Wouldn’t It Be Good If West Ham could renew their acquaintance with Eintracht Frankfurt? But Tottenham first on Sunday and then Lyon in April.

Since I first went to Upton Park in November 1958 I have seen many great games of football where West Ham have been playing. And Thursday night’s great win over Seville is yet another of the superb matches. The Europa League experts who had never previously been eliminated by an English club in the competition were beaten in extra time with the second emotional winner scored in a week by our Ukrainian Andriy Yarmolenko. But there were great performances all around the field, from the magnificent save by Areola when the score was 0-0 to the tireless Antonio up front, and all the players in between.

Great credit to David Moyes and his coaching staff for the past two seasons, but one area that has been improved immeasurably is the fitness of the whole squad of players. While the Spaniards were making every substitution available to them, we kept almost every player from the starting eleven on the pitch for virtually 120 minutes. And which team were by far the stronger in extra time? Which team wanted to win the game without resorting to penalties? Undoubtedly it was West Ham.

In the last 63 years my favourite ever West Ham game remains the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup semi final second leg that I watched from the North Bank at Upton Park on a night of torrential rain on April 14th 1976. A packed 39,000 plus crowd witnessed a great comeback when we overcame a 2-1 deficit from the first leg in Germany with goals from Keith Robson and two from a majestic performance from the brilliant Sir Trev. There was an electric atmosphere that night and it was repeated with 60,000 in the London Stadium on Thursday.

Friday’s draw gave us the intriguing and enticing possibility of a repeat semi-final against those same opponents from 1976. But first we must overcome Lyon of France, whilst the Germans must beat the tournament favourites Barcelona in the quarter finals. The French team have been disappointing in their domestic league and are currently tenth in mid-table, although their European performances have been much better.

Today’s game against Tottenham comes up very quickly after the extra time exertions of Thursday night and winning will be a difficult task. Friday night’s surprise win by Leeds at Molyneux strengthens our potential to finish in the top seven, although at the moment my understanding is that only the top six will qualify for European competition next season. But if one of the top 4 wins the FA Cup then qualification could fall as low as seventh place, so we are hoping that Manchester City, Chelsea or Liverpool lift that trophy in May. Of course we can ensure qualification if we win the Europa League!

We have a decent record against Tottenham in recent times having won our last two Premier League games against them, but both of those were at the London Stadium. At White Hart Lane we have only won two of the 19 encounters the last one being three years ago when Michail Antonio scored the only goal to inflict Spurs first home defeat at their new stadium. Antonio has scored six Premier League goals against Tottenham, more than he has netted against any other opponents. But it remains to be seen how fit he is after 120 minutes on Thursday night when he was a doubt for that game. Those of you who remember when they used to publish an unofficial London championship in the programme many years ago might like to know that in this season to date Tottenham are currently bottom, having lost five of their seven games.

Tottenham have had a bit of an up and down time so far this season, and it would be great to beat them in this game, but they are understandably the bookies odds-on favourites to win. A draw wouldn’t be the worst result for us looking at the remaining fixtures this season, perhaps 2-2? What are the chances?

West Ham Expects: Cockney Brigade Can Roar The Hammers To Euro Victory

El Cid, King Juan Carlos, Placido Domingo, Don Quixote, Seve Ballesteros, Penelope Cruz, Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Your boys are going to take one hell of a beating …

The gold standard for European nights at Upton Park was the European Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final second leg against Eintracht Frankfurt in April 1976. The floodlights, torrential rain, a sodden, muddy pitch, and an imperious display from Trevor Brooking. Most of those elements will be missing tonight but if the crowd can generate the equivalent energy that fizzed around the old Boleyn Ground on that day, then it could be enough to push the Hammers past Sevilla tonight. The Twelfth Man, your time has come!

It is depressing to have to drag up a match from 46 years ago to illustrate how special these nights can be. But it was a game that those lucky enough to experience will never forget. In an otherwise erratic and disappointing 1975/76 season, West Ham were top of the league after fifteen games in early November. They were still a respectable sixth place at Christmas, but by the end of the season had plummeted to eighteenth out of twenty-two. From topping the league, they lost seventeen of the final twenty-seven games, winning just four times.

Yet the European adventure told a different story. The quarter final had already seen a stirring comeback against Den Haag, overturning a 4-2 deficit from the first leg to win 3-1 in the second and go through on away goals. In the semi-final, the Hammers had lost 2-1 in Germany but again triumphed 3-1 in the return game to win 4-3 on aggregate. Following an exciting but goalless first-half, West Ham raced into 3 goal lead with two goals from Brooking and one from Keith Robson. True to form the Hammers then sat back, conceded a late goal and were forced to endure a customary heart stopping final few minutes. Nothing changes!

It’s a shame that the Sevilla game hasn’t come later in the competition but it promises to be cup football at its best. A delicately balanced tie with all the ingredients for a memorable night of action. Maybe people will still be reminiscing about tonight in the year 2068. And maybe, West Ham will have signed a new striker by then!

Most of the pre-match speculation will centre on the fitness of the three recently injured players – Michail Antonio, Aaron Cresswell and Jarrod Bowen. Reports from the usual unreliable journalists have proved inconclusive but according to the tea leaves, Bowen is the least likely to be available. With outside chances that the other two will be able to play some part in the matchday squad.

It would be a MASSIVE blow to lose both Antonio and Bowen. Despite Andriy Yarmolenko’s emotional involvement, and fine goal, on Sunday, I wouldn’t fancy him for the whole ninety minutes. He just doesn’t have the stamina and energy to match the undoubted technical ability. I really have no confidence that Nikola Vlasic might adequately share the striker burden with Yarmolenko, as some reports have suggested. With the only other option being the untried Sonny Perkins, I appeal to the footballing gods that Antonio is able to play at least a half.

Should Cresswell not make it then the obvious switch is Ben Johnson left back and Ryan Fredericks coming in on the right. I thought Fredericks did OK on Sunday but still don’t seem him as anywhere close to Johnson defensively.

The rest of the team picks itself. Kurt Zouma and Craig Dawson at the heart of defence, Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek in front of them, and an attacking midfield trio of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, and Said Benrahma. Fornals and Benrahma are two players who need to step up tonight. Both were generally poor at the weekend despite their respective goals and assist. They must do better at keeping the ball and make the right passes at the right time. Too often we are left painting ourselves into congested areas.

For Sevilla, Delaney is available after serving a one match ban but his place on the suspended list is taken by Ocampos. Martial and En-Nesryi will provide the attacking threat for a side who, by their own standards, have not been in the best of form lately. Although still second in La Liga, they have won just four of their twelve, all at home. In their last six outings they have scored five and conceded only four. They are not invincible but equally not easy to break down.

For West Ham to progress in the competition will require passion, intensity, and patience – from players and supporters alike.  Sevilla may have a mean defence, but enough chances were created in Spain to have come away with a draw. We just need to make sure we take them this time and keep on plugging away. With 60,000 enthusiastic east-end voices roaring them on, it will lift the home side and intimidate the opposition. We cannot let Sevilla silence the crowd through time wasting, tactical head injuries and miscellaneous other unsporting chicanery. Stand loud and proud with the team until the final whistle.

Can we win this? Yes, we can. It is a night that can go down as one of the greatest in living memory. Get out there and enjoy it. I sense a repeat of that Eintracht Frankfurt score-line. West Ham to win 3-1 with a chance of meeting the Germans again on the road to the final.  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?

Will West Ham Reign In Spain Or Be Straight Back On The Plane?

The Hammers face a stern test with one of the toughest possible Europa League ties of the round. Can Moyes men triumph against six times winners, Sevilla?

The West Ham European adventure returns after a three month absence break and rolls into Andalusia tonight for the first leg of a make or break Europa League contest with Sevilla.

With the faint hopes of a top four finish receding by the week, the Europa League has arguably always been the Hammers best chance of glory. Sure, there are plenty of good teams left in the competition, but none are as strong as the top three that need to be overcome (or avoided) to win a domestic trophy. Who would bet against one of Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea lifting the FA Cup once again this year?

West Ham’s passage through the Europa League group stages was a relatively painless one. It was not the toughest of groups and qualification as winners meant sitting out the Play Off round, when Champions League flops receive their get out of gaol card. If there were hopes for an easy route to the final stages, these were spectacularly dashed when the Hammers were paired against Europa League specialists, Sevilla, in the Round of 16.

Despite a strong season in La Liga, where they are in second place, Sevilla experienced a disappointing Champions League campaign. A home win against Wolfsburg their only success, while defeats to Lille and Salzburg and three draws consigned them to a sorry third place finish. However, a 3-2 aggregate victory over Dinamo Zagreb (runners up in the Hammer’s group) in the Europa League Play Offs set up tonight’s clash. The Spaniards have famously won the competition six times, more than any other club, and along with compatriots, Barcelona, and RB Leipzig lead the bookmaker’s odds to be this year’s winners.

With the competition now entering the real knockout phase, the true spirit of cup competition, it will be interesting to see how David Moyes approaches a two-legged affair. There are sure to be elements of safety-first in Moyes plan against a side who neither score nor concede many goals. Sevilla generally boss possession and that may allow the Hammers to play to their strength of creating scoring opportunities on the break. What they must avoid is being as careless with their chances as they were in the last two games at Southampton and Liverpool.

Team selection news is good and bad. The good news being that Declan Rice will be fit enough to start; the bad that Jarrod Bowen is out, which is a big blow. I think we can assume David Moyes will be selecting his strongest possible side now we have reached this stage of the competition. This would mean Lukasz Fabianski replacing Alphonse Areola between the sticks, even though Areola had appeared in five of the six group games. There is little indication that Moyes sees the Frenchman as the long term ‘Number 1’ replacement – adding even further complication to the summer transfer business.

I understand Sevilla play a fluid 4-3-3 formation and Moyes might choose to match them up. The returning Rice joining Tomas Soucek and Manuel Lanzini in a midfield three, and either Nikola Vlasic or Said Benrahma linking up with Michail Antonio and Pablo Fornals up top – Fornals moving to the right and Vlasic/ Benrahma on the left.

Defensively it should be a familiar four of Ben Johnson, Kurt Zouma, Craig Dawson, and Aaron Cresswell. I have seen speculation of Ryan Fredericks coming in at right back, but this must have written by someone under the influence of hallucinogenics. It is unfortunate, but Fredericks has nothing to offer at this level other than a mythical pace that is rarely used to good effect. Who can see him as a better defender than Johnson?

Sevilla have a number of injury concerns and Danish midfielder Thomas Delaney is suspended having been sent off in Zagreb. They may feature Manchester United loanee, Anthony Martial, in attack.

The objective today will be to end the night with the tie still alive. A win would excellent, a draw acceptable, even a narrow defeat. But I wouldn’t fancy our chances at pulling back more than a one goal deficit at the London Stadium. The jeopardy of a finely balanced second leg cup tie under the floodlights is the stuff of legends, and long term memories.

I only know Sevilla by reputation. They will be tough opponents but, on our day, so are we. Sevilla have won just three of their last ten, so a positive result is not out of the question. Keeping the shape and taking our chances will be essential. Michail Antonio may well be a key player if he is on his game. His unconventional approach fully capable of rattling an unaccustomed defence. Let’s hope he is treated fairly by the officials. And remember, the away goals rule, originally introduced in 1965, no longer applies in this competition. COYI!

Double Trouble: West Ham Facing Daunting Trips To Liverpool And Sevilla. How Will They Fare?

Following FA Cup elimination, West Ham now face two crucial games in a week to determine if they can continue fighting on two fronts for Premier League and Europa League glory

A week is a long time in football, especially one that will have such a defining effect on the entire season. The West Ham’s week started with the high of a win against Wolves, sunk to the low of defeat in the FA Cup at Southampton, and must now rise to the challenge of a game where, historically, we rarely come away with anything more than a ticket stub and an empty pie wrapper.  

The decision by David Moyes to change formation to a back three with wing backs worked well against Wolves. It drew a much better performance from of the team and brought back a touch of the swagger that had gone missing. It was surprising how many decent chances were created against what is one of the meanest defences in the league. And to cap it off there was a fine man-of-the-match performance from Kurt Zouma to enjoy.

I do wonder, though, what might have happened had Wolves started with their strongest side and shown greater adventure. It was the strangest decision from Bruno Lage to leave all of Jimenez, Podence, and Neto on the bench for so long.

When the starting lineups were announced at St Marys it appeared history might be repeating itself in a matter of a few days. Ralph Hasenhüttl opting to field a second string while David Moyes selected nine of the eleven that had played most of the game three days earlier. It can’t have gone unnoticed that the Saints have far greater squad depth than us.

Ultimately, for the second time this season, a Southampton victory hinged on the eccentric interpretation of tussles taking place between Craig Dawson and Armando Broja inside and outside the area. On each occasions the outcome was Ward-Prowse blasting home emphatically from the spot. Disappointingly, the FA Cup years-of-hurt clock will now tick over to 43. A shame the FA don’t take a leaf out of the UEFA book and allow defeated clubs to drop down into the FA Trophy. I could fancy our chances against Needham Market in the last eight.

In the six meetings at Anfield since the Dmitri Payet inspired win in 2015 – the game that ended a 52-year drought – the Hammers have reverted meekly to type, losing (the last) four and drawing the other two. It would take something really special to disrupt that new sequence today. We are habitually reminded that Moyes has never managed a team to victory at Anfield, from seventeen previous attempts. Another record that will need to be shattered if West Ham are to register a season win double over the Merseysiders this evening.

I consider the win over Liverpool at the London Stadium in November as the Hammers finest performance of the season. Sadly, the international break intervened, and the same heights were never reached again. In previewing that game, I mentioned a grudging respect for Jurgen Klopp, but he lost me that day revealing himself as a poor and ungracious loser. Just because they missed out on a club record unbeaten run. Fortunately for him, his side have lost just one league game since.

There is little need for debate over the Hammer’s line-up. The team pretty much picks itself. Not the result of outstanding performances all round, but due to the absence of realistic alternatives. If there is to be a debate, it is whether Moyes will stick with the same formation that won at Wolves. The team did look better balanced, but we really don’t have the personnel capable of excelling in the wing-back roles. Normally, they are the ones meant to be the providing attacking width and getting behind the opposition defence. Ben Johnson is a fine defender who has the energy to get forward, but he lacks the composure to deliver when he gets there. Pablo Fornals works as hard as anyone and can show great vision with his passing, just not often enough. But he is not a wing-back and is not strong on his left foot. Square pegs in round holes.

There is a chance, I suppose, that Moyes will rest a few today with the Thrilla in Sevilla looming on the horizon. It would be a surprise to me, but it is possible. As things stand the likes of Nikola Vlasic, Alex Kral, Andriy Yarmolenko are best left on the bench. With Said Benrahma still sitting on the naughty step after last week’s outburst.

Liverpool have a few injury problems of their own and may be without Firmino, Matip, Thiago, Keita, and Jones. It is a strong squad, though, and they have plenty of attacking options to pick from: Salah, Jota, Diaz, Mane, and Origi. Read that and weep, Moysie.

The Hammers are hardly likely to register on the Oracle Cloud Win Probability for this one. The only glimmer of hope is that Liverpool won’t be sitting back and expecting us to break them down. Our twin threats of counter-attacking goals and set-pieces could cause Liverpool concerns, as they did at the London Stadium. But the game will be more about keeping Liverpool quiet and keeping their full backs occupied at the back. That will be the key to any success. COYI!

  

Two Weeks To Save The Season: West Ham’s Fateful Fortnight Begins With The Wolves At The Door

The top four dream fades by the week. Can David Moyes wake up and shake up his Hammers for the visit of in-form Wolverhampton?

Before the season started my prediction for West Ham’s finishing position in the Premier League was 10th. I felt it would be a struggle to reproduce the previous seasons success alongside a European campaign. The most probable outcome now is that the Hammers will end up somewhere between 6th and 8th. In that context the team will have exceeded my expectations.

Of course, there is still time for things to change. A few weeks ago, most were certain of Manchester City winning the title at a canter, with Norwich, Watford, and Burnley dead certs for relegation. Now, Liverpool are piling on the pressure at the top while Leeds (how did we lose to them), Brentford (how did we lose to them) and Everton are being dragged into the battle at the bottom.

For a team sitting in the top six and still in two cup competitions, there is plenty of disquiet among Hammers supporters. A combination of poor results, mediocre performances, and a shambles of a transfer window. It is easy to understand. They showed us a dream of the top four but complacency has it looking unattainable. As the song lyric by James put it: “Now I’ve swung back down again, it’s worse than it was before, if I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.

Whatever happens between now and May, the next two weeks will be pivotal to how we remember the 2021/22 season. The sequence starts with today’s match up with close rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, then an FA Cup visit to in-form Southampton at fortress St Marys, followed by the perennially fruitless trip to title-chasing Liverpool, and rounded off by the Thrilla in Sevilla ©.

A variety of factors seem to have contributed to the West Ham slump. Individual loss of form, playing with injuries, fatigue, and opponents working us out are among the most obvious. Ultimately all come back to a ridiculously thin squad and a bench that the manager doesn’t really trust. There are just not the options for rest, freshening things up or trying something different.

I still believe that David Moyes has done a fantastic job considering the position he found us in. But just like Leeds are discovering, a change of plan is required when Plan A isn’t working. Thankfully, Moyes Plan A isn’t as bad as Bielsa’s.  

The issues with the squad should clearly have been addressed in January but weren’t. There are too many limitations to play anything other than a counter-attacking game, even if we have some fine individual players. Genuine width and pace down the flanks, the ability to go past an opponent, the basics of pass and move, a dead-ball specialist are all in short supply. Adjusting the 4-2-3-1 (which is increasingly overrun in midfield) to a 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 look equally problematic. Something needs to change but nothing obvious sticks out.

Will there be any adjustments to the side that failed to impress against Newcastle? Ben Johnson in for the injured Vladimir Coufal, I would think. Possibly one of Manuel Lanzini or Pablo Fornals dropping into a midfield three with Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek. Leaving a front three of Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio and Said Benrahma (or Nikola Vlasic). It might improve the balance in what is likely to be a tight and cagey affair.

Wolves are in a fine run of form despite their late setback in midweek at Arsenal. Back in November, Wolves ended West Ham’s four match winning streak when Jimenez scored the only goal in an otherwise uninspiring game. In many ways, the Mexican is the ideal hold-up player in a team that score few, but concede even fewer. Manager Bruno Lage now has further options upfront with the long-awaited return of the impressive Neto providing competition for Hwang and Podence.

Nothing suggests to me that it will be anything but an afternoon of hard labour for the Hammers. Little threat to the Wolves goal was on show at Molineux other than hopeful long-range pot shots. Will it be any different today? Antonio’s customary Row Z skier, Benrahma’s curling it past the post, and Bowen hitting the bar. There is always a set piece, I suppose, and an early goal can easily change the complexion of a match.

As much as I would like to see a perfect Craig Dawson hattrick, I think this game might ending goalless. COYI!   

Bring Back That Winning Feeling: Can Moyes Liven Up Listless Hammers For Geordie Challenge

A crucial period for West Ham’s season begins with the visit of rejuvenated Newcastle United to the London Stadium. Can they see off the big spending Magpies?

A large part of winning football matches is the belief that you are going to win when you step out onto the pitch. As West Ham prepare for Saturday’s early kick-off against Newcastle, the sense is that the Hammers have lost that winning feeling, just as the Magpie’s have suddenly found it.

Last week’s draw at Leicester was a perfect example of the current apprehension at the club. In itself, a point at Leicester is no disgrace, but after taking an early lead against a side seemingly bereft of any attacking ideas, the reluctance or inability to press home the advantage was a disappointment and would ultimately cost a couple of points.

Quite what Aaron Cresswell was thinking in conceding that blatant penalty just before the break is a mystery, but it proved the ideal half team talk for the host’s manager. It came as no surprise at all when Leicester bagged their second to edge in front. Barnes had been giving Vladimir Coufal a torrid time in the second period and, not for the first time in recent weeks, Cresswell lost his man as Pereira ran in to score. Thankfully, we managed to show some character in the closing moments as Craig Dawson shouldered home a late corner.

The next two home games against Newcastle and Wolves, followed by a tricky FA Cup trip to Southampton, will now set the tone for the remainder of the season. The threadbare squad has to rediscover its spark if they are to make anything of it. Otherwise the season might fizzle out with Europe the only lifeline.

At least, we were able to watch from the sidelines as the Europa League Knockout Round got underway. There were good wins for Rangers, Sherrif and Sevilla in the first legs but the other ties remain on a knife edge. Some way to go before West Ham know their Round of 16 opponents. The Spanish sides by far the greatest threat.

A run of three successive league wins has pulled the visitors clear of the relegation places, which increasingly look to be a foregone conclusion. The cash rich Geordies were able to throw money at the problem without the usual concerns that buying a few duds, or spending on short term fixes, will hamstring them in future windows. A stark contrast to West Ham, at the other extreme, who preferred to risk a huge opportunity rather than invest on much needed reinforcements because they might be less than perfect.

No doubt, we will see Newcastle competing for honours at some point in the future, but with a whole new squad of players and after two or three managerial changes.

As things stand, David Moyes may have the fewest realistic options for team selection than any other manager in the Premier League. Reportedly, Kurt Zouma is available again after his mystery illness to is tipped to replace Issa Diop, who to be fair, put in a very good performance at the King Power.

Personally, I would prefer to see Ben Johnson replace Coufal and have no idea why Ryan Fredericks is seen as the first choice replacement at right back. Fredericks sole attribute is his pace, yet is so reluctant to use it. With a team shape that relies on the full-backs for width, none of them get forward frequently enough or far enough to be consistently effective.

Other than that, it is down to the weekly permutation of any 2 from 4 to play alongside Jarrod Bowen in attacking midfield. The Hammers did look a livelier once Said Benrahma and Nikola Vlasic replaced Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals at Leicester, but all four have both positives and clear shortcomings. Benrahma potentially offers the greater creativity and goal threat but his decision making remains woefully erratic.

By default, the out of sorts Michail Antonio must continue up front. My preferred team would be: Fabianski, Johnson, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma, Antonio.

West Ham are becoming increasingly dependent of Declan Rice and Bowen, the only two candidates for Hammer of the Year. Despite their brilliance, we should not ignore how their changing roles have impacted other areas of the Moyes machine. Rice’s greater freedom showing up Tomas Soucek’s limitations once you take away his goals, despite the good defensive work he continues to offer. Bowen has been given/ taken up more central and forward positions in the most recent games. This is understandable from an attacking perspective but has reduced defensive cover on right hand side, exposing Coufal’s lack of pace to a wider audience. A couple of tweaks from the coaching side may well be necessary.

West Ham versus Newcastle games have a history of plenty of goals. Saturday’s game is likely to be no exception. In a fit of desperate optimism I take the Hammers to match their opening day success and run out 4-2 winners. COYI!

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action, Please. Can West Ham Grab The Points At Leicester?

Stuttering West Ham are still in with a shout of top four but must up their performances on the pitch if it is to be sustained

At this stage last season, West Ham were two points better off than they are now – 42 points against 40. back then, we were in the early stages of the Lingard bounce that briefly raised hopes of a top four finish, that were ultimately undone by the injury to Declan Rice. The Hammers eventually ending the season in sixth place with 65 points.  

By comparison, today’s opponents, Leicester City, were on 46 points from the same number of games (ending with 66 points) while Liverpool, who eventually finished 3rd (69 points), sat on 40 points – the same as West Ham have now. It would need a Liverpool like surge to bring Champions League football to the London Stadium – averaging at two points per game until the end of the season. With no new faces to freshen up the squad it looks a huge challenge for a side where results are currently exceeding performances.

The midweek games did, however, offer a glimmer of hope. None of the chasing pack are pulling up any trees. All are beset with inconsistency. With Manchester United also dropping points yesterday, there is still hope for the Hammers if a new head of steam can be found. As things stand, Arteta’s unpleasant Arsenal side look the most likely, but hopefully their poor discipline will let them down.

West Ham’s win over Watford was uninspiring fare. The continuing problem of few ideas when faced with a deep and disciplined defence was all too apparent. And having no game changers on a depressingly tired looking bench never fails to depress.

The winning goal had an element of luck about it, but it was telling that it came when Jarrod Bowen drifted in to a more central area. If only he could play in more than one position at the same time we would be laughing. Unfortunately, none of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma or Nikola Vlasic truly cuts it in the creative Number 10 position. Lanzini probably the pick of the bunch.

Of course, action on the pitch was overshadowed by the continued fallout from the Kurt Zouma affair. It was a disgraceful act from Zouma (and his brother) but some of the reaction from the pundit community has been hysterical. An escalation of outrage (and hypocrisy) as to who can come up with the most draconian career ending punishment – and generate the most clicks in the process. The media will find someone else to kick soon enough. Zouma deserves to be penalised, but it must be proportionate.

Leicester’s season has been underwhelming by recent standards. Currently in the bottom half of the table, out of Europe and soundly thrashed in the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest last weekend. Although manager, Brendan Rodgers, comes across as a bit of plonker sometimes – I blame him for the excruciating phrase “in the conversation” – he is a good manager. It is ludicrous that he should be under pressure.

David Moyes cites Leicester as a model for clubs looking to break into the top six on a regular basis. But Leicester’s experience also demonstrates how difficult that is without massive financial resources. When you regularly sell top players, even if it is at a handsome profit, it relies heavily on the replacements paying off more often than not. It is very much a lottery.

Rodgers has been unlucky with injuries. The promising Fofana has been a huge miss in an otherwise shaky defence. He is also witnessing the twilight of Jamie Vardy’s career, a player who has so often been the match winner for the Foxes over the years. As we all know, strikers like that are difficult to replace.

Like West Ham, Leicester have also found it difficult in games where they are forced to take the initiative rather than relying on counter attacks. Potentially, Madison has the ability to unpick defences but he seems to have lost his way of late.

Once again, we have to say the West Ham team largely picks itself. Not due to the brilliance of performance, but down to the lack of realistic options. My predicted line-up: Fabianski, Coufal, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Benrahma, Antonio. We must hope that Michail Antonio has recovered from his Caribbean jet-lag and is ready to do his bit for the cause. It will be interesting to see whether Andriy Yarmolenko makes it to the squad after his demotion to the U23’s, and subsequent red card, in the week. Please can we have a little more imagination with the bench?

West Ham have a good recent record against Leicester, having won the last three meetings. The Foxes style suits the Hammers counter-attacking game. I am expecting a close game which the Hammers need to win to stay in the conversation for fourth place. Leicester 1 West Ham 2. COYI!

After A Fortunate FA Cup Win West Ham Will Need More Than Rice and Luck To See Off The Hornets

It’s back to league action after a disappointing transfer window and then scraping past Kidderminster in the FA Cup. Time for the players to show they are more than a one-man band

I’m still not sure what to make of that performance against Kidderminster Harriers. How could a non-League side pass better, be more confident on the ball and have more ideas than a highly paid team from the Premier League’s top six? Was it just a case of poor attitude on the day against very committed opponents? Or are the Hammers reverting to type? If David Moyes had ordered a slice of luck before the game, he got a far larger portion than was deserved.

The first half was possibly the worst 45 minutes from West Ham for several years. I don’t recall any meaningful chances being created. It was a collective failure by all the players to impose themselves and their supposed superiority on the game. The performance of fringe players was a clear reminder of just how thin the squad is. Mark Noble was pedestrian and played far too deep; Nikola Vlasic was so anonymous it was easy to forget he was on the pitch; Andriy Yarmolenko was lethargic and disinterested throughout the whole two hours; Alex Kral was obsessed with playing first time passes without ever looking up; Issa Diop looked terrified of the opposition Number 9, while he and Ryan Fredericks looked like rabbits startled by the headlights each time the ball came to their feet. Neither did Alphone Areola do himself any favours in his quest to claim the Number 1 spot.

Incredible to think that the likes of Yarmolenko (106 caps), Vlasic (33) and Kral (29) are seasoned international players. This was the type of game they (as well as Said Benrahma) should be taking by the scruff of the neck and demonstrating their class. And whose daft idea was the short corner routine?

It was only the introduction of Declan Rice that eventually raised the tempo above comatose. What a poor side we look without him. Not a reassuring glimpse of a post Decxit future. We can’t always expect him to do all it by himself, even if he will try to. What a player! Surely, one of the best ever and an automatic choice in everyone’s all-time West Ham XI.

It was a heart-breaking way for Kidderminster to lose. They didn’t deserve to lose at all, and the timing of the goals must have been particularly distressing. Still the Hammers live to fight another round, although I am not confident on the chances of overcoming our next opponents. Maybe every cup run deserves a stroke of luck somewhere along the way. We may already have used ours up.

It’s back to league action tonight with Watford the visitors to the London Stadium. A quick re-match to follow on from the Hammers 4-1 win at Vicarage Road five weeks ago. Five weeks is a long time at Watford Football Club though and in that time they have swapped one ageing manager for another – Roy Hodgson replacing Claudio Ranieri. They have a very different concept of Manager of the Month in the Hornet’s boardroom.

Hodgson seems an odd choice to me. No doubt his team will be better organised and more difficult to beat than the shambles put out by Ranieri, but that may not be enough. The relegation race still looks like a four-horse race to me – Burnley, Newcastle, Watford, and Norwich – and the one that gets away will be the one able to score enough goals to win games. Difficult to imagine Hodgson’s Watford doing that.

As amusing as it would be, I can’t see Lampard Jr’s side getting dragged into the equation. Having crunched the numbers through the algorithm with my AI Predictor Pin TM I suspect it will be big spending Newcastle who will survive the drop.

Watford survived a drab goalless draw with fellow strugglers Burnley at the weekend and I doubt they will turn up tonight with entertainment on their minds. They are able to welcome Dennis back from suspension but are again without Sarr who has yet to return from AFCON.

Just as we were about to celebrate Kurt Zouma’s recovery from his worrying injury at the weekend, the dreadful story broke of his cat kicking exploits. Why anyone would do that is impossible to understand. Why they would also want it to be filmed for posterity is staggering. Zouma has made what passes for an apology these days – sorry I was caught out or sorry you were upset – but I would be surprised if he is included in today’s squad. His absence would have a huge impact, but the club need to make a stand for decency, even if it means playing Diop again.

Moyes will know he doesn’t have many options in team selection. His decision making will be limited to Coufal or Johnson at right back and which two of Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, and Manuel Lanzini joins Jarrod Bowen in the attacking midfield three. All that supposes Michail Antonio is fit and ready to resume the striker role. Bowen is not a viable alternative and his use there just weakens the team in two positions.

Predicted team: Fabianski, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma, Antonio

West Ham need to quickly get back to winning ways in the league if they are to build on an excellent first half of the season. A home fixture against Watford would have seemed straightforward some weeks ago. But to win they will need to break down what will be a determined and committed Watford rear-guard action. Unfortunately, there is scant recent evidence the Hammers are capable of this. Apart from the skipper, creativity and ideas are in very short supply.  Could a set piece once again be our best opportunity? Not if they persist with short corners, it won’t!

It’s a half-hearted uncertain prediction, this time around, but I will go West Ham to win 2-0. COYI!    

From Botched Transfer Slip Ups To Tricky FA Cup Banana Skin: West Ham Visit Kidderminster Harriers

With the fan furore following a disastrous transfer window fresh in the memory, West Ham will want to avoid further mishap as they visit non-league Kidderminster in the FA Cup

The extraordinary failure by West Ham to complete any business in the January transfer window has continued to reverberate among Hammers supporters since Monday’s deadline. Even allowing for years of bitter disappointment and the slippery nature of our owners, many of us were left incredulous that no much needed reinforcements to the threadbare London Stadium squad would be arriving.

Without any official explanation of what happened during those 31 days of January it was left to guesswork and supposition to fill the information vacuum. A litany of claims, theories, and hard-luck stories about time running out. I was very disappointed in David Moyes puff PR video on the official site where the manager trotted out the perennial ‘we tried our best, it’s a difficult window, everybody worked very hard’ mantra. I have always considered Moyes to be a decent, straightforward and honest chap who is above such corporate whitewash. While I hadn’t expected him to rage against the owners (as a Mourinho or Conte might have done) – he is far too diplomatic for that – he shouldn’t be the one making excuses on their behalf. His praise for the support received from the Board felt way over the top.

Moyes Declares Peace In Our Time Following Meeting With Herr Sullivan

The three probable record bids that are being talked about are likely nothing more than a smokescreen. If bids are made too late, are just enquiries, or set well below valuations, they may as well have never happened. I have read ‘reports’ that there was a real bid submitted for Darwin Nunez but too many people were involved to get it completed in time. Really? With the player away in Uruguay and all the agents who are known to be party to any deal, it came as a surprise that it couldn’t be completed in three hours?

I can accept that the nature of the January window means that most deals are completed in the final hours. But that’s not an excuse not to get the groundwork and preparation sorted well in advance.

The worry at the back of my mind is how the ownership conundrum may be impacting the club’s transfer activity. It is widely anticipated that Gold & Sullivan will wave farewell in 2023 once their obligations under the London Stadium deal come to an end. Indeed, it was reported that Daniel Kretinsky already has an agreement in place to buy the remainder of shares at an agreed price once that happens. Does that mean G&S are only going to be interested in essential maintenance between now and then? Is there any incentive for them to invest further or push forward? Although the Kretinsky deal may only be an option, it does cause concern at a time when the club is enjoying its best period on the pitch for several generations.

West Ham return to football action this weekend with a Saturday lunchtime FA Cup kick-off at Kidderminster Harrier’s Aggborough Stadium. On paper, one of the easier ties of the Fourth Round that pits the Hammers against the lowest ranked side left in the competition. In practice it will a difficult test for a club that is no stranger to embarrassing cup upsets.

Kidderminster are enjoying a successful season in the National League North (the sixth tier of English football) where they currently sit in third place. Tomorrow’s tie will be their seventh in this years Cup having already seen off Sporting Khalsa, Ware, Bedfont Sports, Grimsby Town, FC Halifax Town and Reading.

In the 3rd Round the Harriers came from behind to defeat Championship side Reading with an unusual winning goal where a Kidderminster player was sitting on top of the Reading keeper when the ball went in. An old fashioned goalmouth scramble with no VAR available to get Reading out of jail. VAR will again be absent today in a match which must end in a winner, with extra time and penalties if needed.

The only previous meeting between West Ham and Kidderminster was a 5th Round FA Cup tie in February 1994. The match played at a misty, muddy incarnation of Saturday’s venue. The Hammers squeezed through 1-0 thanks to a second half headed goal by Lee Chapman. The line-up that day was: Miklosko, Breacker, Potts, Martin, Rowland, Bishop, M Allen, Marsh, Holmes, Chapman, C Allen (Morley). Imagine having the luxury of three strikers in a Matchday squad of twelve!

Moyes will want to field a strong side for the game. One that will be up for the physical challenge against a highly motivated opponent. However, with Premier League games against Watford on Tuesday and Leicester the following Sunday, some rotation may be necessary.

Michail Antonio is a likely absentee after his international duty in the Americas with Jarrod Bowen taking over striker duties. It was unusual comment from Moyes to suggest that Bowen is the ideal replacement for Antonio as they are very different types of player. The only similarity is that neither is a natural finisher. And Bowen switching to the centre leaves an almighty gap on the right hand side of attacking midfield.

Moyes does have options in midfield where Mark Noble and even Alex Kral (is he considered good enough for this challenge) could allow Declan Rice or Tomas Soucek to be held in reserve. I’m hoping there is a recall for Ben Johnson in defence as it was a mystery why Ryan Fredericks was preferred to him at Old Trafford. I am also hoping that Kurt Zouma plays given that I have lost all confidence in the Craig Dawson/ Issa Diop partnership.

My predicted line-up: Areola, Johnson, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Noble, Rice, Vlasic, Fornals, Benrahma, Bowen     

Despite West Ham’s vulnerability to shock FA Cup exist, they have yet to be eliminated by a non-League side. At least not since they were elected to the League themselves. There have, though, been several squeaky moments. Such as needing two games (both at Upton Park) to get past Farnborough Town in 1992 and the narrowest of victories against Emley in 1998. It is a record that should be extended this weekend. I’m not expecting an easy game but have to believe we have too much quality not to win by at least two goals. Perhaps there might even be an opportunity to see a couple of academy players from the bench rather than the usual tired, predictable substitutions we are usually treated to. COYI!