Wish We Was At Home For Christmas? Injury Hit Hammers Hoping To Nick It Against Saints

There’s Boxing Day fare at last at the London Stadium. Who will shake off the Christmas hangover first as West Ham take on Southampton?

They have become a collector’s item in recent years, but finally West Ham prepare to host their first Boxing Day home game since 2013 when they face Southampton at the London Stadium this afternoon. It will be an opportunity for the Hammers to reinvigorate a faltering injury-hit spell that has exposed the inadequate squad depth that most of were already aware of.

In the Boxing Day fixture of 2013, West Ham took a second half lead through Carlton Cole against high-flying Arsenal only to concede three times as the north Londoners ran out 3-1 winners. A defeat that left the Hammers struggling in 19th place in the table. The two-goal hero for the visitors that day was Theo Walcott who may well feature in the visitor’s line-up today. The West Ham team, under the management of seasonal ‘jovial’ fat-man Sam Allardyce, was as follows: Adrian, McCartney, Tomkins, Collins (Rat), O’Brien (Demel), Jarvis, Nolan, Noble (Taylor), Diame, J Cole, C Cole

For a West Ham Boxing Day victory, we must go back a further four years to 2009. With the elf-like Gianfranco Zola in the hot seat, West Ham beat bottom of the table Portsmouth by two goals to nil – an Alessandro Diamanti penalty and a late header by nobody’s favourite Czech, Radoslav Kovac. The Hammers all-star line-up was: Green, Faubert, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga, Collison, Kovac, Parker, Diamanti (Behrami), Noble (Jimenez), Franco (Nouble)

Today will be the fourth time West Ham have come up against Saints on Boxing Day. In 1983, a goal by Danny Wallace was enough to give Southampton (who would finish the season as runners-up to Liverpool) the points at Upton Park against John Lyall’s rebuilt side: Parkes, Stewart, Lampard (Donald), Walford, Martin, Devonshire, Orr, Cottee, Whitton, Brooking, Dickens

In 1968, it was honours even at The Dell when two goals by Geoff Hurst (one from the spot) was enough to earn a 2-2 draw for Ron Greenwood’s side: Ferguson, Bonds, J Charles, Cushley, Stephenson, Moore, Redknapp, Boyce, Hurst, Lindsay, Peters

The only West Ham Boxing Day win came in a 1935 Division 2 clash at The Dell with the Hammers winning 4-2. The game was a return fixture with the two sides having played out a no-score draw at Upton Park on the previous day.

Injuries will play a key part in today’s game. The long-term absences of Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma are well documented but mystery surrounds the fitness of Aaron Cresswell’s back. Internet rumours suggest that he will be missing for some time and is certainly not likely to feature today. One positive coming out of Wednesday’s Carabao cup exit, however, was that Vladimir Coufal was able to serve his one match suspension. He and Ben Johnson will fill the full-back slots with Craig Dawson and Issa Diop filling in between. A defence that was once as hard to crack as a Brazil nut now looks highly vulnerable. An uncertainty that appears to permeate throughout the team.

Sadly, the Covid virus and all its variants have not issued a Christmas truce and the number of players missing the game through positive tests will not be known until the teams are announced. Michail Antonio is a reported non-starter and the social distancing enforced by his absence of goal celebrations might yet turn out to be a positive if he has not infected any team-mates. Several online previews are predicting Andriy Yarmolenko to lead the line in Antonio’s absence. I hope that is not the case and that Jarrod Bowen is given the job following an impressive midweek performance – we need Dasher rather than Prancer! This would allow only a second Premier league start for Nikoli Vlasic.

The visitors also have injury concerns of their own. Adams and both the Armstrongs have been long term absentees while Forster may return in place of Caballero in goal. Chelsea loanee Broja is a likely starter having shown that his running can unsettle the Hammer’s backline when he came on as substitute in the game at St Mary’s in September.     

The game might easily be billed as the out-of-form derby. West Ham have just one win from the last six fixtures while Southampton have not tasted victory in any of their last six. The Hammers have won the last four home games against Saints, scoring three times on each occasion. A repeat would be most welcome if momentum is to be regained. It is needed to boost the top six ambitions that many of us have now developed. It was perhaps inevitable that the hectic schedule would eventually reveal just how thin the squad is for a team hoping to compete for honours. It was very bad luck to lose two quality centre backs but everyone knew about the lack of cover at striker and left back. Both need to be addressed early in the transfer window if the season is not to fizzle out with the new year fireworks.

Today, I think we will scrape through 2-1. COYI!     

Some Christmas memories of the late 1950s and 1960s as West Ham entertain the Saints on Boxing Day

I can’t remember the last time we had a home game on Boxing Day, but I don’t think it has happened since we have been at the London Stadium. As a young boy I used to love going to Christmas games at Upton Park, and just like in modern times, they used to cram as many games as they could into the festive period. The first one I ever went to was actually on Christmas Day. Yes that’s right on 25th December. The Year was 1958, and my second ever visit to Upton Park on that day was for the visit of Tottenham. We beat them 2-1 with goals from my first favourite footballer, Johnny Dick and Vic Keeble. I believe that this was the very last time that West Ham played a game on Christmas Day. For good measure we visited White Hart Lane the following day and beat them 4-1 this time.

My next Christmas visit to Upton Park came on Boxing Day two years later (1960), but this wasn’t such a happy trip. Once again the visitors were our ‘friends’ from North London – this was their double season and they beat us 3-0. The following year (1961) Blackburn came down on Boxing Day and beat us 3-2. Two years after that on 26 December 1963 I witnessed one of the most remarkable games I have ever seen. Blackburn were once again the visitors and people never believe me when I say that it was a fairly even game – but they beat us 8-2! Two days later with just one change to the starting line up we went to Ewood Park and gained swift revenge with a 3-1 win. Johnny Byrne scored two goals that day – he was a magnificent footballer and goalscorer in his time with us – he hit 10 goals in a five game purple patch that culminated in the victory over Blackburn, and 25 league goals in the season (in 34 appearances), just eclipsing his 24 goals in 33 appearances the season before. He formed a formidable partnership with Geoff Hurst who was in the early part of his career.

On Boxing Day in 1966, we thrashed Blackpool 4-1 and the following day we went to their ground and won 4-0. Not surprisingly, Blackpool were relegated that season after finishing bottom of the table. The following year (26 December 1967) I saw one of the best ever games I can remember at Upton Park. We were 2-0 down to Leicester in the first 15 minutes or so, and then we fought back to win 4-2. Brian Dear scored a magnificent hat-trick and the other West Ham goal was scored by a very young Trevor Brooking wearing the number 9 shirt in his debut season. Four days later we visited Filbert Street and beat them again by exactly the same score (4-2). Brian Dear scored twice that day and Trevor Brooking scored again. Both times the score would have been much greater but for the performance of a teenage Peter Shilton in the Leicester goal who showed even then what a player he would become.

Draw specialists Southampton are today’s visitors. They have drawn 8 league games this season, the same as Palace, Brighton and Burnley. All four of those teams could be much higher in the table if they had managed to turn some of those draws into three points, but all four are currently in the bottom half. As I write this, one-third of the Boxing Day games have already been called off due to COVID, and only 6 of the 9 remain. But there could be more by the time kick-off arrives.

All these postponed matches make the league table harder to decipher with teams such as Arsenal having played 18 matches, whereas Tottenham have only played 14. We currently sit in fifth place having played 17, but both Manchester United and Tottenham could overtake us if they win games in hand. The form table from the last five games shows why we have been joined by others in the race for a top four place. We have picked up 5 points in that time, compared to Arsenal (9), Manchester United (10) and Tottenham (11).

I was one of the lucky 10,000 in the ballot to witness the final game of last season against Southampton when we won the game very easily 3-0. Pablo Fornals scored a couple that day and Declan Rice scored one where he just kept running with the ball, similar to a goal he subsequently scored in Europe this season against Dinamo Zagreb. If we had our best team available I would expect a similar outcome today, but injuries (and perhaps tiredness?) have taken their toll. The performance in the midweek defeat in the Carabao Cup against Tottenham wasn’t too bad, and one player who stood out for me in perhaps his best game in a claret and blue shirt was Vlasic. I think he played well enough to retain a place in the team.

So what chances a 3-0 repeat victory today? Despite our recent indifferent league form we are slightly odds-on to win the game at 5/6, and 13/1 to win 3-0. What are the chances?

Moyes Must Find A New Tune On The Old Fiddle To Shake Arsenal Disharmony

West Ham head to one of their unhappiest hunting grounds in search of London derby points. Can they come away with a rare victory?

A sure sign that West Ham are outsiders in the Premier League elite club was the failure to collect a get out of jail free decision when Craig Dawson was chopped down in the penalty area at Turf Moor on Sunday. No penalty goal bonus was to come our way on a weekend where Liverpool, Chelsea, and both Manchester clubs were each awarded soft spot kicks to guide them home.

The idea that there is context to a foul – he wouldn’t have reached the ball, or he didn’t have it under control – is a bizarre and undocumented concept as far as the laws of the game are concerned. Interpretations that only seem to apply inside the penalty area, on the subjective whim of officials, and in the eyes of prattling pundits.

It was difficult to assess the Hammer’s performance at Burnley. It was neither terrible nor good. Apart from a few shaky moments in the last ten minutes, the makeshift defence looked sound enough. Craig Dawson is, in many ways, the ideal centre back to resist the physical challenge of blunt instrument attackers such as Woods or Lukaku. It is against nippy and mobile opponents where he looks less assured. Elsewhere, we were treated to phases of neat passing and movement, except that all the the ideas fizzled out the closer we got to the Burnley goal.

This may be a season too far for the Clarets. Their time at the top table may well have run its course unless Dyche is allowed to refresh his squad during the transfer window. From early on the impression was they would be happy to finish with the point they started with. Setting out to frustrate the Hammers with a lack of adventure that allowed few opportunities for trademark West Ham counter-attacks (plan A). As one of the taller teams in the league, the hosts were also rarely troubled at set pieces (plan B).

In fairness, breaking down a well organised defence is not easy. It was why Manchester City and Liverpool had needed generous penalty gifts to get past Wolves and Aston Villa respectively. But the ability to create something special or perform the unexpected is in short supply in the West Ham squad. It can’t always be left to Declan Rice, who was once again head and shoulders above any other player on the pitch.

The inability to prise open packed defences (plan C) has already proved costly in points lost this season. There is no clear, obvious or quick fix to the problem and we must accept the squad does have limitations. It is still performing way above expectations. A creative attacking midfield player (or number 10, if you like) and a forward with true striker instincts are the undeniable missing pieces.

Tonight’s opponents Arsenal have made a good recovery after a very poor start to the season – although they continue to be inconsistent, particularly away from the Emirates. At home they have won their last four league games without conceding although each of these were against bottom six opposition (Leeds, Watford, Newcastle and Southampton). Although Mikel Arteta is now in his third season as manager, the team remains a work in progress. How long he will be given to turn matters around will be interesting. Arsenal doesn’t strike you as a particularly happy or together club/ squad and the latest Aubameyang disciplinary spat will only add to that disharmony. Another season without Europe may be the final blow for Arteta.

The Gunners are another of the sides who neither score nor concede many goals. They have several bright attacking players. Smith-Rowe is highly thought of (although I’m yet to be convinced) and Saka can cause havoc when given too much room. It is Odegaard, however, who poses the biggest threat for me. He was the spark that inspired Arsenal to claw their way back from three goals down at the London Stadium in March and will need to be closely shadowed. At the back, the hosts are bigger and stronger these days but somehow still fragile under pressure – more Vulnerables than Invincibles.

There is rarely too much to debate when it comes to the probable West Ham line-up. There are not that many options for David Moyes to ponder and he tends to stay loyal to a small group of players anyway. At some stage, Alphonse Areola will replace Lukas Fabianski, but don’t see that happening yet. If Aaron Cresswell is fit (fingers crossed) he will return at left back to keep an eye on Saka. Otherwise, it will be as you were in defence. Then it is a case of which three out of Jarrod Bowen, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma play behind Michail Antonio. Of course, all that is subject to no positive Covid tests being revealed.  

The Hammers have a terrible record away at Arsenal. Even when playing well, they have come away empty handed. It is now just one win (2015/16) in fourteen visits and I believe David Moyes has a similarly dismal record in his managerial career. It would be an ideal time to put those things right tonight. It will be a very different game from Sunday. With Arsenal likely to be on the front foot, there should be the space available to exploit on the break. We are much better equipped to deal with team looking to attack.

I sense an opportunity for Michail Antonio to rediscover his scoring boots in a 2-0 win. COYI!

Recent results have not generally been great for the Hammers at Arsenal. What will happen when these two teams in the top six clash on Wednesday night?

With just five points from our last five games it is perhaps surprising that West Ham are clinging on to fourth place in the Premier League table. The latest disappointment was the goalless draw at Burnley on Sunday. I write “disappointment” because, although in years gone by we would always have been happy with a point from a trip up north, we now hope (and expect perhaps) for three to maintain a challenge towards the top of the table. It was disappointing too in that we were the much better side creating all the chances, but came across a goalkeeper in Nick Pope determined to impress the watching England manager with some excellent saves from Diop, Benrahma and Bowen. And on a weekend where all the top clubs won games with the help of (in some cases) very soft penalty awards there was also a contentious incident where McNeil appeared to foul Dawson in the Burnley area but referee Scott did not award one and the referee on VAR duty (surprisingly to me, although I am biased) decided not to intervene.

Scoring goals is a bit of an issue away from home at the moment and Michail Antonio hasn’t managed to score in his last eight appearances. But he is not alone, and although he is perhaps expected to be our leading scorer others must chip in too. Although we have only managed one goal in our last three Premier games on our travels it is perhaps just a blip; after all if the league table was produced based on goals scored in this season to date we would be in fourth place by that measure too. I guess the disappointment comes from the cracking start to the season where we picked up 13 points from our first five away games with four wins and a draw, and this has been followed by just one point and one goal from the next three games away from the London Stadium.

Part of the reason for us retaining fourth place is down to the fact that the team who were closest to us just a few games ago (Wednesday’s opponents Arsenal) have had a relatively poor run too with just six points from their last five games (only one better than us) and have dropped a place in the table with Manchester United under new management having a resurgence and now just a point behind us. Manchester City and Liverpool are undoubtedly the form teams with a maximum 15 points from their last five league games, but they are followed (with a bit of a gap) by Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United who all have ten points from their last five, although Tottenham now have two games in hand over us and trail us by only three points.

Wednesday’s game is an important one for both ourselves and the Gunners in the quest to finish fourth – the top three will undoubtedly be the top three at the end of the season, such is their lead over the chasing pack and their consistency. Of course they can be beaten in odd games, as we have showed against both Liverpool and Chelsea, but over the course of a season those three will finish a long way clear I reckon.

Will last Sunday’s starting eleven be the same again against Arsenal? Perhaps yes, although I wonder if Fornals will return in place of Benrahma for this one? I’m not sure if any of the fringe players have done enough to make a compelling case to start. Vlasic is possibly the closest, but is he a better bet than Benrahma or Fornals? I’m not convinced but perhaps if he gets a chance of a run in the team at some stage he can show why we paid such a lot of money for him. I believe that Areola looks a great long-term prospect and once he gets his chance to be a starter in league games it may be difficult for Fabianski to get his place back. He has been an excellent goalkeeper for us but could he have done better with some of the goals we have conceded this season? And as modern keepers go, is his distribution perhaps a little below par at times?

The bookmakers have done their research based on past performances and Arsenal are favourites to win the game at odds of around 11/10. We are about 23/10 with the draw priced at around 5/2. A Bobby Zamora goal at the Emirates was enough for us to seal a 1-0 win in April 2007 which was the third win in a row against Arsenal, and enabled us to complete the double over them that season. But we have faced them on 28 occasions home and away since then and we have beaten them just twice, a 2-0 win on their patch on the opening day of the 2015-16 season (Kouyate and Zarate were the goalscorers that day), and 1-0 at the London Stadium in January 2019 with a goal from Declan Rice, his very first for us. There have been two 3-3 draws in those 28 games. What are the chances of a similar score tomorrow?

From A Wet Sunday Afternoon In Burnley To A Sultry Summer Evening In Seville

A fixture that is rarely a highlight of any season, West Ham must dig-in and work hard at Burnley to keep the top four challenge on course

Even defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the final Europa League group game was not able to rinse away the remaining joy lingering from last Saturday’s late victory over Chelsea. It has been the sweetest of feelings.

But while thoughts may turn wistfully and seductively towards the exotic European nights to come – West Ham pitting their wits against the likes of Barcelona, Napoli, Dortmund, Lazio, Porto, and Monaco – there is that most mundane of matters to negotiate this weekend, a visit to Turf Moor. Flights to Sevilla in May will need to stay pencilled in the diary for now.

A wet Sunday in Burnley may not be as immortalised as a cold, rainy Tuesday night in Stoke, but it is as close as it gets these days. Maybe not typical but the two visits of Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham to Turf Moor ( consecutive 3-0 and 2-0 defeats) are stuck in my head as to how this one plays out – Sean Dyche’s Dennis The Northern Menace outsmarting Walter The Softie Southerners.

Today’s West Ham are made of far sterner stuff, however, and even managed to come from behind to win 2-1 in the equivalent fixture last May. Two Michail Antonio goals cancelling out Chris Wood’s penalty opener. A return to goalscoring ways for Antonio would be a very welcome bonus. He caused havoc in the Chelsea defence in the second half last week but has not found the net himself since the winner against Tottenham on 24 October.

It was surprising to see David Moyes field such a rookie team in midweek with Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma the only first team regulars to feature. It was an opportunity to see several fine, encouraging performances from the academy players drafted in. It would be good to see some of them given occasional run-outs from the bench in the coming weeks and months. Of course, it was only one game, but Emmanuel Longelo could well be the best cover for Aaron Cresswell that is currently available.

Following an unprecedented injury-free run, the physio room has started to get overcrowded again. The long-term injuries to Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma are particularly worrying. It was a position where it was felt adequate cover existed but while Craig Dawson and Issa Diop are capable backups, they do not offer the same reliability as the first-choice pairing. This now becomes an important priority for January.

Talk in the media of using either Declan Rice or Tomas Soucek as centre backs sound foolish to me, unless it is an absolute and dire emergency. Both may be able to play the role competently but losing their services in midfield would be highly detrimental. With Cresswell hopefully fit to return tomorrow, my predicted line-up would be Fabianski, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Fornals, Antonio.

Burnley currently sit 18th in the Premier League, having won just one game this season (home to Brentford). Their other games have seen seven draws and seven defeats. Draws have featured heavily in their recent form with last week’s loss at Newcastle their first reverse sine losing at Manchester City on 16 October. Their last defeat at Turf Moor was to Arsenal in mid-September.  

Ashely Barnes is unavailable and top scorer Max Cornet is a doubtful starter, meaning Tom and Vlad’s Czech mate Matej Vydra will play alongside Chris Woods. In defence there will be another chance to see potential Hammer’s target James Tarkowski. Elsewhere, Dwight McNeil can be a danger on the left of midfield if allowed too much space.

I don’t see this game being a classic. More of a straight to video encounter that will not live long in the memory. Burnley don’t score many but then don’t concede too many either – no team currently in the bottom half of table has conceded fewer goals. As we know, West Ham never lose by more than one goal – or haven’t done in the past forty or so matches. So, a tight game is on the cards.

You’ll need to go back to the end of October for a West Ham away win – victory at Villa was followed by defeats to Wolves and Manchester City. A good time to reclaim the mantle as Kings of the Road. I will be more than happy to hear David Moyes proclaiming in his post-match assessment “we weren’t at our best but still came away with a 1-0 win.” COYI!

A League Of Their Own: Hammers Wind Up Their Europa Group Stage With The Visit Of Dinamo Zagreb

Will it be a case of just going through the motions as West Ham have already eased through to the Round of 16? A chance for fringe and academy players to shine.

Looking forward to West Ham’s final Europa League group game presents something of a conundrum. The group has already been won and the club will not want to risk further injuries to key players. But there is still a significant fixture to fulfil (with implication for final placings) and also a sizeable London Stadium crowd to entertain. Will it be a case of going through the motions or putting on a show while under no pressure?  

For the Hammers, there is only pride and a few hundred thousand of extra Euros in prize money at stake (to add to the almost €9 million already earned). For Dinamo Zagreb, the prospect of finishing second in the group and a crack at one the clubs eliminated from the Champion’s League remains a possibility. Or perhaps, they would fancy their chances of a longer European run by dropping down into the Conference.

We know by now seven of the eight teams dropping from the Champions League to compete in the Europa League Knockout play-offs. These are RB Leipzig, Porto, Dortmund, Sheriff, Barcelona, Sevilla, Zenit, plus one of Villareal or Atalanta. There are several intriguing opponents in that group with the potential for dramatic and electrifying nights under the London Stadium floodlights. The jeopardy of sudden death elimination is what makes cup football so special – when it finally comes alive!

West Ham’s recent dip in results reached an astonishing turnaround on Saturday lunchtime with a thrilling victory against league leaders, Chelsea. So shell-shocked was the visitor’s defence that they conceded three times again last night. Joy at the result was tempered to some extent by injuries to Kurt Zouma and Ben Johnson but it was still a day and result to savour.

Once again, Declan Rice was imperious as his market value ticks up faster than a petrol pump meter. He has just about every attribute that you could ask for in a modern midfield player – anticipation, positioning, strength, passing, interceptions, dribbling and shooting. He has now been inaugurated into my all-time best West Ham XI – the most recent addition since Paolo Di Canio.

There were outstanding performances elsewhere on the pitch as well. Defensively, we were sound in blunting Chelsea’s attacking intent while Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio were particularly impressive in attack during the second half. It was encouraging to see an excellent shift put in by a born again Manuel Lanzini, as was Said Benrahma’s 100% pass completion of the note from David Moyes to his captain – achieved without surrendering possession or accidentally giving it to an opponent.

Somehow, the nature of the winning goal fitted the occasion perfectly. Less King Arthur and more Merlin the magician – the enchanter of the Blues, whose sorcery bewitched and bewildered Mendy in the Chelsea goal. I would love to believe it was intentional even if Masuaku’s enigmatic tweet suggested otherwise. He just didn’t know that he meant it.

Masuaku will be one of handful of senior players featuring in tonight’s starting line-up. Joined by Alphonse Areola, Mark Noble, Andriy Yarmolenko, Nikola Vlasic and Alex Kral. I suspect one of the two senior centre-backs still standing will also start, and fancy this will be Issa Diop. The balance will be made up with academy players who will see it as an amazing opportunity. The predicted starting eleven: Areola, Ashby, Diop, Baptiste, Masuaku, Noble, Kral, Yarmolenko, Vlasic, Benrahma, Perkins.

The new variant of Covid is threatening to wreak havoc with team selection. Hopefully none of our squad have been out socialising down with their Tottenham counterparts at the Bottler’s Arms. Although, I do have a suspicion that Conte is attempting to get as many matches postponed as possible so that he can sign some decent players by the time the games are played.  

Dinamo Zagreb will take the runners-up spot in Group H is they avoid defeat tonight or if Genk fail to beat Rapid Vienna. Their campaign has been inconsistent so far but they may feel confident of holding on to second place given the West Ham’s lack of incentive. Although beaten 2-0 at home by Hadjuk Split on Sunday, Dinamo remain fourth in the Croatia league and are reasonably placed for a shout at a 23rd title.  

A drawn game tonight would be no huge surprise.

West Ham face league leaders Chelsea at the London Stadium. Can the Hammers turn round recent results that have seen just one point from the last three games?

A look at the league table tells us everything we need to know regarding the difficulty that West Ham face in the early kick-off against Chelsea in Matchweek 15 today. Only Liverpool have found the net more than Chelsea’s 33 goals in their 14 league games to date, and no ne have been as mean as the Chelsea defence that has only conceded six goals in those 14 fixtures. They have only lost once, and that was to a goal from Jesus for Manchester City, who are themselves rather formidable opponents as we found out ourselves last weekend.

The last time we met Thomas Tuchel’s men was back in April where a 1-0 win for the men in blue put quite a dent in our ambition to finish last season with a top four finish. The game was a well fought contest, but a simple move attacking the right hand side of our defence resulted in Chilwell crossing for Werner to put the ball into the net from close range.

Although we tried hard we didn’t manage to create much against a well organised team, and then towards the end Balbuena was ridiculously sent off by referee Chris Kavanagh, a decision that was quite rightly overturned following West Ham’s appeal, but by then of course we were already forced to chase the game with only ten men on the field. It was hard enough when we had eleven!

Looking at the head to head games against Chelsea, the records were fairly even up until the end of the twentieth century with Chelsea slightly having the upper hand. But since then the West Londoners have extended their superiority although I’ll remind you of same famous West Ham victories in the last 20 years.

In May 2003 we were facing relegation and really needed to beat Chelsea in the season’s penultimate game to have any chance of avoiding the drop. Caretaker manager Trevor Brooking had sent on Paolo Di Canio early in the second half and he came up with a goal twenty minutes before the end which gave us the victory and an outside chance of staying up but it wasn’t to be. It was Di Canio’s last significant contribution in a claret and blue shirt, although he did score another as a substitute in the final game, a 2-2 draw at Birmingham. We completed the double over Chelsea that season but we still went down.

After that win we had 13 winless games against Chelsea, which included just two draws, before another famous victory in December 2012 with Sam Allardyce as our boss. We trailed 1-0 at half time before an equaliser from Carlton Cole, and then two late goals from Diame and Maiga gave us a 3-1 win. And to put the icing on the cake, Mourinho was sent to the stands!

In October 2015 in the final season at Upton Park goals from Zarate and Carroll gave us a 2-1 victory, a scoreline that was repeated early in our first season at the London Stadium when Kouyate and Fernandes both scored superb goals in a League Cup tie.

In December 2017 Arnautovic scored an early goal which turned out to be the only goal of the game, and that same 1-0 scoreline was repeated in November 2019 at Stamford Bridge in a match famous for David Martin’s heroics and clean sheet in the West Ham goal which went a long way towards contributing to our ultimate survival that season. We went on to complete a superb double when Yarmolenko’s 90th minute strike gave us a 3-2 win in July 2020 in the season extended way beyond normal as a result of COVID-19.

So what of today’s fixture? In the midweek game against Brighton I had predicted (and bet on!) a 1-0 West Ham win which so nearly was the case but for the disappointing late Brighton equaliser. Perhaps the Seagulls may have deserved a draw, but the close VAR decision which denied us a second goal, and the timing of Brighton’s goal made it just one point from our last three games, although Arsenal’s defeat at Manchester United meant that we retained fourth place in the league despite the recent results. The top three have, however opened up a gap to take them away from the rest; a lead that I can’t see being closed by anyone this season.

But thinking back to Di Canio’s strike in 2003, Arnautovic’s early goal in 2017, and Cresswell’s early second half goal backed up by David Martin’s great display on the last day of November two years ago, all of which gave us 1-0 wins over Chelsea I’ll predict a repeat of that scoreline. Bookmakers don’t think it will happen as we are around 18/5 to win the game, with Chelsea odds-on. A 1-0 Hammers win is priced at around 11/1, with a Chelsea win by that score to repeat last season’s game at the London Stadium at around 11/2.

It will take quite a performance, but I’ll stick with my 1-0 forecast. I fancy Dawson will score with a header from a corner sometime soon too. What are the chances?

Never Felt More Like Beating The Blues: Can The West Ham Stars Shine Again?

West Ham need a huge performance against league leaders, Chelsea, if they are to regain early season momentum and keep the top four show on the road

A quirk of human nature is that there is always far more material to write about, complain about and discuss when things are going badly than when they are doing well. The climactic joy of beating Liverpool that saw bubbles flying high has quickly faded and died following two defeats and a draw in the subsequent three matches. The feet are firmly back on the ground. Damn that international break!

It would be disappointing in any season to lose points at home to Brentford, Palace, and Brighton; but to drop five late on in games when you are looking to repeat or improve on the season before is doubly frustration. At least we are still fourth (and with three more points than at the same stage last season) but that will change at the weekend unless West Ham can pull a top drawer performance out of the hat.

Although the mood of supporters often swings erratically from week to week, the mood on the training ground is likely to be much more measured. David Moyes has done a tremendous job in getting more out of the team than the individual parts would suggest is possible. There are maybe only one or two Hammers that would interest any of the three teams above us and bumps in the road are to be expected.  But just as success is infectious, so is defeat (and Covid).

I get the impression that the team has lost its sparkle in recent weeks. Whether this is down to the fatigue of the Thursday and Sunday routine, the impact of injuries or just a temporary dip in form is uncertain. It has certainly brought debate about the obvious and significant gaps that the squad has back into focus. With Michail Antonio looking out of sorts and Aaron Cresswell having hit the post, the lack of cover for both positions has caused alarm and indignation.

It is good fortune that West Ham haven’t suffered badly with injuries so far (touch wood) with Angelo Ogbonna the only long-term casualty. It has enabled Moyes to use only 19 players in Premier League to date – the lowest apart from Burnley and Wolves. The starting eleven has been remarkably consistent in personnel and, except for Kurt Zouma, is mostly the same as last season. Two of the other summers recruits (Alphonse Areola and Alex Kral) have yet to feature in the league while Nikola Vlasic has only played 129 minutes in five appearances. Of course, they have each made contributions in the Europa League and Carabao cup, but it does raise the question whether the money might not have been better spent on a backup striker and left back.

As ever it is a question of juggling the club’s resources, a problem that supporters don’t have to worry about when calling for new signings. I can understand why Moyes says the quality must be right when it comes to transfers, but the flip-side of that is too much caution. It is clear, though, that the less money you are given to spend the more important the buying decision becomes. It is particularly problematic when it comes to strikers. A quick scan through that list of failed strikers who have passed through the club in the last ten years is all the evidence needed.  

But if a challenge for a top six place is to be maintained then the owners need to do some shopping in the January window. In an ideal world that would mean a striker, left back, attacking midfield and central defender (to cover Ogbonna’s absence). Not much chance of the complete set in what is typically a difficult time to find value.

On the pitch, much of West Ham’s success is founded on excellent team spirit and strong organisation. Offensively, we rely either on quick breakaways or set pieces for the bulk of our goals. Nothing wrong with that approach when it brings rewards, but opposition managers must now be getting wise to these strengths. An extra dimension is needed to mix things up but our passing and ball retention needs major improvement to make that happen. Maybe we don’t have the players capable of doing that, or are they simply under strict instruction is to move the ball forward as quickly as possible and play the percentages?

I’m not a fan of passing and possession just for the sake of it – a trap that Brighton seem to fall into whenever I have seen them – but greater controlled and creative use of the ball is necessary when the situation demands it. Part of the problem is that none of the attacking quartet are able to regularly escape markers, create space, pick the right pass, and weigh in with a fair share of goals. Just what Jesse Lingard was doing during his purple patch earlier in the year. We miss him or someone like him.

Saturday lunchtime’s visitors to the London Stadium are league leaders, Chelsea. Tuchel has fashioned an exceptionally efficient unit in west London. Nothing much has gone wrong for him since he arrived to replace Lampard Junior in January of this year. They have experienced a minor wobble of their own just lately drawing with Manchester United and Burnley and scraping past Watford in the week.

The Blues have several injury concerns for the weekend with Kovacic and Chilwell definitely out, and doubts over the fitness of Chalobah, Kante and James. The absence of both Chilwell and James would be a bonus, given our weakness with wing-back play, although Alonso and the loathsome Azpilicueta are not bad alternatives. There may also be a return to action for Lukaku, a perennial thorn in the Hammer’s side during his career in England.

Had it not been for a poor run of results, we may have regarded Saturday’s game as something of a free hit. It now takes on greater importance – for confidence, league position and pride. Chelsea’s resurgence has been built upon a miserly defensive foundation, having conceded just six league goals in their fourteen games. They have yet to concede more than one goal in any domestic or European fixture. The visitors will undoubtedly boss possession with the West Ham’s success or otherwise hinging on not surrendering the ball cheaply and taking whatever chances come their way.

It must be back to basics in defence with none of the horrifying passing between keeper and central defenders that scares the pants off me. Fabianski has to be one the worst distributors in the league – so the less he has of the ball, the better. Hopefully, Cresswell will be restored to the team at left back. Asking Ben Johnson to play full-back on his wrong foot just doesn’t work in today’s game – at least not from an attacking point of view.

With the gods on our side, a favourable wind, planetary alignment, and no nonsense from VAR, West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!

Can West Ham end an eight game winless run against the Seagulls at the London Stadium tonight?

In my article prior to the game against Manchester City last weekend I highlighted the gulf between the top three and the rest. The game itself confirmed what I believed. A score of 2-1 suggests a close game but that wasn’t really the case. Unfortunately we were not at our best and never really got going. Despite Jack Grealish, Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden being unavailable City were still too good in an attacking sense, and defensively they gave little away with Declan Rice’s long range effort being the only time I can recall Ederson needing to make a save before our goal.

We showed our hand before kick-off with Masuaku replacing Bowen suggesting we were worried about City’s attacking threat down our left hand side, as opposed to letting them worry about our potential going forward. But City were just too good and attacked from all sides. The heavy snow falling made the conditions difficult but while we were only a single goal down we were still in the game. The second goal finished us off but Lanzini once again produced a last second wonder strike (just as he did against Tottenham in the 3-3 draw) to make the score look more respectable, although there was no time left to go searching for a dramatic late equaliser.

But it wasn’t all bad, and in the past we might have folded and lost a game like this by a wider margin. The consolation is that despite two consecutive defeats we still retained our position in the top 4, even though the gap to the top three has grown. And even if we manage to lose a third game in a row, which I certainly hope we don’t, we would still be no lower than fifth in the table. Nine points from our last five games is a better return than all the teams in the Premier League apart from the top three and Arsenal immediately below us in fifth place.

The fixtures come thick and fast for the next month or so beginning with this evening’s visit from Brighton. We have faced them in the last four seasons since they came into the Premier League, and we have yet to beat them in eight attempts. Those games have usually been relegation battles, or at least lower-half of the table fixtures, but this time around we are both in the upper reaches with Brighton currently occupying ninth place after a bright start to the season.

They beat us in the first three games but the last five have all ended in draws. Three of those five draws have come in the corresponding fixtures in the last three seasons at the London Stadium. We had to come from behind twice in the home game last season, whereas the season before we relinquished a two goal lead. And in the season before that we were two down before an Arnautovic brace earned us a 2-2 draw.

The last time we beat them was in the later stages of our promotion winning season in 2011-12 when a superb Vaz Te hat trick was part of a 6-0 thrashing. I remember the game well – we were three up in the first ten minutes or so (Vaz Te had scored two of them) and he completed his hat-trick in front of the Bobby Moore end with an overhead kick.

Said Benrahma appeared on the front cover last season’s programme, but some are suggesting that he may not be in the starting eleven this time around following a bit of an exchange with David Moyes as he was substituted in the City game. I’ve seen some calling for Lanzini to start in that position but we’ll have to wait and see. I wonder if there are injury concerns, especially re Cresswell? Squad rotation has certainly been successful in the European games, but the manager has probably made fewer changes in the league games than most – he seems to have a very definite idea of his starting eleven for these matches.

Historically West Ham v Brighton fixtures go back to 1903, but we didn’t face them in any football league games until 1978 as we have often been in different divisions. The overall record is very even at 18 wins apiece and 19 draws. Graham Potter has done a superb job for the Seagulls but after their bright start they have faded a little, failing to win any of their last eight league games – always a worrying statistic for West Ham fans! But they have drawn a lot of games and have only lost three (we have lost four). So Brighton have failed to win any of their last eight league games, and West Ham have failed to win any of their last eight fixtures against Brighton. Will one of these runs be broken or are we heading for another draw?

With the last five meetings between the clubs ending in draws, and Brighton’s recent draws this season, a draw would seem a likely result. Bookmakers make us favourites to win with odds of around evens, but a 1-1 draw is the favourite in the correct score odds at around 11/2. I am convinced we can end our long run of failing to beat them, but it is likely to be a close game. Brighton has a mean defence with just 14 goals conceded in their 13 games, a figure only bettered by the top three and Wolves. But they have only scored 12 which is fewer than everyone apart from Norwich, Southampton and Tottenham. It is the failure to convert chances into goals that frustrates many Brighton fans and led to some booing following their 0-0 draw at home to Leeds last weekend.

There have been fewer goals in Brighton Premier League games this season than in those involving all the other clubs (except Wolves). So don’t expect us to repeat the 6-0 win of the last time we beat them. I forecast a West Ham victory by a single goal margin, possibly 1-0. What are the chances?

Battle Lines Drawn For The League’s Premier City Versus United Clash

It’s third against fourth at the Etihad Stadium. Can West Ham exceed expectation and return from Manchester with more than hard luck stories?

If at the start of the season I had been asked to rank all West Ham’s games from most to least winnable, I would without hesitation have placed away to Manchester City at the very end of the list.

Since City won the Abu Dhabi lottery, the only West Ham victory on their patch was in September 2015, when Slaven Bilic’s Payet-inspired team beat Pellegini’s City by two goals to one. Prior to that that you need to go back to April, 2003 for another league success. Freddie Kanoute’s solitary goal enough to keep Trevor Brooking’s heroic, but ultimately unsuccessful, great escape dream alive.

Despite trailing Chelsea in the current standings, City remain most people’s favourites to retain the Premier League title. If that comes to pass then it will be four in six years for Guardiola. No doubt, he is a gifted coach who is able to manage the egos of superstar players – but a bottomless pit of resources must also come in handy. He was certainly an upgrade on Pellegrini, yet I’m not convinced that the players he has brought in measure up in character to those that have left since his arrival – Toure, Kompany, Silva, Aguero, for example – even if he has an exceedingly useful squad to call upon.

A stark contrast to our own humble club who, prior to kick-off, are a single place and three points behind the champions. A remarkable achievement by David Moyes and his team given the imbalance in resources. Perhaps Moyes is not the right type of manager for the super rich clubs (as his time at the other United might suggest) but he is looking a perfect match for the patient team building and development model now underway in east London.

With new investment on the cards, the future of the club is looking much brighter than it has for some time. A complete turnaround from the storm clouds of Burnley in March 2018. Does anyone else think that in the publicity shot doing the rounds, Daniel Kretinsky looks menacing rather than friendly or enigmatic? The kind of sinister grin you might see from a movie villain about to reveal his collection of pliers, bolt croppers, and saws to a terrified captive.

Great to see West Ham seal top spot in their Europa League group with a largely second eleven coasting to a comfortable win in Vienna. The fringe players (including several exciting academy prospects) have done the club proud in qualifying, but may get fewer opportunities to impress once the round of sixteen arrives next March. Here’s hoping all the Spanish clubs are either still holding on in the Champion’s League or have been eliminated from the Europa League by then – particularly Sevilla, the serial winners of the trophy.

I’m not expecting any surprises in today’s line-up which should be pretty much the same team that lost at Wolverhampton. I do have a suspicion that Vladimir Coufal might return in place of Ben Johnson (for his greater attacking threat) and while I would welcome a look at a Kurt Zouma – Issa Diop paring in central defence, I believe Moyes will stick with Craig Dawson.

City may be without De Bruyne, Grealish and Foden and could start with a front three of Mahrez, Sterling and Jesus. Plenty of variety but no-one obviously leading the line. A different type of challenge for the Hammers defensively and one that will require complete concentration throughout. An afternoon of the opposition bossing possession, seeking to wear down our legs and creating openings with bursts of quick and intricate passing.

Surrendering the lion’s share is not an unreasonable tactic but the key to taking something from the game will be the ability to retain possession and make good use of the ball when we have it. It needs to be better than at Molineux. Giving the ball away cheaply only increases the pressure and leaving Michail Antonio isolated up front will not unsettle the hosts defence. Much will depend on how effectively the attacking midfield three can keep the ball, make the right decisions. and get forward quickly enough in support of Antonio. We can’t hold out for penalties this time.

These types of game can be an uncomfortable watch sometimes – and tough on the fingernails. Even if there is a tactical fascination unfolding it is difficult to appreciate it in real time. Expectations are not high of a result but there is always hope. We were unlucky to come away with nothing last season and maybe the football gods feel they owe us something in return. A 1-1 draw, perhaps. COYI!