West Ham Face Manchester United In Sixth Place Six Pointer Show Down

A pivotal game as two of the wannabe Champions League qualifiers slug it out at Old Trafford

A week is a long time in football. Last weekend I felt quite bullish about West Ham’s prospects of being in the mix for a top four finish. But all of sudden we look like the outsiders among that chasing pack of Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and ourselves. And that is without looking over the shoulder to see Wolves coming up fast on the rails.

If I was deceptively seduced by a run of three wins against Watford, Palace, and Norwich, the performance last Sunday against Leeds was a timely reality check. In an almost action replay of the Southampton loss, we clawed our way back into the game twice, only to invite the visitors to score again rather than seize the initiative. A team with dreams of the top four (or even the top six) cannot afford to regularly drop points to bottom half opponents such as Brentford, Southampton, Palace, and Leeds.

In truth, it feels like the team peaked in the win over Liverpool, even if victory over Chelsea came after that. It’s not that the effort isn’t still there but the swagger and belief look to have gone. The team have gone stale to my mind, desperately needing fresh ingredients to liven things up.

Ironically, given the emphasis by most supporters on striker reinforcement, the problem has not been scoring goals, but in conceding them. No team below West Ham in the table has scored more, but only Leicester in the top half have let more in. Today’s opponents joining the Hammers on thirty goals conceded.

The injuries to Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma have certainly been a major factor in the defensive malaise.  While the backup of Craig Dawson and Issa Diop felt sound enough in theory (and coped admirably in the Europe games) they are weak as a Premier League pairing. Has that vulnerability rubbed off to others in the team? For Vladimir Coufal and Aaron Cresswell also had stinkers last Sunday.

As usual the January transfer window has swollen in the cold weather and won’t open properly – our manager bashing his head against the glass like a frustrated bluebottle. A can of WD40 will hopefully fix the problem for the remaining days. It’s not really a surprise that the nature of the window condenses all activity into the final hours. Selling and buying clubs try not to be the first to blink in the run up to the Manic Monday one-day sale. Maybe Jesse Lingard will finally turn up at the London Stadium – it would never have happened before today’s game.

I sort of understand David Moyes attitude on transfers although he does have a reputation for being overly cautious. There are only finite funds, and any incoming players mustn’t be the type to upset the very happy camp that has been created. At this time of year, we also need players who can make an immediate contribution on the pitch. Not ones who require six months to adapt and settle into the pace of the Premier League. Despite a flurry of late summer business, Zouma is the only regular addition to last year’s preferred eleven. The same shouldn’t be allowed to happen again.

There is speculation that Zouma will return today although that might just be wishful thinking. The hosts strength is their attacking prowess and West Ham will need to show greater defensive resilience if they are to get anything from the game. Zouma’s return would be at the expense of Diop and there could well be another defensive change at right back. Coufal has been below par for some time and would be lucky to retain his place over Ben Johnson – Johnson the better defender in my opinion.

Tomas Soucek should also return to his rightful place alongside Declan Rice, a partnership will be pivotal to any Hammer’s success. It may mean a more forward role for Manuel Lanzini who will be in competition with Pablo Fornals and Nikola Vlasic to play in the attacking midfield three along with Jarrod Bowen. After a promising show against Norwich, Vlasic was another to have a shocker against Leeds. Michail Antonio completes the line-up and it would be a good day for him to rediscover his early season touch.

Is there any chance of more imaginative use of substitutions from Moyes? I wouldn’t hold your breath. I don’t know anything about Xhaka yellow cards but fareastbettingscams.com have an 83rd minute Yarmolenko substitution as odds-on. Why else would you bring him on?

Manchester United have a litany of reported injury and other absences. The unlikely list of possible doubts includes Pogba, Ronaldo, Cavani, McTominay, Sancho, Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka, and Shaw. Expect at least half of them to be ready and available.

The Ralf Rangnick revolution has never really got going at Old Trafford. Early optimism having given way to yet another false dawn with an increasingly petulant squad. They really have wasted a ton of money over the years on a bunch of overpriced prima donnas, reinforcing to some extent Moyes policy of paying attention to the character of new signings.

I’ll admit to not be very confident about today’s game, although the mood will improve if I see Zouma’s name on the teamsheet. The league cup win at Old Trafford in September was a distraction from a winless streak that goes all the way back to the great escape of May 2007. Another slow start could prove disastrous – an early home goal potentially opening the floodgates. On the other hand, it is the type of game that better suits our counter attacking preference – as long as we can keep it tight at the back. Lacking any true conviction, my prediction for what is a very unpredictable match (if that makes any sense) is 2–2. COYI!    

Bullseye Bowen Braced For Back to Back Bonanza As West Ham Face Leeds Once Again

Super, smashing West Ham aim to stay on target against Leeds to show Arsenal and Tottenham what they could have won.

First there was the tactical foul and now we get the tactical postponement. Clubs hoodwinking officials to get games called off until the circumstances are looking better for them to play – taking one for the shareholders, as it were!

The latest miscreants are Arsenal who have pulled out of the scheduled north London due to a Covid epidemic sweeping through the Emirates – and infecting one player. A virus of convenience that will allow the game to be rescheduled at a time when injured players, those away at the AFCON, and any additional January signings are available to play. There is great deal of irony that it is Tottenham complaining about the postponement, given they were early adopters of the Covid get-out clause. It’s the equivalent of Fernandinho campaigning against the professional foul.

A raft of postponements has produced an unbalanced Premier League table with some clubs now having racked up three or four games in hand. While the Hammers will be fully up-to-date at the end of Matchweek 22, their other fourth place rivals remain well behind the curve.

Putting on my claret and blue tinted spectacles for a few moments. Imagine a West Ham victory today which would take them to 40 points from 22 games – safe at last! By comparison: Arsenal have 35 from 20; Tottenham 33 from 18; and Manchester United 32 from 20. A pessimistic view would be that games in hand might be won allowing both North London clubs to leapfrog the Hammers and push us down to 6th. Of course, that can’t actually happen when they are due to play each other.

In reality, though, the teams in our mini-group are averaging around 1.75 points per game, making points in the bank all the more attractive. A return of 1.75 ppg would bring Arsenal up to 39, Tottenham to 40 and Manchester United to 36. All very close and encouraging – and that ignores the extent of the wobbles that might be breaking out at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, now that the title has turned into a predictable one-horse race.

For any of that to make sense, West Ham must play their part and brush past Leeds at the London Stadium this afternoon. The scenario where you play a team in the league immediately after you have knocked them out the cup usually worries me. It is one of those unwritten football superstitions, like a striker returning to score against his old club, where the beaten cup-side exacts revenge on their erstwhile victors. Hopefully, shoehorning the Norwich game in between will have served to break the curse.

It was a fairly routine win over Norwich which could and should have been more convincing. I didn’t think the visitors were as hopeless as some naysayers have claimed. They played some neat football in central areas but were let down by lapses at the back and a lack of a cutting edge up front. You can see why they are struggling although yesterday’s win over Everton would have given them a much needed boost.

Jarrod Bowen is the man of the moment at West Ham and his brace of goals added to a growing reputation both inside and outside the club. There is much to admire in the skill, effort, and energy he brings to the team. He is a player who never gives up and never hides – whether it is chasing back or getting forward to create goalscoring opportunities. A better goal return with less shots of him, head in his hands, after another near miss would be a perfect bonus. I am looking forward to more of his goals today.

I was also impressed with the fluidity showed by the attacking midfield trio of Bowen, Pablo Fornals, and Nikola Vlasic. It looked a lot less rigid than previous combinations with plenty of positional interchange. It will be interesting to see how it works against better sides than Norwich.        

Also encouraging was the selection of academy players sitting on the bench in midweek. Just a shame that none were brought on once the second goal was scored.  What was the point of a few more minutes of Yarmo? From watching U23 highlights online I have been impressed by the contribution of one of the benchwarmers, Pierre Ekwah. Looks to me that he is destined for a big future in the game. Having said that, I have been wrong about academy players many times in the past!

Leeds are hovering above relegation danger but don’t look to be in any real trouble. A bad run of injuries has made it a disappointing season for the Yorkshire club after their thrill-a-minute return to the top-flight in 2020/21. They continue to have a lengthy injury list and will be without several key injured players, as well as having Llorente absent due to suspension. It is possible that Bamford may return from injury although reports are mixed on that likelihood. The biggest threat to the Hammer’s defence will again be posed by the runs of Raphina.

Marcelo Bielsa is regarded as something of a guru inside football, but I do wonder whether his style of play has a limited shelf life unless he is open to adapt and refine. It will also be a question on David Moyes mind as opponents become familiar with the Hammers strengths of rapid counter attacking and set pieces. The guile to break through massed defences is still below par, although that is unlikely to be a worry for this afternoon.

The West Ham line-up will likely be much the same as it was in midweek. There are mooted returns for Tomas Soucek and Kurt Zouma but they may be put on hold until next week at Old Trafford. This makes the Hammers way too strong for a weakened Leeds with West Ham going on to win 3-1. COYI!   

West Ham’s FA Cup Wilderness Years And The Meaning Of Life: The Answer Is 42

It’s FA Cup weekend as West Ham face Leeds as hopeful fans dust off the claret ribbons and dream of parading along Wembley Way in May

Third round day in the FA Cup has long been one of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the footballing calendar. A day when top tier teams enter the mother of all cup competitions. A chance for lower league sides to pull off a shock win and for those clubs who rarely feature among the honours to dream of finals and silverware.

In its 150-year history, forty-three different clubs have won the FA Cup. Arsenal and Manchester United lead the way with fourteen and twelve wins respectively. West Ham are sixteenth in the list of all time winners with three wins to their name, the same as Sheffield Wednesday and one behind Bolton, Wolverhampton and Sheffield United. Two more wins and we catch up with The Wanderers, who have held the trophy five times.

I have been fortunate enough to attend two victorious Wembley finals (1975 and 1980) and a thrilling but ultimately unsuccessful one in Cardiff (2006). The wins have given meaning to a long and often frustrating West Ham supporting life. The most recent win is forty-two years ago now. It was a wonderfully sunny Saturday in May 1980 when the Hammers triumphed over Arsenal through Trevor Brooking’s early headed goal. It remains the last time a team from outside of the top division won the competition.

In the years since that momentous achievement, West Ham’s record for FA Cup exits is as follows: 3rd round (12 times), 4th round (12), 5th round (7), 6th round (8), semi-final (1) and final (1). In the last ten seasons they have only made it as far as the 6th round on one occasion (2016). During those ten years, the Hammers have been eliminated by Manchester United three times and by Manchester City and AFC Wimbledon once each. The Wimbledon defeat one of the regular banana skins that have come the Hammer’s way – Hereford, Grimsby, Torquay, Wrexham and Tranmere among others.

The cup has been increasingly dominated by just 5 big clubs (not you, Tottenham) in recent years. In the Premier League era, only Everton, Portsmouth, Wigan, and Leicester have interrupted that dominance with a single win apiece.  

No chance of a giant-killing this weekend however as West Ham face an all Premier League clash with Leeds United. Although the Hammers record in top tier FA Cup encounters is not impressive, having won just one of their last nineteen.

This is the first time the two teams have met in an FA Cup tie since 1930, when the Hammers ran out 4-1 winners at Upton Park, all four goals scored by Vic Watson. Watson must have enjoyed facing Leeds as the previous season, he had scored six times in an 8-2 first division rampage. What we could achieve with someone like West Ham’s all-time leading scorer in today’s side.

Leeds fans have to go back even further back for an FA Cup final win. Their one and only success being the centenary final, fifty years ago, in 1972 – coincidentally, also a 1-0 win against Arsenal with Allan Clarke netting the only goal.

The big unknown, as ever in modern cup competition, is how the two managers approach the game. How to balance the supporter’s love of a cracking cup run with the demands and rewards of Premier League success. A situation made more intriguing by the fact that the teams meet again in the league next Sunday. An additional challenge for David Moyes being the re-arranged game against Norwich on Wednesday evening.

West Ham will once again be without Kurt Zouma, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell, while Said Benrahma is now away at the AFCON. There will perhaps be starts for Mark Noble, Nikola Vlasic, Alphonse Areola and maybe one or two of the academy hopefuls by way of rotation. Leeds also have a lengthy list of absentees and although Patrick Bamford is close to a return, he is unlikely to be risked in the cup game.

There will be no replays in the 3rd or 4th rounds this season with games going straight to extra time and penalties, if needed. VAR will feature in all games played at Premier League stadiums. The referee is Stuart Atwell while Peter Bankes is at mission control, Stockley Park.

Until the teams are known predicting the outcome is even more of a lottery than normal. I will go for 3-3 after extra time and West Ham to win on penalties. COYI!

The Sparkle Is Back As West Ham Prepare For New Year Fireworks At Selhurst Park

Declan Rice returns to bolster West Ham’s position in the Premier League top six. Let’s hope there is no New Year’s hangover – and no more dodgy VAR decisions

It was fantastic to see West Ham get back to winning ways on Tuesday, even if it was against a woefully disorganised Watford outfit. The Hornet’s generosity with space in midfield space and an accomplished performance from Mark Noble was more than enough to compensate for the absence of Declan Rice. It is difficult to understand what Ranieri is attempting to do at Vicarage Road, but he might not want to unpack all his belongings just yet. For such an experienced manager his team’s approach was naïve and shambolic.

Unfortunately, erratic officiating once again played a far too dominant role in proceedings. Darren England and Jonathan Moss are the latest candidates in a long line of festive comedy double acts. How the challenge by Tomas Soucek prior to Jarrod Bowen ‘goal’ was deemed to be a clear and obvious error, I’ll never know – and how far back in play are they supposed to go in the search of a misdemeanour? And how the referee initially gave a corner after the keeper’s foul on Bowen was baffling. The most comical decision of the night, however, was the foul given against Michail Antonio when he was shoved by the Watford defender into one of his teammates.

The quality of refereeing in the Premier League continues its downward trend. It is a clear and obvious problem for the authorities to address. To be fair, who in their right mind would want to become a referee given the abuse they are likely to get when starting out at grass roots level. Perhaps, it’s why only those with psychopathic tendencies make it all the way through. Why we end up with those who crave the limelight; when good refereeing should be mostly about going unnoticed.

The victory at Watford increased the Hammer’s final tally of league wins in 2021 to 22. A record year by all accounts, and providing a 53.7 win percentage in the league and 54.7% in all competitions. Well done to the manager and players!

In the long held tradition of new year lists, here are my top three bubbling moments of 2021:

  • The pulsating and nail biting 3-2 home win against Liverpool to end their unbeaten run and lifted us into third place in the table
  • The 3-1 swaggering away victory at Aston Villa on Jesse Lingard’s debut
  • The 4-1 win over Leicester in August which hinted that the previous season might not just be a flash in the pan

The most depressing or frustrating moments:

  • The disappointing 3-2 defeat at Newcastle in April – Craig Dawson’s reckless sending off and recovering from a two-goal deficit only to be suckered by a late Newcastle winner
  • Defeat at home to a newly promoted agricultural Brentford side, courtesy of a poorly defended last-minute header from an unnecessarily conceded free-kick  
  • The late Noble substitution and last gasp penalty miss that gifted Manchester United all three points in September
David Squires – The Guardian

My top players of 2021 – Rice, Soucek and Bowen

There has been a changing the guard at today’s opponents Crystal Palace as the ageing legs and dull mediocrity of Roy Hodgson’s legacy starts to be dismantled. How the noisy (some might say irritating) Holmesdale Ultras managed to get so excited by the football equivalent of elevator music is both astonishing and to their credit.

Under the guidance of Patrick Viera, the Eagles (or Glaziers as I used to know them) are slowly transitioning into a more youthful and enterprising unit.  It has allowed them to establish a comfortable mid-table position and become less reliant on former talisman, William Zaha – who now spend most of the game disputing everything and getting increasingly angry.

Viera still has a tough job on his hands if the team are to become anything more than perennial survivors. There is plenty of dead or dying wood to shift (Ward, Tomkins, Kouyate, Ayew and Benteke) while it must be a worry that his best player is on loan from Chelsea. Gallagher was man of the match in the return fixture earlier in the season and one of few opponents who has manage to disrupt Declan Rice’s ascendency.

As with all games these days, final line-ups will be subject to results of late Covid tests. Today will also be the last opportunity before selected players pack their bags and set off for the African Cup of Nations. West Ham will lose Said Benrahma while Palace will go without Zaha, Kouyate and Ayew.

All being the well, the single West Ham change from the team that started in midweek will be the return of Rice at the expense of Noble. It will be interesting to see how the Rice/ Soucek dynamic plays out after the Czech’s more influential and advanced role at Vicarage Road. If David Moyes can achieve optimum balance between Rice’s forward drives and Soucek’s late runs, it would prove formidable.

This is a game that usually has plenty of goals in it. The last time the Hammers failed to score against Palace was 16 games ago – Fat Sam’s West Ham going down 1-0 at Upton Park in April 2014. In the 15 matches since there have been a total of 50 goals scored. It wouldn’t be any great surprise to see the new year’s honours being shared today, but with my optimistic hat on will go for a 2-1 away win. If that does happen, it will be only the host’s second home defeat of the season. COYI!

Hesitant Hammers Hoping For Upset In Hornet’s Nest: Moyes Won’t Be Buzzing

Can West Ham arrest their recent slump against an injury hit and rusty Watford? Or will Dennis prove too much of a menace for the tentative Hammer’s defenders?

Football has long been a game of binary emotions. A run of victories and it’s euphoria. Consecutive losses and it’s a disaster with calls for heads to roll. Our view of individual players lurches from world-class to rubbish over the course of a few weeks. Managers are either buzzing or fuming and supporters can swing effortlessly from ecstasy or outrage in the time it takes to post on Twitter.

There’s no doubt that West Ham are having a major wobble right now. On cloud nine after defeating Liverpool, the team has never really recovered from the international break that followed it. The sparkle and swagger that was shaped during a four-game winning run mysteriously disappeared, even if there was a win over Chelsea in the interim.

The Boxing Day game was arguably the worst West Ham performance for many months, particularly in the first half. It was an odd team selection by David Moyes although his decisions not to name Ben Johnson and Michail Antonio in the starting line-up may have been due to fitness concerns. I think many of us were stunned that Arthur Masuaku had kept his place at left back. But the Hammers recent woes are not all down to Arthur’s erratic interpretation of full-back play. We have seen equally poor performances from Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma. Even the usually reliable Vladimir Coufal has been well below par.

There have read various online theories about the Hammer’s downturn. From doom merchants proclaiming that Moyes has lost the dressing room as opponents have rumbled his dinosaur tactics. To pundits suggesting it has been a Europa League inspired burn-out. Personally, I think it is almost entirely down to the successive injuries suffered by Angelo Ogbonna, Kurt Zouma and Aaron Cresswell. That and the inadequate depth in the squad, other than as emergency cover, that has shattered the confidence and created indecision in our play. Any team that relies on Andriy Yarmolenko as its impact substitution is going to be found wanting.

Which direction the season goes from here will be dictated by how quickly the wounded recover, and what reinforcements (if any) arrive during the transfer window. If I were the manager, I would be banging on the boardroom door for an additional centre back, left back, attacking midfielder and striker. I would want players ready to hit the ground running and I would want them as soon as the window opens, not in the final hours before it closes. It is a strange idea that a player might spend the first year of a three-year contract just to settle in.

As we reach the final game of the calendar year, we should not forget that 2021 has been a very positive period for the Hammers. In 40 Premier League games, there have been 21 wins and seven draws earning a total of 70 points with a goal difference of 19. It is a tremendous achievement given the relatively modest resources. Maybe the return can be improved further after the Watford fixture.

The added dilemma for Moyes today is the one match ban picked up by Declan Rice following a clumsy and unnecessary challenge against Southampton. I believe Moyes will opt for Mark Noble as Rice’s replacement given that Alex Kral has yet to experience a single Premier league minute. He may well get the final 15 or 20 today, though. Johnson must replace Masuaku as the only probable change at the back. In the midfield attacking positions I imagine we will see Jarrod Bowen, Manuel Lanzini and Said Benrahma. While Nikoli Vlasic was no worse than Fornals or Benrahma on Sunday it is still difficult to see what his game is all about. He did look fitter and stronger this time, but I have yet to see what attributes he has to justify the large transfer fee?

Watford have not played since losing at Brentford on December 10 – West Ham have played four games since then. They have several players still missing through injuries and Covid including the potentially dangerous Sarr.  The Hornet’s most impressive player this season has been Dennis with seven goals and a handful of assists to his name in the Premier League. There is also King who can potentially be just as irritating to West Ham as a Hornet as he was during his earlier career. The makeshift Hammer’s defence will need to remain on full alert.

Until recently, my opinion was that VAR was having a far better season. Though it now seems not to have been happy with its much lower profile. I still don’t get how the Dawson foul was a penalty against Southampton. Dermot Gallagher says it was a good call as the foul continued into the box. That’s a new interpretation on me and I look forward to seeing similar and consistent awards in the future. Would it have been given to an away side at Anfield, for example? Added to the other Dawson incident at Molineux and the Coufal penalty against Arsenal, and we see that VAR has done us few favours.

West Ham need a win, any sort of win, to begin rebuilding confidence. On paper a visit to an injury hit Watford is as good a time as any to turn the corner. Watford have looked a poor side and have lost their last four league games. There is little likelihood of Ranieri qualifying for a long service award at Vicarage Road – although he will see this as a winnable game. West Ham of old were the ideal opponents to put an end your winless streak against – as Southampton did on Sunday.  Hopefully, we won’t fall back into those bad old ways.

A scrappy 2-0 win will do for me. COYI!

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!     

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!

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.

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!