West Ham Set To Rise Again At Easter: Burnley Left Hot And Cross

Another chance for West Ham’s Europa League heroes to make a statement of intent and end the weekend 5th in the Premier League standings

Oh what a night, hypnotising, mesmerising me. It was everything I dreamed it’d be. As I remember, what a night!

The Europa League campaign has now served up two of the most memorable West Ham performances in living memory. And all within the space of four weeks. Victories against Sevilla and now Lyon are victories that will be talked about for years to come.

There can’t have been too many supporters who didn’t fear the worst after last Sunday’s defeat at Brentford. Not just that we lost but the manner of the defeat. It was the look of a jaded team. One where the spring had left the step and fatigue had taken over. The Hammers looked to have a mountain to climb as they headed to the foothills of the Massif Central.

The style and panache that was demonstrated in Lyon was as fabulous as it was unexpected. True there had been a shaky start, but once into their stride West Ham were imperious. It feels impolite to single out individual players from a team of heroes but Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio were each at the top of their games. Honourable mention also for Issa Diop and Ben Johnson who might have been exposed but in the hour (and a half) of need were more than up for the challenge.

Compared and contrasted to the Brentford performance, the difference was not of tiredness but of mindset. Will this be the story for the remainder of the season. The glamour, excitement and anticipation of Europa League glory forcing mundane Premier League matches to the back of the mind. Results yesterday have, for the second week running, left the door to the top six finish teasingly ajar. Can the opportunity be gratefully seized this time around, allowing the Hammers to spend the rest of Easter in 5th place?

To quote a well-worn cliché David Moyes must take each game as it comes. The record following midweek European games has not that impressive to date, his team having won only three and lost five of nine matches. Although two of those wins were against Tottenham and Liverpool.

In an ideal world today is the perfect time for the fresh legs of fringe players to give key individuals a well-earned breather. But I don’t see that happening this weekend. What happens in the Chelsea and Arsenal games that sandwich the Europa League semi-final ties will cause more of a selection dilemma.

There will be changes today but the starting eleven will closely resemble that which triumphed in Lyon. Lukasz Fabianski and Aaron Cresswell will likely return, and there may be a toss up between Vladimir Coufal and Ben Johnson at right back. Possibly Said Benrahma or Nikola Vlasic could receive the call in place of Manuel Lanzini, but that would be an outside bet. Predicted team: Fabianski, Johnson, Dawson, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Fornals, Antonio.

The pre-match debate has been dominated by the surprising news that Sean Dyche has been sacked as Burnley manager. In a move reminiscent of turkeys voting for Christmas, the Claret’s board have virtually guaranteed relegation for the club. Fat Frank couldn’t have believed his luck when the story broke. The timing is quite bizarre, unless there have been behind the scenes shenanigans that we are not aware of. I’ve never been a huge fan of Burnley’s agricultural style under the gravelly voiced one, but you have to admire the pragmatism that has kept Burnley in the topflight since 2016 on a shoestring budget.

With most of the backroom staff also getting their marching orders, temporary team management duties have fallen to Under-23s boss, Michael Jackson. So today, could be a Thriller, or else it could be Bad!

It is difficult to imagine that Burnley won’t be in a state of disarray for the game. It is a perfect time for the Hammers to hit them when they’re down – which they will be come the end of the season. A healthy 3-0 win and a chance to give a few youngsters a run from the bench. COYI!

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!