Scouting For Moyes: Same Again Hammers Look Unprepared For New Season Challenges

A summer of hesitation and haggling in the transfer market leaves the West Ham squad little changed from two seasons ago. Will treading water see them swept away by Manchester City?

The life of a football supporter is not always a happy one. No sooner had we hung up our bobble hat and rattle in May than we are bombarded with a daily onslaught of speculative transfer stories. From the sublime to the ridiculous, exciting to depressing. Where is the time to unwind on the beach with a pina colada and a Harold Robins paperback? Then suddenly the new season is on us, as premature and uninvited as the strains of Noddy Holder in a shopping mall in early November. The start of interrupted campaign, severed in two by the misguided award of the World Cup to Qatar.

By any measure, the Hammers give the impression of being ill-prepared for their new task. Lack lustre friendly performances can rationally be overlooked, but the struggle to reinforce an already threadbare squad before of the opening round of matches brings consternation to all but the most delirious of optimists.

I did write in a previous blog that I wouldn’t be shocked if no more than two new signings featured at the London Stadium pitch on the opening day of the season. With the window not closing until the end of August, it is no surprise that clubs with a fetish like ours for haggling would continue to-ing and fro-ing until the final knockings. On the one hand it is reasonable to want value for money but it is also a risky strategy as the clock ticks down and desperation sets in.

As it is, with unfortuante injuries and fitness concerns, the starting eleven on Sunday now looks limited to those who palyed out the end of last season. Or, for that matter, those we ended the 2020/21 season with plus Kurt Zouma. And all without the option to call on Noble, Yarmolenko, Fredericks and Masuaku from the bench.

As there is so much nonsense written about transfers in the media it is difficult to separate fact from fantasy. Does David Moyes keep changing his mind about his targets? Is David Sullivan continually throwing curve balls into negotiations at the last minute, demanding easy payment terms and quadruple green shield stamps? Who knows? I don’t believe we have been pursuing unattainable targets but there is a sense of spending too much time and effort pursuing some deals when it would have been more sensible to insist on a time limit and move on.

On paper, the deals that have been completed look encouraging. Both Gianluca Scamacca and Nayef Aguerd should strengthen the first team and provide Moyes with more options to vary fornations. Flynn Downes may well turn out to be an astute purchase but will likely be limited to cup competitions, for the time being at least. And, of course, Alphonse Areola has finally become permanent heir apparent to Lukasz Fabianski – it’s only a matter of time! At time of writing it is also widely being reported that Maxwell Cornet will also be signing.

We are told that further signings will definitely happen before the end of August. Ideally that would be a minimum of four or five additions although past performance with progressing deals in parallel does not inspire confidence. The outstanding priorities in my opinion would be a left back (crucial), a touch of finesse in central attacking midfield, pace wide on the left of midfield (may be Cornet), an additional backup striker option and further cover either in defensive midfield or at centre back.

How well we recruit will determine what is achievable during 2022/23. We have enjoyed two exceptional seasons, by West Ham standards, but there can be no room for complacency. The manager and team have overachieved through effort, team spirit and a canny organisation of limited resources, but the style of play and its weaknesses are now known quantities to even the dimmest of opposition managers. Failure to adapt and pose different problems for opponents will lead to gradual decline, following Leicester down the Premier League table. Improvement requires more creativity in the final third and greater athleticism at the back, where Aaron Cresswell, despite an admirable Hammers career, is an obvious weak link. Although it’s great to see West Ham compete against the big boys it is needlessly dropped points to teams in the lower half that must be eliminated if the run of top half finishes is to be continued.

In what could well turn out to be a sticky run of opening games, the Hammers curtain raiser couldn’t be much tougher than entertaining serial Champions, Manchester City. The Citizens are sporting something of a new look up front with Haaland and Alvarez replacing the departed Sterling and Jesus. Also newly recruited is Kalvin Phillips who presumably takes over the tactical fouling role vacated by Fernandinho – the Brazilian joining a large exodus from the Etihad along with Zinchenko and a dozen others I’d never really heard of.

It is difficult to see past City or Liverpool for the title, or past the usual big spending suspects for the remaining top six placings. Outside the big six, Newcastle will surely be the most talked about and over-hyped club of the season – with flabby bare-chested Geordies rarely away from our TV screens and internet streams. Clearly, they are now best placed in terms of financial clout to mount a challenge to the ‘natural’ order things, but that may take a few seasons to emerge. I have an unaccountable feeling in my water that Aston Villa will be the surprise package of 2022/23. My other tip is for Ralph Hasenhuttl as the first managerial casualty of the season. My full predicted final league placings are as follows:

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

The best hope for Sunday’s game is that City’s new boys are still finding their feet and are not yet ready to click. Football folklore is littered with marquee signings running riot on their debuts against West Ham. The story of a Haaland debut hattrick is one that every headline writer and pundit will be looking out for. Can we keep him quiet? It is a classic case of hope versus expectation. My fingers and hammers are crossed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Ham’s Seaside Shuffle Can End The Brighton Hoodoo And Gate-crash The Top Six

As the final curtain is faced, a few lingering regrets remain that more could have been achieved in an otherwise well above average West Ham campaign

If you were in an elevator and someone asked: “what sort of season did West Ham have?” you might reply that while it was well above average, it maybe wasn’t as good as it might have been. A reflection of how our expectations had shifted over the course of the season.

When the season started and with a first ever European league-based campaign to contend with, any top half finish may have been considered a reasonable outcome. Indeed, my own prediction was that West Ham would finish tenth – expecting the routine of Thursday – Sunday football to take its toll on league form.

But by the year end, having breezed through the Europa League group stages, and sitting fifth in the Premier League, the dreams were flying much higher. A shrewd investment here and there at that time and anything might have been possible. That we were left scratching our heads at no January activity is now consigned to Hammer’s folklore.

In hindsight, the club hadn’t recruited well in the summer either. Kurt Zouma was an excellent addition but he turned out to be the only practical upgrade to David Moyes preferred starting eleven. Nikola Vlasic and Alex Kral failed to come anywhere close to the required standard and while Alphonse Areola looked a decent enough deputy, he remained behind Lukasz Fabianski in the pecking order.

From a historic perspective, the season has been well above average, regardless of what happens today. Since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches, West Ham have only exceeded 56 points (the current total) on three occasions (2020/21, 2015/16 and 1998/99. They have finished with a positive goal difference just twice (2020/21 and 2015/16) and for a side with so few striking options, scoring 59 goals (the current total) has only been bettered in those same two seasons. A win today would bring up a tally of seventeen victories, the highest apart from last season’s nineteen.

Despite that decent win percentage, it is the points dropped against the likes of Leeds, Burnley, Southampton and Brentford and the two avoidable defeats to Manchester United that might ultimately take the wind from the sails. That, plus the self-inflicted failure to get past Frankfurt in the Europa League semi-finals. After a promising first half of the season it is a disappointment not to make it to 60 points. In truth there have been few sparkling performances and too many victories when we ‘weren’t at our best’.

The final day of this year’s Premier League season must be a broadcaster’s dream. It is rare for the title, plus Champions League and relegation places to remain up for grabs on the day the curtain comes down. By comparison, our own battle for 6th or 7th place is consigned to an outlying stage, well away from the main arena. No helicopter hovering over the South Downs ready to deliver the final Europa League qualifying certificate at the final whistle.

Qualifying for the Europa League again would be a massive bonus in that it comes with another route to Champions League qualification. But the Europa Conference should not be sniffed at and may represent the best opportunity the club has next season to end its long overdue silverware drought.

The history of today’s fixture might suggest one of those mysterious gypsy curses that inhabits football. Since Brighton were promoted back to the top-flight in 2017/18, West Ham have failed to beat them in nine attempts – with the last six all ending in scoring draws. It is really no more than coincidence that can easily end today.

The Seagulls are a hardworking and well organised side with several very good players (Trossard, Cucurella, Bissouma, Sanchez) but this season’s home record is less than impressive, with only four wins on the board. Apart from the top three, they have had more possession than any other team but it rarely goes anywhere with only an average of one goal per game to show for it. In theory, such an opponent should be ideal for a West Ham side who thrive on the quick breakaway and have been scoring relatively freely.

As well as our own efforts at the Amex Stadium, though, the Hammer’s fate will also be determined by the the result of Manchester United’s visit to Crystal Palace. Top six hopes may well end up to be pie in the sky – even if the Hammers beat the Seagulls, they need the Eagles to do them a good Tern!

Once the season is over there will be little time for reflection. Transfer speculation is already gathering pace and the frenzy will ramp up even further as the window opening ceremony approaches. I have already counted over thirty players linked with a move to the London Stadium. It will be a telling time for the club owners to demonstrate their ambitions. A time when the squad needs both a refresh and a net increase in quality and numbers.

Until the dust has settled we won’t know if we have witnessed a brief run of overachieving seasons (on the back of several exceptional players and a great team spirit) or whether there is true progress taking place. Is the club moving in the right direction? Without wise investment it will be just another false dawn.

A very big well done to the players, manager, and coaches for a highly satisfactory season and making West Ham massive. Their effort, determination, and commitment cannot be faulted. As for today’s game, West Ham can finally put the Brighton hoodoo to rest with a 2-0 awayday bonanza. COYI!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With just one game left this is how it looks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canary Test Set To Check Toxic Atmosphere At West Ham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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