Hammers Need To Be Forest Fresh Following Stale City Opener

West Ham must dampen the enthusiasm of newly promoted Nottingham Forest in their first Premier League home game for twenty-three years if they are to leave the City Ground with today’s spoils.

With the inevitable opening day defeat to Manchester City out of the way, we should ideally be focusing on the nuts and bolts of the nascent season and the potential for another tilt at a top six finish. Yet, it is the failures, frustrations, and foreboding of the transfer window that continues to grab the attention. Football matches tend to come along as a distraction to the latest blind alley pursuit of exciting major signings from across the continent.   

I’m prepared to accept that making sensible transfer decisions might not be as easy as we fans imagine, but equally surely it isn’t as difficult as West Ham repeatedly make it. I’m really not a fan of the transfer window extending beyond the start of the season and had always feared that most of our business would be left right until the end.

The dilemma facing David Moyes & Co is how to find and attract players who will improve the squad, who can be recruited at an affordable (knock down) price, and who are not going to be on the radar of more illustrious and well-to-do clubs. The panacea would be a shrewd scouting network uncovering a stream of young talent, from home and abroad, even if it means they use West Ham as a stepping-stone to future glory elsewhere. Decent scouting has long been neglected at the club although I suppose that is what led to the pursuit of Onana – but his was a hefty price tag for a bet on potential.

It also appears impossible for West Ham to keep any of their proposed deals under wraps until the ink has fully dried. A habit that allows opportunity for others – Everton and Newcastle – to nip in and hijack the deal at the eleventh hour. Especially, with our Board unable to resist the temptation of engaging in drawn out haggling processes, a few quid at a time.

It is unfortunate that the Hammers are starting from such a position of weakness in squad numbers and ability. A consequence of neglect and bad decisions over the preceding years. While Moyes achievements over the last two years have been remarkable it is built around the phenomenal talent of Declan Rice and an effective style of play (organisation, set pieces and counter attacks) that has made the best use of resources available. It has worked wonders but can only do so until opponents understand it limitations and how to combat it – as we saw from Manchester City last week. There simply aren’t the players available with the pace, finesse, and creativity to pose different questions and mix things up. To me, these limitations are equivalent to what Moyes said about the team being stale last Sunday. A team without ideas once their A-game is thwarted.

On the face of it, the signings of Gianluca Scamacca, Nayef Aguerd, and Maxwell Cornet are just the type of players needed. But it is only a start. Another four or five additional top-notch signings, at least, are required before the end of August if the season is going to amount to anything worthwhile. It is staggering that one of the league’s thinnest squads has seen more players leave than arrive so far. OK, so we now have a striker, but remain alarmingly short in other critical positions – left back, centre back, play-maker – with the season already underway – and with another four league games to be played before the window closes. Fair enough, teams can recover from a poor start (Arsenal last season is a good example), but that’s a lot of important points to put at risk due solely to self-inflicted transfer incompetence.

Having fallen into the trap of tunnelling down the transfer rabbit hole, we should turn our attention to today’s Premier League encounter against Nottingham Forest. A first top-flight meeting between the two clubs this millennium following Forest’s relegation in 1998/99. That season witnessing a scoreless draw at the City Ground in September 1998 and a 2-1 Hammers win (Ian Pearce and Lampard Jr) at Upton Park in February 1999.

The hosts were something of a surprise package last year but despite buying enthusiastically looked short on quality when losing to Newcastle last weekend. Still, there will sure to be a cup-tie like atmosphere at the City Ground today and West Ham will need to be on their toes to weather the early storm. And, of course, there is the goalscoring peril of Judas Lingard to keep quiet. It could well be a tough season for Forest and Lingard is an odd choice to build your team around.

It would be a huge surprise to me if Scamacca and Cornet don’t start today but maybe I am underestimating the caution of Moyes. The major West Ham selection issue though is at centre back where, with even less options to chose from, Ben Johnson is a probable to continue alongside Kurt Zouma. Elsewhere, we can only hope the manager can prise more than huff and puff from the combined talents of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma.

I can’t see this game being a classic and assuming West Ham can snuff out the early Forest threat, I predict we will go on to win 3-1. COYI!   

West Ham aim to bounce back at Forest. Can our newcomers make a difference?

If you watched last Sunday’s encounter with Manchester City on TV you may also have seen the pre-match Sky punditry. I reckon that the build up to the game was skewed roughly 80/20 in favour of talking about City, and in particular the addition of Erling Haaland to an already formidable squad of players. And some may say they got it right! City dominated possession of the ball with about 80% of it, and Haaland was the key difference between the two sides scoring both goals and showing frightening pace at the same time, which together with a proven ability to find the net at the highest level will take them to even greater heights than those they are already on. A daily newspaper in their preview the game went further than Sky with their two-page spread on the game, and I had to scour the article in great detail to work out City’s opponents!

Now don’t get me wrong, their ball retention is excellent and they show great skill and movement, and I believe they will win almost everything they are in for this season. Perhaps the two points cushion that they already have over Liverpool is enough to seal the title already? And as such it was inevitable that they would win relatively comfortably against a West Ham side whose starting eleven featured a whole side of players who were there last season, a team already with injury issues, and one that the manager (if I’ve got this right) seemed to announce before the game were not really ready for the season!

But Haaland was the real difference wasn’t he? Without his performance we may well have got away with a draw similar to the one at the end of last season despite being outplayed by a superior side. One characteristic of the current West Ham is that we are not likely to repeat the 5-0 defeats that have been a feature of matches against the top sides in the not too distant past.

I was disappointed that Areola went the wrong way for the penalty, even though he wouldn’t have saved it had he done his homework. It is evident that Haaland likes to open his body and go for the keeper’s right hand as he also showed when scoring the second goal. It’s very similar to how Thierry Henry used to do it in reverse, opening his body and going to the keeper’s left. I picked it as he ran up to take the penalty, but as I say it was so good it wouldn’t have been saved anyway!

I was a bit disappointed with our display. The effort was there but we seemed a bit passive. You really need to get into City’s face to stand a chance and we didn’t, although I guess the very hot temperature was a factor. We seemed bereft of ideas and our only real chances of scoring were likely to be as a result of set pieces in attacking areas. But somebody needs to explain to me why we don’t exploit this situation more. At times we have free kicks in the opponents half but we end up passing sideways and backwards, the ball then goes back to our keeper who kicks long and almost always surrenders possession, with our opponents having the ball roughly where we had the free kick. If scoring goals from set pieces is our forte then why not push forward at the free kick and send the ball into the opposition penalty area exactly as we would from a corner. It’s a bit Wimbledonesque I know but if it’s an effective weapon then we should use it surely?

It’s only one game though and there are still another 37 to go. The league table doesn’t really take shape until we’re at least 10/12 matches into the season – just look at where Arsenal were early on last time and then compare it to where they finished. If we get to that stage of the campaign, or perhaps at the time of the break for the World Cup, and we are struggling then that is the time to worry more as you always seem to be playing catch-up from that point. Games against Manchester City and Liverpool aren’t the ones where we would expect to pick up points. Of course we should be trying to match them but in reality the top two are in a league of their own. The next one this Sunday at Nottingham Forest is in many respects a more important one, and a fixture where we should be looking to collect three points against a promoted side. Having said that the early games in the season are often the ones where the promoted sides are at their most dangerous.

So what will happen this weekend in the ‘ham’ derby? Can West bounce back to overcome Notting as both teams strive to collect their first points of the season? The first game doesn’t give us a lot to go on. Since my first article of the season last week we have added Cornet to the squad and I reckon that both he and Scamacca will play important roles in this game. I’ll make a prediction – Lingard will open the scoring for the home team responding to chants from our fans along the lines of being one greedy ‘person’! Cornet will equalise early in the second half and then Scamacca will open his account to score the winner and we will have three points and be up and running for the season. What are the chances?

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 Transfer Tribultions: Your Infrequently Asked Questions

We wonder what is going on as the Hammers embark on yet another haphazard venture through the troubled waters of the transfer window. There’s still plenty of time to do nothing!

Who Is Masterminding West Ham’s Cunning Transfer Plan?

The oft repeated mantra is that it is David Moyes who has full control over transfers. That sounds straightforward enough but is open to interpretation depending on where you believe the boundaries of full control lie. I take it to mean that no player will be signed unless it has Moyes blessing. There are to be no more ‘Sullivan Specials’ signed from a favoured agent and presented to the manager as a surprise birthday gift. Beyond giving that stamp of approval to his targets it is improbable that any manager these days is intimately involved in the complexity of contract negotiations. He may, however, be asked for input on the fees and terms being demanded where this has significant implications on the size of overall budget available.

But Isn’t Dave Moyes Known To Be A Ditherer?

Moyes picked up the ‘Ditherer’ sobriquet during his time at Everton. It was the result of the lengths that he went to in checking out the character as well as the footballing abilities of potential targets. Whether that diligence paid dividends in the long run is impossible to tell, but it allegedly led to opportunities being missed according to Everton fans. Nevertheless, in his ten years at Everton he signed seventy-four players and, despite the occasional duds, there were plenty of success stories, including: Cahill, Jagielka, Arteta, Kilbane, Howard, Baines, Lescott, Yakubu, Saha, Fellaini, Coleman, Distin, Pienaar, and Stones. It has been a difficult reputation for Moyes to shake off and was further reinforced during his brief reign at Old Trafford. The jury is still deliberating as to whether dithering was at play in last January’s debacle.  

What About This Rob Newman Fella? What Exactly Does He Do?

There are a variety of views as to what the responsibilities of a Head of Recruitment might be. In the absence of any clarification from the club you can make up your own mind. Ideally the role should be independent from the manager, but with close co-operation. He should be focused on strategic long-term planning and succession as well as finding short term tactical targets. Possibly working something like this: the manager has identified a need for a pacey, left sided central defender so the head of recruitment calls on his extensive scouting knowledge/ network to draw up a shortlist of candidates potentially within the club’s price range. Then its back to the manager to decide.

His true value would be in unearthing up-and-coming talent and those from lower leagues capable of playing at a higher level. West Ham are not a club able to compete for established stars and signing fading ones has not been a rip-roaring success in the past.    

Why Do West Ham Complete Deals Inch By Inch? What Happened To The Good Old Fashioned Transfer Swoop?

I remember tuning into the radio on my drive home from work and hearing that Harry Redknapp had signed Eyal Berkovic for West Ham. It was out of the blue and a shock because everyone believed he was on his way to Tottenham after a successful season long loan at Southampton. There had been no weeks of stories about bids being prepared, contact being made, deals hitting the buffers or hijacked by Newcastle. Wham, bam, he was a Hammer. It was different days back then of course. No internet clickbait, just Club Call and Ceefax to keep us informed, or misinformed which is more often the case.

Completing deals at West Ham does appear to be a far more drawn out and complicated process than elsewhere. Or is that just a perception as we don’t typically follow all the chatter from other clubs? Negotiations are the most probable cause of delay and if you have a Chairman who is obsessed by brinkmanship and pulling off the smartest deal, then delay is sadly inevitable. Pay the full asking price and a swoop is still possible, but may not provide the optimum value.

Who Keeps The Keys To The Transfer Kitty War Chest?

Although it is the size of transfer fees and net spends that make all the headlines, for the owners it is a matter of cash flows, budgets, and operating expenses. The totality of a deal includes wages, signing-on fees, agent fees, image rights and add-ons (whatever they might be). While the board will agree overall budgets collectively, it is David Sullivan who is said to lead the final negotiations. And that may well be where most of the problems lie. Sullivan’s art of the deal, with low-ball bids, loans to buy, low deposit, extended repayment terms – as if he’s buying a sofa – have the potential to scupper any negotiation. The type of person who when buying a house comes back with a much reduced offer just as contracts are about to be exchanged.   

What Is Needed To Bring The Hammers Mother Hubbard Squad Back To Respectable Levels?

As things stand, the squad comprises seventeen senior players. And that includes several who are for emergency use only. Far too many positions have no cover at all while others have the numbers but lack the quality. On top of that, more variety is needed if Moyes is to address the difficulties seen too often last year in overcoming apparently ‘lesser’ opposition. I make that a minimum net increase of six to eight over what we have today – goalkeeper, left back, centre back, defensive midfield, a truly creative attacking midfielder and two strikers. Each of the other clubs aspiring to challenge for a European place – Leicester, Newcastle, Wolves, Villa – will be busy strengthening. West Ham must be recruiting to improve, not to tread water.

Will Any Players Be Leaving?

The assumption is that neither Declan Rice nor Jarrod Bowen will be leaving this summer. There has been talk of potential leavers featuring Nikola Vlasic, Arthur Masuaku, Issa Diop and Said Benrahma. Not that we couldn’t do with upgrades on each of those but it only further complicates the recruitment requirements. Could we really sign ten players in total if two of those left? We might also be aware of the possibility that Angelo Ogbonna might still be a long way from, or never regain, match fitness. I hope he does, but the best part of a year is a very long lay off for a 34-year-old.

When Will Something Happen?

By all accounts the signing of Nayef Aguerd is as imminent as something can be without actually being finished. The deal for Alphonse Areola is rumoured to be not far behind. It’s a start, I suppose. If Aguerd turns out be as good as his reviews and Youtube reel, then he is just the type of player we should be after, ready to challenge for a starting role from the off. I don’t see the club shelling out BIG money for a left back, not when strikers and attacking midfielders will be making a major dent in the budget.

How Will It All End?

Past performance tells us that we will be underwhelmed and disappointed once the transfer business has been completed. It is 48 days to the start of the Premier League season and 72 days until the transfer window closes. Even at the best of times, integrating a host of new faces into a team in one go is a challenge. Especially when you are team where cohesion and discipline are one of the major strengths. The level of confidence in West Ham completing a significant number of deals in advance of pre-season is low. A maximum of one or two new faces running out against Manchester City on the opening weekend would be my guess. It would come as no surprise if we are still be scraping around for signings in the final hours of deadline day. Ending with a four or five player net increase to the squad, rather than the six to eight required, wouldn’t be a surprise. Perhaps the academy can help out at last, but that should be viewed as a bonus not as a solution to the chronic lack of numbers. Still, there’s always January.

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!