voiced one, but you have to admire the pragmatism that has kept Burnley in the topflight since 2016 on a shoestring budget.

With most of the backroom staff also getting their marching orders, temporary team management duties have fallen to Under-23s boss, Michael Jackson. So today, could be a Thriller, or else it could be Bad!

It is difficult to imagine that Burnley won’t be in a state of disarray for the game. It is a perfect time for the Hammers to hit them when they’re down – which they will be come the end of the season. A healthy 3-0 win and a chance to give a few youngsters a run from the bench. COYI!

A Nods As Good As A Wink: Aerial Power The Key For West Ham In The Lyon’s Den

West Ham’s dream of Europa League progress takes centre stage as they head for sudden death success against the Lyon winkers

Preparation for today’s Europa League Quarter Final second leg could hardly have gone any worse. Playing a full-strength side at Brentford on Sunday might have made sense at the time – in the hope of capitalising on slip-ups by Manchester United and Arsenal – but in retrospect giving key players the opportunity to rest would have been the sensible option. The Hammers wouldn’t have taken anything less from the game, and might have found themselves in a far better position to face Lyon.

The performance at Brentford was one of the poorest from a West Ham side for quite some time. We will discover later whether this was down to fatigue or was the result of player’s minds seduced by today’s showdown. There are fine margins at this level and concentration only has to slip a little to be exposed by an opponent as determined as Brentford.

The European adventure has provided a welcome added dimension to the season. Having had a taste, I’m sure most fans are eager for more next season. Qualification for the Europa League or Conference is still a possibility from league position but winning this competition would hit the jackpot of Champions League qualification. Easy to see why today’s game could serve as a distraction.

I was reasonably happy when West Ham were drawn against Lyon. After all, having just knocked out serial winners, Sevilla, what problems could a mid-ranking Ligue 1 side possibly pose? I did worry, though, whether the Hammers had peaked too soon in that Sevilla second leg. It felt like we were already in the final.

This tie sits finely poised after a referee assisted first leg stalemate at the London Stadium. Playing for half a game with ten men is never easy, so huge credit for a gutsy draw. But the implications of the farcical red card do not stop there. We must now play another whole game without the services of Aaron Cresswell. It’s not that Cresswell is a fantastic or irreplaceable player, it’s that he’s the only left back we have! A ludicrous state of affairs to find yourself in.

The other spanner in the works was the news that Kurt Zouma will miss the match, and potentially the rest of the season, with a twisted ankle. Wouldn’t Billy Bonds or Stuart Pearce just have had a squirt of Ralgex and carried on playing? Zouma is a commanding presence in the air but often looks awkward (almost clumsy) going in for tackles. I wonder whether he picks up more than his fair share of injuries because of that. No doubt he is one of our top players and his absence will be sorely missed.

I don’t see David Moyes making any radical changes to shape to compensate for the absences. It will be Issa Diop replacing Zouma in a straight swap, with Ben Johnson in as the least worst replacement for Cresswell. I consider Johnson to be the most accomplished of our full backs defensively but switching sides and playing on your weaker foot is not as easy as many suggest, particularly at the highest level. How well he adapts to the threat down the right may well be one of the pivotal battles of the night.  There has also been speculation about Declan Rice dropping into a back three, but that would be crazy unless the plan is to play under siege for ninety minutes. In any case, the squad does not have the wing backs to deliver the attacking width required from the role.

Could there be change in the forward midfield positions? Manuel Lanzini looked seriously out-of-sorts on Sunday and maybe Pablo Fornals replaces him in the centre, with Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma out wide. Or could there be a surprise return for Mark Noble to stiffen the midfield alongside Rice and Tomas Soucek? Maybe that is a second half change!

My predicted line-up is: Areola, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Johnson, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma, Antonio   

As with the first game I expect assorted dark arts and skulduggery from Lyon. The type of tactics that commentators euphemistically refer to as ‘using their experience, rather than calling it what it is, cheating. We must hope the Swiss referee is more attuned to such underhand behaviour and does not believe his role is to be part of the entertainment.

Lyon are reported to have picked up a number of injuries since the first leg, notably goalkeeper, Lopes and midfield creator, Paqueta. Goal threats remain from the winking Dembele, Toko Ekambi and Tete requiring new heights of excellence from the Dawson-Diop axis – a pairing that has failed to impress in the past.

Tonight’s winner will be set up for a cracker of a semi-final against either Barcelona or Eintracht Frankfurt. Although underdogs, West Ham can win this. On more than one occasion, the team have demonstrated the character, fight and determination needed to achieve it. It starts all-square with no requirement to win by more than one goal, as in the second leg with Sevilla. As someone famous once said, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.

We cannot change the players Moyes has available for selection. All we can do is accept whoever is picked, get fully behind the team, and spur them on to victory. I’m banking on the pace of power of Michail Antonio rattling the Lyon defence and our set pieces causing nightmares for the stand-in Lyon keeper. Dawson to nod in the winner! We still believe. COYI!

Hammers Have An Old Score To Settle With The Bees: Moyes Will Be Buzzing

Yesterday’s results leave the door open for West Ham to snatch successive top six finishes. Can they take advantage with a revenge win over recently rallying Brentford?

Cast your mind back two years to the same stage of the 2019/20 season, and you will remember that West Ham were languishing in 17th place in the Premier League. They had accumulated a meagre twenty-seven points from the thirty-one games played. With three of their relegation rivals each having a game in hand, the future looked bleak at the London Stadium.

It has been a phenomenal turnaround that the Hammers now find themselves in touching distance of a second consecutive top six finish and a Europa League semi-final. Even if those ambitions are eventually thwarted, it is a scenario that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of the most claret-and-blue spectacled optimist back in June 2020.

Huge praise must go the manager, coaches, and a fantastic group of players for this improvement, built around hard work, commitment, and organisation. It’s a great time to be a Hammer. But as supporters we are never fully satisfied. Our minds are always filled with the ‘what ifs’ and ‘might have beens’. While marvelling at the team’s stellar improvement, I am yet to be convinced that behind the scenes changes have made the progress required to create a legacy beyond the tenure of the manager and the current crop of players. The key to this is a planned and sensible recruitment strategy and a far more productive academy. The jury is still out on both of those – although I won’t let it spoil the enjoyment of the moment.

Harping on about the lack of transfer activity ends up sounding like a broken record. But the implications don’t go away. We are essentially the same side as last season plus Kurt Zouma. Games have been played without a recognised striker and now we must negotiate a Europa League quarter final without a recognised left-back. It’s just so very seat of the pants.

It is apparent this season that fourth spot is up for grabs for anyone able to demonstrate the correct level of consistency. Tottenham made a couple of astute signings in January and are now firmly in the driving seat. West Ham did nothing and have ended as plucky losers as far as that particular prize is concerned. While finishing fifth or sixth would be no mean feat, I can’t help feel it could have been better.

The other regret from the season are the needless points that have been dropped in sloppy circumstances. Losing twice to Manchester United when they both should have ended in draws, for example. And the below par performances that resulted in home defeats to bottom half sides – Southampton, Leeds, and today’s opponents, Brentford.  

The home fixture against Brentford in October was especially frustrating. There’s no doubt the visitor’s deserved their first half lead as a bright and intense opening caught the Hammer’s cold. Having taken the lead, though, the visitors fell back on the dark arts of time wasting and going to ground at every opportunity. Arguably a pragmatic approach for a side on a limited budget newly promoted to the Premier League. Once West Ham had equalised it felt there would be only one winner in the match, but there was to be a sting in the tail. A pointless free kick conceded in the depths of added time, uncharacteristic lapses in marking, a poor parry by Fabianski, and the ball was lashed home for a Brentford win. The Bees leapfrogging the Hammers in the process to move up to eighth.

Brentford have successfully kept their heads just above relegation trouble since then and can now look forward to a second season at the top level. A recent improved run of form was capped with a thrilling and emphatic 4-1 victory at Stamford Bridge last weekend. They will prove uncompromising opponents once again today.

If West Ham are to match last season’s points haul, they will require fourteen points from the final seven games. Four wins, two draws and a defeat would achieve that. Looking at the fixture list, today must feature near the top of the winnable games. As Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal are still to come, we cannot risk our one defeat at the Brentford Community Stadium.

With the second leg Europa League tie against Lyon coming up on Thursday, some have suggested there might be a spot of squad rotation today. I don’t see Moyes going for that myself and, in any case, he doesn’t have too many options anyway. Perhaps there will be recalls for Vladimir Coufal at right back and Manuel Lanzini in midfield. Lanzini is a player who can be hit or miss, but when he is deployed deeper it does allow Tomas Soucek more opportunity to get forward. It also takes some of the pressure off Declan Rice as the default instigator of almost every West Ham attack.

The defence must stay on high alert to counter the movement and physicality of Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo. Thankfully, Craig Dawson and Zouma have established a strong and solid partnership that has exceeded all expectations and should be equal to the task. Toney hasn’t quite lived up to his goalscoring reputation, and although he is the host’s leading scorer, five of his eight have been from the spot. I am delighted to see Christian Eriksen back playing football again. I wish him the best, even in defeat.

I expect it will be a tough, physical game. The hosts will start with intensity and on the front foot. Moyes will need to prepare his men for the initial onslaught – no slow start can be tolerated this afternoon. It will be an intriguing encounter which I predict West Ham will sneak 1-0. COYI!