Hammers To The Slaughter: Against All Odds At The Etihad?

In what looks like the biggest mismatch of the Premier League season to date can West Ham keep the score respectable at Manchester City?

It is only a fighting comeback from Stoke at home to Swansea yesterday that prevents this match from being billed as top versus bottom.  West Ham with the worst goal difference and joint worse goals conceded in the division take on rampant, runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.  The cash rich Arab lottery winners have already scored forty-four goals this season (conceding only nine) and could easily bring up their half-century by the end of this afternoon’s encounter.

Many of us might have looked at City’s rise to fame and fortune as the prototype promised land of next levels after we followed their example by moving from an old much loved home into a new stadium at the end of an athletics tournament.  It is there, however, that the comparison currently ends and in terms of any other metric – professionalism, flair, class, talent, organisation, ambition, training facilities, half-time pies – the gap between the two clubs is one of several divisions rather than just the length of the Premier League.   Perhaps one day West Ham will also be bought by a small middle-eastern country – probably just as the oil runs out!

Any concept of competitiveness in today’s game is as tenuous as if it were a bunch non-league postmen, plumbers and supermarket shelf-stackers turning up for a third round cup tie against illustrious top flight superstars; with not even the hint of a potential banana skin in sight.   David Moyes claim that “I’ve never gone into any game thinking we’ve not got a chance of winning” will surely be put to the test today.

Head to Head

Historically any trip to Manchester and Liverpool has been undertaken with hope rather expectation but, of those four confrontations, the one against City, prior to their windfall at least, would have offered the greatest promise.  Even so, West Ham have only come away from the away fixture with all the points on twelve out of fifty three attempts. Most recently, the Hammers have won only once (lost ten) in the last twelve visits.

Team News

West Ham are reportedly missing Carroll, Hernandez, Reid, Collins, Fonte and Byram through injury.  Leaden footed Joe Hart is thankfully ineligible due to the terms of his loan deal and so Adrian gets a long overdue opportunity to impress in a Premier League game.

I have read various team news speculation during the week about formations and lineups which range from pragmatic damage limitation to the more bizarre including suggestions of playing Zabaleta at centre back or in midfield; strange that those having criticised Bilic for playing players out of position would believe that such an idea would have any more legs than the player himself.  You can’t fault Pablo’s spirit (and a return to the scene of his many achievements will be emotional) but he is well past his best before date at this level.

There will be probable returns for Antonio and Rice in what will undoubtedly turn out to be a backs to the wall, massed defence, bus-parking exercise – until we are eventually sliced open by City’s quick and slick inter-passing play.  The frailty in the centre of midfield is likely to be the most easily exposed and exploited of West Ham’s many obvious weaknesses.

City are without Stones and Mendy but have sufficient £50 million replacements to put out a decent enough starting eleven, which may worryingly also see the return of Sane.

The Man in the Middle

Mike Dean doesn’t have far to travel from his Wirral home to take charge of this afternoon’s game.  Dean was witness to the only highlight of the Hammer’s season to date when he ref’d the EFL cup win over free-falling Tottenham Hotspur.  In eleven games this season Dean has issued thirty-six yellow cards and just one red one (Raheem Sterling at Bournemouth).

Predictions

Even the usually cautious Lawro has predicted a 3-0 win for City while Merson is going one better at 4-0.  Anything less than four will have a better than expected feel about it but I fear it will be worse, particularly with the lack of character and leadership on the field.  Once the first goal goes in heads are likely to drop faster than London Stadium attendances in the Championship.  Having predicted a midweek win at Goodison I would be more than happy to have my clairvoyant skills shown up once again but my contingency is a course of mild sedation before the match kicks off.

Manchester City v West Ham Preview

What chance that West Ham can win at Manchester City this weekend? A chance that will happen once in a blue moon?

I have been supporting West Ham for almost sixty years. I am an optimist by nature. I must have watched us play more than a thousand games of football. On virtually every occasion, I’ve always thought that we had a chance of winning the game. OK I’ll admit sometimes it is a slight chance or a long shot, but a chance nonetheless. But for this game? We are more likely to see a blue moon.

On Sunday afternoon we face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Now City have really been a class apart so far this season in the Premier League. These are some of the thoughts attributed to our manager this week ahead of our visit. He has said that “I think that there have been moments when we’ve looked OK.” Even if there have been, my understanding of the word moment is that it refers to a very brief period of time, perhaps a second or two. The word OK is perhaps a very overused word that means adequate or acceptable. I just have a feeling that looking adequate for a few seconds won’t be anywhere near enough to trouble the league leaders.

He has also said “the players are trying to improve and get better”. Well sitting in the bottom three then this is something I would be hoping for. Shouldn’t this be true of all professional footballers at all times? This was followed by “a lot of our goals are down to individual mistakes.” Tell me something that anyone who follows the team didn’t know. He then said “we’ve got a good team.” Many comments I’ve read on social media and in the newspapers this week would suggest that there are a number of people out there who wouldn’t necessarily agree with that one.

He finished with “I’ve never gone into any game thinking that we’ve not got a chance of winning.” Now going back to my opening paragraph this is something I’ve almost always believed, albeit sometimes with many doubts. But this time I am going to make an exception. I really don’t believe that we have any chance whatsoever. In fact it would take a miracle.

One definition of a miracle:

A miracle is an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.

My grandson (who is seven) was asked at school this week as part of an English lesson to come up with a sentence that included the word miracle. His offering was “It would be the most amazing miracle of all time if West Ham beat Manchester City on Sunday.” The teacher was full of praise for his excellent understanding of the meaning of the word.

I’ll be watching the game on Sunday with a fellow West Ham fan in a local pub in Bury St Edmunds. I’ll be taking my abacus along to help me keep track of the score, and I’ll be praying for a miracle. On current form this is likely to be one of the most one-sided games in the history of the Premier League. No team has yet scored ten goals in a single game (the record is 9). If you believe in miracles and fancy a flutter here are some of the bets (using Paddy Power as an example) you may like to consider:

West Ham to win the game 33/1
West Ham to win 2-0 200/1
West Ham to win 3-0, 4-0, or 4-1 500/1
No goals to be scored in the game 45/1
Man. City to win 10-0 500/1

There is a saying that is something along the lines of “you never can tell what will happen in a game of football”. This time I think I’ve got a pretty good idea. But I’ll still be hoping for a miracle,

Five Takeaways As Hope Of A West Ham Revival Crashes and Burns

Despite the pre-match hopes the inevitability of another tame defeat at Goodison Park is visited on the Hammers.

The Green Shoots Of Recovery

Well the green shoots of recovery that were seen last Friday didn’t survive very long and it is back to the drawing board and back to square one for David Moyes and the Hammers.  Once again the attitude of the players, particularly in the first half, has been rightly criticised.  Tails should have been well and truly up from a good second period against Leicester and after witnessing Everton’s troubles at Southampton.  Fast out of the blocks and putting their players under immediate pressure from the off was what was required.  As it was the hosts were allowed to play themselves into the game as West Ham sat back and took it easy.  Surely, that could not have been the team orders, could it?  If we thought we were rid of one Everton bogeyman in Lukaku then Rooney was afforded every opportunity to replace him as West Ham’s nemesis. Why does it so often need a half time bollocking to get any response from our players?  It is far too early to lay the blame on the new manager but how long can we wait for signs of improvement if the worst nightmare is not to become reality?

Line Up Conundrums

There were certainly reservations about the line-up.  In the absence of Andy Carroll the decision to start with Andre Ayew as his replacement rather than Diafra Sakho was a strange one.  Is Moyes falling in to the old West Ham manager trap of having a preferred list of players and selecting them in turn when an opening arises regardless of which position is vacant?  Is it the lack of options that has bred complacency in the squad? Collectively the defence has looked weak all season and we continue not to provide enough defensive support from midfield.  Right now we need at least two players in midfield whose priority is to defend.  None of Obiang, Kouyate or Noble is good enough on their own and Kouyate seems to have a remit to get forward as much as possible increasing the fragility.  The slow and ageing back-line needs far more support.  Once again Joe Hart failed to impress and, if there was a chance to get back in the game at 2-0, it was scuppered by his dreadful attempt at a clearance that fell to Rooney’s feet.  It is difficult to understand why Hart (especially as an on loan player) is preferred over Adrian.

The A Team

It has been apparent for some time that being the record signing at West Ham has resulted in little success for the players concerned.  Andy, Andre and Arnie have all failed to impress in terms of both attitude and aptitude, and the winners in each of those deals has been the selling club.  Their overall contribution has barely repaid the first instalments on the combined £50+ million transfer fees and whatever wages are involved.  Player recruitment and the reliance on agents rather than scouting continues to blight the club.  There was a welcome return to match-day action for that other A-man, Michail Antonio who is needed back at his sharpest and fittest without delay.  Those of us around for the Roeder relegation season will remember the season’s oft-repeated lament of “if only Kanoute had scored that penalty against Arsenal”; if things continue as they are we might soon be hearing the regular refrain of “if only Antonio had taken the ball to the corner flag against Palace”.

Penalty Posers

There has been a lot of debate about the penalties awarded in the game yesterday.  It seems quite difficult to articulate what the exact law is nowadays but, within the current interpretation of what is and isn’t a penalty, it was no surprise that both were given by Michael Oliver.  The danger is that this interpretation is moving football even further towards being a non-contact sport, particularly anywhere in the area, which is to the ultimate detriment of the game.

What Next

Things look bad.  The three games where points were meant to be available before the run of games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal have yielded just the one point.  The return of points on games played to date would give us only 27 points if projected to the end of the season.  It may seem obvious but, when looking for the likeliest relegation candidates, the teams with the worst goal difference are always at greatest risk; evidence as it is of problems at both ends of the pitch.  At the moment West Ham, Palace and Huddersfield have the weakest goal differences and with the prospect of a double figure defeat at the weekend it might get a lot worse.  For those interested in the record books we are closing in on Everton’s current position as having lost the most Premier League games since its foundation.  We are just three defeats behind despite having played four fewer seasons.

Matchday: West Ham To Break Away Duck At Everton?

Looking forward to the Hammers securing their first on the road win of the season.

The battle for the club in greatest disarray enters a new phase today as West Ham travel to the usually unproductive north-west to fight it out with embattled Everton. There was a period where the Hammers looked likely to overtake early season pace setters Crystal Palace in the shambolic stakes but after the weekend results Everton have dramatically claimed pole position.

If Burnley and Watford are the two surprise teams of the season so far (in a positive sense) then West Ham and Everton are their mirror image. Everton in particular, after a healthy finish in 2016/17 and a heavy investment in the squad which gave the look of a good balance between youth and experience, have performed woefully. In the same way that West Ham’s swagger in Slaven Bilic’s inaugural season relied heavily on the exploits of the moody French free-kick specialist, it seems that Everton’s fortunes were largely courtesy of the steady supply of Lukaku goals. Failure to replace the prolific Belgian cost Ronald Koeman his job and Everton’s failure to replace Koeman is costing them dearly. Caretaker boss David Unsworth, briefly a Hammer whose family couldn’t settle in that London and who seems to have eaten too many of his homesick wife’s pies, is experiencing a torrid time in his fifteen minutes of managerial fame. Tonight could well be his last hurrah and it is up to West Ham to take the initiative and expoit the turmoil that exists at his club. Who dares wins!

The return of David Moyes to Goodison Park adds a further ingredient to the contest. Moyes built a solid reputation while at Everton only for his stock to be devalued significantly since his departure. His new charges showed fleeting moments of recovery in last Friday’s home game against Leicester and he will be hoping that the improvement can be continued at his former home tonight.

Head to Head

No doubt that Everton are something of an historic bogey team. The Toffees have won exactly half of the one hundred and thirty six games played, to West Ham’s uninspiring thirty-one. Of the last twelve West Ham have won only once; the late, late comeback show two seasons ago.

Goodison Park (along with the majority of north-western venues) has never been a happy hunting ground with the Hammers winning just eleven and drawing twelve of sixty-four. Prior to 2015/16 the most recent win was in December 2005.

Team News

I would expect Moyes to start with a similar eleven that took to the field last Friday meaning another chance for Andy Carroll to prove that he can earn his keep. He wil need to up his game considerably.

Everton were appalling at Southampton. They were disorganised at the back, ponderous in midfield and lightweight up front and may well be tempted to give Rooney a start given that he likes a goal against West Ham.

The Man in The Middle

Tonight’s referee is Michael Oliver from Northumberland. Oliver took charge of the home defeat by Tottenham earlier in the season, as well as two West Ham games last season: cup defeat by Manchester City and the drawn league game with West Bromwich Albion. In fourteen outings this season he has flourished fifty eight yellow cards and two red ones.

Predictions

Merson is going for a 2-0 Everton victory while Lawro sees the Hammers winning 1-0.  For me, all the omens are good and in a rare display of optimism I am looking forward to West Ham returning to London with all three points from a comfortable 2-0 win.

West Ham To Hammer The Toffees?

After our encouraging performance last Friday against the Foxes, a midweek visit to Goodison Park to face the Toffees is next

It was a privilege to be at the London Stadium last Friday evening. Not for the quality of the football, although it was a small improvement on what we have previously seen this season. No, the reason was the energy and commitment of the players, which in turn led to the fans giving a demonstration of what backing a team is all about. The volume of support was right up there with what we heard in the games against Chelsea (EFL Cup) and Tottenham last season. The difference this time was that we weren’t actually winning the game. In some ways it was reminiscent of the infamous FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest over a quarter of a century ago when Keith Hackett totally ruined a game of football, but the fans continued to support the team until the end. The only disappointment was that we couldn’t get a winning goal, but nevertheless the fans received plaudits from players, pundits and the media generally for the voluminous and continuous support.

Now, can we please put an end to the stadium excuses and comments regarding lack of atmosphere? If the players demonstrate their commitment, then the fans will show theirs. Those of us who have been supporters for many years will accept losing games. What we won’t accept is heads going down when a goal is conceded, or lack of effort. As David Moyes has said, full commitment for 90 minutes should be the absolute minimum that players should give to a game. Too often in recent times that hasn’t been the case. It is still early days, and there is a long way to go, but I have to say that I have been very impressed with the start that our new manager and coaching staff have made. There was some ridiculous criticism of an appointment of a manger who, arguably, has been more successful (certainly in terms of league positions attained) than any other manager in our history. The players have been given a justifiable kick up the backside, so let us hope that the increased enthusiasm leads to some positive results, especially in view of the tough fixture list coming up.

The game against the Toffees is one where both teams are considered to be in crisis, perhaps Everton even more surprisingly than ourselves. They were widely tipped to finish seventh in the Premier League and perhaps be challenging the dominance of the elite six. Quite clearly that hasn’t happened, Koeman was sacked around a month ago, and surprisingly they have left a caretaker (Unsworth) in charge. If anything their season has nosedived still further in the last month, and Moyes has said we are going into the game full of confidence. I have some reservations, partly because of our past record against teams who are in poor form, where somehow they seem to relish our visit which enables them to turn their form around. Beware a wounded toffeeman, he can be a dangerous beast!

Wayne Rooney in particular has had a miserable return to his home town club, and a miserable few months off the pitch too. He has been left on the bench for the past couple of games, but somehow I can see him being picked for our visit and we all know what an impressive record he has when playing against us. But at least we haven’t got Lukaku to deal with this time!

Everton actually began the season well with a 1-0 win against Stoke in the opener, followed by an even more impressive draw at Manchester City in their next match. They still remain the only team (with 13 games of the season gone) to have denied City a three point haul in a game. Of course City are our next opponents at the weekend, and if recent history is anything to go by then many will be dusting down their abacuses in readiness for our visit to the Etihad, but perhaps it is our time to turn the tables on a team in superb form?
After the four points from their opening two games, Everton have only won twice more, 2-1 against Bournemouth, and an extremely fortuitous 3-2 victory over Watford (from 2-0 down). If you believe in sequences, then Everton seem to win a game, then fail to win in the next four. They won their first, sixth, and eleventh game of the season, so they are not due a victory until the sixteenth (this is game 14). But we are a good bet to help other teams break a sequence aren’t we?

Once more our game is being televised, so I’ll settle down with my Everton mints and hope that we can get at them as soon as the Z-Cars theme is over. An early goal from us would hopefully get the home crowd on the backs of their players. The Merseyside natives are getting restless with the performances of their team in recent games, so let us hope they don’t choose to up their game for this one, as they have frequently done in the past few seasons against us. At the time of writing this article they still haven’t appointed a permanent manager, but our old friend Big Sam is widely tipped to be taking over the reins there. Their search is now even more urgent after their poor performance in a 4-1 defeat at Southampton at the weekend.

As with all West Ham games this is a difficult one to call, and despite their indifferent form, the bookmakers still have Everton as firm favourites to win the match. Historically they have a far superior record in games against us with 68 wins in 136 matches, and we have only beaten them once in the league (either home or away) in the last ten years (3-2 at Goodison in 2016, after coming back from two down). Perhaps it is now our turn to break our sequence of poor results against them?

Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Weekend

An early set back, a spirited response and a passionate crowd sees highly paid Hammers settle for a Premier League point.

What a Difference a Crowd Makes

Without doubt the crowd played a massive part in lifting the gloom that had surrounded the club in recent weeks and proved that if the players are putting in a shift then the supporters will get behind the team.  There remains a lot of animosity towards the Board but venting that anger and frustration without it affecting the team performance is a dilemma.  I guess the best way to grab the owner’s attention is through their pockets rather than by match-day protests or Twitter rants.  David Moyes would not be the first choice of many supporters but together with his coaching staff deserves the opportunity to prove his worth and show that he can steer the team towards safety.  It is not his fault we find ourselves rooted in the bottom three and there was, at least, an indication of improved attitude, energy and spirit during last Friday’s match.

Another Bad Goal Conceded

Going a goal behind after only eight minutes was far from ideal and once again it was the result of a gift from the West Ham defence rather than earned by the guile and ingenuity of Leicester’s players.  Inexplicably, Zabaletta had gone walk-about (something he did repeatedly during the course of the game), Reid allowed Vardy too much space to cross and Ogbonna failed to deal with what should have been a routine clearance.  Apart from that early glitch the defence look reasonably sound although they were not really tested and it was to the team’s credit that they did not crumble after the early reverse.

Getting The Balance Right

Looking through the squad, even if all the players are fit and available, it is difficult to select an obvious effective starting eleven, such is the imbalance with the players and skills available.  While playing three centre backs might look attractive do we have wing-backs competent to both attack and defend?  When playing as a back four can we provide adequate defensive cover in midfield?  If we play with a lone striker how do we prevent him from becoming isolated?  If we play two up front how to avoid being over-run in midfield?  In the two Moyes matches to date it looks like Kouyate has been under orders to get forward more to support the striker with Arnautovic also getting into more central positions as his defensive responsibilities allow – in fact Kouyate and Arnautovic have taken up more dangerous positions than Carroll who has preferred to lurk out towards the edge of the area well away from where any crosses are aimed.   There were signs on Friday that improved fitness had led to better organization but there is still a long way to go in improving quality; maybe that can come with confidence.

The Wages Explosion

There were reports over the weekend that West Ham were among the top twenty clubs in the world as far as wages paid are concerned.  When you look at what has been served up on the pitch over the past year or so you can only conclude that we have been done!  Yet the club are likely to present this astonishing fact as something to be proud of.  My personal view is that claims that the owners are penny pinching is exaggerated but they really don’t spend their money wisely.  A strategy based on players with Premier League experience (any who are likely to be attracted to a mid-table or worse club at that) is always going to be short term and expensive.  More money on wages means less money on transfers.  The lack of planning at West Ham continues to scupper any notion of continued improvement.  A much better scouting network is required to unearth value which is what most other teams at our level try to do.  Improving this requires David Sullivan to step away from his de facto role as Director of Football and bring in someone who really knows the game.

Paying The Penalty

What is and what isn’t a penalty continues to bemuse me.  At what stage does ‘there wasn’t much contact’ become ‘he was entitled to go down’.  And does attempting to stay on your feet mean that it cannot be a penalty?  Diving is cheating and one of the curses of the modern game but it seems if you want to get a penalty you must end up on the floor for the referee to award it – and so referees are in effect encouraging it provided the player passes the entitled test.  The recent rule of retrospective bans in situations where the referee has been conned is unlikely to make much of a difference.

Will It Be A Black Friday For West Ham Against Leicester?

After being stung in the Hornets nest, West Ham go Foxhunting. But will it be a Black Friday night?

Leicester City, the most unlikely 5000-1 winners of the Premier League just over a season ago are the next visitors to the London Stadium in the first game of the weekend on Friday night. This is their fourth consecutive season in the top flight and their 50th in their history, compared to our 60. They returned after a period of ten years out in 2014-15, and struggled throughout that season. With 29 games played they had amassed just 19 points and were seven points adrift of safety. They looked odds-on to return to the Championship, but with Nigel Pearson at the helm they won seven of their last nine games to finish on a respectable 41 points in 14th position, just two places below us. Early in that season we had beaten them 2-0 at Upton Park with goals from Carroll and Downing, but we were the losers in the return, which was one of their seven wins in the run-in, going down 2-1 with Kouyate scoring our goal.

The following season was the stuff of fairy tales and has been written about at length. Suffice to say we will probably have to wait another 5000 years for a repeat. Pearson had been sacked and Ranieri took over to mastermind one of the most astonishing stories in the history of football. They beat us 2-1 at Upton Park in our first home game of the final season there (a Frenchman scored our goal), but we were unlucky in the return at their place near the end of the season, when leading 2-1 in the 95th minute we failed to retain possession of the ball (just for a change!!) and then Carroll conceded what to most observers was a dubious penalty decision, and we ended with a draw. Carroll and Cresswell were our scorers that day.

Last season (2016-17) they came back down to earth and eventually finished in 12th place (we finished 11th). Ranieri was sacked in February after five consecutive defeats, and replaced by Shakespeare, who began his tenure with five straight wins, although four of them were home games, and Hull, Stoke, Sunderland and ourselves were not the most demanding of opponents. They did the double over us winning 1-0 at their place, and 3-2 at the London Stadium, where goals from Lanzini and Ayew were not enough to complete an unlikely comeback in a 3-2 defeat. They did perform exceptionally well in the Champions League, before just going out at the quarter-final stage to Atletico Madrid.

This season, after a poor start winning just one of their first eight games, the Bard himself was sacked and they now have Claude Puel in charge. They have since picked up a creditable 7 points from their last four games and now sit 12th in the table on 13 points, winning 3, drawing 4 and losing 5 of their 12 games. This puts them out of our reach even if we can manage a victory in this game, but we desperately need to win the match to ensure that we don’t fall further behind in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table. Their away record comprises a win at Swansea, draws at Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Stoke, and defeats at Arsenal and Manchester United.

So many of our players had poor games at Watford that it hard to second guess the team that Moyes will select to try to achieve what would be an important win. One player who did do himself justice was Masuaku who had a fine 20 minute cameo, and I would like to see him selected in a more advanced role than full back. He showed an ability to take on and beat opponents as well as putting in decent crosses. I’d like to see Sakho and possibly Martinez start up front to give us greater mobility in that position, which would mean no place for Carroll who can be a potential liability. Lanzini needs to have a central role to be effective, not stuck out on the left. I hope that Rice enters the manager’s plans, perhaps filling a defensive midfield role protecting the defence, possibly alongside Obiang who has not been at his best recently, but in my view would be preferable to Noble and Kouyate.

When I looked at the bookmakers’ odds for the game, both Leicester and ourselves are currently priced at around 17/10 to win the game, with 23/10 on the draw. Surely we can’t play as badly again as we did at Watford where we were totally outclassed, yet could have possibly scored four goals from clear-cut chances. I would like to think that Hernandez would have made much more of the goalscoring opportunities that fell to Kouyate (twice), Arnautavic and Lanzini, although Gomes did pull off one tremendous double save.

The statistics from the Watford game apparently show that collectively, West Ham players covered more ground than in any other league game this season. But that alone is quite clearly not the answer, and Moyes and his coaching team will have had to work hard this week to try to ensure an improved performance for this game. The atmosphere has been described as “toxic” around the club, and I hate to imagine the reaction if we concede the first goal in the game. Scoring first would give everyone a lift, and that is what we must hope for.