After The Lord Mayor’ Show: West Ham Must Put Euro Celebrations To One Side For Tottenham Showdown

A return to league action with an encounter that could go some way to determining the final top six placings. Can the Hammers come out on top?

In an ideal world there would have been a little bit longer to bask in the glory of the sensational Thursday night victory against Sevilla. But the reality of modern football is that, less than 72 hours later, West Ham must deal with the small matter of their unruly north London neighbours.

The Sevilla game really surpassed all expectations. A fantastic effort from the team, coaching staff and supporters had the stadium rocking late into the east London evening. It has been a long wait but at last the latest generation of Hammer’s fans have a special European moment to call their own. The excitement and anxiety of sudden death cup games, the mighty and incessant roar of the crowd, the thrill and atmosphere of floodlit football and the glory of a famous comeback against esteemed opponents. Now we just have to repeat it two more times and it’s all back to Sevilla for the final. The occasion was all the sweeter due to how long we have had to wait for it. Could the passion be reproduced if European football was expected every season?

It was excellent performances all round from front to back on Thursday. Everyone played their part and for any limitations in technique there may be, we can never fault the effort and commitment. The subtle change of formation – more of a 4-3-3 than the usual 4-2-3-1 – with Manuel Lanzini sitting deeper and closer to Declan Rice, got the best out of Tomas Soucek. When Soucek is left to do what he is good at – breaking up opposition attacks at one end and getting into the box at the other – he is at his brilliant best.

The nature of the winning goal, scored by Andriy Yarmolenko, made the whole evening even more emotional than it already was. I think I had almost resigned myself to a penalty shootout by the time the unexpected winner unfolded, almost as if it were in slow motion.

There didn’t appear to be any imminent danger when the ball was worked out wide to Pablo Fornals on the left. However, the Spaniard cut inside and unleashed a powerful drive which Bono, the Sevilla keeper, was unable to hold. The ball ran free and there was Yarmolenko to roll the ball into the net. Bono made a desperate attempt at recovery but still couldn’t find what he was looking for. A brief moment of VAR anxiety and then pandemonium.

Cue a tense, nail-biting finale. The referee, who had previously been impervious to the serial Sevilla time-wasting, prolonged the agony with an extra two minutes that he had found somewhere, but the Hammer’s stood firm, and a famous victory was sealed.

I’m reasonably happy with Lyon as quarter final opponents. I would have been even happier with a semi final against the winner of Braga vs Rangers tie – the equivalent of getting a bye into the final – but we need fear no-one. West Ham are now fourth favourites to win the competition behind the three Champions League flops, Barcelona, RB Leipzig, and Atalanta. I’m undecided on my pick between Barcelona and Eintracht Frankfurt for the semis.  The glamour of a tie with Barca is undoubted while Frankfurt feels like the path of least resistance, and would be a repeat of 1976. For students of form, the two German survivors play each other in the Bundesliga today.

They say that after the Lord Mayor’s show comes the donkey cart – but that’s enough about Eric Dier. In some ways facing Tottenham, rather than say, Burnley or Everton, may be a good thing in terms of player motivation after the physical and emotional excesses of midweek. There is nothing like a derby and local pride to restore instant focus. I’ve no doubt David Moyes will get the players up for it, although the fear must be that his team will become leggy as the game progresses, most have played the full two hour on Thursday.

It has been an inconsistently mixed bag at Tottenham since the appointment of Conte in November. It is difficult to imagine a harmonious long-term relationship between manager and chairman with obvious friction barely below the surface. Still, they are marginally better placed than West Ham at the moment in the quest for a top six finish. It is a more counterattacking unit than in the past, so it will be interesting to see how that pans out today, given it is also the Hammer’s preference. As in much of the recent past, the home side rely heavily on the partnership between Kane and Son for goals and assists. It will be West Ham’s challenge to keep them quiet.

Conte has been favouring a 3-4-3 formation and I wonder whether Moyes might decide to match him up today. Perhaps Aaron Cresswell dropping into a back three with Ryan Fredericks and Ben Johnson playing as wing backs. A front three of Said Benrahma, Michail Antonio and Fornals, and, of course, Rice and Soucek patrolling the centre of midfield. There has been much speculation about Yarmolenko starting, but I would still see him being more effective as a second half impact substitute.

After this game is an international break where hopefully as many players as possible can get a decent breather. There really is nothing to be learned for Southgate in Rice being involved in meaningless friendlies against Switzerland and the Ivory Coast. Soucek, on the other hand, will surely feature for the Czech Republic in the World Cup qualifier with Sweden.

It is a difficult match to call today. The two teams are evenly matched, and derby games are always unpredictable. It is unlikely that West Ham will experience no aftereffects from their midweek adventures. Not losing may be of utmost importance to both sides which could make for a cagey, rather than all-action, affair. A share of the spoils it is then, with a nervy 1-1 draw. COYI!

West Ham face Tottenham in the 100th Premier League game at the London Stadium

What an excellent win at Goodison Park last Sunday! Even better that my prediction for the score was correct leading to a few pounds coming my way from my friendly bookmaker. I needed Cresswell to score the goal to make it an even bigger payout, but nonetheless what a great result to take us up to seventh in the table with 14 points from 8 games. If maintained for the season then the current average of 1.75 points per game equates to 66/67 points for the season as a whole which would be even better than the total of 65 in the last campaign. Extrapolating our current goals for and against would result in an end of season goal difference of 24 with 71 goals scored and 47 conceded, once again an improvement on last season. Let’s hope that it continues! 

Better still we are in the Europa League this time around as well as facing a home tie against Manchester City in the last 16 of the Carabao Cup next Wednesday. On Thursday evening the Belgian side Genk were the visitors to the London Stadium for our third game in Group H. We had already taken maximum points from our visit to Dinamo Zagreb and our home game against Rapid Vienna.

And it couldn’t have gone any better on the night. With half a dozen changes we were understandably not at our absolute best, but a professional performance ensured all three points in a relatively comfortable 3-0 victory. My only minor concern in the game was the pace of the Genk forwards who looked dangerous when they broke at speed, but the statistics of the group don’t lie. All four teams have played three games, we have nine points from seven unanswered goals and the others all have three apiece by conveniently beating each other. In a competition where it is a big advantage to top the group, to be six points clear of the team lying second halfway through the fixtures is a position we could only have dreamed about.  

Our visitors this Sunday for the 100th Premier League game to be played at the London Stadium are the team from North London who are (to say the very least) not our best friends! In the 99 games to date we have won 40 and lost 36. The record was a negative one prior to last season when we turned it around with one of the best home records in the division.

We will be hoping for the same result that we saw a little over eight months ago when we recorded a 2-1 win with our goals scored by Antonio and Lingard. The atmosphere will certainly be an improvement on that game now that spectators are back! The results so far have proved those doubters wrong who suggested that last season was a flash in the pan and helped by the lack of supporters in grounds.

We took four points off them last season with the addition of the unlikely comeback in our game at White Hart Lane just over a year ago. That 3-3 draw was important at the end of the season, as without Lanzini’s superb strike they would have got three points from the game to our nil points. We would have both ended with 64 points, and as their goal difference was superior to ours they would have finished sixth and qualified for the Europa League Group Stage, and we would have been seventh to end up in the Europa Conference League Play-Off round, a reversal of the actual finishing places.

I assume that, injuries permitting, the starting eleven will revert to the one that has been used in league games to date. We don’t know the extent of the problem with Coufal but we have cover at right back with both Johnson and Fredericks able to fill that position. They are both versatile defenders and could fill in on the other side too, but that would not be ideal if Cresswell was out for any length of time. I’d like to see a couple more players strengthen the squad still further in the next window, a left back and a striker.

Our manager is beginning to get credit now for the turnaround in our fortunes since he returned to the club. We were 17th at the time, he saved us from relegation (for the second time), and then managed the team into sixth place with our highest ever points total in the Premier League era. And now he has guided us into a similar position near the top to challenge once again. And he seems to want us to be in contention in all competitions too. But it’s more than that isn’t it? He has totally transformed the club in a short space of time into one where he has moulded a squad of players who all fit into the system he wants us to play. At the same time he seems to have created a super atmosphere where the spirit in the squad is first class.

I am enjoying watching this current team as much as our Cup winning sides of the mid sixties and mid seventies, both of whom did so well in Europe after winning the FA Cup, the excellent footballing side of 1979-82 who also won the FA Cup as a second tier team, and the boys of ’86 who were so nearly champions.

Despite having to fight two relegation battles, in a little over 100 games at the helm David Moyes’ managerial record is such that his win percentage is better than he achieved in his 11 seasons at Everton where he was very successful. His win percentage is also better than any previous West Ham manager who managed the club for 100 games or more.

With two teams that finished sixth and seventh in the table last season, and who currently sit in seventh and fifth separated by a single point this time around, the bookmakers’ odds for the game were obviously going to reflect the closeness in the ability of the teams. We are narrow favourites, but it is likely to be close. We are around 11/8 to win the game, with Tottenham at about 2/1. I fancy a repeat of last season’s score with a 2-1 victory. The odds are 9/1. Tottenham are Michail Antonio’s favourite opponents. He has scored more goals against them than against any other team. I reckon he’ll get another couple in this game. West Ham to win 2-1 and Antonio to score anytime is 18/1. West Ham to win 2-1 and Antonio to score the first goal of the game is 45/1. The odds are the same for that score with Antonio scoring the last goal of the game. I think my fun bet will be one of those this week. What are the chances?

High Flying Hammers Welcome Fast Fading Tottenham To The London Stadium

Contrasting midweek fortunes create a fascinating backdrop as West Ham seek to prove they are the main challenger to Chelsea in terms of London bragging rights.

Some matches just have that little extra edge to them. It could be the visit of one of the glamour clubs. Or a sudden death cup game under the floodlights in mid-winter. Or the anticipation of trading blows with local rivals, even if they are lesser teams such as Millwall or Tottenham.

This weekend is one of those latter occasions. Anecdotally, Tottenham don’t care at all about West Ham. The Hammers are beneath their contempt – which is exactly the reason they rested their whole team for the Europa Auto Windscreens Conference defeat to Vitesse Arnhem in midweek. Conversely, West Ham fans have no such reservations for their disrespect. We are genetically programmed to hate Tottenham, and to hate Tottenham. After all, we are (unashamedly) the Tottenham haters.

Unlike, their north London counterparts, the Hammers have been flying high in European competition. Three games, three wins, no goals conceded and a six-point cushion over the nearest challenger. David Moyes has talked about his desire to still be in Europe after Christmas, but one way or another, this is already virtually assured. Only finishing bottom of Group H would prevent it from happening, as the third placed team would automatically drop down into the Conference.  It is touch and go whether Tottenham will still be involved by then, however, unless there is an even more inferior competition for them to drop in to – the Europa Sunday League Losers Trophy, perhaps.

The ease with which West Ham have taken to European competition has been remarkable. The demands of a punishing Thursday/ Sunday schedule have been offset by David Moyes ability to rotate his squad and still win relatively comfortably. The group might even be won with a game or two to spare – reducing the pressure even more.

Each of the second string players who have featured in Europa League games to date have performed with credit. No-one has let the side down, although that hasn’t stopped some media sites from throwing unwarranted criticism around, whether it be towards Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini or Nikola Vlasic. We know these are not first choice players, but they have done a sterling job as stand-ins – allowing key players to get a deserved break. It was particularly pleasing to see Craig Dawson and Issa Diop get on the scoresheet against Genk – both are also performing to great effect in their defence duties.   

It should be as you were as far as the starting eleven against Tottenham tomorrow is concerned. The only known unknown is who out of Vladimir Coufal, Ben Johnson and Ryan Fredericks gets to play at right back.

For all their bluster, Tottenham have never truly been a part of a ‘big six’, except in their own heads. Along with Arsenal they are the big losers from the failed ESL coup as they slip further away from the top four. At least when Pochettino was manager they had a team and played in a style worthy of grudging admiration. Since then, poor recruitment both on and off the pitch have taken them steadily backwards.  

The appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo was another odd and erratic choice. He was clearly running out of steam at Wolves and his workmanlike approach to football is as far removed from the Spurs ideal as Allardyce was at West Ham. Showing that he so scared of West Ham that he would risk throwing the Conference League will not have gone down well with supporters. Maybe his name translates to Nuno The Not So Brave!

Despite all the shortcomings Nuno does have his get-out-of jail card in Kane and Son – both accomplished at scoring goals and winning penalties. West Ham’s task will be to stay alert and cut off their supply at source. No worries that Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek should come out on top in the midfield battle but avoiding a slow start will once again be essential.  

It’s a great time to a Hammer right now. I have always regarded West Ham circa 1980 – 82 as my all-time favourite team (even more than the boys of 85/86 in fact) but now I am in tow minds. There is just so much to admire about this likeable group of players and their obvious commitment, resilience and team spirit. We should embrace and enjoy it while we can.   

No matter what the circumstances I will always tip West Ham to beat Spurs whenever we meet. Any defence that has Eric Dier in it is never going to be impregnable. I will go for a 3-1 West Ham win. COYI!