Time To End The Creeping Paralysis That Sees A Wretched West Ham Sleepwalking To Disaster

They dillied they dallied, they dallied and they dillied, lost the plot and don’t know who to phone. There’s increasing despair as the West Ham Boardroom doubles down on the manager’s dithering.

Cast your mind back to the middle of January last year. West Ham were fourth in the league, had just breezed past Leeds in the FA Cup and were now hosting the Yorkshire side again in a Premier League fixture at the London Stadium. The injury ravaged visitors outran, outfought and outthought a complacent Hammers side to record a famous victory. It was a win which turned out to be the last for Bielsa as manager of Leeds. He was sacked the following month at the end of a run that earned just one point from the next six games.

But the rot had also set in for West Ham. Their style had become predictable and one-dimensional. Everyone knew how they would play and took steps to counter it. The opportunity to freshen up and strengthen key positions in the transfer window was overlooked. David Moyes only had eyes for the lovesick pursuit of Jesse Lingard – yearning to recreate the magic of twelve months earlier.

The season ended with a whimper. The desperately small squad of players was run into the ground. A meagre haul of five wins and nineteen points from the remaining sixteen games plus a disappointing semi-final exit in the Europa League was deflating. By the end, topped of with a lame surrender in Brighton, the spirit that had been built over the previous two seasons lay in tatters.

While we cannot complain about the size of the transfer spend in the summer it was completed so late in the day and without any apparent plan or pattern to the recruitment. The promised new philosophy of pursuing an RB Leipzig style model of signing emerging unknown talent did not materialise. Instead, we got a mixed bag of big-money exotic names, not on the radar of the ‘bigger’ clubs, plus a handful of squad fillers. It hadn’t worked for Pellegrini, so let’s try it again!

Since the season started we’ve seen no attempt by Moyes to change his approach or try anything new. Talk of a more possession based style of play has never been followed up on the pitch in any meaningful way. Passing is wayward, movement is lacking, and options are few. Quick, flowing passing moves are a thing of the past.

Caution remains the Moyes’ watchword and as the goals have dried up the team have retreated further into their shell. Some say that it is down to fitness, but I am not convinced by that argument – Declan Rice commented in the summer as to how brutal training is under Moyes. To me, the decline in running stats is the result of abandoning any pretence at pressing in favour of the lowest of low blocks. It is the new normal to have all but one or two players regularly operating behind the ball. Opportunities for transition are lost and possession is invariably given away.

Throw in the critical lack of pace and creativity and the Hammers have become a blunt force in attack.  Possibly the slowest team in the Premier League, the ability to effectively counter-attack is no longer a threat. Without any truly creative players, attacks default to ludicrously slow build-ups that end up with hopeful crosses floated into the keeper’s arms. When your greatest goal threat is Craig Dawson from a corner, you know you are in trouble.

Expecting Moyes to repair the current slide by doing more of the same is delusional. It is staggering that the owners didn’t see that. Using the World Cup to make a clean break would have been perfect. Loyalty can be admirable, but it only makes sense if there were clear and obvious signs of improvement. In the real world, performances have been getting progressively worse for almost a year now. The squad needs surgery in the transfer window – how much longer can we play without a competent left-back – and Moyes cannot be trusted with supervising that. The answer to our problems really isn’t to sign Michal Keane.

It can only be a matter of time before Moyes gets his marching orders. The longer it’s left and the more desperate the situation becomes, the more chance that the owners will be forced into a short-term fix. Another firefighter parachuted in to preserve Premier League status rather than a new broom who can move the club forward. So far the names banded about range from those likely to be wanting bigger gigs – Tuchel, Pochettino, Enrique – to the ever-presents on the familiar managerial merry-go-round – Benitez, Dyche, Hassenhurtl, Bielsa. Surely there must also be other younger, more progressive coaches out there waiting to be discovered.

To complicate matters further West Ham will now almost certainly be competing with other clubs in the search for a new manager. By the time you read this Lampard at Everton and Rodgers at Leicester may already be queuing to pick up their P45s. Dithering in the boardroom could prove to be very costly.

I have already unconsciously written off today’s visit to Leeds as a lost cause. Making it a sixth league defeat in a row with West Ham firmly entrenched in the bottom three by the end of the day. While the hosts may still display the same laissez faire approach to defending as they did under Bielsa, it is doubtful whether the Hammers have the firepower or sense of adventure to expose and exploit it. In attack, Leeds have explosive pace which will thoroughly test the ancient limbs and leaden feet of the West Ham defence. The one positive note is that Nayef Aguerd may finally make his first Premier League start in tonight’s game.

My guess is that Moyes will revert to a back four tonight with Dawson partnering Aguerd in the continued absence of Kurt Zouma. Moyes will have seen his change of shape against Brentford as a failed audacious experiment and revert to his familiar Moyes 4-2-3-1. No-one is going will be shocked by a Tomas Soucek recall and to see one of Gianluca Scamacca or Michail Antonio isolated up front. This may all sound disillusioned, but that’s where we are.

I’m not going to predict an outcome for the game. Sadly, it is probably in the best interests of the club if we actually  lose this game to trigger the inevitable. No-one can survive six defeats in a row. Or can they? COYI!

Moving On Up: West Ham Look To Return To Winning Ways Against Injury Hit Leeds United

Excellent cup wins have propped up indifferent league form in recent weeks. Time for the Hammers to bounce back with an awayday victory at Elland Road.

An opportunity today for West Ham to get back to winning ways in the Premier League as they visit a weakened Leeds United at Elland Road. Having flown out of the traps with emphatic victories over Newcastle and Leicester at the start of the season, league form has since faltered with the Hammers having picked up just two points of the last nine available.  

Indifferent league form has, however, been punctuated by two impressive cup victories: first against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League; and more recently over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup.

The win at Old Trafford was particularly unexpected. Having missed out on at least a point in the league fixture at the London Stadium three days earlier, an immediate rematch in cup competition looked a daunting prospect. The Red Devils and their expensive strength in depth were clear favourites in what was always going to be a ‘B’ team encounter.  

It is difficult to gauge what effect the win will have on overall confidence given that Jarrod Bowen was the only player the starting eleven who is in contention for a start again today. It can’t have done any harm though, and there really does seem to be a strong sense of togetherness throughout the entire squad.

There has now been the opportunity to see each of summer signings in action, with positive first impressions. Alphonse Areola had a few uncertain moments but looks an ideal long-term replacement for Lukasz Fabianski. Alex Kral had a solid, hardworking debut and can provide decent cover for Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek when needed. Nikola Vlasic has shown great attitude, and some nice touches, but it looks like he needs extra time and work in adapting to the pace and intensity of the Premier League. All can prove to be astute signings and valuable assets even if they are not yet first picks on the team-sheet.

There were also other promising performances at Old Trafford, notably Issa Diop, Ben Johnson and Ryan Fredericks. If Diop can get his progress back on track, he can become the ‘monster’ he was once billed as.  Johnson is a fine prospect although may find few opportunities behind Vladimir Coufal is his more natural right back role. I’m hoping playing him out of position is good for his development. It is a shame Fredericks picked up an injury laying on the goal for Manuel Lanzini (who himself is also starting to look rejuvenated). If only he could put his blistering pace to good use more regularly, he could have achieved so much more. A matter of confidence, I wonder!

For today’s game, the only likely change from last weekend should be the return of Michail Antonio, with Vlasic dropping down to the bench. No doubt in my mind, the team and game plan look far more formidable with Antonio leading the line.

Leeds have a number of injury problems. Llorente, Koch and Bamford are all missing while Raphina, Harrison and Ayling are considered doubtful. Following last season’s heroics, Leeds are so far without a win this term. Could there be a dose of second season syndrome circulating at Elland Road? Possibly, but a team that runs its socks off are sure to come good at some stage.

Matches against weakened sides have not traditionally been a Hammers strong point. West Ham are a very different proposition these days and I’m not sure I can remember a more hardworking, organised, disciplined, and spirited side turning out in the claret and blue. Old anxieties, however, are difficult to shake off and I still find myself judging the team’s ability to self-harm by historic standards. Will we get intimidated travelling anywhere north of Watford Gap?  Is a three-goal lead with ten minutes remaining a big enough cushion? Will we buckle at the merest suggestion of a physical onslaught? A few more seasons of the current therapy and watching a game might even become a low-anxiety enjoyable experience. A good time to be a West Ham fan!    

Can’t help feeling that we will be too strong for Leeds today. The home defence is not the strongest at the best of times but with players missing there should be plenty of gaps for our boys to exploit. A game against Bielsa’s Leeds will never be easy but West Ham to win 3-1. COYI!

West Ham attempt to win at Elland Road for the second season running. It hasn’t happened before!

The prospect of a game against Leeds always conjures up memories for me as a young boy, and the reputation of the Elland Road outfit under Don Revie at the time. They were a top side but perhaps didn’t win as many trophies when they were at their peak as they perhaps should have done. In many ways they were perhaps the team to beat, the best team in England, but somehow they didn’t always seem to achieve what they might have done. They certainly had their share of being runners-up. For example, following their promotion to the top flight in the early 1960s from 1964-65 onwards they finished 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st in the next ten seasons.

They were also perhaps the most hated side in the country at that time. I guess it’s a long time ago now, and perhaps that reputation is unfair? I don’t know, but my memory is such that people seemed to enjoy Leeds being beaten. Not more so than in 1970 when it seemed to me that most of the country wanted Chelsea to beat them in the FA Cup Final. They did after a replay and so many seemed to rejoice in the victory although the Chelsea side themselves had their fair share of players who could, shall we say, look after themselves.

The Leeds side of that era were certainly high profile, and even now around 50 years later I can recall so many of their players; Sprake, Reaney, Charlton, Hunter, Cooper, Madeley, Bremner, Giles, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Gray. To be honest I can’t recall too many more from the subsequent 50 years, Yorath, Jordan, Batty, Speed, Bowyer, Rio Ferdinand of course, Hasselbaink, Lee Chapman are just a few that spring to mind.

West Ham fans of my vintage will recall 1966 with massive affection. Of course I’m referring to the World Cup, but there are a couple of other reasons that I remember that year in relation to Leeds. Firstly, on my twelfth birthday in February of that year we were playing away at Leeds and were soundly thrashed 5-0. But in the following season later that year the mighty Leeds brought their first team down to Upton Park on a Monday night in November to play us in the fourth round of the Football League Cup (Carabao in modern terms). They were humbled 7-0 with hat-tricks for Hurst and Sissons and a goal from Peters. It was perhaps one of the most astonishing victories in all my years of supporting West Ham. After that win we didn’t beat them at the next twelve attempts until we finally won against them, ironically in a League Cup replay at Elland Road in 1971.

That season was to be the first where the League Cup final was to be held at Wembley. Before then they were home and away two-legged affairs. We progressed to the semi-final where we lost 6-2 on aggregate over the two legs to West Brom, who themselves went on to lose the final to a Rodney Marsh inspired Queens Park Rangers who came from behind to win 3-2.

Which brings me to the present, and our visit to Elland Road today. Leeds under Bielsa won many plaudits for their football last season, their first in the top flight after a 17 year absence. But we did the double over them in empty stadiums winning 2-1 away, with goals from Soucek and Ogbonna enabling us to come from behind after conceding a penalty in the first five minutes, before the return leg in March when Lingard and Dawson scored to give us a 2-0 win. Those two victories doubled our wins over them in the Premier League to 4, whereas they have beaten us 14 times. I looked back in the records to try to find the last time that we did the double over them and eventually found it in the 1953-54 season in Division Two, the second game of which was a 5-2 victory on the day after I was born in 1954! And the last time we beat them three times in a row? That came in 1949 – we won four consecutive games against them in 1948 and 1949, although three of them were at Upton Park. And when was the last time we beat them at their ground in two consecutive seasons? It hasn’t happened.

History is irrelevant though really and current form is much more important. We lost in the league last Sunday of course to Manchester United after missing that last minute penalty which was the subject of much discussion. That was our only defeat this season, and came after two draws had followed our opening two wins. Leeds on the other hand have failed to win any of their opening five league games, but have drawn three of them (against Newcastle, Everton and Burnley) to sit in 17th in the table at this very early stage. They have also suffered heavy defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United.

Our much changed (virtually B team) gained some measure of revenge over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup in the week and were immediately drawn against Manchester City in the next round. We’ll certainly have to win it the hard way! Some good performances throughout the team will mean many will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up in the weeks to come. I was particularly impressed with Areola, Dawson, Diop, Lanzini and Kral, although to be fair almost everyone played their part in the victory which could have been more emphatic in the end but for two golden chances missed by Yarmolenko and Noble.

So what will happen today? West Ham have been playing Leeds since 1921 – that is 100 years now. It’s more than 100 games and Leeds have been victors in many more of those fixtures than we have. I’m hoping that we can resume our winning ways in the league this season, and also record a second consecutive victory at Elland Road for the first time in history. I reckon 2-1 today will change that. What are the chances? 

West Ham Aim To Bite The Legs Of Not So Dirty Leeds

Moyes West Ham look to bounce back from last week’s defeat as they take on Bielsa’s much admired and far more cuddly Leeds United – no longer everyone’s most hated team.

Dirty and Leeds are two words in the English language that effortlessly belong to each other, like heavy traffic, rich history or strong coffee. Collocations they are called. There are also others that we have become intimately acquainted with over the past few years: white elephant; broken promise; and expensive flop, to name a few.

The dirty Leeds tag goes back a long way, to the Don Revie side of the 1960s and 70s, but it has been difficult to shift, at least in my mind – similar perhaps to the concept of the ‘West Ham way’ under Greenwood and Lyall. So entrenched was the dislike of Leeds that their financial woes and fall into the third tier of English football during the noughties was largely greeted with a sense of schadenfreude.

Revie’s Leeds team contained had some exceptionally talented individuals, but their playing style was often characterised by bone-crunching tackles and unrestricted thuggery. It was a perfect fit with the stereotypical view of the typical no-nonsense Yorkshireman, and was eminently successful – delivering a clutch of league titles as well as domestic and European cups.

Quite what the temperamental modern-day footballer would make of the game back then – shuddering challenges, quagmire pitches, lambchop sideburns, jumpers for goalposts – can only be imagined. Along with the terraces, such agricultural tactics were consigned to football’s history many years ago, as the game rebranded from full bloodied confrontation to slick TV friendly marketing event. No doubt, many of the changes were out of necessity and for the better, but by no means all of them.

Just as we have seen the demise of the tackle from behind and the pass back to the keeper, there is now a possibility that there will come a time when heading the ball is also prohibited. It seems implausible right now but could it happen? The physical side of contact sports is under increasing scrutiny and the recent focus on ex-players with brain disease, together with the threat of litigation, might well lead to changes in the rules. A further VAR check for accidental head-ball after each goal is scored, perhaps.

Moving on to tonight’s game, and West Ham will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of the Manchester United defeat last Saturday. Looking eminently comfortable and good for another win during the first hour of the game, everything changed when the ‘wind of God’ turned a wild clearance that had clearly gone out of touch into an assist for the assister. The Hammers earlier profligacy, their decision (by then) to sit back and protect the lead, and the introduction of Bruno, all leading to our eventual downfall. When the equaliser went in, all momentum was with the visitors.

With Michail Antonio once again absent tonight it will be a sub-optimal West Ham who take on Leeds at Elland Road. With our best starting eleven, there could, at least, be a hope of challenge the top six – but on a depth of squad basis, we are no better than mid-table. I wonder what the January sales will bring, if anything?

When I originally drafted this article the only potential change I could see for this evening was the popular call from supporters to start with Said Benrahma in place of Pablo Fornals. A test of David Moyes attitude to risk. Fornals to provide the off-the-ball hard work to counter the energy of Leeds; or Benrahma to offer the absent creative spark that could test the vulnerable and further weakened home defence. With Fornals proving so ineffective on the ball in recent games, I expected Benrahma starting to be the only change. However, the news that Arthur Masuaku is now unavailable raises a new set of questions.

I don’t envisage Moyes tinkereing with the formation even though the current setup does have a lopsided look. The pairing of Aaron Cresswell and Masuaku had compensated well for the absence of a specialist left back – but with Angelo Ogbonna and Fabian Balbuena operating mostly in the centre, it exposes an over-worked Vladimir Coufal on the right. While Jarrod Bowen offers excellent support it is not his primary role. It compromises his attacking threat, especially in the latter stages of games, when he is clearly exhausted. To my mind, Ben Johnson as a replacement for Arthur feels like the least disruptive option.

Elsewhere, I see no alternative to Sebastien Haller continuing to deputise for Antonio.

Leeds under Bielsa are this season’s maverick side, and the best equipped of the three promoted teams to prosper. El Loco is one of the game’s characters and his high-octane style of play is geared to providing goals and entertainment. It is a far cry from the Revie days and quite possibly the most flamboyant thing to come out of Yorkshire since its eponymous pudding. Leeds have something of a defensive injury crisis at the moment, but we can be certain that whoever plays, will not be lacking in effort.

Patrick Bamford is key to the Leeds attacking threat, not just for his goals but also for his movement and ability to create space for others. In his various loan spells from Chelsea as a youngster, it looked like he had the makings of a top class talent, before apparently losing his way at Middlesbrough. He has now found a perfect niche in the Leeds setup and will be a real danger today.

The game will be another big test for Moyes team. Leeds with a hard press, quick counters, lots of movement, width and direct passing will require his team to have extra high levels of concentration. The hosts have weaknesses at the back, but do West Ham have the tools to exploit that by striking on the break? Without Antonio, out-ball options are limited, and they may struggle to break the press often enough and quickly enough. Instinctively, this should be a high scoring game, but I believe it will be tighter than that. It will be an interesting clash of styles that I’m finding difficult to call. Maybe a 1-1 draw!    

Can West Ham beat Leeds for only the second time this century?

I won’t dwell for too long on the game against Manchester United last Saturday. We outplayed them for 60 minutes, held a 1-0 lead, missed a number of chances that should have put the game out of sight, conceded an equaliser because a linesman wasn’t looking down the touchline but instead looking for offside, and then heads went down and we let in two more goals. The equaliser that shouldn’t have stood changed the course of the game, but in many ways we only have ourselves to blame for failing to increase our lead in the first half. The result meant that the opportunity to climb the table into third place was lost, and by the end of the weekend we would have been fifth had we won. The Equivalent Fixture Analysis figure comparing results this season against the same games last season fell to +10 points following the defeat.

But we didn’t win and it is hoped that lessons will be learned by the players and management. Considering the difficulty of our fixtures in the first 11 games, we ought to be satisfied with 8th place in the League, having won 5 games and drawn twice. A positive goal difference of +4 with 18 scored and 14 conceded is a good return, although we seem to have missed many good goalscoring opportunities, with Pablo Fornals particularly guilty in this respect. Of course we have missed Michail Antonio, and the debate regarding his replacement Haller continues with statistical analysis of his game seeming to contrast with what we see with our eyes. He is not as bad as many fans make out, but we definitely don’t play to his strengths. Personally I like the look of Said Benrahma in the cameo appearances he has made, and surely he should be given the opportunity soon to show what he can do from the start of a game. Whether it will happen in this game I am not sure.

For the twelfth game in a row we do not kick off at 3pm on a Saturday; this time it is a Friday night, which gives us the opportunity to climb into fifth place with a win. My thoughts on our opponents, Leeds, are tainted by the memories of them when I was growing up in the 1960s. Under Don Revie, who managed them for 13 years, they had probably their most successful period, winning a number of trophies and also being there or thereabouts in all the main competitions during that era. They had a reputation for being the bridesmaids, falling just short on several occasions in league and cup; I think they were runners-up in the league about five times in that period.

But I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the way they played, or their win at all costs attitude to the game. I know many who hated them despite them being a dominant force in English football. I guess success often breeds contempt, but my dislike of them was enhanced by the perceived way they achieved their position as one of the best teams around. To me they were highly physical and at times brutal and extremely cynical in style. They had a poor disciplinary record as they bullied and kicked their way to the top.

Our historical record in matches against Leeds is a poor one, especially in more recent history. Of course, we haven’t always been in the same division, with Leeds having only just returned to the top flight after 16 years in the second tier, but the last time we beat them was in November 2000, a 1-0 victory at Elland Road with an unlikely goalscorer – Nigel Winterburn, the only goal he scored for us in 94 appearances. I can remember being at the game at Upton Park in 1998, which was the only other time we have beaten them in the last 38 years; we won 3-0 with goals from Hartson. Abou and Ian Pearce. Our keeper that day was Bernard Lama – remember him? Two substitutes came on in the latter stages of the game, Scott Mean and Manny Omoyinmi – do you remember them? Our record in the last 28 fixtures against Leeds is, Won 2, Drawn 8, Lost 18.

I was also there at a game close to the end of the season in 1982 when we beat them 4-3. That was our first season back in the top division following promotion. I believe Leeds were relegated that year. We were almost invincible at home that season losing just twice in our 21 games, a record we equalled in our record breaking campaign of 1985-86.

There was one game against Leeds that I didn’t see but wish I had been there. On a cold Monday evening in November 1966 we beat the (then mighty) Leeds 7-0 in a League Cup tie after putting six goals past Fulham two days earlier. We then went on to win 4-3 at Tottenham the following Saturday. Geoff Hurst scored 8 goals that week. You’d think that would have been quite a season. But despite scoring 80 goals, we conceded 84, and finished 16th in the league!

I haven’t seen too much of the present Leeds team, but under Bielsa they seem to be a highly energetic and attractive side. They have scored 16 of the 36 goals in their 11 matches, and four wins plus two draws equates to 14 points and 14th in the table. But the league is a tight one so far, and if they win they will be level on points with us. 9 of their 14 points have been achieved away from home with victories at Sheffield United, Villa and Everton. They have only won one of their five home games (4-3 v Fulham), but have drawn against Manchester City and Arsenal. Their two home defeats were 1-0 to Wolves and 4-1 to Leicester. Patrick Bamford has been a surprise to many with 8 goals in the league, exactly half of the teams total so far.

I wonder if there will be any changes to our starting eleven for this game? Our lack of pace on the right hand side of our defence was exposed in the latter stages of the Manchester United game. The manager realised this (but too late) and Johnson was introduced towards the end. Perhaps replacing Balbuena with Diop might go some way towards solving this problem, although Balbuena hasn’t played too badly in his run in the team. Fans on social media often urge changes after a defeat, but I doubt Moyes will make many – that’s not his style either before (or during) games.

Leeds are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game at odds of around 6/5. We are about 11/5 with the draw at 5/2. As is often the case, 1-1 is the “favourite” score at 11/2, and unsurprisingly, Bamford is favourite to score the first goal. Despite their league position, I believe this will be a tough game, and a draw would be a good point. We need to match their energy, and if we do this could be a highly entertaining game. My hope is that away victories will continue to outnumber wins for the home sides (for this week anyway!) and we pick up the three points. The players will believe that they are playing for their places and will not want a second consecutive defeat. It would be good to be the fourth team to score four times against Leeds this season; perhaps 4-3 just like the game in 1982? What are the chances?