A Winning Formula? Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Stunning Victory At Everton

It’s Werther’s Originals all round as Manuel Pellegrini celebrates his 65th birthday with a rare West Ham win at Goodison Park. What did we learn from the latest Hammers shape and improved performance?

A Win, Entertainment & Goals

Great relief at an unexpected victory that finally put some points on the board for West Ham and allowed them to climb to 16th place in the Premier League table. That’s one place higher than Avram Grant’s team managed during the entire 2010/11 season – the last time the Hammers lost the opening four games of a campaign.  It was not just the win that was pleasing, however, but the manner in which it was achieved with some great all-round performances plus a spirit and tenacity that had been missing from previous games.  What I had envisaged as being a scrappy Sunday afternoon affair turned out to be highly entertaining with plenty of incident at both ends and some excellent well-taken goals (and all from open play for a change).

We Were Good Or They Were Bad?

When any game is analysed these days there is invariably a binary debate as to whether the outcome was down to the superiority of the victors or the shortcomings of the defeated.  Most (non-partisan) reports that I read look to have taken the position that the deciding factor yesterday was Everton’s deficiencies rather than West Ham’s performance.  As a contrast, when Manchester City beat Fulham on Saturday, the consensus was this was due to City’s impeccability and flawlessness while Fulham’s suicidal tactics were largely ignored.  In truth, most games are a mix of the two and we shouldn’t underestimate how, on the day, West Ham’s confident and energetic approach to the game served to rattle their opponents.

The Shape Of Things To Come

The number of changes announced in the West Ham starting eleven took most people by surprise and was seen by some as a sign of panic.  It was a puzzle to see how they would eventually line up.  Formations should, of course, be flexible but what we saw was something that looked like a 4-1-2-3 where Declan Rice was as close to being a third centre back as possible without becoming a back three. In the event it worked well and both Rice and Pedro Obiang had outstanding games in the centre of midfield and the front three were given an opportunity to flourish.  Where the set-up didn’t work so well was in supporting the full-backs, an area where most of the Everton threat came from.  Despite the Fabian Balbuena – Issa Diop partnership again being sound, Everton were still presented with three or four good chances from crosses into the box.  With Obiang and Mark Noble playing narrow in midfield it looked as though the responsibility for tracking back rested with Andriy Armolenko and Felipe Anderson – a big ask if you also expect them to be the springboard for attacks.  Most successful teams do not expect their most advanced players to defend deep (relying on them to press higher up the pitch).  It is a problem that needs to be addressed as the next opponents may not be quite as profligate on crosses as Everton were.

Unplayable

It was a first chance this season to see Marko Arnautovic start a game supported by the two expensive summer recruits – Anderson and Yarmolenko.  It was a pleasure to watch and to see passes being played into spaces that others were running into; rather than the static triangles that we have become used to.  The first and third goals in particular were beautifully worked and featured the swift passing style that I love to see nestling in the back of the net – thirty yard thunderbolts are fine but team goals are football at its best.  It was a dream full debut for Yarmolenko who can look somewhat ungainly but what a sweet left foot he has!  It was a little worrying seeing Anderson stranded out wide on the left at the start but his influence grew as the game developed.  Although not directly involved in any of the goals he showed excellent close control and an ability to retain possession that has eluded generations of West Ham players since Alan Devonshire (or maybe Yossi Benayoun).  I am hoping we get to see some true Anderson end product soon rather than later but the prospect of these three having an extended run together is very exciting.

Game Management

Having conceded late in the first half the initial reaction was that “West Ham’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away” – but in fact they managed the second half very well and the expected Everton onslaught never materialised.  The timing of the Arnautovic goal was perfect and went some way to settle the nerves; but long time Hammers supporters will never be fully confident of victory until the game is finally over.  My biggest worry was that at the rate Martin Atkinson was handing out yellow cards to our players (four of them for their only foul of the match) we would end up a man down.  At least he didn’t show a straight red for Arthur Masuaku’s boot ending up on Walcott’s ducked head as the idiot Clattenburg has been suggesting in the media.  Even substitutes Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass acquitted themselves well, although there were flashbacks to Selhurst Park whenever Antonio took the ball to the corner flag.  Carlos Sanchez on the other hand ………..what was he doing?

West Ham Set To Dazzle Everton With Improved Tactical Stuff

Reports from the training ground are that West Ham spent the international break working on ‘tactical stuff’. What should we expect when battle re-commences in today’s Premier League encounter at Everton?

Part two of the weekend’s Merseyside versus London Premier League action sees pointless West Ham travel north to face unbeaten Everton at Goodison Park.  If the Hammers are as thoroughly outclassed as their itinerant North London neighbours were at Wembley on Saturday afternoon then we could be in for a painful afternoon.

Trips to the north-west have never come easy for West Ham with Everton representing a particular challenge, both home and away, in recent years.  In the last twenty visits to Goodison, the Hammers have only returned down the motorway with all three points on two occasions (in 2005/06 and 2015/16).  It is not a record that encourages optimism.  Another defeat would represent a worst ever start to a league season in the entire history of the club and heap even more pressure on manager Manuel Pellegrini.  Unfortunately, it is all looking very Avram Grant at the moment.

It is difficult to know at what point the Board would take action should the bad run of results and performances continue but the season already has that feel of immense disappointment about it.  Even if Pellegrini does eventually turn it around as he did after slow starts at Villareal and Malaga it is much more likely to be a slow climb to mid table than a surge to Europa League qualification.  Perhaps we can be reassured by the words of Michail Antonio who told the Official Site that the squad had made good use of the international break by working on “shape and tactical stuff”.  You can’t have too much tactical stuff in my view and I look forward to witnessing the improvements this afternoon.  One assumes that it is a change of tactics that we are talking about rather than a case of having previously forgotten about having any!

On the evidence of the last time out, at home to Wolves, it is not only shape and tactics that are in need improvement but also the levels of effort, intensity, sharpness and tempo.  The performance against Wolves was widely criticised – and for good reason. So, are we likely to see any significant difference today?

I am still of the view that three at the back would suit the players available far better than a flat back four.  However, it would be a major departure to Pellegrini’s beliefs to countenance such a change.  Thus, I can see the defence being largely unchanged from that which started against Wolves and, with few options to choose from up front, all of the tinkering has to be in the midfield areas.

Everyone, apart, it seems, from those responsible for player recruitment, knew that West Ham had a major problem in defensive/ central midfield.  The late signing of Carlos Sanchez, as an afterthought, in the final hours of the transfer window was akin to buying your wife’s Christmas present at the petrol station just before it closed on Christmas Eve.  It is only going to end badly.  Not that Sanchez has been the stand-out worst performer in the games where he has featured; just that he is not good enough to fill this most necessary of positions.  Without a Fernandinho or Kante to call upon, West Ham need at least two bodies in this area of the pitch and, as things stand, it is a case of finding the least worst pairing out of Sanchez, Pedro Obiang, Mark Noble and Declan Rice to do the job.  For me, it would be Sanchez and Obiang but then I would also be starting Rice (in his proper position) as part of a back three.  Sadly, Noble is well past his best-before date and his lack of pace and his first instinct to go backwards is not a step in the right direction (as far as better tactical stuff is concerned!)  Neither am I convinced, despite his undoubted passion,that he provides so much in the way leadership on the pitch; although it is a worry where else this would come from.

The reluctance to start Andriy Yarmolenko continues to puzzle and maybe there has been a question over his match fitness.  If I was holding the purse strings I would want to see my expensively assembled squad in action right away.  I would feel short-changed (after spending £100 million) at having to yet again watch Robert Snodgrass plod around to little effect.  Apart from his short-lived purple patch while at Hull he has never been an effective Premier League player.  As he offers the greatest threat down any flank and is a useful outlet for under pressure defenders my choice for the left sided midfield role would be Arthur Masuaku.  At least he has the pace and trickery to run at, unsettle and get behind defenders.

EVEWHU-LIneup

Felipe Anderson needs to start earning his keep and to be played in the freer attacking midfield role that we saw against Arsenal.  He has a big price tag to live up to and needs to deliver sooner rather than later.  There have been a few promising signs and I have to remain hopeful that he can build a useful understanding with, and provide much needed support to, Marko Arnautovic.  I can imagine Arnie quickly losing patience if he is left abandoned up front on his own for much longer.

This week’s straw to clutch is that opponents Everton have a long list of injuries in defence and without the suspended Richarlison ‘look’ rather light in attack.  On the other hand, games against West Ham always seem to bring out the best in Walcott and Sigurdsson.

Today’s match referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire who officiated several of last season’s best forgotten matches away at Manchester United and Swansea and at home to Brighton.

As for the pundits, Lawro is plumping for a 2-1 Everton win while Merson is being kinder by going for a 1-1 draw.  I can see us breaking our duck today but with just the single point from a scrappy draw.  More importantly some clear signs that the players do actually care, are committed to the cause and appear to know what they are doing would be most welcome.  That is the beauty of tactical stuff!

Sticky Toffee Pudding or Goodison Glory for West Ham on Sunday?

Game Five sees pointless West Ham visit Goodison Park to face unbeaten Everton. Will this be the game to get our season going?

If you are one of those supporters who like a bet on your team to win a game of football, then this season wouldn’t have been ideal if you are a fan of West Ham. If you placed, say, a tenner on each of our league games so far then you would now be £40 out of pocket. If West Ham had been as successful as Watford in the opening four league games then you would now be sitting on a pot of around £260. And if we had picked up four wins and you had been bold and reinvested your winnings each time then your original £10 would now be worth over £6000! But sadly that hasn’t happened.

Now of course this may seem a little far-fetched, but any Watford fans who had done this would have been looking at some very big gains. You have to remember that whilst bookmakers had West Ham finishing somewhere between 7th and 10th, their odds suggested that Elton John’s unfashionable North of London outfit were one of the favourites to be playing Championship football next season. And if you do like a bet then one of the games to consider this weekend is the very generous 7/2 being offered on Watford beating a poor Manchester United team who are at even money.

One sensationalist newspaper that I read suggested that West Ham were the only team in the top eleven leagues in the English football pyramid to have not earned a single point so far this season. But I’m not sure they did their homework correctly because Lancaster City were stuck at the bottom of Evostik North (see what I did there?) with a similar points tally after they had played five matches.

But joking aside, it has been an horrendous beginning to a season that began with high hopes. A few statistics: At the first international break we are the only team out of the 92 Football League sides without a single point. We have scored the least goals in the Premier League (2, tying with Cardiff and Huddersfield), have conceded the most (10, level with Huddersfield), and have the worst goal difference (-8, again the same as Huddersfield). Our manager is second favourite to be the first Premier League manager to depart the club this season (after Mourinho). And apparently our players have covered less distance on the pitch than every other team in the top flight bar Cardiff and Manchester United. But it is still early days and two or three wins on the bounce would soon wipe out the pessimism surrounding the club. But do we have the ability to do this?

Everton, under new manager Silva, are one of the five clubs in the Premier League who haven’t lost a game so far (one win and three draws), and currently sit 7th in the table, which is probably roughly where they are likely to finish at the end of the season according to most pundits. They are generally seen as the team most likely to challenge the established order of the top six so-called elite clubs. Their six points sees them six points off the top, as well as six points ahead of where we are.

Our record against them in history shows that in 138 meetings, Everton have won exactly half of the games (69), with the other 69 seeing 39 West Ham wins and 30 draws. Our record defeat in football was 7-0 at the hands of Everton (in 1927, before my time!). But, of course the last time we met was our final home game last season, when, with the pressure off, we gave them a good hiding with a very comfortable 3-1 victory, with England keeper Pickford conceding three goals from distance.

I’m not one of those who believe that football only began with the advent of the Premier League, but it does provide a convenient timeframe to examine results of the last 25 years or so. And our meetings with Everton do not make for good reading. In 44 matches we have won just 8, whilst Everton have come out on top 24 times. 5 of our 8 wins were at home meaning that we have won just 3 of our 22 league visits to Goodison Park in the Premier League era. Those wins were 1-0 on New Years Day 1994, 2-1 shortly before Christmas in 2005, and 3-2 in March 2016, when a Payet-inspired comeback saw us come from two down to win the game in the last 15 minutes. Those of you who like symmetry will anticipate that our next win there will be 4-3, so let us hope that is what happens on Sunday.

I won’t even begin to predict the team that our manager will select for this game as I have no idea how he will have reacted after the dismal showing against Wolves a fortnight ago. We were quite rightly universally castigated for that performance and we will need to have improved significantly to start to climb the table. Our four games leading up to the next international break are, in addition to the game at Everton, home games against Chelsea and Manchester United, and a trip to Brighton. We could theoretically have 12 points by that time, but I would be more than happy if we can amass 8, which would mean 2 wins and 2 draws. That would still leave us averaging just one point a game, which is still relegation form, but would nevertheless be a significant, although possibly unlikely scenario and much needed improvement. On paper at least the fixture list gets easier for a while after the end of the next half a dozen games, but by then, if results haven’t improved, we could be in a relegation battle with barely a quarter of the season gone.

As someone who personally enjoys football at 3pm on a Saturday our next four games are an interesting mix of times, but they give everyone who has the necessary TV platforms the opportunity to watch us on TV. Coming up the games are at 4pm on Sunday, 1.30pm the following Sunday, 12.30pm the Saturday after, and then finally 8pm on Friday 5th October.

Bookmakers are not very generous with their correct score odds on football matches. The best that I could find for my unlikely “symmetrical” West Ham 4-3 win was just 175/1. A 6-0 West Ham victory was only 250/1, but how likely is that? Considering the relative starts to the season of both sides, the odds on the game are not quite what I expected either. You can generally get only 5/2 or perhaps 11/4 on a West Ham win. The correct odds should be much longer than that, surely? But nevertheless if you take them, and we do win, then you will go some way towards winning back the money you might have lost so far this season betting on West Ham.

It’s A Perfect Time To Panic: Five Takeaways From This Week’s Horror Show

A lethargic and lacklustre West Ham limp to a fourth consecutive Premier League defeat after a schoolboy error hands a last minute winner to a determined Wolves. What are the takeaways for the disgruntled Hammer’s fan?

You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

Someone, somewhere doesn’t know what they are doing – but I’m quite not yet sure whether it is the manager or the players.  Accepting that change is difficult, and that a new manager, new ideas, new style and an almost completely new set of players would make a storming start to the season unlikely I had expected better than this.  Leaving aside the time needed to create optimum cohesion and understanding it is surely not unrealistic that the basics of organisation and commitment should be in place by now in such an expensively assembled squad.    Does the manager have a plan, do the players not know what that plan is, or do they know but are unable to put it into action?  I think we all knew that champagne football might take a while to flow freely but the low energy, low tempo, low intensity fare being served up at the moment carries no promise of fizz tomorrow.  A few games into the season and many of the players look ready for a holiday just to take the lead out of their boots.

Is There A Man With A Plan?

The way that West Ham have been set up with the players that are available is a massive concern.  I am sure Manuel Pellegrini doesn’t believe he is back at Manchester City with players of superior class who can boss possession and pass their way to success.  Very few teams can do that – even if some of our players stroll around as if they believe they can.  For all the rest it is matter of hard work, organisation and application.  Either you work like fury to regain possession once it is lost it, or else you employ a compact shape allowing quick retreat and denying space for the opposition to exploit.  From the evidence to date, the new look West Ham are happy to concede both possession and space.  It is not rocket science that teams need to attack and defend as a team but this hasn’t sunk in for Pellegrini’s West Ham yet. In yesterday’s game, there were four players who offered little or nothing defensively which allowed Wolves numerical advantage whenever they attacked.  As with Arthur Masuaku before him, Aaron Cresswell was hung out to dry as time and again opposition runners were given the freedom to swarm forward unimpeded – what makes it even worse is that the full backs look to be under instruction to tuck in close to the central defenders.  It makes no sense whatsoever to give opponents such a free pass to the wide areas.   Contrast that with West Ham’s inability to create any space themselves down either flank – for either the wide midfielders or full-backs to run into.  Overall the game demonstrated very poor tactical awareness both at outset and as events unfolded.

Individual Mistakes

As the game looked to be petering out with both teams settled on a scoreless draw, it was ultimately an individual mistake that threw the game away and prevented the Hammers getting a first point on the board.  Having demonstrated a lack of penetration during the previous ninety minutes, and having been unable to fashion much in the way of clear cut chances, why they thought a slow build up for a short free kick was a good idea is beyond me.  Surely at that stage of the game, with time almost up, a percentage play knock down from the long ball would have been the sensible and safer option.  Surely any manager would have gone along with that, regardless of footballing philosophy.  If the initial decision was stupid then Carlos Sanchez giving away possession constituted diabolical schoolboy defending.  It was a shame because Sanchez was far from the worst of the Hammers in a performance where few came out with any credit – with the honourable exception of Fabianski (again), Diop and maybe Balbuena (although his distribution was generally erratic).  For me, Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass were particularly ineffective in their respective roles.

Great Expectations

If West Ham had played and lost four games but had competed well then there would be reason to cut the team some slack; after all it is still early doors, as Big Ron would say.  As things stand though there is little to be positive about and, having lost two winnable home games in a lethargic manner, the alarm bells should at least be tested even if it is not yet a full-on alert.  If we get to the end of September still with ‘nil points’ on the board it will be interesting to see how the Board react.  What started as a season of high expectations is now taking on the look of a typical slog where we are impatient for the season to end before the daffodils are out.  The table makes grim reading (even at this early stage of the season) – not just for the absence of points but also for only two goals scored and ten conceded.  I had predicted pre-season that Marko Arnautovic could become the first Hammer to score twenty in a Premier League season but now I wonder if the whole team can reach that milestone.  It will not help Arnie’s cause if he keeps having to drop so deep in order to spot the ball.  I wonder what the opposite of ‘The Invincibles’ is – ‘The Destructibles’ perhaps?

Feast and Famine

We have to hope that Pellegrini can manage, in the not too distant future, to create a functioning unit from the resources he has available.  The worst case scenario is limping to the halfway stage of the season and having to parachute in another salvage operator such as Allardyce or Moyes.  What the club needs is to be set on a path to improvement that blends hard work, organisation and a touch of flair.  Alternating years of feast and famine will take us nowhere.  For many years it was White Hart Lane that laid claim to the title of the players graveyard – where expensive players with big reputations came to do nothing more than pick up their pay cheques.   There is a very big fear that this is what the future holds for West Ham.  When Pellegrini was appointed at West Ham I read some criticism about how unfit the Manchester City players had become by the end of his reign.  At the time I had dismissed it as a convenient re-writing of history but, right now, there is just a flicker of a concern that it might ring true.

Dances With Canis Lupus

Matchweek Four sees the visit of newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers to the London Stadium

If you had just landed in your spaceship after a long journey from another planet and looked at the Premier League table, then you might think to yourself that, despite West Ham sitting at the foot of the table with zero points, a match against a newly-promoted Wolves team sitting in fourteenth place, and without a win themselves, would be the ideal game for the Hammers to get off the mark for the season.

If you delved further into what has happened in their first three games, you might not think that West Ham’s task would be an easy one however, although in many respects, despite performing admirably in all three games, Wolves could just as easily be propping up the table themselves, alongside us, without a point.

In their opening fixture at home to Everton, they twice had to come from behind to draw the game with their second equaliser coming just a few minutes from time. However they were helped by a referee (Pawson) who (perhaps) controversially sent off Everton’s Jagielka just before half time. They did look quite impressive, but it is always easier to do so with a man advantage.

In their second game at Leicester they once again had a numerical advantage for the last half hour after Vardy had been sent off, but despite another good performance they failed to capitalise and lost the game 2-0.

Last weekend they were at home to champions Manchester City and after taking the lead were happy to settle for an unlikely draw. Once again they looked well organised; but if VAR had been in operation the Wolves goal would have been chalked off when the referee failed to spot Boly’s handball (and offside) goal. They gave City a bigger test than many sides do, but were fortunate in that they only conceded once, as their opponents hit the woodwork three times.

Our own performance against Arsenal last weekend was much improved, and in many respects we were unlucky to not get at least a point from the game, which could even have been three points if the players had remembered to pack their shooting boots. It was pleasing to see that Anderson began to show glimpses of why his transfer fee was as high as it was.

Against AFC Wimbledon in midweek most of our players had good games, and we ourselves were helped by the dismissal (a bit harsh I thought) of an opponent centre back after 17 minutes. We had gone behind in the second minute thanks to Ogbonna at a corner once again concentrating on trying to block the man he was marking, not watching the ball, and being beaten in the air. I also believe that Adrian would have been disappointed that he could not keep the header out. What I can’t understand is why nobody on the West Ham coaching staff is pointing out to our experienced Italian international the error of his method of defending at corners which was a copy of the Bournemouth winner just a fortnight ago.

For me there were excellent performances from many of the players, especially Snodgrass, Rice and Diop. Hernandez, known for his goalscoring as opposed to his general play, missed several chances to score by not even connecting cleanly with the ball, and even the goal he scored at the end was fortunate. For me he should be an impact substitute at best and certainly not a starter in our best eleven.

Bookmakers expect the game this weekend to be a close affair with 1-1 being the most likely score according to the odds they have set. We are marginal favourites at 6/4 to win the game, although our opponents are priced at around 9/5 with 12/5 for a draw. With my trusty optimistic hat once more on my head I’m predicting a 2-1 win which is priced at 8/1. With more difficult fixtures in the pipeline we could really do with three points from this game, otherwise we are likely to spend some time near the bottom of the table looking upwards, a similar situation to the past two seasons. Five of our next six games see us facing Everton, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester. And even the easiest game of the six (on paper) against Brighton will not be one to look forward to if last season’s two games against them are anything to go by.

One table where we often find ourselves near the top in recent times is the one where they work out how many points teams drop in a season from a winning position. After just three games this time around we find ourselves at the top once again having already dropped six points from being in the lead in two of our matches. Let us hope that this time we can score first and retain the advantage to pick up the much-needed three points and begin to climb the table.

How Can West Ham Make Their Point And Spoil The Wanderers’ Return?

West Ham host Wolverhampton Wanderers at the London Stadium with both team’s seeking a first win of the season. With a tough run of fixtures on the horizon can the Hammers settle their nerves and pick up the points?

Tomorrow sees West Ham’s first meeting of the campaign against one of last season’s three promoted clubs.  In normal circumstances this would be seen as a great opportunity to put some points on the board but Wolves, along with Fulham, have a level of financial backing that would suggest something more than attritional backs-to-the-wall survival is on the radar.

Wolves have, to date, bucked the trend of Chinese investment in English football by embarking on an impressive run of success while for the others its has all gone lychee shaped.  Owners, Fosun International (“creating happier lives for families worldwide”), are a multinational investment conglomerate headed by one of the wealthiest men in China with interests ranging from asset management, insurance, real estate and entertainment.  With the company earning over a billion US dollars in profit every six months, shortage of funds is not going to be an issue should the owners wish to invest even further.

Under the guidance of magnificently bearded Nuno Espirito Santo, Wolves record this season is two home draws, against Everton and Manchester City, and one, reportedly unlucky, away defeat to Leicester.  Like the Hammers they are seeking their first league win of the season this weekend.  I watched much of the Wolves – Manchester City match last week in which the hosts played a compact 3-4-3 formation; worked hard for each other and were quick and dangerous on the break.  The did get the rub of the refereeing decisions (their goal looked both offside and hand-ball) but on the evidence it will certainly be another stiff test for Manuel Pellegrini’s team.

The West Ham versus Wolves rivalry extends beyond sixty matches but this will be only the fifth meeting in the Premier League.  On the last occasion the two teams met it in a league it was a bottom of the table clash on New Year’s Day, 2011 when a Freddie Sears goal sealed a 2-0 victory that dumped Wolves into bottom spot and took the Hammers to a season high 15th.  As we all know to well, by the end of the season fortunes had been reversed as the Hammers bid their most recent farewell to the top flight.

It was a welcome midweek EFL cup win for West Ham (and defeat would have been a further shock to confidence levels) but it is impossible to read too much into a performance against hard-working but ordinary League 1 opposition, who spent much of the game a man down.  I doubt that the manager learned anything new as far as this weekend’s team selection is concerned, except that those who might have been hoping to stake a claim for selection (Obiang, Perez and Ogbonna) were unable to take advantage.

From a defensive viewpoint, the only certainty is that Lukasz Fabianski will return to the keeper’s jersey.  Beyond that I suspect that Pellegrini will stick with Fabian Belbuena and Issa Diop as centre backs.  The Declan Rice situation is a puzzles that to me he looks every inch a central defender and, even though he may have done OK (as a defensive midfielder) against AFC Wimbledon and in a handful of meaningless friendlies for the Republic of Ireland, he has tended to look lost there against more capable and dynamic opposition.   The only upside is that he is well placed to drop back into a back three as required – but, then again, that is where I would start him in the first place.

It is a toss-up with the choice of full-backs between the attack minded Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku or the more defensive Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell.  There may even be a case to play both Cresswell and Masuaku (not both as left backs, obviously) bearing in mind the probable threat down that wing from either Costa or Traore.  At times, Arthur has looked by far the most likely player to get behind an opposition defence.

In midfield, I am sure Pellegrini will again allow Felipe Anderson the freedom of a central attacking role following the clear improvement at Arsenal last week.  This would mean Jack Wilshere (if selected) needing to drop deeper to partner Carlos Sanchez in front of the backline.  I am not yet ready to jump onto the second coming Robert Snodgrass bandwagon although I am sure he will start on Saturday – getting the nod over Andriy Yarmolenko who, it seems, needs more work to achieve match fitness.  Players need to do more than run around a lot and look busy, and Snodgrass has yet to deliver much in the way of true end product during his Hammer’s career.

WHUWOL

West Ham’s fortunes may well end up resting on the fitness of Marko Arnautovic.  Seeing him in the starting lineup would be a massive boost to confidence rather than having to rely on his understudy, Javier Hernandez.  Perhaps, one day, Hernandez will surprise me but I still struggle to see how he can be used beyond being an impact substitution.  If it is any consolation his compatriot, Jimenez, who will be leading the Wolves line carries little more threat – creating the prospect of a Mexican stand-off.  Hopefully, the magic sponge man can work his wonders on Arnie’s knee.

The match referee has been announced as Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire.  The website that likes to tells us each week whether this is good or bad news for West Ham, calls it as bad news on the basis that he was in charge of the FA Cup defeat at Wigan last season– ignoring the fact that he also ref’d the away league win at Leicester that finally confirmed Premier League survival.

Sky’s Paul Merson felt the Hammer’s played well at Arsenal last week and is predicting a 2-2 draw.  At time of writing that lazy git Lawro has yet to share his views but I am guessing he will say 1-1.   Given what has gone before and that run of still to come tough September fixtures then Saturday’s fixture takes on an added tension filled significance.  Another defeat would leave us traumatised over the international break.  I have to believe and keep the faith, both in Pellegrini’s abilities and in Arnie’s knee.  I think that we can shade this one by the odd goal in three.  Two of Wolves three league opponents this season have been reduced to ten men; a warning, perhaps, that discipline is required all round.

Overground or Underground: West Ham Face A Challenging Cross Town Journey To Wimbledon

The second round of EFL Cup sees the not-so-big boys enter the fray. Can Manuel Pellegrini’s shell-shocked Hammers cast off their Premier League woes to record a moral boosting victory against League One Wimbledon?

Watching our game on TV at the weekend I heard the commentator mention how Arsenal had lost each of their opening three league matches in the 1992/93 season but subsequently went on to win both the FA and Football League Cups – beating Sheffield Wednesday in both finals.  An omen, maybe, that the Hammers take inspiration from history as they yet again set off hopefully on that elusive road to Wembley.

At the start of the season, the League or EFL Cup (in its many guises) is considered the piece of silverware that is most closely within the grasp of the smaller clubs; this despite the fact that the big six have won fifteen out of the last twenty competitions.  On paper, a second round fixture against League One opposition should be a routine victory; and then all we need is the continued luck of the Carabao draw and, hey prstoo, we are all the way to the final, for the first time since 1981.  Consider though the Hammer’s capacity for shock exits before pencilling the date of 24 February into your diary!

Today’s opponents are AFC Wimbledon whose remarkable rise through the football pyramid since their formation in 2002 sees them compete in the second round of the League Cup for the very first time.  It is debatable whether football historians should regard this as our first encounter with the Dons or whether the previous twenty-seven meetings with the former Wimbledon FC should also be taken into account – a sequence that included a fourth round League Cup victory for West Ham in 1989 courtesy of a Martin Allen thunderbolt (and a Julian Dicks red card).

These days, AFC Wimbledon temporarily strut their stuff at Kingsmeadow stadium pending a return to their neighbourhood roots at New Plough Lane in 2019.  The new stadium will be built on the site of the old Wimbledon dog/ stock car/ speedway arena, where I assume they will not be leaving the old track in place.  For those travelling, it is likely to be a tight squeeze into the 4,850 capacity Kingsmeadow for tonight’s game – I believe the smallest stadium, by capacity, in the entire football league.  For the less adventurous the game is being shown on Sky Sports.  A sign of how football on TV has changed over the years is that one of earliest televised games I can remember watching (it may only have been the second half) featured former Kingsmeadow ground share partners, Kingstonian, in a live FA Amateur Cup Final – such were the restrictions on the broadcast of live games back then.

It has been customary for Premier League clubs to put out a second string in the early rounds of the League Cup.  I can’t decide whether this is because two games in a week is too much for players in the modern game or whether you will be ceremoniously mocked as not being a proper top club should you put out your first team.  Understandably, risking injuries against what could turn out to be agricultural opposition, would be a concern but such bad luck can also occur in training.  Not that I am suggesting AFC Wimbledon will be employing crude tactics, I know nothing of their style of play, but their manager did feature, as a player, for both the old crazy gang and for Millwall.

With Manuel Pellegrini still looking to discover his best team it would seem the perfect low risk opportunity to treat this game as any other in his pursuit of the holy grail.  Sure, bring in a few who are realistically on the cusp of a Premier League first team slot, but don’t give games to total fringe players who would only otherwise get the call in the event of a major flu epidemic or bout of lasagne poisoning.  I think it is fair to give Adrian a run out and I would also like to see Declan Rice, in central defence and Pedro Obiang in central midfield.  I don’t know what the fitness situation is with Andriy Yarmolenko (given that Robert Snodgrass repeatedly gets the nod in his stead) but some more game time for the Ukrainian would be useful.  Marko Arnautovic will certainly not play any part, which will mean probable outings for Javier Hernandez and/ or Lucas Perez.  If Pellegrini is inclined to ‘unleash’ any youngsters in his lineup then he could do worse than allowing Nathan Holland or Xande Silva to show what they can offer.

The Hammers badly need a confidence boosting victory from the game and the prospect of defeat before a tough run of league games is unthinkable.  I have to believe that we have the talent to prevail but do we have the attitude and organisation?  I am hoping so, and will predict a comfortable 3-0 positive outcome.