West Ham’s season so far – poor performances, poor decisions or bad luck? Can we turn it around before the World Cup interrupts the season again in mid-November?

If you’ve been away to a remote island for the past couple of months and missed the beginning of the season then a quick glance at the Premier League table will tell you all you need to know about West Ham’s start to the 2022-23 campaign. Or will it?

Certainly it’s not ideal to be occupying a place in the bottom three at any stage, although only seven games in gives you the opportunity to put matters right by next May.

But after two consecutive seasons of qualifying for European football by virtue of a top 6/7 league position we have already given the rest of the teams a head start and made it difficult to achieve the feat for a third successive year.

So what has gone wrong? Why have we only collected four points from the opening seven games? For much of the time the players on show have not reached the levels achieved in the previous two campaigns either individually or collectively. For me, Fabianski, Coufal, Cresswell, Fornals, Lanzini, Benrahma, Soucek and Bowen all fall into that category to some extent and even Rice has not performed at the top of his game, but we can’t expect him to do it all! From reading social media I know that some will agree and some will differ with my assessment.

Our new recruits look good on paper with lots of international footballers, but have they been given sufficient opportunity yet to show what they are capable of? And have we bought the right players to blend together to become a top seven Premier League club? 

Many fans believe that the manager has continued to select out of form players that have done it in the past whilst being reluctant to throw new recruits into the fray claiming they are not yet ready. New signings at other clubs seem to hit the ground running!

So many poor decisions all round have contributed to our league position. Things might have been different if officials had not ruled out (controversially) Benrahma’s goal when Antonio was blocked, not the other way round surely? Or the failure of the referee to send Forest down to 10 men with the deliberate hand ball? Or Rice’s decision to take the penalty kick? Added to the bad luck hitting the inside of the woodwork twice and we could easily have collected 3 points from the opener at Forest.

It goes on. Poor finishing towards the end of the Tottenham game meant only one point when it could have, perhaps should have, been three. There’s no way Chilwell would have scored Chelsea’s opening goal If Fabianski had not left his line at the post. The refereeing decision to deny our late equaliser has been well documented and 99 per cent of people believe it was wrong. We should have had one, and possibly three points from that game too.

True, the luck did go our way in the Villa game with the deflected goal, but the inside of a post denied us a point at Everton in an uninspired performance from both sides. There was no way we would have beaten Harland-inspired Manchester City, and as usual we performed abysmally against Brighton and deserved absolutely nothing from that game which is exactly what we got.

In a parallel universe we might have had ten or twelve points from those first seven games, but the fact is we have just four points and sit in the bottom three.

In a season interrupted by a World Cup in November/ December the powers that be decided that there should still be an early international break. The additional interruption caused by the decision to postpone football matches following the sad death of the Queen will only add to the congestion later on, but I wonder if this will work in our favour in the long run?

I wonder if the lack of games recently in a period when we haven’t been playing well will give us a chance to regroup? Will our costly defensive signing Aguerd be back soon? Will the manager give Cornet more game time? Will Downes (who was my man of the match in his only start in a European game) at last be given an opportunity to show what he is capable of? Is it time for Areola to replace Fabianski? What influence will the European schedule (Thursday- Sunday) have? Can we start to retain possession of the ball more? Will bad luck convert to good fortune in the upcoming games? These and so many other questions will be answered in the next few weeks.

Wolves on Saturday, followed by Fulham, Southampton, Liverpool, Bournemouth and Manchester United are the six league games in October. They are followed by Palace and Leicester in early November. And then we break again for the World Cup. Five of the eight are at home. 

By mid November we will have played 15 games (8 at home). We could still have four points at that stage! If that were the case we would be in deep trouble. We could have won eight games in a row and have 28 points and be challenging near the top.

More realistically I reckon we would need to have picked up at least 16 points from the next eight games to be back on course for a potential top 7 finish.Can we do it? What are the chances? 

Further thoughts on West Ham at Stamford Bridge and subsequent events

What goes around comes around (sometimes sooner rather than later)!

It’s Wednesday morning on the 7th September 2022. I’m listening to some John Lennon music tracks, and one of my favourites – Number 9 dream. I wonder what Michail Antonio dreams about? Perhaps it is referees and the decisions that have gone against West Ham in the opening games this season, the disallowed goals at Nottingham Forest and Chelsea?

I’m sure you know who Lennon is, but in case you don’t he was one of the twentieth century’s greatest musical talents. He was a world-famous singer / songwriter who, together with Paul McCartney, fronted the Beatles and penned virtually all their hits. He was shot dead in New York in 1980, a sad and untimely death, aged just 40. And just in case you don’t know the Beatles, they were the world’s most successful group who changed the face of popular music in the 1960s.

As I listened to some of Lennon’s great songs I was reading through the BBC Sport website looking at the football for the previous evening. I had taken no notice of the football results last night with little interest in the early group stages of the Champions League. It’s a different matter thinking about the Europa Conference League, which, as a West Ham fan I will be following closely of course.

I read about Manchester City’s exploits and unsurprising win in Seville, and then about Chelsea’s defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. I cannot deny it. It brought a smile to my face. I looked with interest to see that Mendy had been dropped from the starting eleven, or was he rested, or injured by that vicious assault by Jarrod Bowen last Saturday? Being unfamiliar with the Chelsea substitutes I spotted his name amongst the substitutes but wasn’t sure whether he was the only keeper there.

Arrizabalaga was in goal for this game. I wonder if Mendy will have recovered in time for Chelsea’s next league game, or even from his injury? Remind me again, was it a broken or dislocated shoulder? Another report said it was a knee injury that ruled him out, even though the Senegal keeper was named on the bench and apparently took a fully active part in the pre-match warm-up. Now I am confused. What part of Mendy’s body did Bowen’s boot brush against? I also read that Chelsea had a goal disallowed in Zagreb. I don’t know if VAR was involved but I do hope so.

As I was reading the match report a message flashed up on my phone to say that Thomas Tuchel had been sacked. Surely not! What football club would hand their manager the world-leading transfer kitty in the summer – how much was it £250 million or close to £300 million – and then sack him so early in the season just after losing his 100th game in charge less than one week after the transfer window had been slammed shut? Only Chelsea could do that! They have lost their Russian benefactor who was famous for sacking managers but the new regime still seems to have unlimited funds to spend. By the way, does Financial Fair Play still exist?

I was fuming on Saturday about the closing stages of our game at Chelsea. Not only by Cornet’s header against the post which might have secured three points, but the events following Chelsea’s goal to give them a 2-1 lead. It seemed incredible to me that the well-taken finish (by Cornet, making up for his glaring miss) could possibly be disallowed but the referee, after consulting the pitchside monitor, decided to do so. It’s a decision which has been condemned by virtually all football fans and pundits and even the referee’s body (PGMOL or whatever they are).

The only people who seemed to suggest it was a foul are Mendy (for his writhing around on the floor), Tuchel (who said so in his post-match interview on Saturday), and Graham Souness (that successful ex-football manager writing in his weekly Sunday newspaper column). Perhaps there are one or two others but the vast majority, including a couple of Chelsea fans I know could not believe the injustice of how West Ham had been robbed of a point. Apparently Tuchel was also reported as saying (after the Zagreb game) “I just didn’t see it coming.” He was referring to the poor Chelsea showing and the defeat, but I guess it could just as easily have referred to the actions of the Chelsea board on Wednesday morning! I don’t feel sorry for him. No doubt he will be well compensated for the early release from his contract.

Anyway back to the music. I was listening to a number of John Lennon tracks whilst preparing my twice-weekly music show that I present on local community radio. Just as I was reading the Chelsea stuff, about their poor result in Zagreb and the sacking of Tuchel, the next John Lennon track came on. It was a song that reached number 5 in the UK charts in 1970, and it became the first single by a solo member of the Beatles to sell a million copies. The lyrics of the song focus on a concept in which the consequences of one’s actions are immediate rather than borne out over a lifetime. They mean that your actions influence your future, perhaps sooner rather than later. I now had an even wider smile on my face. The title of the song – Instant Karma.

West Ham – thoughts on the Tottenham game and the transfer window

Did you enjoy our excellent performance against a disappointing Tottenham side on Wednesday night? I certainly did. For me it was our best performance of the season by a long way and reminiscent of some of our better games in the last two seasons. There was only one team who were going to win the game in the second half and it wasn’t whingeing Tottenham.

They had taken the lead rather fortuitously in the first half with the own goal but I can barely remember Fabianski being troubled all night, and when he was called upon he showed why he has no intention of relinquishing the number 1 jersey with a commanding display. To be honest I expected a lot more from Tottenham but they resorted to dubious ‘old-fashioned Italian’ tactics, moaning at the referee at every stoppage, and generally they seemed to feel that everything should go their way because they have had a decent start to the season and we haven’t. They believe that they are genuine title challengers but with this display they are a million miles away.

The treatment of Bowen in particular was appalling in the way he was targeted and brought down at every opportunity. He was looking back to his lively self from last season and could perhaps have scored more than once in the closing stages of the game. With a little more composure Fornals should have scored too, as should Paqueta when he and Emerson left the ball for each other when in a great position from Coufal’s cross.

I thought the whole of our team played well with season-best performances all round, especially in the second half, and my man of the match was Antonio. He was unlucky in the first half when his long-range shot hit the post, and his Bergkamp-like flick to set up Soucek’s equalising goal was sublime. And didn’t Soucek take it well! All night Antonio (just like Bowen) was fouled by the Tottenham defenders who were allowed to get away with it by a referee who was too lenient in many respects. I am all for the new code where referees allow the game to continue more freely than before after strong tackles but this was too much.

Conte disappointed me too with his post-match comments about the VAR decision which sent the referee to look at the screen after the ball struck Cresswell’s arm after deflecting off his face. Quite frankly how VAR took almost four minutes before they came to that conclusion was baffling. You only had to look at the replay once to see what had happened. I am a fan of VAR applied properly and in this case justice was done, but why the hesitation? But not according to whingeing Conte.

Some excellent performances all round by our players and the new signings are going to be great additions. Paqueta’s thirty-minute cameo demonstrated what a signing he could become and was especially notable for the fact that he hadn’t trained with the team beforehand. Players are now playing knowing that there are quality players on the bench and the competition for their places is just what is needed. What I particularly liked in comparison to the earlier games this season was our ability to retain the ball and not give it away cheaply. We moved the ball quicker too with more purpose, and the players were finding space to receive the ball too.

I don’t usually give player ratings but I’ll make an exception for this game. Fabianski 7.5, Coufal 7.5, Kehrer 8, Zouma 7.5, Cresswell 7, Rice 8.5, Soucek 8, Fornals 7, Benrahma 7, Bowen 8, Antonio 8.5.

I won’t give a rating for the substitutes but Paqueta, Ogbonna and Emerson, all looked good with their relatively short time on the pitch and we were well on top as the game edged towards a close.

We now move on to Stamford Bridge to face big-spending Chelsea. Another performance like we produced for the Tottenham game, especially in the second half will be fine. We are actually playing a game on a Saturday! When did that last happen? If I’m not mistaken we last played a league game on a Saturday (the traditional day for football!) at the beginning of March when we lost 1-0 at Anfield. And when did we last win a league game on a Saturday? I don’t think it has happened since New Years Day, January 1st when we beat Palace 3-2 at Selhurst Park. I may be wrong but I don’t think we won a league game on a Saturday at the London Stadium in the whole of last season. Of course the main reasons for this are games shown on TV plus our participation in European competition.

The madness, also known as the transfer window, slammed shut on Thursday evening. (Why does it always slam?). At last an end to the 982 players linked with West Ham over the past few weeks! Sky Sports is whipped into a frenzy on the final day when so many clubs finalise the business that they’ve had weeks to do, and so many transactions take place right up until the 11pm deadline. Time will tell of course, but I reckon that this has been the most successful window for West Ham in years. Spending has certainly exceeded my expectations with the arrival of eight players to replace those that left or who have retired. Seven of the eight are current full international footballers. It’s now down to the manager to mould them into a team that can challenge for honours. I look forward to the rest of the season.

West Ham – the season so far

We certainly didn’t hope to be at the bottom of the Premier League table after three games with no points and no goals, the only team in the top flight with that unenviable record. An opening day fixture against champions Manchester City was always likely to end in defeat despite our excellent 2-2 draw with them at the tail end of last season. In reality, despite the massive City possession statistics, new signing Erling Haaland was the real difference between the teams. Without his contribution we might have held on for another draw.

The second game at newly-promoted Forest was always going to be more difficult than many might have expected. We didn’t play particularly well but, in my opinion we were extremely unlucky not to win the game. Twice hitting the underside of the bar only to see the ball bounce down on the goal-line, a poor penalty miss inexplicably taken by our captain when surely there are better penalty takers in the team, and a goal chalked off after VAR had intervened suggesting that Antonio had impeded the defender (when surely it was the other way round?), were compounded with a Forest goal a result of poor defending, lucky bounce off the knee, and an inability to retrieve the situation in the second half.

And for some reason we just cannot beat Brighton. This was our eleventh attempt at doing so since they were promoted to the Premier League, but poor defending gifted them two goals and we were unable to break them down. When we did their keeper was good enough to repel our efforts. The Seagulls are a team that are underestimated by many and have developed into quite a force in the top flight. In Graham Potter I think they have one of the best managers around.

Perhaps injuries and poor fitness of some players, especially central defenders has contributed to our current plight? Perhaps trying to integrate new players into the squad is a factor? We continue to make signings that look very good on paper but it does take time for new players to bed in at a club. To be fair the new acquisitions have not really been in the team, or certainly the starting eleven in the league games to date. Perhaps it is continuing to select players who were not performing too well in the latter part of last season? Perhaps it is the reluctance to introduce substitutes until much later in the game than many fans would like to see to enable them to have a positive influence on the games? Perhaps too many players are just out of form? Perhaps a mixture of all of those factors plus others? Whatever the reasons we haven’t made the start to the new season that we would hope for.

Everybody has opinions, but the manager is the one whose job depends on making the right decisions. I have my reservations about some of the ones he makes, but two seasons of sixth / seventh place finishes after taking over at the club in a perilous position facing relegation, and qualification and (almost) success in Europe, should not be discounted because of three games. There’s a long way to go. If I remember correctly Pellegrini was manager when we lost the first four games a few seasons back and we still finished tenth in that campaign.

Given the fluidity of positions on a football pitch in modern times it is difficult to categorise players but forgive me and humour me in attempting to do so with our current squad. I’ll highlight 23 and for the purposes of this I’ll ignore our up and coming prospects such as Ashby, although I hope that the manager does not continue to ignore them. By my reckoning we have 3 international goalkeepers (Fabianski, Areola, Randolph) and now 7 international defenders (Cresswell, Zouma, Coufal, Ogbonna, Kehrer, Aguerd, Palmieri). We have 4 international midfielders (Fornals, Lanzini, Soucek, Rice) and 5 forwards with full international caps (Scamacca, Antonio, Cornet, Bowen, Benrahma). By my reckoning that makes 19 full international footballers out of a squad of 23 (so far). Even the four other players in the first team squad have some international recognition (Ben Johnson U-21, Conor Coventry (U-21 Ireland), Flynn Downes (U-20) and Craig Dawson has 15 U-21 caps and 3 Great Britain Olympic caps). Just 5 of the outfield 20 players are aged 30 or over (Creswell, Coufal, Dawson, Ogbonna and Antonio).

We all have differing opinions but I truly believe that we have a squad of footballers well capable of challenging for a place in the top 8 (hopefully higher) in the Premier League, in the cups, and in Europe. At least the first European hurdle was easily completed on Thursday evening with the 6-1 aggregate win over Viborg. We now move on to the league stage.

It is the job of the manager and coaches to mould the squad and produce results enabling those results to be achieved. Failure to do so will put his and their jobs in jeopardy. He has produced the goods in the past two seasons with what I believe was an inferior squad. I’m not at all upset by any of the players that have departed and believe that they have been replaced by footballers of a better quality. The manager and coaches now need to earn their money and produce teams week in and week out that have a method (and alternatives) of playing that will achieve the results that I believe a squad of that ability should be able to.

I’d also like to think that we haven’t finished adding to the squad. There are 3 players that I would be delighted if we signed one or more of them. A true consistently-proven goalscoring midfielder such as the Belgian, Vanaken, would be a tremendous signing, and Moyes has admitted we’ve put in a bid for him. Apparently our bid and Club Brugge’s valuation are some way apart and I wonder if it will happen?

I’d also like to see some real pace down the flanks and there are two players I like that would provide this. One is Sarr from Watford who I really like, but the other would be a controversial one and many will disagree with me. The other one is Adama Traore from Wolves. He has frightening pace and the potential to be a world beater, but his potential has never been realised mainly because there is little or no end-product from him. I’m sure he could be bought for a song and then it would be the job of the manager and coaches once again to turn massive potential into a top player. I honestly believe he would be worth taking a chance on if he can be acquired for a knock-down fee, and then we can see whether he can be coached into really achieving what I reckon he could be capable of. I wonder if we’ll see any of the three of them, or even Paquet (from Lyons) or Maitland-Niles (from Arsenal), both quality players that have been supposedly linked with us.

So there we are. That’s my view of the start we have made and what I believe we are capable of. My views are not shared by many on social media and that’s fair enough. We are all entitled to our opinions.

Matchday 4 of the Premier League season arrives this weekend and we are at Villa Park. That game is closely followed by fixtures against Tottenham, Chelsea and Newcastle. We could have 12 points after 7 games. We might still have zero. Or of course we could be somewhere in between. How many points do you think we’ll have? It’s time for the players, manager and coaches to really start earning their money, and for the team to start climbing the table.   

West Ham aim to bounce back at Forest. Can our newcomers make a difference?

If you watched last Sunday’s encounter with Manchester City on TV you may also have seen the pre-match Sky punditry. I reckon that the build up to the game was skewed roughly 80/20 in favour of talking about City, and in particular the addition of Erling Haaland to an already formidable squad of players. And some may say they got it right! City dominated possession of the ball with about 80% of it, and Haaland was the key difference between the two sides scoring both goals and showing frightening pace at the same time, which together with a proven ability to find the net at the highest level will take them to even greater heights than those they are already on. A daily newspaper in their preview the game went further than Sky with their two-page spread on the game, and I had to scour the article in great detail to work out City’s opponents!

Now don’t get me wrong, their ball retention is excellent and they show great skill and movement, and I believe they will win almost everything they are in for this season. Perhaps the two points cushion that they already have over Liverpool is enough to seal the title already? And as such it was inevitable that they would win relatively comfortably against a West Ham side whose starting eleven featured a whole side of players who were there last season, a team already with injury issues, and one that the manager (if I’ve got this right) seemed to announce before the game were not really ready for the season!

But Haaland was the real difference wasn’t he? Without his performance we may well have got away with a draw similar to the one at the end of last season despite being outplayed by a superior side. One characteristic of the current West Ham is that we are not likely to repeat the 5-0 defeats that have been a feature of matches against the top sides in the not too distant past.

I was disappointed that Areola went the wrong way for the penalty, even though he wouldn’t have saved it had he done his homework. It is evident that Haaland likes to open his body and go for the keeper’s right hand as he also showed when scoring the second goal. It’s very similar to how Thierry Henry used to do it in reverse, opening his body and going to the keeper’s left. I picked it as he ran up to take the penalty, but as I say it was so good it wouldn’t have been saved anyway!

I was a bit disappointed with our display. The effort was there but we seemed a bit passive. You really need to get into City’s face to stand a chance and we didn’t, although I guess the very hot temperature was a factor. We seemed bereft of ideas and our only real chances of scoring were likely to be as a result of set pieces in attacking areas. But somebody needs to explain to me why we don’t exploit this situation more. At times we have free kicks in the opponents half but we end up passing sideways and backwards, the ball then goes back to our keeper who kicks long and almost always surrenders possession, with our opponents having the ball roughly where we had the free kick. If scoring goals from set pieces is our forte then why not push forward at the free kick and send the ball into the opposition penalty area exactly as we would from a corner. It’s a bit Wimbledonesque I know but if it’s an effective weapon then we should use it surely?

It’s only one game though and there are still another 37 to go. The league table doesn’t really take shape until we’re at least 10/12 matches into the season – just look at where Arsenal were early on last time and then compare it to where they finished. If we get to that stage of the campaign, or perhaps at the time of the break for the World Cup, and we are struggling then that is the time to worry more as you always seem to be playing catch-up from that point. Games against Manchester City and Liverpool aren’t the ones where we would expect to pick up points. Of course we should be trying to match them but in reality the top two are in a league of their own. The next one this Sunday at Nottingham Forest is in many respects a more important one, and a fixture where we should be looking to collect three points against a promoted side. Having said that the early games in the season are often the ones where the promoted sides are at their most dangerous.

So what will happen this weekend in the ‘ham’ derby? Can West bounce back to overcome Notting as both teams strive to collect their first points of the season? The first game doesn’t give us a lot to go on. Since my first article of the season last week we have added Cornet to the squad and I reckon that both he and Scamacca will play important roles in this game. I’ll make a prediction – Lingard will open the scoring for the home team responding to chants from our fans along the lines of being one greedy ‘person’! Cornet will equalise early in the second half and then Scamacca will open his account to score the winner and we will have three points and be up and running for the season. What are the chances?

The Premier League Champions visit the London Stadium for the season opener. Is this the ideal time for West Ham to entertain Manchester City?

It seems like only yesterday when season 2021-22 drew to a close. It has barely rained since then! Of course being a year divisible by two we would normally expect a major competition in the summer break, and this time around it would have been the World Cup. But that is not the case as due to temperatures in Qatar the 2022 tournament is being played in the weeks leading up to Christmas which will have a big impact on the 2022-23 season. We’ll get the mid-season break that so many campaign for but with a difference in that many of the leading players will not be resting but exerting themselves in the heat of the Middle East.

We did have a tournament to watch though and I have to say I enjoyed it immensely, especially the climax last Sunday. Euro 2022 for women filled our football gap and the Lionesses did us proud with their excellent victory over the Germans. It remains to be seen whether the legacy of the competition will be a higher profile for the women’s game at the top level, although I’m sure it will lead to greater participation of girls at junior levels.

Anyway, it’s back to the Premier League with West Ham entertaining the champions Manchester City in the opening fixture which will be televised this Sunday, 4.30 pm kick off. What with TV plus our involvement in the Europa Conference League on Thursdays, it will be some time before we get to see a Saturday 3pm kick off at the London Stadium. Is the first game of the season the best time to be playing the team that are odds-on favourites to finish on top again? Perhaps it is. They took a while to get into their stride last season, and we gave them a good game in the 2-2 draw towards the end. I’ll begin this season’s match predictions by going for another 2-2 this time.

It has been the usual summer in respect of speculation regarding incoming (and outgoing) players at the club, and at the time of writing I remain to be convinced that the squad will be anything other than paper thin once again. But I fervently hope to be proved wrong. Nayef Aguerd seems to be a good acquisition but we know what happened in the friendly at Rangers, and following his operation it seems unlikely we’ll be seeing him for a while, possibly not until after the mid-season World Cup?

Gianluca Scamacca too is an international footballer and we’ve been crying out for ages for a top-class number 9 (who I understand will be wearing number 7). I am hopeful that he will turn out to be one of our better buys. Some of our forward purchases in the past decade (or even longer) have not really been up to scratch have they?  The last high profile Italian international centre forward (Zaza) joined us on loan from Juventus at the beginning of the 2016-17 season, our first at the London Stadium. He played eight times and didn’t find the net once before he was shipped off to Valencia, and then ended up at Torino. In 145 games since leaving us he has scored 35 goals, around 1 in 4. I’m hoping that Scamacca has a much better strike rate than that.

Flynn Downes is an interesting one and comes highly regarded by those who have seen him performing at Championship Level. But can he do it in the Premier League? And will he get the chance? With our injury record then the answer to the second question is probably yes. Bowen made the step up to the top level from the Championship so let’s hope Downes can do the same. I reckon he’ll shine if given the opportunity, but it’s wait and see. Areola made his move permanent (like so many it seemed to take ages to get it ‘over the line’) but he was already here last season and was proven at top level. It can’t be long before he becomes the league custodian and Fabianski the Cup one can it?

At the time of writing that seems to be the total of incoming players, but will the squad be strong enough to challenge for the top six as well as have another good European and domestic cup campaign? We are famous for adding players as the new season gets underway and when the window is about to slam shut so there could be more, but as it stands we would still appear to be light. Perhaps some of the Academy players who have done so well at their level in recent times will make the breakthrough? It would be great if they do, but they need to be given the chance to prove themselves.

Traditionally before the season commences I predict the finishing positions next May. It would be great if we could improve on last season’s 7th, and with Chelsea and Manchester United in some form of transition perhaps we can, although it will be difficult without further top-class investment. I reckon both North London clubs will have good seasons although I hope I’m wrong with my prediction for third place! So here I go for 2022-23:

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

Can West Ham defeat Brighton for the first time in ten years?

Yet another excellent season for West Ham will end on Sunday when we visit Brighton for the final game. If we can beat them and at the same time if Palace can beat or draw with Manchester United, then we will replicate last season’s sixth place and have another tilt at the Europa League. But if that doesn’t happen, we’ll have to settle for seventh and entry into the Europa Conference. With a squad limited in size that is still some achievement.

We’ve only qualified for European competitions in two successive seasons once before (1964-65 and 1965-66) but that happened as a result of winning the competition in the first season. This time we have qualified as a result of league positions in both campaigns which is unprecedented and fulfils David Moyes (and the fans!) wish to be challenging towards the top regularly. Who would have thought it just two years ago? In May 2020 we hadn’t played for a couple of months, and we were still 4 weeks away from resuming our battle against relegation where we eventually finished 16th in the middle of July.

Before a ball had been kicked this season, I made my traditional predictions as to how the season would pan out. I return to it here. Six out of the top seven finished in the top 7 but my predictions mirrored the Morecambe and Wise sketch with Andre Previn – not necessarily in the right order! Some of my bottom six forecasts were correct but I got quite a few predictions horribly wrong such as Leeds, Everton, Tottenham, Palace and Brentford. 

1. Manchester City, 2. Chelsea, 3. Manchester United, 4. Liverpool, 5. Leicester, 6. West Ham, 7. Arsenal, 8. Leeds, 9. Everton, 10. Tottenham, 11. Aston Villa, 12. Brighton, 13. Wolves, 14. Newcastle, 15. Southampton, 16. Burnley, 17. Norwich, 18. Watford, 19. Crystal Palace, 20. Brentford  

With around a quarter of the season to go I calculated how the teams in the top eight would finish if they maintained their average points for the season to that point in their final fixtures and this was the result:

Man City 92, Liverpool 90, Chelsea 80, Arsenal 73, Tottenham 67, Man Utd 66, West Ham 61, Wolves 58 

At the same time I made my own forecasts of the results in the remaining games and how the top 8 league table might look.

Man City 93, Liverpool 91, Chelsea 83, Arsenal 73, Tottenham 70, West Ham 62, Man Utd 62, Wolves 56 

With just one game left this is how it looks.

Man City 90, Liverpool 89, Chelsea 71, Tottenham 68, Arsenal 66, Man Utd 58, West Ham 56, Wolves 51 

Of the top eight Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham  have performed in the final quarter on a par with their results in the first three quarters of the season whereas the other five have not, including ourselves.

Nevertheless, we can be more than pleased with how this season has turned out whatever happens on the final day. Can we beat Brighton? Since Brighton were promoted to the top flight five years ago the last six fixtures have all ended in score draws, and the three before that were all Brighton victories. We were close to winning the reverse fixture earlier this season but were denied victory by a very late equaliser. I remember the last time we did beat them. Ricardo Vaz Te scored a memorable hat trick in a 6-0 thumping at Upton Park in our promotion winning season ten years ago.

It’s about time we beat them again. I’ll go for a 2-1 West Ham win and Palace to beat Manchester United by the same score to ensure we finish sixth and qualify for the Europa League once again. What are the chances?

Europe beckons for West Ham as the champions (elect) Manchester City visit the London Stadium for the penultimate game of the Premier League season

We’re now in the home straight with just a few days of the domestic football season to go, and things are still not settled at the top or the bottom of the Premier League. West Ham have just two games to go, the visit of the champions (elect) Manchester City today, and then a trip to the south coast next Sunday to visit a resurgent Brighton side who now sit just outside the top eight. And those two games (plus the fixtures involving Manchester United and Wolves) will determine whether we finish sixth (qualification for Europa League again), seventh (Europa Conference League) or eighth (not in Europe at all).

In theory finishing sixth is in our own hands. If we win our last two games that is where we will be. Of course that’s easier said than done with the two fixtures that we face. We can even do it if we win just one of them and Manchester United lose at Crystal Palace in their final game, which is entirely possible. Or if Manchester United draw at Selhurst Park next Sunday then four points from our two games would be enough.

Finishing seventh looks the most likely outcome and we need just one point to guarantee that. We may not even need that if Wolves fail to win both of their remaining games, against Norwich (almost a given), and then at Anfield on the final day of the season. Normally I would not give Wolves too much of a chance to beat Liverpool away from home, but if the title is out of the Merseysiders reach as they go into that match, and in preparation for a Champions League final later in the month then they might take their foot off the gas. Although Wolves lost 5-1 at home to Manchester City in midweek they didn’t play that badly.

To finish eighth would be a disappointing end to what has once again been an excellent season. Of course we would have taken it a couple of years ago, but having had a taste of Europe we want more, and to miss out so narrowly would be a shame. Looking back on the season there are moments where we lost out, sometimes very late in the game, where we might have done slightly better and would already have Europe sewn up by now. The matches I am thinking about are the defeats at home by a single goal to Brentford and Leeds, the draw at home to Burnley, and the last minutes of the Manchester United game at the London Stadium. That’s not to forget Brighton’s last minute equaliser too. And we would already be there too if Wolves hadn’t equalised in the 97th minute at Chelsea last weekend.

So, still all to play for beginning with Manchester City today. Personally I like to watch City play and really enjoyed their 5-1 demolition of Wolves in the week. In an attacking sense they have such an array of forwards that they can call upon, and they have scored more goals than anyone in the Premier League this season with 94 to date. But if that wasn’t enough they will have one of the most prolific European goalscorers (Haaland) in addition next season. You might think that their defence is not so good, but once again they are the best performing Premier League side with just 22 goals conceded so far.

A lot has been written about their defensive injury problems going into the game, but they have adequate resources to cover this with Ake (a much under-rated player in my opinion, and who is returning from injury himself) and others who can fill in. In fact I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see one or more of Fernandinho and Laporte making a rapid recovery and being fit to start the game. I have no sympathy for them with their resources and the players at their disposal.

The game will mark the final home appearance of Mark Noble who has been a tremendous servant of the club, both on and off the field. At his best he could easily have won an England cap or two, just his lack of pace stopping him from being a really top class player, but nevertheless still a very good one. Who can forget his testimonial game at Upton Park on that hot, sunny afternoon six years ago, with memories of Adrian (plus minder) running the length of the field to score, plus Dean Ashton’s stunning overhead kick? But he joins the list of West Ham players who should perhaps have won an England cap but didn’t. Billy Bonds and Pop Robson are the two that spring readily to mind. Can you think of others?

So what will happen today? I can see it clearly it now how the game will end. The score will be 2-2 going into the final minute and we will be awarded a penalty. Mark Noble, who was brought on for the last ten minutes of the game, steps up and slams it home for a famous 3-2 victory which ensures West Ham qualification for Europe, puts the pressure on Manchester United, and keeps the broadcasters happy with the title race going into the final weekend. West Ham will finish sixth if they can out-perform Manchester United in the final game next weekend. Now that would be a fairy tale ending to the season and Mark Noble’s playing career wouldn’t it?

What are the chances? Well according to bookmakers you can get 300/1 and upwards on Mark Noble scoring the last goal of the game in a 3-2 West Ham victory. It won’t happen of course but I can dream can’t I? But we have beaten both Liverpool and Chelsea with a 3-2 score this season. Why not a hat-trick of 3-2 victories against the top 3 teams in the league? That would cap a memorable season wouldn’t it?

After the disappointment of Thursday night West Ham return to league action aiming to secure enough points for another European adventure next season

We sat down to watch the second leg of the semifinal with Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday evening hoping for a repeat of the outcome when facing the same opponents in Europe in 1976. For 19 minutes it was going ok and from then onwards nothing went right.

From Cresswell’s moment of madness to going further behind to nothing falling our way it was a frustrating watch. You could not fault the effort of the players but sadly it was not to be. So now we return to league action.

The Premier League is now approaching the climax and qualification for Europe next season will now extend down to seventh, so there is still a lot to play for. Having had a taste for European football this season and performing so admirably with a limited squad we would be massively disappointed not to feature in it in the 2022-23 campaign, even if it is the Europa Conference League.

We must not give up in our quest to qualify via our finishing league position. It is our last chance. If we finish sixth then that would mean the Europa League, or seventh would be the Europa Conference. The worst ending to such a superb season would be missing out on a European trophy this time and finishing eighth in the league. That would be a massive disappointment.

We currently sit in seventh place in the Premier League table, and it is looking increasingly unlikely that we will be able to improve on that. Our only hope is that both Brighton and Crystal Palace can do us a favour by beating Manchester United in their remaining two games. We would then need to win two of our last three games to equal United on points. Our goal difference is currently two better than theirs and if they were to lose both of their games and we were able to beat Norwich and Brighton, say, then this would extend to at least six. If we were (by any chance) to lose to Manchester City we would need it to be by five goals or less.

But sixth place does not seem realistic really (although I remain hopeful) and we must do better than Wolves to retain seventh to qualify for Europe. The Molyneux outfit have been very poor recently losing four of their last five games. They trail us by three points but have four games to play as opposed to our three. We both face Norwich in the run-in but Wolves other three games are as difficult on paper as they could be, away at Chelsea and Liverpool and at home to Manchester City. I’d like to think that if we can beat Norwich this weekend then a six points differential will be one that Wolves cannot possibly make up even if we didn’t collect any further points. That assume last they lose this weekend. Our goal difference is six better than theirs so that would be worth another point too provided we don’t lose any games by too many!

Wolves travel to Stamford Bridge this weekend but the home side still have a lot to play for and won’t want to lose third spot. It goes without saying (given our quest for Europe) that I hope Chelsea win the game. Provided we don’t slip up against the Canaries and win the game then Wolves would need to get at least seven points from their final games which include fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester City. Of course anything can happen in football as Manchester City found out on Wednesday night, but we would need to slip up badly and Wolves would need to considerably outperform their recent form for us not to be playing European football next season.

The current league table – top 8 (games remaining in brackets):
Man City 83 (4)
Liverpool 82 (4)
Chelsea 66 (4)
Arsenal 63 (4)
Tottenham 61 (4)
Man Utd 58 (2)
West Ham 52 (3)
Wolves 49 (4)

The form table (last 5 games of the top 8 in the current league table):
Man City 13
Liverpool 13
Tottenham 10
Arsenal 9
Chelsea 7
Man Utd 7
West Ham 4
Wolves 3

The remaining fixtures give you the opportunity to work out what you think the final finishing positions will be:
Man City: H – Newcastle, Villa
Man City: A – West Ham, Wolves
Liverpool: H – Tottenham, Wolves
Liverpool: A – Southampton, Villa
Chelsea: H – Wolves, Watford, Leicester
Chelsea: A – Leeds
Arsenal: H – Leeds, Everton
Arsenal: A – Newcastle, Tottenham
Tottenham: H – Arsenal, Burnley
Tottenham: A – Liverpool, Norwich
Man Utd: H – no games
Man Utd: A – Brighton, Palace
West Ham: H – Man City
West Ham: A – Norwich, Brighton
Wolves: H – Norwich, Man City
Wolves: A – Chelsea, Liverpool

Norwich can play freely now that they are relegated, and sometimes teams in that position can be dangerous opponents. But surely we won’t let it slip now and will pick up the three points necessary to put us in a very strong position for a seventh place finish. Two consecutive seasons in Europe has only happened once before (1964/5 and 1965/6) and would be a tremendous achievement for our club, especially considering where we were when David Moyes arrived for the second time.

Here’s hoping for a good ending to the season starting with three points at Carrow Road. What are the chances?

Can West Ham United beat Eintracht Frankfurt once again in a repeat European Semi-Final of one of the great games in their history. It was 4-3 on aggregate over the two legs in 1976. Will this be a similar classic?

West Ham’s forays into European competitions have come about following winning the FA Cup in 1964, 1975 and 1980, the European Cup Winners Cup in 1965, and a fifth-place finish in the Premiership (as it was then called) in 1998-99. The now defunct European Cup Winners Cup was a fantastic competition for us in the seasons following those cup wins, winning the trophy in 1965, being the losing semi-finalists in 1966 (qualifying as the winners in the previous season), being losing finalists in 1976, and losing quarter finalists in 1981 when we were a second-tier side. We even won the Inter-Toto Cup in 1999 following our fifth-place finish in the 1998-99 Premiership season which gave us qualification into the UEFA Cup in 1999-2000 where we were eliminated in the second round by Steaua Bucharest of Romania. The Europa League has been great this season too. We do have a fantastic record in Europe – it’s a shame we haven’t been there more often!  

One of my favourite West Ham memories was as an eleven-year-old at Wembley high up on the terrace behind the goal where Alan Sealey scored his two goals in the memorable 2-0 win over TSV Munich 1860 in May 1965, our first and so far only major European trophy (disregarding Inter-Toto which doesn’t really count). Incidentally the second leg of the semi-final that season was played on April 28th when we held Real Zaragoza of Spain to a 1-1 draw after a 2-1 win in the home leg.

We gained automatic entry into the competition the following season as winners and faced two German sides in the campaign. Germany was divided in two in those days and we met FC Magdeburg of East Germany in the Quarter Final winning the home leg 1-0 and then drawing 1-1 away to progress into the semi-final. There we met Borussia Dortmund of the West who were too strong beating us 2-1 at Upton Park and then 3-1 in Dortmund.

But my favourite ever West Ham game in the last 63 years was against Thursday’s opponents Eintracht Frankfurt. It was the second leg of the European Cup Winners Cup semi-final on 14th April 1976 where we overcame a 2-1 deficit from the first game with a 3-1 victory thanks to goals from Keith Robson and two from Sir Trev. I watched the game from the North Bank in pouring rain in an electric atmosphere with just under 40,000 inside the Boleyn Ground.

Where are our German opponents of the past now? Magdeburg are currently at the top (and destined to become champions of Bundesliga 3 (the third tier in Germany) whilst Munich 1860 are fourth in that same division. Borussia Dortmund are currently second to Bayern in the Bundesliga but Glasgow Rangers knocked them out of the Europa League competition 6-4 in the round of 16 before beating Braga in the Quarter Final to face RB Leipzig (who are currently fourth in the Bundesliga) in the Semi-Final. The winners of that will of course face either ourselves or Eintracht Frankfurt in the Final.

Frankfurt, despite their excellent win over Barcelona in the last round, are languishing in mid-table (9th) in the German league and should hold no fears for a West Ham side at our strongest and best. Frankfurt have saved their best performances for European games, similar to Lyons who were similarly placed in the French league when we met them in the Quarter Final (and perhaps similar to ourselves too).

Just like the Lyons tie, but the other way round to our meeting in 1976, we face the first leg at home. It would be useful to take a lead into the second leg but not absolutely crucial as we found out against Lyons. Wouldn’t it be great to repeat the 1976 score (3-1) from the home leg, especially with the removal of the away goals rule which I believe should have been scrapped years ago.

The European adventure (whatever happens now) has been great this season, and it would be excellent if we can go all the way to the Final and win the competition to qualify for the Champions League next season. Surely that would be a big help in recruitment in the summer for next season? The spirit within the squad continues to be high. Can we do it? I think we can. What are the chances?