A week is a long time in football. Last weekend I felt quite bullish about West Ham’s prospects of being in the mix for a top four finish. But all of sudden we look like the outsiders among that chasing pack of Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and ourselves. And that is without looking over the shoulder to see Wolves coming up fast on the rails.
If I was deceptively seduced by a run of three wins against Watford, Palace, and Norwich, the performance last Sunday against Leeds was a timely reality check. In an almost action replay of the Southampton loss, we clawed our way back into the game twice, only to invite the visitors to score again rather than seize the initiative. A team with dreams of the top four (or even the top six) cannot afford to regularly drop points to bottom half opponents such as Brentford, Southampton, Palace, and Leeds.
In truth, it feels like the team peaked in the win over Liverpool, even if victory over Chelsea came after that. It’s not that the effort isn’t still there but the swagger and belief look to have gone. The team have gone stale to my mind, desperately needing fresh ingredients to liven things up.
Ironically, given the emphasis by most supporters on striker reinforcement, the problem has not been scoring goals, but in conceding them. No team below West Ham in the table has scored more, but only Leicester in the top half have let more in. Today’s opponents joining the Hammers on thirty goals conceded.
The injuries to Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma have certainly been a major factor in the defensive malaise. While the backup of Craig Dawson and Issa Diop felt sound enough in theory (and coped admirably in the Europe games) they are weak as a Premier League pairing. Has that vulnerability rubbed off to others in the team? For Vladimir Coufal and Aaron Cresswell also had stinkers last Sunday.
As usual the January transfer window has swollen in the cold weather and won’t open properly – our manager bashing his head against the glass like a frustrated bluebottle. A can of WD40 will hopefully fix the problem for the remaining days. It’s not really a surprise that the nature of the window condenses all activity into the final hours. Selling and buying clubs try not to be the first to blink in the run up to the Manic Monday one-day sale. Maybe Jesse Lingard will finally turn up at the London Stadium – it would never have happened before today’s game.
I sort of understand David Moyes attitude on transfers although he does have a reputation for being overly cautious. There are only finite funds, and any incoming players mustn’t be the type to upset the very happy camp that has been created. At this time of year, we also need players who can make an immediate contribution on the pitch. Not ones who require six months to adapt and settle into the pace of the Premier League. Despite a flurry of late summer business, Zouma is the only regular addition to last year’s preferred eleven. The same shouldn’t be allowed to happen again.
There is speculation that Zouma will return today although that might just be wishful thinking. The hosts strength is their attacking prowess and West Ham will need to show greater defensive resilience if they are to get anything from the game. Zouma’s return would be at the expense of Diop and there could well be another defensive change at right back. Coufal has been below par for some time and would be lucky to retain his place over Ben Johnson – Johnson the better defender in my opinion.
Tomas Soucek should also return to his rightful place alongside Declan Rice, a partnership will be pivotal to any Hammer’s success. It may mean a more forward role for Manuel Lanzini who will be in competition with Pablo Fornals and Nikola Vlasic to play in the attacking midfield three along with Jarrod Bowen. After a promising show against Norwich, Vlasic was another to have a shocker against Leeds. Michail Antonio completes the line-up and it would be a good day for him to rediscover his early season touch.
Is there any chance of more imaginative use of substitutions from Moyes? I wouldn’t hold your breath. I don’t know anything about Xhaka yellow cards but fareastbettingscams.com have an 83rd minute Yarmolenko substitution as odds-on. Why else would you bring him on?
Manchester United have a litany of reported injury and other absences. The unlikely list of possible doubts includes Pogba, Ronaldo, Cavani, McTominay, Sancho, Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka, and Shaw. Expect at least half of them to be ready and available.
The Ralf Rangnick revolution has never really got going at Old Trafford. Early optimism having given way to yet another false dawn with an increasingly petulant squad. They really have wasted a ton of money over the years on a bunch of overpriced prima donnas, reinforcing to some extent Moyes policy of paying attention to the character of new signings.
I’ll admit to not be very confident about today’s game, although the mood will improve if I see Zouma’s name on the teamsheet. The league cup win at Old Trafford in September was a distraction from a winless streak that goes all the way back to the great escape of May 2007. Another slow start could prove disastrous – an early home goal potentially opening the floodgates. On the other hand, it is the type of game that better suits our counter attacking preference – as long as we can keep it tight at the back. Lacking any true conviction, my prediction for what is a very unpredictable match (if that makes any sense) is 2–2. COYI!