What are the chances of six in a row for the Hammers?

Crystal Palace stand in the way of West Ham extending their winning run in 2021

It has been well reported that for the first time in our 125 year history West Ham have won the first five games in a calendar year. Three of them have been in the Premier League and two against lower league opposition in the FA Cup, where we have so frequently slipped up in the past. Our win over Doncaster Rovers on Saturday was a professional performance, and gave an opportunity to several fringe players to impress the manager.

For me, Benrahma and Fornals ran the game. I have been very impressed with both, although they have their critics among our fans. My colleague and co-blogger Geoff made a very valid point in his article yesterday regarding Benrahma, suggesting that perhaps he is trying just that that little bit too hard to score. I’m sure it will come and that he will be an impressive addition to our team in the years to come. Against Palace he will come across Eze, another player plucked from the Championship who I believe will make quite an impact in the top flight.

It seems that Palace’s main threat in games, Zaha, will return to the team for this game, as will our old friend Kouyate, although Tompkins will not be facing us this evening. Zaha is an important player for our opponents, contributing to almost half of their goals this season, either as scorer or with assists, and I believe they would struggle without him. Nevertheless he is one of those players, who, despite his unquestionable skills, flatters to deceive too often to make him a really top class player. But along with Eze, they are the two players we need to keep quiet. But our defending as a team is the main reason for our success of late, and hopefully we will frustrate them both.

Despite the success on Saturday, David Moyes will undoubtedly revert to the players that have been the mainstay of our league team in recent games. I would be surprised if our starting line-up is not Fabianski; Coufal, Dawson, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Bowen, Benrahma, Fornals; Antonio. It’s surprising how we’ve gone half way through a season with as few injuries as we have had compared to recent times when it has seemed that we’ve always had a number of players unavailable. Perhaps it is down to the increased levels of fitness that has also been very noticeable this term?

CRYWHU2Both Palace and ourselves have a relatively poor record in London derbies lately, although Palace have had the upper hand in head to head fixtures against us in recent times. I thought that they looked quite a good side when the teams met a week before Christmas. Benteke opened the scoring in the first half before Haller’s sensational overhead kick brought the scores level.

Palace haven’t had the best of times since that game, whereas we have gone from strength to strength, and that is probably the reason why the bookmakers make us favourites at around 11/8 to come out on top this evening. Both Palace and the draw are on offer at around 11/5, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a repeat of the same scoreline as the game at the London Stadium a little over a month ago. However, I am hoping that we can collect our eighth clean sheet of the campaign and perhaps score a goal for another win.

One statistic that always bothers me is when I read about the poor recent form of our opposition prior to a game. In fact since that game against us in December, Palace have scored just three goals and conceded fifteen. They haven’t scored since beating Sheffield United 2-0 on 2nd January, and in the season to date they have conceded 33 goals, a total only exceeded by West Brom and Leeds. But I’m going for three more points in a 1-0 win, to make it six victories in a row. What are the chances?

Groundhog Day Part Deux: The Top Four Beckons If West Ham Can Outsmart The Eagles

The cup dream remains intact, but it is now back to league action with a visit to Crystal Palace. Will the Eagles once again thwart the Hammer’s quest for a spell among the league leaders?

In the end it was a thoroughly professional display that eased West Ham past Doncaster Rovers and into the fifth round of the FA Cup. The pre-match banana-skin phobias came to nothing and the introduction of a sprinkling of fringe players failed to deflect the Hammers from their current purposeful stride.

Since last winning the cup in 1980, West Ham have, more often than not, been eliminated by this stage of the competition. That the cup dream is still alive is a bonus, even if a next round encounter with Manchester United does appear a little daunting from here. This year’s fifth round boasts an unusually strong field and with few unexpected early casualties it belies the not taking it seriously mantra. The draw will almost certainly contain twelve Premier League sides (and eight of the current top ten) assuming Tottenham get the better of Wycombe Wanderers this evening. Plenty to do then before making plans for a long-awaited return to Wembley.

It is back to league action tomorrow with a trip to the suburbs to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Games against Palace have taken on a recurring theme of frustration and disappointment just lately. A Groundhog Day sensation whereby victory would have elevated the Hammers to some lofty league position, only for it all to go horribly wrong at the last moment. It happened to Pellegrini’s team in October 2109 and again, just over a month ago, for David Moyes. Tomorrow, a win would take West Ham (at least on a temporary basis) into the Champion’s League places, and with a realistic prospect of being above Liverpool when we play them next Sunday. Can it happen or will Palace once again pee on our chips?

Whenever I have seen of Palace this season they have failed to impress. They are spoken about as possessing more adventure these days, but it has hardly registered in my eyes, apart from a blitzkrieg of a game against a woeful West Brom. Their performance in the drawn game at the London Stadium was one of their better efforts, but since then they have won just one (against Sheffield United) in seven games – a run that includes shipping 7, 3 and 4 goals to Liverpool, Villa and Manchester City, respectively. Although Eze has the makings of a good player, they remain very much a one-man team – take away Zaha and they would be in the thick of a relegation battle. Sadly, it seems that despite missing the Manchester City defeat, Zaha is back available for the game.

Barring any unknown injuries or Covid self-isolations, the West Ham team pretty much picks itself at the moment. The only uncertainty is Pablo Fornals or Manuel Lanzini. I would opt for Fornals but I have a feeling Moyes may think otherwise – and his opinion carries more weight than mine.

I have been increasingly impressed with Said Benrahma. He has been getting progressively better (and contributing more) as his pitch time has increased. His trickery adds a different dimension to the West Ham midfield, and he works hard at the same time. Would, of course, love to see more end product (is he trying too hard to score?) but his willingness to look for the ball and run with it brings back fond memories of Berkovic and Benayoun.

Striker speculation continues to run amok in the media where stories of £30 m+ bids being tabled sit by side with claims of poverty from the boardroom. I sense the chances of anyone new coming in are getting smaller by the day. That there are those at the club who believe we can somehow muddle through with a combination of Andriy Yarmolenko, Mipo Odubeko and Oladapo Afolayan as cover for Michail Antonio. Loan signings might be a possibility if they can be agreed, but West Ham are already at their maximum for domestic loans.

As much as I don’t rate Palace, this won’t be an easy game. Few games are in the Premier League. Some were unimpressed with the Hammer’s performance against Burnley, but see what they went on to do at Anfield. The majority of teams are well organised and will work hard – that has been Palace’s game plan for all of their seasons under Hodgson. I do think, though, that we currently have the right mix of confidence, skill, variety and power to hurt most opponents.

If this game were being played exactly one week later, it would fall on the actual Groundhog Day. This time, though, I feel confident the curse of Crystal Palace will be lifted. West Ham to win 2-0 – and we might even get that elusive first penalty. COYI!

Since You Gotta Go, You Had Better Go Now! Can Someone Please Put Us Out Of This Misery?

In a low budget, poorly produced sequel to the Avram Grant season, the West Ham board continue to dither over compensation payments in a further blow to the next level credibility.

Baffled Of Santiago

I was expecting to wake up this morning to discover that Manuel Pellegrini had finally been dismissed. Now just a single point away from the relegation places (with an inferior goal difference) and with a manager who: admits he is baffled; has been largely responsible for assembling this current one-paced squad; has seemingly no idea how to set up and organise a team to compete in the modern game; and is completely out of touch with current tactical trends. No-one in their right mind can surely believe that Pellegrini has got what it takes to turn things around; or, based on past performance,  would want to trust him with any further funds in the upcoming transfer window.  The season is a poorly produced, low budget, remake of the Avram Grant Season. There is no footballing rationale whatsoever for keeping him on – compensation payment is the only issue on the table. The longer a decision is put off, the greater will be the imperative to hire a manager specialising in ‘ugly’ tactics to sort it out. Stop the dithering, bite the bullet and pull the trigger – even if it is with a caretaker in charge for the next run of games.

Insider Dealing

The ubiquitous club-insider is suggesting that the manager will be given another two more games (again) to save his job. Also that if he does go then David Moyes is the probable replacement. Now I have no idea whether the insider is just making stuff up like the rest of us or is being fed information from the club (which would be massively unprofessional, but easy to believe) but if it is true then it is a deeply worrying scenario. Not that I don’t think Moyes would be a better option than Pellegrini but that is not the point. He is not the right person for the type of club we need to be. Someone who would be able to take the team in a direction that most supporters want to travel. Ultimately, football is meant to be an entertainment. It has to offer more than just doing enough to hang on to your place at the top table so that we can see the top players in the world come to tear us to pieces every season. As supporters, we need something to believe in, to be proud of, and at least be given a glimmer of hope of an a honest tilt at the occasional cup competition.

Not Fit For Purpose

Yesterday, we looked doomed right from the start. Any side with probably the three slowest players in the Premier League (Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Zabaleta) is going to struggle. Throw in a comedy goalkeeper and whatever hope there was disappeared over the horizon. To be fair, Roberto was not at fault for either of the goals and made a couple of decent saves. The bench looked a little brighter with the return of Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson but neither ultimately made any impression. As usual there was no sign of any young legs and energy among the substitutes. There may have been a desire to ship out what was thought to be deadwood (Obiang, Fernandes, for example) but they were far better than what has been left behind. Is there some kind of collective madness at the club?

Two Poor Sides

The match was, as the one at Southampton, a contest of very poor quality. The Hammers nominally adopted the same 4-4-2 formation that had triumphed just over a week earlier but on this occasion the gaps between each block of players were far too great. Having won one game it was apparently beyond the players to put in the same level of effort for two matches in a row.  Michail Antonio was the only real threat, and the only one to come away with any real credit, but he cannot maintain those energy levels for a full ninety minutes. In a re-run of the past few matches, once Antonio starts running on fumes, the whole team shape collapses and becomes fatally exposed.

New Formation, Same Failings

Although there were now ostensibly two layers ‘up top’ the supply line to them was as ineffective as ever. Snodgrass despite his goal (and almost getting a second) was pedestrian throughout and again demonstrated that perseverance with the winger on the wrong flank is complete madness. Mark Noble’s only notable contribution was a bust up with Angelo Ogbonna (not sure why, but possibly due to Noble’s lazy pass putting Aaron Cresswell under pressure.) The formation, as implemented, doesn’t suit Declan Rice as his ability to break forward is seriously curtailed – he is utilised as a holding midfielder only and gave one of his least effective displays for some time as a consequence. The upshot was that Palace were given acres of space both in the centre of midfield and down their left wing where Zaha ran Pablo Zabaleta ragged all afternoon. If only we had known that might happen. Even at a goal up, it was clearly only going to be a matter of time (and Antonio’s battery running flat) before the home side breached the West Ham defence. I would take one (a defeat) for the team if it meant the end of our bewildered manager.

Ratings: Roberto (5), Zabaleta (3), Ogbonna (6), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (5), Snodgrass (5), Rice (5), Noble (4), Fornals (6), Antonio (8), Haller (5) Subs: Lanzini (4), Anderson (5), Ajeti (?)