The Cinderella Derby: West Ham Travel To Everton In Search Of The Magic Touch

Two teams whose big dreams are mostly overshadowed by more illustrious and uglier neighbours lock horns at Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon. Who will get to the ball?

There is a sense affinity between the stories of West Ham and Everton. How their hopes and dreams are largely thwarted by their relative places in the scheme of things. The fourth biggest club in London and the fourth biggest club in the North-West – at least as far as revenues are concerned. No doubt, Everton have enjoyed the greater share of success, but all that was back in the olden days, before the big money started to talk.

In more recent history, both clubs have stumbled along a path of vanity, making poor value signings where glamour and reputation are mistaken for talent and application. The Hammers have abandoned haphazard approach since the second coming of David Moyes and it seems that Everton hope to do the same, through the pragmatic management of Rafa Benitez. Two teams where collective effort and organisation take priority over individual flair.

Any aspirations that either club might be the one to break the top six monopoly on a regular basis received a massive blow last week with the sale of Newcastle United to Saudi Arabia. If hopes were up that a fairer, better regulated sport would rise the ashes of the European Super League fiasco, they were firmly dispelled with the surprise Premier League decision to ratify the Newcastle deal.

It may take the Toon a number of years to transform into a major force, but a bottomless supply of dodgy money and expensive lawyers will eventually overcome whatever passes for the regulatory obstacle of financial fair play. Not that the Saudis are any more inappropriate as owners than those already in place at Manchester City or Chelsea but it is one more step in stripping away the soul out of the English game – unless you are a Newcastle supporter, I suppose.

Benitez is probably kicking himself now for taking the job at Goodison when he would have been in pole position for a return to St James’ Park under the new regime. Instead of planning how to spend the loot he has to worry about facing West Ham with a patched-up team.

The Hammer’s express start to the new start has lost steam in recent weeks, although they remain unbeaten on the road. The defeat at home to Brentford was particularly disappointing. It is tempting to blame the fatigue of a Europa League campaign, but we are only two games in, and there has been ample opportunity to rotate the squad against indifferent opponents.

The slow start against the Bees was unfathomable and both Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna (neither of who had played the previous Thursday) looked as though they had lead in their boots. Having dragged themselves back into the game with a much improved second half performance (against it has to be said a highly cynical opposition) a home win looked to be on the cards. Ultimately losing to the last kick of the game following a needless free-kick conceded by Ogbonna was immensely distressing.

It is not clear at time of writing whether David Moyes will need to make any enforced changes with some speculation over the fitness of Vladimir Coufal and Michail Antonio. I would think any discretionary switches to the starting line-up are unlikely given the manager’s track record, although cases could be made for the return of Craig Dawson and for Alphonse Areola to replace Lukasz Fabianski – following the Poles two assists last time out.

In theory, it should be a good time to play Everton if reports that both Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are unavailable are true. Rondon despite good approach work is hardly prolific, leaving goal-of-the-month expert Townsend as the major threat. The game could well turn out to be a cagey tactical battle. Benitez will know that West Ham’s strength is the quick counter-attack and with his main strikers absent may be prepared to sit back and force the Hammers to ask the questions. Unpicking packed defences is not our strong point and the best hope might be to regain the crown as the league’s set piece kings.

A hard fought game. West Ham to win 2-1 with Tomas Soucek back on the scoresheet, just as he was last season. COYI!  

Can West Ham make it three wins from the last four Premier League visits to Goodison Park?

Once again the Premier League resumes after the second halt for an international break. I dislike the stuttered start to a season brought about by these interruptions, but for those of you who enjoy seeing England play these World Cup qualifiers you won’t have long to wait for the next ones as after just four more games the campaign will once again be held up by another stoppage.

Anyway, on Sunday we visit Goodison Park for our eighth Premier League game. Our promising start has faltered a little, and it was disappointing to concede a 95th minute goal to lose our last game at the London Stadium to Brentford. At that point in the game it was only one point dropped, as it was in our last home game against Manchester United when failure to convert a 93rd minute penalty lost us another point. To counterbalance this of course, we ourselves scored a 95th minute winner at Leeds to gain two additional points in time added on, so the net result of the extra time played in our last three games is zero; two points gained and two points lost.

So we are where we deserve to be perhaps with eleven points from seven games and a positive goal difference of +4 to be sitting in ninth place in this early table. Everton are fifth just three points above us. If we can beat them then we will move above them. But previous visits to Merseyside have shown that this won’t be easy.

The Toffeemen have begun the season well under new manager Benitez. They have only lost once, but their four wins haven’t been the most difficult fixtures – away at Brighton was quite impressive, but home victories over Burnley, Norwich and Southampton, three of the bottom four teams at this stage, were games they might have expected to win. Hopefully we will prove to be a much tougher proposition!  

Historically they have been a bit of a bogey side for us, and statistics show that they have won more games, and scored more goals against us than against any other team in the Premier League era. Having said that recent history has shown some improvement, and we have won on two of our last three league visits to Goodison Park.

At this point I’ll pose a teaser for you. Who was the last Englishman to score a goal for West Ham at Goodison Park in either the league or one of the cups? I’ll give you a clue – it was in March 2008 in a 1-1 draw. There were actually seven Englishmen in the starting eleven that day. Since then we have scored 15 goals there but none by someone from England. The names of those goalscorers to take you down memory lane over the last 13 years – Kovac, Da Costa, Ilan, Spector, Piquionne, Zarate, James Collins, Antonio (OK I’ll admit he could be classed as English and was at the time, but now he’s qualified for Jamaica), Sakho, Payet, Yarmolenko (2), Arnautovic, Snodgrass, and finally Soucek who scored the late winner last season on New Years’ Day.

I wonder if a player qualified for England can score for us at Everton on Sunday? Of course there are fewer to choose from these days. In the last game against Brentford there were just three in the starting line-up, Cresswell, Rice and Bowen, and another two (out of nine) on the ‘bench’ – Dawson and Johnson. Without research I suspect that there are some other teams with fewer than that though. How times have changed!

Regular readers of this blog will know that my West Ham memories stretch back to the late 1950s. I have been thinking back over all the years of games against Everton trying to recall some of the best ones. One of the most exciting and memorable evenings was the FA Cup tie at Upton Park in January 2015 when the game was tied 1-1 after 90 minutes. In extra time Lukaku scored his customary goal against us, before Carlton Cole was brought on as a substitute with about ten minutes of the 120 to go, and scored within a minute or so. 2-2 at full time and we were leading in the penalty shoot out after Everton missed one of their early penalties and Downing (with the fifth one) had the opportunity to win the game, but his penalty was saved by the Everton keeper Robles. Successive penalties were scored after that until it was the turn of the goalkeepers. Then Robles penalty hit the bar, leaving Adrian to step up. He memorably threw his gloves to the floor before striding forward to smash in the winner. 9-8 on penalties. What a game!

Another game I remember well (for a different reason) was a 2-2 draw in the 70s. I was standing on the North Bank when an Everton player called Ronnie Goodlass scored from about 50 yards (from a high bouncing ball) over the head of Mervyn Day – I was right behind it. I think that game ended 2-2 with Pop Robson scoring a couple for us.

And one of the best games I can recall, also at Upton Park was earlier in the seventies when we won the game 4-3. I think we had 10 Englishmen on the field that day, but two of our goals were scored by Clyde Best from Bermuda, who did score some cracking goals for us.

Looking at the bookmakers’ odds for the game on Sunday, Everton are narrow favourites at 6/4, we are around 15/8, with the draw at 23/10. My fun bet for this game is for West Ham to win 1-0 and the goal to be scored by Aaron Cresswell (an Englishman for a change!). The odds for this are 200/1. I can just picture a free kick about 25 yards out in the last few minutes, and Cresswell lifting it over the wall into the top corner. What are the chances? And by the way the answer to my teaser was Dean Ashton. What a super player he was before his career was cruelly cut short.

West Ham Will Be Buzzing: But Can They Bring The Bees To Their Knees?

The Hammers first meeting of the season with one of the newly promoted sides. The bees will surely be flying higher than either the hornets or canaries.

Today sees a first ever top tier clash between West Ham and Brentford, and the first in any competition since the 1992/93 season. Although the Bees had enjoyed one previous spell in the old First Division – a war interrupted run between 1935/ 36 and 1946/47 – the Hammers were languishing in midtable Division 2 obscurity at the time.  

Among many pundits pre-season favourites for the relegation places, Brentford have equipped themselves well so far. Showing the determination and resilience necessary to make a go of it in the Premier League, and following in Leeds footsteps as the season’s surprise package. Prior to last weekend they had conceded just two times, but it was their refusal to be overawed by Liverpool, and to come from behind twice in a 3-3 draw, that rightfully earned the plaudits.

For the Hammers, today is the second instalment of the Sunday after the Thursday before schedule that will run until Christmas. A routine victory against Rapid Vienna in the week left them sitting comfortably at the top of Group H. That it has been achieved with a largely second-string selection is a bonus and all the more satisfying. Considerably reducing the risk of fatigue and injury from having to play twice per week.

The Europa League game saw another man of the match performance from Declan Rice. What a top class player he has become. I will admit to being one of those who initially thought he could only ever make it as a centre back – how wrong was that? It is not only his commanding performances on the pitch that would be missed but also his obvious role in encouraging the superb team spirit that currently surrounds the club.  

It is unlikely there will be any surprises in the West Ham starting line-up for the game. The only uncertainty is at right back where both Vladimir Coufal and Ryan Fredericks may be unavailable. Fortunately, Ben Johnson can provide sound defensive cover, even if he still needs to offer more going forward. It was interesting to see that Brentford had targeted Alexander-Arnold as the weak link in Liverpool’s defence last week and I wonder if Thomas Frank sees any similar point of weakness in the Hammer’s backline. Both full-backs may need strong support from their respective midfield partners.

As last year’s set-piece kings, West Ham have carried much less of a threat this time around. One of the highlights in midweek was seeing Craig Dawson really attacking the ball at corner kicks. Dawson and Tomas Soucek were a handful for defences last season and corners were a productive source of goals. Kurt Zouma is the better defender than Dawson (and has a reasonable goal-scoring record of his own) but we have yet to see any aggression from him in the opposition box.

The Rice/ Soucek dynamic also looks in need of tweaking. The desire to get Rice forward more is understandable, particularly now he has started to weigh-in with a few important goals. But it does appear to have dampened Soucek’s party piece of arriving late in the box with purpose. There were signs of the old Soucek in the second half at Leeds and hopefully the manager and coaches are working on getting the right balance between the two.

A win today could move West Ham up to third or fourth place, depending on the scale of victory and what happens in the subsequent Liverpool-Manchester City clash. Not that victory is assured against a side who are as well organised and hard working as Brentford. Breaking down compact and organised defences is something we still seem to struggle with. Excellent counter-attacking has become a West ham core competency but that extra touch of magic to unlock packed defences remains elusive.

How Brentford approach the game will be fascinating. Last weekend’s barnstorming game with Liverpool was something of an anomaly for them, deviating from the cautious, disciplined style that had gone before and earned them three clean sheets – no doubt polycotton ones at a 50% saving in the Brentford Nylons great autumn sale, not arf!

Not knowing what to expect makes this game difficult to call. Surprisingly West Ham supporters have suddenly become accustomed to winning games, particularly at the London Stadium. But against an athletic, all-action opponent who don’t know when they are beaten, it will be a tough test.

In the past this fixture has thrown up some crazy score-lines including 7-4, 8-3 and 7-2. I’ve a feeling this one will be a tighter affair. I can see it being edge of the seats stuff right to the final whistle, with the Hammers finally winning out by the odd goal. COYI!   

A Rapid Turnaround as West Ham are back in Premier League action less than 72 hours after another Europa League win

The last time we faced Brentford in the Football League was in a second tier game (ironically called League Division One) in 1992-93. This was the very season when the Premier League came into existence, but we had missed out following relegation from the top flight (called Division One) in 1991-92. Yes that’s right we went from Division One to League Division One after dropping out of the top tier! I guess the naming was confusing at the time. It’s now much simpler of course with the second tier called the Championship.

Anyway, following a goalless draw at Griffin Park in December 1992 we won the return at Upton Park the following April by four goals to nil. Our goalscorers that day were Martin Allen, Peter Butler, Kevin Keen and Trevor Morley. It was the first of four winning games to end the season in second place and gain automatic promotion into the Premier League on goal difference.

Prior to the two fixtures in that season you have to go back to February 1954 for the last meeting between the sides when we lost 3-1 with our goal scored by Dave Sexton. Older readers may remember the name – Dave Sexton subsequently had a successful managerial career managing Chelsea, QPR, Manchester United and England Under 21s among others.

Coming up to date, Brentford have made an excellent start to life in the Premier League sitting in ninth place after two wins and three draws in their opening six games. Victories over Arsenal and Wolves and creditable draws against Palace, Villa and Liverpool with just a single goal defeat to high flying Brighton represent a good return for the team who were favourites at the beginning of the season to be relegated. One of the many interesting statistics I’ve read this week is that Brentford have only been trailing for a total of 25 minutes this season to date. Apparently that’s the fewest in the Premier League. Is there anything they don’t keep statistics for these days?

Our performance against Rapid Vienna on Thursday wasn’t spectacular but another professional showing to top Europa League Group H with the maximum six points from our two opening games. Defensively we have been particularly impressive, restricting our opponents to just one shot on target in the 90 minutes (and that was from some distance). Dinamo Zagreb had no shots on target against us if I remember correctly. Rice scored in both games and was perhaps man of the match against the Austrians, although I thought that Craig Dawson ran him close. By scoring in both games, Rice became the third West Ham player to score in his first two European appearances for the club – the others were Brian Dear in 1965, and David Cross in 1980.

In the other game in Group H, Dinamo Zagreb went to Belgium and comfortably beat Genk 3-0, so it would appear that our next two matches home and away against the Belgian side shouldn’t present us with too many problems, and we are well placed to top the group if we can keep us this form. And I don’t have any doubts that we can achieve this. Leicester on the other hand have just one point from two games in their group, leaving their European hopes hanging by a thread.

David Moyes continues to have a selection headache with so many players pushing for a place in the starting eleven. But just like his opposite number at Brentford, he has made the least changes to the starting line-up in Premier League games this season (just three).  My best guess this time is for the following unchanged line-up: Fabianski; Coufal (Johnson if Coufal not fit), Zouma, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Fornals, Benrahma, Bowen; Antonio.

I’m not sure that any of the others have done enough (yet) to make them a shoe-in for the starting eleven, although I have a feeling that once Areola gets a run in the team he will keep his place. He looks a high class keeper to me. Dawson is very unlucky to be left out, but I feel that the extra pace of Zouma, and the combination with Ogbonna makes them the first choice pairing at centre back.

Given Brentford’s excellent start to the season, and the fact that we had a European game on Thursday night, I’m surprised that the bookmakers make us such overwhelming favourites to win the game. We are around 17/20 whereas Brentwood are quoted at about 18/5 to collect three points. This won’t be easy and I don’t believe there will be a lot in it. I’ll go for a 3-2 West Ham win (odds of 28/1) and for my fun bet this time I’ve gone for Antonio and Toney both to score, with Rice and Jansson both to be carded at 100/1. What are the chances?  

Rapid Strides: West Ham Ready To Set The Pace At The Top Of Group H

The Hammers continental campaign continues with the visit of Rapid Vienna to the London Stadium. A home victory will allow West Ham to take control of the group.

European football makes its long-awaited return to the east-end tonight as West Ham look to build on their successful start in Zagreb and stay on course for the knockout stages of the Europa League.

Group stage cup football is a new experience for the Hammers and although it may lack the jeopardy of sudden death elimination, it does provide a guarantee of at least three home fixtures for fans to enjoy. It will be interesting to see how that impacts the attendance – I would expect a crowd somewhere north of 40,000 for today’s visit of Rapid Vienna.

Finishing top of Group H and avoiding the Preliminary knockout round, when third placed teams from the Champion’s League groups drop into the competition, would be a huge bonus. Win the three home games and that would be a big step through to the last sixteen.

The progress of Premier League clubs in the Champion’s League has not bothered me much in recent years but I’m now hoping they all qualify from their groups. I will happily trade the schadenfreude of their elimination for not having to face home opposition in the latter stages.

The game against Rapid Vienna will be West Ham’s first competitive encounter with Austrian opposition. Rapid are the most successful club ever in Austrian football having won the league thirty-two times, and the cup fourteen times. They twice reached the final of the European Cup Winners Cup but lost on both occasions.

Having finished second in the Austrian Bundesliga last season they have struggled for results in a hectic start to the new season. Tonight, will be their twenty-first competitive fixture – against West Ham’s ninth. Rapid were eliminated from Champion’s League qualifying by Sparta Prague but then went on to beat teams from Cyprus and Ukraine in reaching the Europa League group stage, where they lost their opening game at home to Genk. They have also struggled for domestic league form and currently sit eleventh placed out of twelve teams.

David Moyes will want to get the home campaign off to a storming start in front of an expectant crowd. It needs the selection of a strong side although there could well be starts for squad players such as Alphonse Areola, Ben Johnson, Issa Diop, Craig Dawson, Alex Kral and Manuel Lanzini. Perhaps the biggest question is whether the club’s lone striker Michail Antonio is given a start or is kept as emergency standby on the bench.

Possible line-up: Areola, Johnson, Zouma, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Kral, Vlasic, Lanzini, Benrahma, Bowen

The Europa League promises to be a great experience for the club and its supporters. It may also be a more realistic route to Champion’s League qualification than a top four Premier League finish at this point in time – although, there is, of course, still a long way to go. A win today will be another step for the Hammers in staking their claim at the top of the group. Accepting that no game is ever easy – and nothing can be taken for granted – I still forecast a clear West Ham victory here tonight – by two or three goals. COYI!

Moving On Up: West Ham Look To Return To Winning Ways Against Injury Hit Leeds United

Excellent cup wins have propped up indifferent league form in recent weeks. Time for the Hammers to bounce back with an awayday victory at Elland Road.

An opportunity today for West Ham to get back to winning ways in the Premier League as they visit a weakened Leeds United at Elland Road. Having flown out of the traps with emphatic victories over Newcastle and Leicester at the start of the season, league form has since faltered with the Hammers having picked up just two points of the last nine available.  

Indifferent league form has, however, been punctuated by two impressive cup victories: first against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League; and more recently over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup.

The win at Old Trafford was particularly unexpected. Having missed out on at least a point in the league fixture at the London Stadium three days earlier, an immediate rematch in cup competition looked a daunting prospect. The Red Devils and their expensive strength in depth were clear favourites in what was always going to be a ‘B’ team encounter.  

It is difficult to gauge what effect the win will have on overall confidence given that Jarrod Bowen was the only player the starting eleven who is in contention for a start again today. It can’t have done any harm though, and there really does seem to be a strong sense of togetherness throughout the entire squad.

There has now been the opportunity to see each of summer signings in action, with positive first impressions. Alphonse Areola had a few uncertain moments but looks an ideal long-term replacement for Lukasz Fabianski. Alex Kral had a solid, hardworking debut and can provide decent cover for Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek when needed. Nikola Vlasic has shown great attitude, and some nice touches, but it looks like he needs extra time and work in adapting to the pace and intensity of the Premier League. All can prove to be astute signings and valuable assets even if they are not yet first picks on the team-sheet.

There were also other promising performances at Old Trafford, notably Issa Diop, Ben Johnson and Ryan Fredericks. If Diop can get his progress back on track, he can become the ‘monster’ he was once billed as.  Johnson is a fine prospect although may find few opportunities behind Vladimir Coufal is his more natural right back role. I’m hoping playing him out of position is good for his development. It is a shame Fredericks picked up an injury laying on the goal for Manuel Lanzini (who himself is also starting to look rejuvenated). If only he could put his blistering pace to good use more regularly, he could have achieved so much more. A matter of confidence, I wonder!

For today’s game, the only likely change from last weekend should be the return of Michail Antonio, with Vlasic dropping down to the bench. No doubt in my mind, the team and game plan look far more formidable with Antonio leading the line.

Leeds have a number of injury problems. Llorente, Koch and Bamford are all missing while Raphina, Harrison and Ayling are considered doubtful. Following last season’s heroics, Leeds are so far without a win this term. Could there be a dose of second season syndrome circulating at Elland Road? Possibly, but a team that runs its socks off are sure to come good at some stage.

Matches against weakened sides have not traditionally been a Hammers strong point. West Ham are a very different proposition these days and I’m not sure I can remember a more hardworking, organised, disciplined, and spirited side turning out in the claret and blue. Old anxieties, however, are difficult to shake off and I still find myself judging the team’s ability to self-harm by historic standards. Will we get intimidated travelling anywhere north of Watford Gap?  Is a three-goal lead with ten minutes remaining a big enough cushion? Will we buckle at the merest suggestion of a physical onslaught? A few more seasons of the current therapy and watching a game might even become a low-anxiety enjoyable experience. A good time to be a West Ham fan!    

Can’t help feeling that we will be too strong for Leeds today. The home defence is not the strongest at the best of times but with players missing there should be plenty of gaps for our boys to exploit. A game against Bielsa’s Leeds will never be easy but West Ham to win 3-1. COYI!

West Ham attempt to win at Elland Road for the second season running. It hasn’t happened before!

The prospect of a game against Leeds always conjures up memories for me as a young boy, and the reputation of the Elland Road outfit under Don Revie at the time. They were a top side but perhaps didn’t win as many trophies when they were at their peak as they perhaps should have done. In many ways they were perhaps the team to beat, the best team in England, but somehow they didn’t always seem to achieve what they might have done. They certainly had their share of being runners-up. For example, following their promotion to the top flight in the early 1960s from 1964-65 onwards they finished 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st in the next ten seasons.

They were also perhaps the most hated side in the country at that time. I guess it’s a long time ago now, and perhaps that reputation is unfair? I don’t know, but my memory is such that people seemed to enjoy Leeds being beaten. Not more so than in 1970 when it seemed to me that most of the country wanted Chelsea to beat them in the FA Cup Final. They did after a replay and so many seemed to rejoice in the victory although the Chelsea side themselves had their fair share of players who could, shall we say, look after themselves.

The Leeds side of that era were certainly high profile, and even now around 50 years later I can recall so many of their players; Sprake, Reaney, Charlton, Hunter, Cooper, Madeley, Bremner, Giles, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Gray. To be honest I can’t recall too many more from the subsequent 50 years, Yorath, Jordan, Batty, Speed, Bowyer, Rio Ferdinand of course, Hasselbaink, Lee Chapman are just a few that spring to mind.

West Ham fans of my vintage will recall 1966 with massive affection. Of course I’m referring to the World Cup, but there are a couple of other reasons that I remember that year in relation to Leeds. Firstly, on my twelfth birthday in February of that year we were playing away at Leeds and were soundly thrashed 5-0. But in the following season later that year the mighty Leeds brought their first team down to Upton Park on a Monday night in November to play us in the fourth round of the Football League Cup (Carabao in modern terms). They were humbled 7-0 with hat-tricks for Hurst and Sissons and a goal from Peters. It was perhaps one of the most astonishing victories in all my years of supporting West Ham. After that win we didn’t beat them at the next twelve attempts until we finally won against them, ironically in a League Cup replay at Elland Road in 1971.

That season was to be the first where the League Cup final was to be held at Wembley. Before then they were home and away two-legged affairs. We progressed to the semi-final where we lost 6-2 on aggregate over the two legs to West Brom, who themselves went on to lose the final to a Rodney Marsh inspired Queens Park Rangers who came from behind to win 3-2.

Which brings me to the present, and our visit to Elland Road today. Leeds under Bielsa won many plaudits for their football last season, their first in the top flight after a 17 year absence. But we did the double over them in empty stadiums winning 2-1 away, with goals from Soucek and Ogbonna enabling us to come from behind after conceding a penalty in the first five minutes, before the return leg in March when Lingard and Dawson scored to give us a 2-0 win. Those two victories doubled our wins over them in the Premier League to 4, whereas they have beaten us 14 times. I looked back in the records to try to find the last time that we did the double over them and eventually found it in the 1953-54 season in Division Two, the second game of which was a 5-2 victory on the day after I was born in 1954! And the last time we beat them three times in a row? That came in 1949 – we won four consecutive games against them in 1948 and 1949, although three of them were at Upton Park. And when was the last time we beat them at their ground in two consecutive seasons? It hasn’t happened.

History is irrelevant though really and current form is much more important. We lost in the league last Sunday of course to Manchester United after missing that last minute penalty which was the subject of much discussion. That was our only defeat this season, and came after two draws had followed our opening two wins. Leeds on the other hand have failed to win any of their opening five league games, but have drawn three of them (against Newcastle, Everton and Burnley) to sit in 17th in the table at this very early stage. They have also suffered heavy defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United.

Our much changed (virtually B team) gained some measure of revenge over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup in the week and were immediately drawn against Manchester City in the next round. We’ll certainly have to win it the hard way! Some good performances throughout the team will mean many will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up in the weeks to come. I was particularly impressed with Areola, Dawson, Diop, Lanzini and Kral, although to be fair almost everyone played their part in the victory which could have been more emphatic in the end but for two golden chances missed by Yarmolenko and Noble.

So what will happen today? West Ham have been playing Leeds since 1921 – that is 100 years now. It’s more than 100 games and Leeds have been victors in many more of those fixtures than we have. I’m hoping that we can resume our winning ways in the league this season, and also record a second consecutive victory at Elland Road for the first time in history. I reckon 2-1 today will change that. What are the chances? 

David Moyes Claret & Blue Army To Outsmart Ole Gunnar’s All-Star Circus

Buoyed by an impressive midweek performance in Zagreb how will the Hammers shape up against Ronaldo & Co in the absence of the suspended Michail Antonio

It’s back to league action today for West Ham just a few days after an impressive Europa League victory against Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. It was a textbook awayday performance that completely belied the Hammer’s recent inexperience of European competition. Goals from Ant and Dec had put the visitors in firm control of a game where the clean sheet was rarely threatened.

The visit of Manchester United to east London is one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of the season. They may be several levels below the standards set under Alex Ferguson on the pitch, but much of their worldwide appeal and glamour has not worn off. If West Ham have any aspirations towards qualifying for the Champion’s League through league position, then today’s visitors are one of the teams they must compete with. In truth, winning the Europa League is a more realistic target.

It is encouraging that many commentators (and opponents) are starting to look at West Ham differently. That perhaps last year’s sixth place wasn’t an aberration after all. But if there is one persistent criticism of David Moyes among pundits, it is that he is too cautious when coming up against the big teams. On the Southampton match commentary, Efan Ekoku, a rather erratic summariser at the best of times, went as far to suggest that had it not been for an overly cautious approach in big games, the Hammers would have comfortably won the two points needed for a top four finish last season. Wishful thinking, quite possibly, but it is difficult to completely dismiss the notion that an inferiority complex has influenced the approach to certain games.

That wasn’t the case in this equivalent fixture last December, though. The Hammers were by far the better team for over an hour, taking a first half lead through Tomas Soucek and looking likely to increase that lead. There was no hint of danger when the visiting keeper desperately kicked for touch in the 65th minute, only for the infamous ‘Wind of God’ to bring the ball back into play from several yards over the line. Pogba equalised in the immediate aftermath, heads dropped at the injustice of divine intervention, and the match ended in an unexpected 3-1 away win.

Today’s major West Ham team news is the absence of the squads one and only striker Michail Antonio due to a one match suspension. With no like for like replacement, Moyes will need to somehow shuffle his resources and come up with a new game plan. The pace and power of Antonio is so fundamental to the way we play that no obvious solution stands out.

If Moyes wants to stick with a 4-2-3-1 formation, then he could go with either Jarrod Bowen or Andriy Yarlmolenko as the arrowhead. Bowen had some success in that role last season but was heavily supported by the initial purple patch of Jesse Lingard’s loan spell . Yarmolenko doesn’t work anywhere near hard enough to lead the line effectively or play more than a token ten minutes. Neither have the physical presence to unsettle what can be an uncertain Manchester defence.

Alternatively, Moyes might consider a change of formation – to either 3-5-2 or 4-3-3. When Moyes first arrived, I believed a back three was to be the default setting but it was most probably down to an expedient way of making use of the limited resources available at the time. I’m not really convinced that either Vladimir Coufal or Aaron Cresswell are at their best as wing backs, and Arthur Masuaku lacks enough game time to be thrown into such a high profile contest.

A change to 4-3-3 is the more interesting option. It is a formation that I think Moyes might toy with in selected games anyway – when he wants to be cautious! Either Manuel Lanzini or Alex Kral could fit in alongside the usual double pivot of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, to stiffen the central midfield and pick up opposition runners. It is more likely to be Lanzini given that Kral has yet to step onto the pitch in claret and blue. That would leave a front three from Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma and Nikola Vlasic to provide an unfamiliar but, what could be, fluid attacking force. It feels attractive but is it too difficult to pull off at short notice?

Whereas West Ham strength is organisation and being greater than the sum of their parts, Manchester United are quite the opposite. It is a team of individuals, seemingly assembled without any grand plan, which can be devastating on its day but who too often blow hot and cold. The squad list looks formidable and yet they are rated some way behind Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool as credible title contenders. They will regularly win the games they are supposed to but will often fall short when up against the big boys – or playing with the Young Boys!

The signing of Ronaldo is typical of the big name, star studded, glamourous, big money attitude to recruitment. Of course, he has been an exceptional player during a fantastic extended career – and will still score goals – but was that really their top priority, and is it a sensible team building move?

Rarely a day goes by without a headline declaring that Declan Rice is yet another of the final pieces in the Manchester United jigsaw. Many in the media have already guaranteed he will move to Old Trafford. I have no illusions about West Ham being able to match his trophy and financial ambitions, but I hope if/ when he does leave he goes somewhere more sensible. Then again, I would be surprised if Solskjær is still at Old Trafford by next summer – but I had the same thought last year.

This will be an intriguing match. I would fancy a home win strongly if Antonio was playing. It works in our favour that Manchester United will not come to sit back but much depends on how well the counter attack works without our Number 9 fronting it? The visitors have an abundance of attacking talent and we mustn’t allow them to wear us down by defending too deep and squandering possession cheaply. Some big performances are needed and looking forward to Kurt Zouma taking care of Ronaldo.

In the interest of positivity, I will trust that Moyes and the coaching staff have devised a cunning plan B and that the players are able to execute it to perfection. West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!

After midweek success in Croatia, and with Antonio unavailable, can West Ham defeat Ronaldo-inspired Manchester United?

Two wins and two draws in the Premier League, and success in the first game of the Europa League in what was meant to be the toughest fixture in Group H. Unbeaten so far with potentially an even more daunting challenge this weekend when the Red Devils visit the London Stadium. Such a shame we won’t be able to field our strongest side with Antonio being forced to sit this one out after what I thought was a needless red card at Southampton last Saturday. It will be interesting to see how David Moyes constructs the team without our number 9, and no obvious replacement in that position without changing the style of play. Antonio ran the Croatians ragged in Zagreb on Thursday evening and will be sorely missed on Sunday.

The 2-0 win to take us to the top of Europa League Group H after the first game was well deserved, and David Moyes deserves massive credit for the way he has transformed this squad since his return to the club. This was never going to be an easy fixture against a Zagreb side used to competing in Europe. It was just a few months ago that they put Tottenham to the sword beating them 3-0 in the round of 16 second leg in last season’s Europa League to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg to progress to the last eight, where they went out of the competition against the Spaniards, Villareal. Dinamo had topped their group with 14 points from four wins and two draws so have considerable recent experience in European competition. They have also made an excellent start in this season’s Croatian League and currently sit on top with 16 points from their opening seven games.

This puts the strength of our performance into perspective. Even with a changed team, all of the players performed well and knew how they fitted into the side, and the roles they needed to play. The unchanged midfield partnership of Rice and Soucek was the springboard to our success, and how good was Rice when intercepting the ball in his own half and striding more than half the length of the pitch to score the second goal through the keeper’s legs? The goal reminded me of his strike in the final game of last season when a similar run led to the third goal in our victory over Southampton that sealed our sixth-place finish enabling us to qualify for this season’s Europa League.

Much credit too must go to the whole team for defending as a unit when we didn’t have the ball, and especially the back four who didn’t allow the home side to have a single shot on target in the entire 90 minutes. I thought that Fredericks had an excellent game, using his speed to great effect when going forward, and conversely when getting back to recover the ball. On the other flank the rejuvenated (under Moyes) Cresswell was as steady as ever. He continues to impress now that he appears to be fully recovered from the injury he suffered a couple of seasons back. But the defensive highlight for me was the massively impressive Zouma who dealt with everything comfortably, forming an excellent partnership with Diop. We have four centre backs vying for two places in the starting eleven when we play with a back four. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zouma lining up alongside Ogbonna for the game on Sunday, although this would be harsh on Dawson who hasn’t done a lot wrong since he was signed. On the other hand I wonder if for this game, with the absence of Antonio, Moyes may consider playing with three centre backs? I don’t think he will and I would anticipate this starting line-up for the game.

Fabianski; Coufal, Zouma, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Fornals, Vlasic, Benrahma; Bowen.

If my prediction for the starting line-up is correct then the choice of players to sit on our bench is also looking stronger than it has for years with a first-class international goalkeeper in Areola, Diop and Dawson as centre backs, and Fredericks and the fit-again Masuaku as well as Johnson covering the full back positions, although I believe Moyes sees Masuaku more as an attacking wing back / midfielder. Noble and Kral seem the likely cover for Rice and Soucek, with Lanzini and Yarmolenko the other attacking options in the absence of Antonio. Not quite two like for like players to cover all over the pitch, as they have at Manchester City and Chelsea for example, but nevertheless stronger than in recent times. Let’s hope that some youngsters from the Development Squad can make a name for themselves and become involved at the top level as the season progresses.

Manchester United have been strengthened by the addition of world-class Ronaldo, who might not quite be the player he once was, but nevertheless he is still a massive goalscoring threat. He has hit the ground running and already started scoring goals in his first week. Let’s hope we can keep him quiet on Sunday. Manchester United are favourites, particularly with the additional rest-time from midweek endeavours of 48 hours compared to ourselves, but I still believe we can beat them, despite Antonio not being available, although it will be tough to do so without our in-form number nine. Others will have to step up to score, and I fancy Jarrod Bowen to do so.

Bookmakers certainly don’t rate our chances highly, but as an unbeaten team playing at home after a midweek success in Europe playing against a Manchester United team who surprisingly lost to Young Boys of Switzerland, the odds of a home victory at 7/2 are certainly more enticing than the odds-on chances given to the visitors. The odds for West Ham winning 2-0 are 18/1, or a 2-1 victory is priced around 12/1.

I always enjoy a fun bet at long odds that rarely comes off, but you never know. Ronaldo to score the first goal and then West Ham to come back and win the match is priced at 50/1. Ronaldo to score the first goal and West Ham to win the match 2-1 is around 90/1. Or if you fancy Bowen to score the first goal and West Ham to win the odds are 20/1. Or perhaps Bowen to score first and West Ham to win 2-1 you can get 87/1. Rice to score the first goal and West Ham to win 2-1 is priced at 342/1. For a bit of fun I’ll choose one of those. What are the chances?    

New Faces Prepare To Show Star Quality As West Ham Travel To Southampton

Top six, new signings, a better-balanced squad and European football. Can the West Ham feelgood factor maintain momentum into today’s clash at St Mary’s Stadium?

After months of phony rumours and speculation, the transfer window exploded into life at the last minute with a flurry of late deals and a hysterical media frenzy. All those who experienced it will all be able to tell their grandchildren where they when the news broke of which shirt number Cristiano Ronaldo will be wearing at Old Trafford – as Manchester United fans sent house prices rocketing in Croydon just to obtain a CR7 postcode.

After the dust on that blockbuster deal finally settled, it also emerged that West Ham had broken open the piggy bank to make three additional quality signings of their own. Kurt Zouma, Nikola Vlasic and Alex Kral all agreeing on moves to east London. A warm welcome to KZ4, NV11 and AK33. A trick missed, perhaps, with Kral not insisting on the number 47 shirt – as an inspiration to rifle in the occasional goal.

On paper, it looks a very productive window for the club. But only time will tell how well, and how quickly, those players adapt to life in the claret and blue. Zouma, with over 150 EPL appearances already to his name, should be ready and able to make an instant impression. Vlasic and Kral, on the other hand, will need time to demonstrate their transition from the Russian to English leagues.

The squad now has cover in most positions. Alphonse Areola provides competition for Lukasz Fabianski. Kouma increases the complement to four senior centre backs – how will Issa Diop reacts to becoming fourth choice – while Ben Johnson provides cover for both full-backs. Kral offers useful backup to Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, and potentially we will see all three deployed in games against Manchester City and Chelsea. The attacking midfield options are suddenly intriguing with Vlasic adding a different dimension to the blossoming talents of Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma.    

If only there was a backup striker, the squad would look comfortably at home as a top six side. Although it will be a challenge to cope with both domestic and European football, there is now a better balance in the squad and a flexibility to vary formation according to circumstances.

The striker situation is, as ever, complicated. David Moyes has stuck to his principles of focusing on quality rather than numbers but uncovering a productive striker on the cheap is a tough assignment – which a quick scan through the list of 50 or so strikers signed by West Ham in the last 10 years illustrates perfectly. It is a task that must now sit at the very top of Rob Newman’s (the club’s new head of recruitment) Todo list.  In the meantime, all hopes will be pinned to the brittle hamstrings of Michail Antonio, a well-deserved Premier League Player of The Month.

It would be no surprise to see Zouma go straight into the starting eleven for today’s trip to Southampton at the expense of Craig Dawson. That is the only probable change I see, barring any late injuries or positive Covid tests. Perhaps there will be an opportunity for a glimpse of Vlasic from the bench.

There has been debate among supporters that the time is now right for Areola to replace Fabianski between the sticks. Areola will inevitably take over the Number One spot at some point during the season, but I doubt that time has come quite yet.

Today’s opponents, Southampton, have experienced an indifferent start to the season. Defeat at Everton on the opening weekend was followed up by a creditable home draw against Manchester United, and a last gasp penalty equaliser at Newcastle.

Not sure that I am totally convinced by Ralph Hasenhüttl despite his obvious passion for the task in hand. Or more specifically at how appropriate/ resilient his narrow 4-2-2-2 formation is for the Premier League. A record to date of 16th, 11th and 15th place finishes is not particularly impressive but with the Saints rich youth production line seemingly run dry maybe it is as good as it gets.

The home side will still be a threat, however. The spearhead of Che Adams and Adam Armstrong may not offer much in the way of aerial threat, but they are both lively, work very hard and come with decent goal-scoring records. Add to that the dead-ball prowess of James Ward-Prowse and the Hammers defence must remain alert. Elsewhere, ex-Stamford Bridge academy player, Tino Livramento, looks exactly the type of exciting prospect that Chelsea will be wanting to buy back some time in the future.

Despite the transfer window being firmly closed, the media have yet to tire of speculation about Declan Rice joining Manchester United. If reports are to be believed, the hierarchy at Old Trafford are continuing to work on a bid that will take Rice up north in the summer – is that the best destination for a player wanting to win things? The bid should be a thing of beauty if they have ten months to work on it.

In the same vein, the talk of a Jesse Lingard move in the opposite direction persists. Strange that Lingard didn’t push for a summer move, but I wonder if his services will still be of interest following the capture of Vlasic.

After today’s game the Hammers set off to Zagreb on their first real European adventure for many years. There then follows a busy run of games interrupted only by more international breaks. It will be great to set that run off with a positive result against a weakened Southampton at St Mary’s. No doubt we will cause them enough problems in attack to win the game provided the players are alert defensively and maintain their compact shape in midfield.  Hasenhüttl has yet to taste victory over West Ham and that run should continue today. West Ham to win 2-0; or 9-0 if the Saints have a player sent off early on.