Hammers Need To Be Forest Fresh Following Stale City Opener

West Ham must dampen the enthusiasm of newly promoted Nottingham Forest in their first Premier League home game for twenty-three years if they are to leave the City Ground with today’s spoils.

With the inevitable opening day defeat to Manchester City out of the way, we should ideally be focusing on the nuts and bolts of the nascent season and the potential for another tilt at a top six finish. Yet, it is the failures, frustrations, and foreboding of the transfer window that continues to grab the attention. Football matches tend to come along as a distraction to the latest blind alley pursuit of exciting major signings from across the continent.   

I’m prepared to accept that making sensible transfer decisions might not be as easy as we fans imagine, but equally surely it isn’t as difficult as West Ham repeatedly make it. I’m really not a fan of the transfer window extending beyond the start of the season and had always feared that most of our business would be left right until the end.

The dilemma facing David Moyes & Co is how to find and attract players who will improve the squad, who can be recruited at an affordable (knock down) price, and who are not going to be on the radar of more illustrious and well-to-do clubs. The panacea would be a shrewd scouting network uncovering a stream of young talent, from home and abroad, even if it means they use West Ham as a stepping-stone to future glory elsewhere. Decent scouting has long been neglected at the club although I suppose that is what led to the pursuit of Onana – but his was a hefty price tag for a bet on potential.

It also appears impossible for West Ham to keep any of their proposed deals under wraps until the ink has fully dried. A habit that allows opportunity for others – Everton and Newcastle – to nip in and hijack the deal at the eleventh hour. Especially, with our Board unable to resist the temptation of engaging in drawn out haggling processes, a few quid at a time.

It is unfortunate that the Hammers are starting from such a position of weakness in squad numbers and ability. A consequence of neglect and bad decisions over the preceding years. While Moyes achievements over the last two years have been remarkable it is built around the phenomenal talent of Declan Rice and an effective style of play (organisation, set pieces and counter attacks) that has made the best use of resources available. It has worked wonders but can only do so until opponents understand it limitations and how to combat it – as we saw from Manchester City last week. There simply aren’t the players available with the pace, finesse, and creativity to pose different questions and mix things up. To me, these limitations are equivalent to what Moyes said about the team being stale last Sunday. A team without ideas once their A-game is thwarted.

On the face of it, the signings of Gianluca Scamacca, Nayef Aguerd, and Maxwell Cornet are just the type of players needed. But it is only a start. Another four or five additional top-notch signings, at least, are required before the end of August if the season is going to amount to anything worthwhile. It is staggering that one of the league’s thinnest squads has seen more players leave than arrive so far. OK, so we now have a striker, but remain alarmingly short in other critical positions – left back, centre back, play-maker – with the season already underway – and with another four league games to be played before the window closes. Fair enough, teams can recover from a poor start (Arsenal last season is a good example), but that’s a lot of important points to put at risk due solely to self-inflicted transfer incompetence.

Having fallen into the trap of tunnelling down the transfer rabbit hole, we should turn our attention to today’s Premier League encounter against Nottingham Forest. A first top-flight meeting between the two clubs this millennium following Forest’s relegation in 1998/99. That season witnessing a scoreless draw at the City Ground in September 1998 and a 2-1 Hammers win (Ian Pearce and Lampard Jr) at Upton Park in February 1999.

The hosts were something of a surprise package last year but despite buying enthusiastically looked short on quality when losing to Newcastle last weekend. Still, there will sure to be a cup-tie like atmosphere at the City Ground today and West Ham will need to be on their toes to weather the early storm. And, of course, there is the goalscoring peril of Judas Lingard to keep quiet. It could well be a tough season for Forest and Lingard is an odd choice to build your team around.

It would be a huge surprise to me if Scamacca and Cornet don’t start today but maybe I am underestimating the caution of Moyes. The major West Ham selection issue though is at centre back where, with even less options to chose from, Ben Johnson is a probable to continue alongside Kurt Zouma. Elsewhere, we can only hope the manager can prise more than huff and puff from the combined talents of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma.

I can’t see this game being a classic and assuming West Ham can snuff out the early Forest threat, I predict we will go on to win 3-1. COYI!   

West Ham aim to bounce back at Forest. Can our newcomers make a difference?

If you watched last Sunday’s encounter with Manchester City on TV you may also have seen the pre-match Sky punditry. I reckon that the build up to the game was skewed roughly 80/20 in favour of talking about City, and in particular the addition of Erling Haaland to an already formidable squad of players. And some may say they got it right! City dominated possession of the ball with about 80% of it, and Haaland was the key difference between the two sides scoring both goals and showing frightening pace at the same time, which together with a proven ability to find the net at the highest level will take them to even greater heights than those they are already on. A daily newspaper in their preview the game went further than Sky with their two-page spread on the game, and I had to scour the article in great detail to work out City’s opponents!

Now don’t get me wrong, their ball retention is excellent and they show great skill and movement, and I believe they will win almost everything they are in for this season. Perhaps the two points cushion that they already have over Liverpool is enough to seal the title already? And as such it was inevitable that they would win relatively comfortably against a West Ham side whose starting eleven featured a whole side of players who were there last season, a team already with injury issues, and one that the manager (if I’ve got this right) seemed to announce before the game were not really ready for the season!

But Haaland was the real difference wasn’t he? Without his performance we may well have got away with a draw similar to the one at the end of last season despite being outplayed by a superior side. One characteristic of the current West Ham is that we are not likely to repeat the 5-0 defeats that have been a feature of matches against the top sides in the not too distant past.

I was disappointed that Areola went the wrong way for the penalty, even though he wouldn’t have saved it had he done his homework. It is evident that Haaland likes to open his body and go for the keeper’s right hand as he also showed when scoring the second goal. It’s very similar to how Thierry Henry used to do it in reverse, opening his body and going to the keeper’s left. I picked it as he ran up to take the penalty, but as I say it was so good it wouldn’t have been saved anyway!

I was a bit disappointed with our display. The effort was there but we seemed a bit passive. You really need to get into City’s face to stand a chance and we didn’t, although I guess the very hot temperature was a factor. We seemed bereft of ideas and our only real chances of scoring were likely to be as a result of set pieces in attacking areas. But somebody needs to explain to me why we don’t exploit this situation more. At times we have free kicks in the opponents half but we end up passing sideways and backwards, the ball then goes back to our keeper who kicks long and almost always surrenders possession, with our opponents having the ball roughly where we had the free kick. If scoring goals from set pieces is our forte then why not push forward at the free kick and send the ball into the opposition penalty area exactly as we would from a corner. It’s a bit Wimbledonesque I know but if it’s an effective weapon then we should use it surely?

It’s only one game though and there are still another 37 to go. The league table doesn’t really take shape until we’re at least 10/12 matches into the season – just look at where Arsenal were early on last time and then compare it to where they finished. If we get to that stage of the campaign, or perhaps at the time of the break for the World Cup, and we are struggling then that is the time to worry more as you always seem to be playing catch-up from that point. Games against Manchester City and Liverpool aren’t the ones where we would expect to pick up points. Of course we should be trying to match them but in reality the top two are in a league of their own. The next one this Sunday at Nottingham Forest is in many respects a more important one, and a fixture where we should be looking to collect three points against a promoted side. Having said that the early games in the season are often the ones where the promoted sides are at their most dangerous.

So what will happen this weekend in the ‘ham’ derby? Can West bounce back to overcome Notting as both teams strive to collect their first points of the season? The first game doesn’t give us a lot to go on. Since my first article of the season last week we have added Cornet to the squad and I reckon that both he and Scamacca will play important roles in this game. I’ll make a prediction – Lingard will open the scoring for the home team responding to chants from our fans along the lines of being one greedy ‘person’! Cornet will equalise early in the second half and then Scamacca will open his account to score the winner and we will have three points and be up and running for the season. What are the chances?