Hammers At Villa Park: Any Plan To Address The Energy Crisis In The West Ham Midfield?

I never felt more like singing the claret-and-blues. Two of the leagues disappointing and downcast sides go head-to-head at Villa Park as West Ham take on Aston Villa

I’ve just opened my Golden Goals ticket for the time of West Ham’s first goal. I’ve got October, so could be in with a very good chance of winning.

These are strange times at the club with the Hammers sitting rock bottom of the fledgling table with ‘nul points’ from three games played. It is not unheard of to see clubs in the lower leagues with points deductions for some financial irregularity or the other. But these deductions are rarely self-imposed by the clubs themselves, as it is in our case. A failure to act quickly in strengthening the squad and then refusing to play those we have brought in has saddled us with a unwanted nine point penalty.

As there is so much nonsense written during the transfer window it’s not easy to get to the bottom of exactly what has been going on. Slowly but surely, sizeable amounts of money is being spent, but why it it such a long drawn-out process with West Ham. And why do do many supposed deals simply fizzle out? Sure, it would be foolish to simply pay the asking price as the window would end with the club getting far less for their money, at a time when the squad is painfully thin. But that shouldn’t mean that negotiations get interminably bogged down haggling for the greatest deal. Thankfully, it will all be over this week.

If the Lucas Paquetta transfer goes through as anticipated it would represent an eighth summer signing for the club. And with chatter of even more to come. In terms of numbers, it is largely in line with what many fans were calling for. Our recruits look to be mainly mid-career signings rather than the unearthing of young, unknown talent that might have been anticipated with the guidance of Rob Newman. Perhaps our scouting network is still too flimsy for that to happen. Big money signings have an uneven track record at West Ham but the balance between proven ability and future potential is a tricky one to negotiate.

With more options to choose from, we must wait to see how (and at what speed) David Moyes goes about implementing the transition. It is often said that introducing more that three of four new players into a team at one time is fraught with difficulties, especially where organisation is one of your major strengths. But the Hammers current indifferent form stretches way back into the final three or four months of last season as well as the start of this one. Bringing in replacements would hardly be upsetting a finely tuned machine.  While Thilo Kehrer was given an entire game due to a centre back shortage, only 85 minutes for Gianluca Scamacca, 22 for Maxwell Cornet, and 1 for Flynn Downes, in a run of three defeats, is a puzzling outcome.

Today’s game at Villa Park is the latest opportunity to get much needed points on the board. The Hammers face an Aston Villa side who have also failed to impress in their early matches – maybe because I had tipped them to have a good season. After this game, West Ham face London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea in quick succession and the prospect of played six/ no points must have occurred to most supporters. If ever, there was a time for a performance, it is today.

Moyes will have plenty of credit in the bank after two top seven finishes and two European campaigns, but that won’t make him bullet proof if the ‘Relegation’ word starts getting mentioned repeatedly. Remember Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester less than a year after winning the Premier League title. Moyes will be safe up until the World Cup whatever happens. Hopefully a Paquetta inspired side will be marauding into the upper reaches of the league by then!

It will be hugely disappointing if significant changes are not made for today’s game. A massive dose of energy and fluidity must be injected into the side and the playing style has to far less predictable than it has become. Relying solely on counter attacks and set pieces has to be eliminated. And Declan Rice cannot be the single conduit through midfield.

None of the following players merit a starting berth today based on recent and current form: Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Creswell, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini. Is it also time for Alphonse Areola to be handed the keeper’s jersey?  For me, Scamacca, Cornet and Emerson Palmieri must be guaranteed starters today. And Ben Johnson is a far superior option at right back than Coufal.

Villa have their own problems with Stevie G struggling as much as FLJ to impress from the managers seat. The hosts record in the final months of last of last season and into this is as indifferent as the visitors. Does that indicate a share of the spoils in a tame draw?  In theory, the Villains have enough firepower in Ings and Watkins to test an unsettled Hammer’s defence, but it is the running of players such as Ramsay and Bailey that often cause our defence to be exposed.

It has the feel of one of those games that will be decided by mistakes rather than inspiration. Both defences are as shaky as a three legged chair and Moyes must make his selection to exploit that weakness in the opposition. More of the timid, one-paced, unambitious approach of previous games won’t work and has to be replaced with energy, width and movement. With a few isolated exceptions it has been many months since the Hammers demonstrated sparkle and swagger out on the pitch. It’s return is eagerly awaited. And today would be the perfect time. COYI!   

Sevilla, The Villa, Sevilla: West Ham Face Sticky Filling In Europa League Sandwich

Taking one game at a time comes under scrutiny as the Hammers face rampant Villa just days before Thursday’s Europa League showdown

Just under twenty months ago, Aston Villa earned a point at the London Stadium, on the final day of the 2019/20 season, to preserve their Premier League status. Defeat would have seen today’s visitors relegated on goal difference in place of Bournemouth. In a fraught and lengthy campaign West Ham finished one place and four points better off than the Villains.

The following season saw a significant improvement in the fortunes of both clubs. The Hammers finishing an unexpected sixth with 65 points, while Villa managed a creditable eleventh with 55 points. Both sides could potentially match those points tallies once the current season comes to an end.

A scan of the two teams that played in that July 2020 season finale tells very different stories. For Villa, only Mings, McGinn, and Luiz are in contention for a start today. On the other hand, the West Ham line-up shows an amazing familiarity. If it weren’t for injuries, up to eight or nine players might have featured both then and today. Since then there have been only four new arrivals who might realistically be classed as first-team regulars – Kurt Zouma, Craig Dawson, Vladimir Coufal and Said Benrahma. Arguably, only Zouma would get the starting call in a fully fit squad.

The story of West Ham’s past week has been one of missed goalscoring opportunities. With greater composure, Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini should have earned at least a point at Anfield last weekend. And Nikola Vlasic and Michail Antonio were guilty of glaring misses in Seville. The Vlasic header would have brought howls of derision at a Sunday afternoon game over the park.

For all the ‘taking each game as it comes’ cliches we hear from coaches and players, I can’t believe that Thursday’s return leg with Sevilla isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind – even if it is unconsciously. The Europa League match is unquestionably a do-or-die affair, while there will still be another twenty-seven Premier League points to play for after today. So when push comes to shove, will that extra yard of pitch be covered, will every sinew in the body be stretched to breaking point, and will bodies be thrown on the line to make every desperate block or tackle?  It’s not as if players need to worry about playing for their places, Indeed, it is testament to the spirit that exists in the club that we see as much effort as we do when there is little fear of competition.

Although not probable, it would be understandable if David Moyes acknowledged the reality of the situation and chose to leave any key players who are not 100% on the bench. Why not give Sonny Perkins, Armstrong Oko-Flex, or Dan Chesters a start rather than two minutes at the end? Or perhaps it is a game for Mark Noble to make one last start. It would be a calculated risk, but given that Villa’s main threat comes from the attacking instincts of Coutinho, Ings and Watkins, it would be manageable.

Coutinho possesses the precise attributes that would add an extra dimension to West Ham’s game. A player who can find and create space for himself, makes good decisions, passes well and weighs in with his fair share of goals. What a difference such a player could make.

It took Villa a long time, and a change of manager, to learn how to cope without one-time talisman, Jack Grealish. A lesson there as to what can happen when you become over reliant on a single player. There have been periods of inconsistency under Gerrard’s management but his team are currently on a hot streak with three straight wins at an aggregate score of 9-0.

West Ham achieved a win double over Villa in the last campaign and would repeat that feat with a win today. Villa’s 1-0 home win in May 2015 was their only success in the last eleven meetings between the two clubs. It will be tough for the Hammers to continue that ascendency and may have to do so with a share of the spoils. COYI!

Can West Ham rediscover their scoring touch when in-form Villa visit the London Stadium on Sunday?

Here we are, two weeks on from my last review prior to the Wolves game and just 10 games to go in the Premier League this season for West Ham. In view of the (mainly Covid) interruptions to the season that happened a few weeks ago some of the other teams competing at the top of the table have either 11, 12 or even 13 games left prior to this weekend’s fixtures. It makes comparisons difficult. 

As I wrote only a fortnight ago am I the only one who would have liked to see players recruited in the winter window stopped from playing in games that are rescheduled following postponements? A blatant example of the point I am making was demonstrated in the Southampton v Newcastle game on Thursday night. Eddie Howe fielded six players who were not available when the game was scheduled to be played in January before it was postponed due to Newcastle’s COVID / injury situation at the time. 

How convenient for the Geordies that Chris Wood, a £25 million signing from Burnley in the winter transfer window, scored his first goal for the Tynesiders to equalise Southampton’s opening goal. And then Guimaraes, a £40 million signing, scored the winner with an outrageous back-heeled volley. The winning goal was assisted by Burn who headed a Targett corner back across goal. Both of those were January recruits too. Newcastle have benefitted enormously, not just from the injection of funds following the takeover, but also from the postponements. Surely the Premier League should have acted to prevent this unfair situation arising?

We currently sit in sixth place still, in touch and challenging for a top four place, although our recent indifferent performances and results of others means that it would take a number of wins in the run-in to achieve this. Perhaps 5th, 6th, 7th or even 8th looks our most likely finishing position as it stands but a lot can change. At this stage it is impossible to know where we would need to finish to qualify for Europe, as this depends on winners of cup competitions.

Our 1-0 defeat to Sevilla leaves the tie still wide open but we should not underestimate how difficult it might be to overturn even just a one goal deficit. If we want to advance into the last eight we will need to become the first team from England to overcome these Europa League specialists. Tottenham, Wolves and Manchester United have all tried and failed in the past. 

And for a team with the fourth highest number of goals scored in the Premier League this season so far we have suddenly lost our ability to convert chances into goals. In the past week against both Liverpool and Sevilla how many golden opportunities to score were spurned? This will need to be improved if we are to stand a chance of progressing in the Europa League and continuing our challenge in the domestic league.

The current league table – top 10
Man City 69 from 28 games
Liverpool 63 from 27 games
Chelsea 56 from 27 games
Arsenal 48 from 25 games
Man Utd 47 from 28 games
West Ham 45 from 28 games
Tottenham 45 from 26 games
Wolves 43 from 28 games
Villa 36 from 27 games
Southampton 35 from 28 games

The form table (last 5 games of the top 10 in the current league table)
Liverpool 15
Chelsea 13
Arsenal 13
Man City 12
Tottenham 9
Villa 9
West Ham 8
Man Utd 8
Southampton 7
Wolves 6

Our opponents this weekend have climbed into the top half of the table in the past fortnight. They have looked very impressive in recent games when beating Southampton and Leeds and will be a difficult proposition on Sunday. Coutinho seems to have regained his Liverpool form after his difficult time abroad. They will visit the London Stadium full of confidence. We haven’t managed to score more than one goal in any of our last five games in all competitions. I reckon that we will need to do so on Sunday if we are to collect the three points that we need to maintain our challenge in the Premier League. What are the chances?

What next West Ham? Carabao Cup reflections and a look ahead to Villa

I am old enough to remember when the League Cup was called the League Cup. Of course it’s now called the EFL Cup or is currently known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons. For the first 20 years or so there was no sponsor but since then there has been a succession of them, Rumbelows, Coca Cola etc. Back in the early days teams used to put out their strongest sides, but in recent times it has been considered the least important of the trophies on offer, and managers make wholesale changes, even in the latter stages of the competition.

On Wednesday night Guardiola made nine changes from the side that started their last game, but he was still able to field ten full internationals plus Cole Palmer, a top prospect who has already featured and scored in the Champions League and as an under 21 international, such is the quality of the strength in depth of the Manchester City squad.

Not to be outdone David Moyes made eight changes himself which is an indicator of how far West Ham have come in the last year or so. The game itself was described by some as one of the best 0-0 draws they had seen. It says something when perhaps our two most influential players, Declan Rice and Michail Antonio were rested completely and not even on the bench. I loved a tweet from Rodney Marsh before the game that would have come back to haunt him. It was along the lines of ‘No Rice, No Antonio, No Chance’.

It was no surprise that City had the greater possession and shots etc., but we gave them a good game and defended relatively comfortably to deny them a goal. We had our chances too, but when the game ended at 0-0 I feared the worst, knowing that City had not lost a penalty shootout for 13 years, which was seven successful ones in that time.

But our penalties were superb, Foden dragged his one wide, and as a result we progressed to the quarter-finals. One thing that came out of the penalties for me was that Aaron Cresswell, who I have long advocated should be high on our list of potential penalty takers, should definitely be on the shortlist, as should Craig Dawson if he is on the pitch.

23 different teams have won the League Cup but we are not one of them. We’ve been in the final twice, in 1966 (the last season that the final was a two-legged affair) and 1981, but runners-up is the best we’ve managed, although we were unlucky in 1981 in particular, when as a second-tier side we took Liverpool to a replay. Will this be our year?

It’s back to Premier League action this weekend when we visit Villa Park. Villa, who cashed in on Grealish in the summer, have made a disappointing start to this campaign and currently sit in 13th place, having lost their last three games. On the other hand we have remained undefeated in our last seven Premier League away games (3 at the end of last season and 4 to begin this one). When did that last happen? I doubt that it ever has in the Premier League. I looked back to our record breaking season of 1985-86 (my go-to when looking at records) and found a run of nine unbeaten away league games in succession which stretched from a defeat at Old Trafford on August 26 to a loss at White Hart Lane on December 26. Let’s hope that we can stretch our current unbeaten away run to eight this weekend.

Thinking back to the City game in midweek, the whole team defended as a unit to keep our opponents from scoring but particular credit must go to the keeper, Areola (arguably man of the match) and the back four of Johnson, Diop, Dawson and Cresswell, who all had excellent games. Ironically, after such good performances, perhaps only one of the five aforementioned players (Cresswell) may be in the starting line-up against Villa. I fully expect Fabianski, the fit-again Coufal, Zouma and Ogbonna to resume their places in the eleven chosen to start the game. That’s yet another testament to the strength of the squad being put together by the manager.

Last season (in February) we won 3-1 in the corresponding fixture with a couple of goals from Lingard. Surely he must be frustrated to get so little game time in the Manchester United team that has performed so poorly of late? I wonder if he will be one of the players that we target in the upcoming transfer window? It would be great to think that our owners wanted to splash out to strengthen our strong squad still further. But will the new Head of Recruitment be allowed to do so? Once again we are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game. A repeat of last season with West Ham winning the game 3-1 is priced at around 20/1. What are the chances?