West Ham Wizard To Spell Disaster For Potters?

Revitalised West Ham attempt to build on recent momentum by seeing off struggling Stoke. Can the resurgent Marko Arnautovic get one over on his former employers?

It is difficult to believe that the West Ham team we have seen over the course of the last three games is made up of the same players that were stumbling around the park during the earlier part of the season.  This applies to no-one more than Marko Arnautovic who returns to his old Potteries stomping ground on Saturday to face Stoke City.  That Arnautovic arrived at the London Stadium as West Ham’s record signing (with a certain level of enthusiasm and something to prove I imagine) and so quickly fell into the malaise surrounding the club  says much about the previous regime.  To see him still putting in the yards and chasing down the ball in the closing stages of Wednesday’s game against Arsenal was eye-opening.  A player returning to his old club often proves to be influential and Arnie will be keen to show his former supporters that as far as performances are concerned that he is definitely back!

Having come out of Premier League equivalent of the group of death with four more points than expected, we are nicely positioned use the new found confidence as a springboard to challenge Manchester City’s record of fifteen consecutive wins.  On a more realistic note, what is now required is to preserve this defensive resilience while at the same time overlaying better ball retention and greater goal threat.  In a run of games where West Ham come up against teams that they should, and must, be capable of beating it is crucial  to collect the points that will secure a more comfortable league position.  The next six or so matches will be very revealing as to where the club’s medium term fortunes lie!

Stoke City are one of a group of ten Premier League clubs who will be looking downwards rather than up.  They have had the look of doom about them in recent weeks and it would be no surprise if Mark Hughes receives a P45 in his Christmas stocking to become the latest in the line of managerial casualties.

Head to Head

This has been an evenly contested fixture in history with West Ham leading the victory stakes by thirty-four to thirty-three with twenty-five draws.  Recent form, however, favours Stoke who have won four of the last twelve to West Ham’s two.

On the road, Stoke is just edging close enough to the north-west for West Ham’s travel sickness curse to kick in.  The Hammers can only boast thirteen victories in forty-six visits although five of these have these have come in the last twelve with the last success in March 2013 when Jack Collison scored the only goal of the game.

Team News

Winston Reid is suspended and it will be a choice between James Collins and Declan Rice as his replacement.  I can see Collins getting the nod against a side who still rely significantly on height in terms of goal threat.

There must be a strong argument to otherwise stick with the side that started against Arsenal even though it may be limiting in the desire to impose greater attacking intent into the game.  Assuming the keeper, back five (apart from Reid) and Pedro Obiang, as defensive shield, remain the same then Moyes has to craft an offensive threat out of the Arsenal starters plus Javier Hernandez and Cheikhou Kouyate (if fit). Moyes seemed to favour the look of Kouyate as nuisance value before his injury but this responsibility may now have passed to Michail Antonio and Arnautovic.  Getting Manuel Lanzinin into more useful possession will be vital and the attacking four will need to work on  improving both with and without the ball.

Stoke may be without Kurt Zouma but probably have another donkey waiting in reserve. Martins Indi remains sidelined but former Hammer Glen Johnson could return.

Man in The Middle

A rare sighting at a West Ham game of referee Graham Scott from Oxfordshire.    Scott was last seen at the away win against Southampton in February 2017.  This season he has taken charge of twelve games awarding twenty-six yellow cards and one red.

Predictions

The two TV pundits are sticking to form for this one with Merson betting against West Ham with a 1-0 defeat and Lawro staying firmly on the fence with his third 1-1 prediction in a row.  This game is going to provide a lot of pointers as to how West Ham will approach these can-win games under Moyes and I will keep the faith and back him to pick up his first away League points in an Arnautovic inspired 2-0 win.

Matchday: West Ham Too Hot For Gunners To Handle?

Can West Ham build on recent momentum against Wenger’s wobblers to pull off another derby victory?

With the race for Premier League title now down to a one-horse race, all the excitement (at least in the media) will be focused on the thrilling battle for fourth place.  Today’s visitors, formerly Woolwich Arsenal, subsequently changed to just plain Arsenal could easily re-brand themselves as Fourth Placed Arsenal given their record over recent seasons.  The one-time “Invincibles” are without a title since 2004 and for all of Wenger’s astuteness in the transfer market and his attack minded credentials has never been able to reproduce the defensive efficiency provided by the bulldog backbone of Tony Adams and Co.

As things stand there is a bigger gap between Arsenal and Manchester City than there is between ourselves and the Gunners; and West Ham will be looking to build on their recent upturn in fortunes to close that gap even further.  It will be no surprise if tonight’s game follows a similar pattern to the one against Chelsea as Arsenal attempt to weave intricate patterns through the middle of a hopefully disciplined Hammers backline – but without any real menace until they bring on Giroud for the final ten minutes.  My biggest concern for a breach, however, is how well pirouetting Arthur Masuaku deals with the forward runs of Bellerin.

The Arsenal defence was all Keystone Cops against Southampton at the weekend and they looked so vulnerable that is was a surprise that the Saints did not have the match sewn up by half-time.  The dilemma for Moyes will be how to put the visitors under pressure and exploit that vulnerability while at the same time protecting against Arsenal’s quick breaks, something they continue to excel at.  Recent West Ham performances have given supporters a great deal of encouragement but it is difficult to know whether the new found character would stay strong if an early goal were conceded.  For that reason, I suspect that caution will be the watchword as the Hammers go in search of more bonus points in support of their survival plan.

Head to Head

The record against Arsenal is not one of West Ham’s better returns.  Of the 137 games played the Hammers have won thirty four but lost sixty three.  Of the last twelve encounters, the 2-0 victory in August 2015 is the only West Ham win to Arsenal’s ten.

Strangely the Hammers have won more games away against Arsenal than they have at home.  The last West Ham win was in November 2006 courtesy of a Marlon Harewood strike.  That was the only success in the last twelve home games to go with eight defeats and three draws.  West Ham have only won fourteen of sixty-eight home fixtures against the Gunners.

Team News

It would be a huge surprise if Moyes made any changes from the side that started so well against Chelsea, relying again on Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic to unsettle the visitor’s defence (at least until they tire!)

Arsenal are without Ramsey, Mustafi and Cazorla and Wenger may be tempted to shuffle his dodgy defensive pack.  Whatever else happens there will always be threat potential if Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette are at the top of their game.

Man in The Middle

Another first of the season as we welcome Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire to the London Stadium.  West Ham came across Moss twice last term in a home defeat by Southampton and an away draw at Old Trafford.  In fourteen matches this season he has shown forty-two yellows and one red card.

Predictions

Former Gunner Paul Merson is repeating his weekend forecast of a 1-3 defeat for the Hammers while Lawro is once again playing safe with a 1-1 draw.  Personally I think there is another perfect opportunity to pull off a surprise tonight and leave Wenger moaning about how his players were tired and cold.  In a patient and stealthy game I can see West Ham nabbing a 2-1 win.

West Ham v Arsenal Preview 13 December 2017

Can West Ham use the unexpected victory over the champions as a springboard for another win against a top six side when Arsenal visit the London Stadium tonight?

Once again I am able to use my analogy from Forrest Gump that West Ham are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. The win against champions Chelsea on Saturday was unexpected and gave us a much-needed three points in our efforts to climb the table. Nevertheless we are still in the bottom three, and need to continue to demonstrate a consistency of effort and performance to retain the excellent backing from the fans. The atmosphere generated in the London Stadium once again disproved the nonsensical argument that the venue can be compared to a library. All football grounds can be like that at times when the home team are not doing well. Yes, it is not an ideal stadium at the present time and we can hope that structural changes at some stage in the future can make it better. For the time being we have to live with it and not keep harping back to Upton Park. We are not going back. For the record I love the stadium and speak to many others who feel likewise, but until we win more games at home then there will always be doubters.

With three points for a win and just one for a draw, then even if we remained unbeaten and managed a draw in each of the Chelsea and Arsenal games this week, we wouldn’t have been in as good a position as winning one and losing one. And having won the first then hopefully we can do it again in the second against the odds.

Recent history of this fixture suggests that it won’t be an easy task to say the least. Of course we won on their ground in the opening game of the 2015-16 season when Reece Oxford famously kept Ozil in his pocket, but that followed ten consecutive defeats at the hands of the Gunners. The last time we beat them at home was when Marlon Harewood scored a late winner in 2006 which sparked an interesting confrontation between Pardew and Wenger. The Arsenal manager seemed to take offence at our manager’s celebrations, a situation which has reared its head this week following accusations of over-celebration by City players when they won the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Sunday.

We now have 13 points from 16 games, which means that even a win tonight would still not bring us up to the one point per game average that is the absolute minimum needed to keep us in with a chance of avoiding the drop. But I am looking forward to more than that.

I will repeat the run of 10 league games following Arsenal tonight to highlight the opportunity that we have to significantly improve our position by 10 February. It would be good if we could collect an average of somewhere between 1.5 and 2 points a game in these fixtures. If we could achieve this we will be going a long way towards allaying relegation fears.  (A) v Stoke, (H) v Newcastle, (A) v Bournemouth, (H) v West Brom, (A) v Tottenham, (A) v Huddersfield, (H) v Bournemouth, (H) v Palace, (A) v Brighton, and (H) v Watford, presents a realistic opportunity (on paper) to start to climb the table. Failure to do so will bring a nervous run-in to the season.

It is pleasing to see that the way-over-the-top negative reaction to the appointment of David Moyes has died down considerably. There is still a long way to go of course, but the work ethic and organisation he (and his staff) has introduced are clearly evident in recent games. He has a good record and must be given the opportunity to make an impact. Rome wasn’t built in a day and I believe that he realises the task ahead and is prioritising what is necessary to achieve improvement. One small criticism I would level against him in the Chelsea game was his inability to realise that Antonio was out on his feet long before he was substituted.

Once again the bookmakers have virtually written off our chances but if you believe that there is a chance that we will cause another upset you can get around 9/2 on a West Ham win. Personally I would take a draw from this game, but hope of course for a second victory in five days. Despite being a top six side, Arsenal are not quite the team that they once were, and are eminently beatable. One statistic that surprised me was that the Gunners are fourth in the table of goals conceded in 2017, showing that their once renowned defence can be breached. We certainly don’t want a repeat of the 5-1 defeat that we suffered here last season.

The much under-rated Pedro Obiang was in my opinion one of the reasons that we kept a world class player like Hazard quiet at the weekend, and I don’t believe that he gets the credit he deserves for this unfashionable role. I would expect him to be deployed in similar fashion against Ozil, or perhaps Sanchez tonight. Arnautavic and Masuaku were rightly singled out for excellent games, but it really was a whole team performance. Masuaku is really becoming a bit a bit of a revelation in an attacking sense, and providing he doesn’t try his wonderful tricks in vulnerable areas of the pitch then he can become a major creator for us going forward. I would expect Hernandez to play a part now that he appears to have recovered, and Carroll does have a very good record of scoring against Arsenal as witnessed in the 3-3 draw a couple of seasons ago, and even in his Newcastle days.

Adrian deserves his chance to continue between the sticks, but I cannot agree with the vilification of Hart that I read. Hopefully the competition between the two keepers will spur them both on to produce top class performances. Cresswell had one of his best games for ages at the weekend, and the unlikely threesome when he combined with Reid and Ogbonna, who both performed excellently, is likely to be the selection for this game. Noble performed admirably, and Lanzini, whilst not being at the top of his game at the moment, is still our best hope of unlocking opposition defences. But whoever is selected (and I don’t expect many changes) let us hope for another stirring game and three more points.

Five Takeaways As West Ham Banish The Blues

What else did we learn from this excellent West Ham victory other than how sweet it is to get one over on Chelsea and the snarling Cesc Fabregas?

A Famous Victory

It is rare for me to get a prediction correct and so when it happens I will take just a brief moment to gently blow my own trumpet.  In my match preview I predicted a nail biting one-nil victory and that is exactly what we got.  While that is probably me done for the season there is a great deal of encouragement that can be taken from yesterday’s victory, as well as the gutsy performance in last week’s defeat at Manchester City.  West Ham are still in the bottom three but now have momentum and, with plenty of ‘at risk’ clubs around us, any three of the bottom ten could be in for the drop come the end of the season. At last we are beginning to look like a team rather than a collection of strangers and once players starting performing as a unit then understanding increases, creativity improves, pressure reduces and individual errors start to reduce.  Full marks to David Moyes and his team for putting pride and belief back into the club in a relatively short space of time.  There is still some way to go but all of a sudden everything is looking just a little rosier.

Pundits Know Nothing

To most supporters who had watched West Ham during the early part of the season (and the better part of last season) it was glaringly obvious that the team lacked organization, fitness and discipline.  I don’t recall any of the pundits who regularly interrupt our enjoyment of the football action pointing this out.  To them, Slaven Bilic was a nice guy and a great coach who just needed a little more time and maybe a bit of luck with injuries and transfers to turn things around.  Now though, through the wonder of hindsight, it is now revealed that the shambles that had been allowed to develop at the club is taken as read.  Now I know the pundit’s job is simply to wax lyrical about the top six clubs but this is surely another example of their lack of credibility – time to phase them out and concentrate on more action.  Equally as damning were David Sullivan’s admission (in response to a question about whether he was the de facto Director of Football at West Ham) that no-one at board level appeared to have any idea about what went on at the training ground.  Another sign, if needed, of the club’s ongoing and long standing amateurish approach to football matters.

A Fine Team Performance

There were understandable rave reviews for Marko Arnautovic and Arthur Masuaku following yesterday’s game.  Yet, if anything, this was an outstanding team performance.  The whole approach to the game was tactically superb by the coaching staff and brilliantly executed by each and every player.  Adrian inspires a confidence that Joe Hart does not; an unlikely back three of Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell suddenly looks solid and courageous; the midfield players didn’t stop running, harrying and denying space; and Michail Antonio and Arnautovic showed why movement and mobility is so important up front at this level.  It was great that some players stood out but to criticize any individual would be churlish – although some fans couldn’t help themselves by still having a dig at their favourite bête noire.  Could we have done better with ball? For sure! Do we still need reinforcements in the transfer window? Undoubtedly! But until then I will enjoy this victory and look forward to a repeat performance on Wednesday.

Those Special Mentions

Massive team performance aside it would be unfair not to give special mention to several stand-out players.  I thought Declan Rice was unlucky to be left out of the starting eleven but his replacement, Winston Reid, had the type of game that made premature reports of his being washed-up look ridiculous.  My previous reservations about Arnautovic were also torn to shreds by his application yesterday.  As well as scoring the winner he was a handful all afternoon and was more than willing to perform his defensive duties.  My only question to him was why stop when you thought Christensen had handled in the box? Taking Arnie off first in preference to Antonio who had run himself into the ground by the hour mark was the only strange decision of the afternoon but it all worked out marvelously in the end.  Finally there was Masuaku.  For a period in the first half it looked like the ball was magnetically attached to his boot such was the trickery of his footwork.  It was great to see panache back in the side and to witness some wonderful combinations with Manuel Lanzini.  Arthur had a more restrained second period and I wonder whether that was under instruction?  Sometimes knowing when and where to turn it on is as important as the ability itself.  A note to the referee: why no foul throw for the Pedro incident?

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is difficult to imagine that the approach against Arsenal will be much different to what we saw yesterday.  The reality is that whatever West Ham can get out of games against top six sides at the moment are bonus points.  The season will be defined by how well we can do against the rest.  I still believe that we have one of the best ten squads in the league provided that they can be molded into an effective unit.  If there are going to be additions in January, particularly in the problem central midfield area, then even better.  What I am looking forward to seeing is how Moyes can take this new found attitude and organization and deploy it in a way that dominates teams that we really should beat.  At least now I can look forward to that prospect with some optimism.

Can West Ham Avoid The Hazard To Win All The Points

A London derby against Chelsea is the latest opportunity for David Moyes to open his victory account.

No matter what the outcome of today’s home fixture against Chelsea, West Ham will sit in one of the three relegation places at the end of this weekend’s set of fixtures.  There is even a reasonable chance that, with Swansea hosting West Bromwich Albion, the Hammers could end up rock bottom should David Moyes fail to secure his first win as West Ham manager.

Although Chelsea are reigning Champions, the prospect of a game against their current side should not be regarded as overly daunting; they are far from unbeatable.  But to stop Chelsea you need to stop Eden Hazard, a player who has had a hand in seven of the last eight goals that his team have scored past the Hammers.  Having watched Chelsea’s game last week at home to Newcastle everything revolved around Hazard and Kante.  Between them they picked up nearly every loose ball and moved it quickly and intelligently forward.  The challenge for West Ham is whether they can demonstrate the competency and discipline to stem this tide without giving away free-kicks in dangerous positions or even worse penalties.  A strategy of conceding possession might be a dangerous game to play in the circumstances but a player with the ability to man-mark Hazard is not someone available in the Hammer’s squad.

The commitment shown in last week’s display at Manchester City would be welcome again today and if the effort of the players can get a response from a passionate crowd then West Ham do have the capacity to unsettle the visitors.

Head to Head

In the pre-rouble era this was an evenly contested affair where West Ham even held a slight advantage; but the tables have been totally turned over recent years with Chelsea now holding a ten win margin in the 108 games played.  West Ham have, however, managed to record three wins (seven defeats) in the last twelve home and away encounters in all competitions.

The Hammers have won twenty-seven (lost twenty) of the fifty-five home fixtures against the west Londoners while only eight have ended all square.

Team News

West Ham sit proudly atop the Physio Room Premier League injured table although which players are available this afternoon is far from uncertain.  It is reported that Jose Fonte, Sam Byram and James Collins are definitely out but others including Javier Hernandez, Winston Reid, Mark Noble and Andy Carroll may all be in the squad.  Watching Cheikhou Kouyate hobble off last weekend it would be a surprise if he made it into the starting line-up which may give Noble a route back in.

It looks like Adrian will rightly retain the keeper’s shirt (and shorts hopefully) and there could well be one or two other changes from the team that started at the Etihad.  How the team looks may well depend on the extent of Moyes attacking ambition or if stifling Chelsea is taken as the primary objective.

Chelsea are without the superficially impressive David Luiz and workmanlike Danny Drinkwater but unfortunately there are no injury concerns over Eden Hazard.

Man In The Middle

A first meeting of the season today with Anthony Taylor from Cheshire. Taylor was referee for four West Ham games last season including away defeats at Chelsea (where he failed to send off match-winner Diego Costa), Everton and Leicester.  He was also in charge for the Hammers heroic win over Tottenham Hotspur last May.

His record to date this term is thirteen games with fifty-two yellows but yet to get off the red card mark.  Watch this space.

Predictions

The BBC’s Lawro has been kind to us once more this week and is predicting a 1-1 stalemate.  Sky’s Merson on the other hand is going for a 1-3 Hammer’s defeat.

I was badly (and encouragingly) wrong on a feared Manchester City landslide last week and much will depend on whether there is now some traction towards consistent improvement or whether performances will continue to fluctuate up and down.  In the interests of positivity I will back West Ham for a nail-biting 1-0 victory.

West Ham v Chelsea Preview 9 December 2017

I woke up it was a Chelsea morning, but what will West Ham need to do in the next dozen games to get ourselves out of the relegation zone?

For those of us old enough to remember the 1960s, there was a popular song at the end of the decade famously recorded by Fairport Convention, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Diamond entitled Chelsea Morning. The song began with the line “I woke up it was a Chelsea morning.” Well today is not exactly a Chelsea morning, but kick off time is 12.30, so our Saturday morning is spent travelling to the London Stadium for an early start time. How I look forward to 23 December when we kick off the game against Newcastle at the traditional time of 3pm on a Saturday, which will be only the second time this season when a home game will commence at this “normal” time.

Today’s game will be the fifth under our new manager and we have yet to see a victory. The opener at Watford was a poor performance, the following home fixture against Leicester showed much improvement from both the players and the fans, then the game at Goodison Park was appalling. None of us expected much at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday, but we led unexpectedly at half-time thanks to Ogbonna’s well placed header, and were within a few minutes of getting a point against the runaway Premier League leaders who have been brushing aside all and sundry this season. But the solitary point from the last four games leaves us firmly entrenched in the relegation zone with two difficult games against top six sides to follow, and unless we can start winning some games we could easily find ourselves beginning to become detached from safety.

But after Chelsea (today) and Arsenal (in midweek) we embark on a run of league fixtures which, on paper at least, most are games that will be easier for us to start a winning run and begin to climb the table. If we don’t then our season could be well defined by February as one that sees us in a desperate scramble to try to retain our place in the top flight.

The 10 league games following Arsenal are:

16 Dec – (A) v Stoke
23 Dec – (H) v Newcastle
26 Dec – (A) v Bournemouth
2 Jan – (H) v West Brom
4 Jan (A) v Tottenham
13 Jan (A) v Huddersfield
20 Jan (H) v Bournemouth
30 Jan (H) v Palace
3 Feb – (A) v Brighton
10 Feb (H) v Watford

Currently we have just ten points from fifteen games. By the end of the Watford game on 10 February we will have played 27 games, which is almost the three-quarters point in the season. That will then leave us just 11 games to retain our Premier League status, of which six (of the last nine) will be at home to Burnley, Manchester United, Southampton, Stoke, Manchester City and Everton.

So in the next 12 games (including Chelsea and Arsenal this week) we will need to collect at least 17 points to achieve the point a game average at that time which is likely to be the minimum that we will need to be outside the relegation places. And that may not even be enough! I see the five home league games between 23 December and 10 February as ones that can be described as “must win”, and at the same time we must start to pick up some points on our travels. Points obtained against Chelsea and Arsenal this week would be a bonus, and two wins would be simply fantastic, but being realistic that is a lot to hope for, but it won’t stop me hoping!

The players who lined up at the Etihad acquitted themselves well and all will be looking to retain their places against Chelsea. Surely Adrian will start in goal, but whether all of the others will keep their places is hard to predict, and will be subject to any injuries picked up, as well as any players that may be fit to return to the squad. But our new manager is keeping his cards close to his chest, so let us hope that he plays his cards right. Apparently Chelsea will be without Luiz and Drinkwater. That is a shame as I wouldn’t have minded them both playing when compared to some other players at their disposal.

Once again the bookmakers have virtually written off our chances but if you believe that there is a chance that we will cause an upset you can get around 6/1 on a home victory, or 10/1 on West Ham to win and both teams to score. If you fancy a fun bet that is a little different then Paddy Power are offering 33/1 on the following four things all to happen: West Ham to score the first goal and win the first corner, and Chelsea to receive the first card and win the first throw-in.

It will be cold watching for us tomorrow, with the wind chill factor making it seem like minus temperatures. It would be great to spring a surprise, but realistically anything that we can get out of the game will be a bonus.

Five Takeaways: Spirited West Ham Close To Pulling Off A Major Shock At The Etihad

The predicted City storm fails to materialise as an encouraging West Ham performance almost leads to a major shock.

So Much Better Than Expected

It is an unusual sensation to have finally lost the game but still feel strangely positive about the performance at the Etihad Stadium yesterday.  I read that the odds at start of play of West Ham losing by eight goals were shorter than those for a single goal defeat.  Yet the drubbing that many (including myself) had predicted was not forthcoming.  Despite a lengthy list of absentees West Ham managed to fashion themselves into the best approximation of a football team that we have witnessed so far this season.  For the most part the tactics were spot on in preventing Manchester City from getting into their rhythm and were reminiscent of the smash and grab approach that reaped such unexpected rewards in the early days of Bilic’s inaugural season.  In the first half City were limited to speculative long shots and that the game was ultimately lost to a pair of relatively scruffy goals should not detract too much from the many positives on display.

Pep The Poor Winner

Without doubt there is much to admire about the way that Pep Guardiola has got his Manchester City playing.  Apparently his match-day squad cost in the region of £550 million in transfer fees with the starting eleven costing an average of £35 million per player.  A bottomless transfer budget is not a new phenomenon for modern day City but under Guardiola the quality and style of play have reached new levels.  It is a shame, therefore, that he feels the need to come across so petulantly as a winner.  Of course clubs with fewer riches will seek to stifle the fluidity of his team but why the need to make stuff up about the opposition having “ten men in the box”.  West Ham’s approach was pragmatic rather negative and his comments were as wrong as they were unnecessary. .  A little self-awareness and humility might go a long way for Guardiola.

Organisation and Fitness

For the first time in many months our players looked like they knew what they were supposed to be doing and what was expected of them; attacking and defending as a team for once.  Not only that but there was a demonstrable game plan which the players stuck to it despite the make do and mend look to the line-up.  Everyone played their part and as well as a spirited defensive display there were further chances to to add to Angelo Ogbonna’s fine headed goal for Michail Antonio, Manuel Lanzini and Diafra Sakho .  Possibly fitness told at the end but it was great to see players on their toes for a change and giving it their all.  In truth I am not sure that many of the absentees would have performed better than their replacements although further injuries to Cheikhou Kouyate and Antonio could be cause for concern.

Stand Out Performances

Within a solid team display there were stand-out performances from Adrian and Declan Rice, an honourable mention for Arthur Masuaku and strong leadership from Pablo Zabaleta.  Not only did Adrian make some fine saves but hw instils a far greater sense of confidence in the box and in the air than Joe Hart.  It would be a travesty if he does not keep the shirt for the upcoming games.  Rice gave a mature and assured display in the makeshift backline suggesting that he needs to be given an extended run in his proper central defence position.  There were some suggestions that he might have prevented Silva’s winning goal but, for me, the responsibility was that no-one tracked Silva’s run into the box, after he had played the ball to De Bruyne, rather than it being Rice’s failure to cut out De Bruyne’s fine pass.  Masuaku was once again a willing runner demonstrating an eclectic mix of exceptional and over-elaborate footwork.

Onwards and Hopefully Upwards

The levels to which organisation and fitness had fallen under Slaven Bilic really are quite shocking and the hope is that that these can be reversed before it is too late.  The four games played under David Moyes have yet to follow any discernible pattern or consistency; two poor efforts at Watford and Everton interspersed with encouraging signs at home to Leicester and at City yesterday.  The games against Chelsea and Arsenal will be useful in building understanding and momentum (even if we cannot expect too many points) but after that we need to embark on some serious point collection in the games against Stoke, Newcastle and Bournemouth if survival is to be assured.  While there were many positives to be taken from the defeat to City it will be time very soon to turn encouragement into something more tangible.  As it is West Ham have never had fewer points after fifteen games of a Premier League season and those alarm bells need to be silenced immediately.