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!

Wouldn’t It Be Good If West Ham could renew their acquaintance with Eintracht Frankfurt? But Tottenham first on Sunday and then Lyon in April.

Since I first went to Upton Park in November 1958 I have seen many great games of football where West Ham have been playing. And Thursday night’s great win over Seville is yet another of the superb matches. The Europa League experts who had never previously been eliminated by an English club in the competition were beaten in extra time with the second emotional winner scored in a week by our Ukrainian Andriy Yarmolenko. But there were great performances all around the field, from the magnificent save by Areola when the score was 0-0 to the tireless Antonio up front, and all the players in between.

Great credit to David Moyes and his coaching staff for the past two seasons, but one area that has been improved immeasurably is the fitness of the whole squad of players. While the Spaniards were making every substitution available to them, we kept almost every player from the starting eleven on the pitch for virtually 120 minutes. And which team were by far the stronger in extra time? Which team wanted to win the game without resorting to penalties? Undoubtedly it was West Ham.

In the last 63 years my favourite ever West Ham game remains the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup semi final second leg that I watched from the North Bank at Upton Park on a night of torrential rain on April 14th 1976. A packed 39,000 plus crowd witnessed a great comeback when we overcame a 2-1 deficit from the first leg in Germany with goals from Keith Robson and two from a majestic performance from the brilliant Sir Trev. There was an electric atmosphere that night and it was repeated with 60,000 in the London Stadium on Thursday.

Friday’s draw gave us the intriguing and enticing possibility of a repeat semi-final against those same opponents from 1976. But first we must overcome Lyon of France, whilst the Germans must beat the tournament favourites Barcelona in the quarter finals. The French team have been disappointing in their domestic league and are currently tenth in mid-table, although their European performances have been much better.

Today’s game against Tottenham comes up very quickly after the extra time exertions of Thursday night and winning will be a difficult task. Friday night’s surprise win by Leeds at Molyneux strengthens our potential to finish in the top seven, although at the moment my understanding is that only the top six will qualify for European competition next season. But if one of the top 4 wins the FA Cup then qualification could fall as low as seventh place, so we are hoping that Manchester City, Chelsea or Liverpool lift that trophy in May. Of course we can ensure qualification if we win the Europa League!

We have a decent record against Tottenham in recent times having won our last two Premier League games against them, but both of those were at the London Stadium. At White Hart Lane we have only won two of the 19 encounters the last one being three years ago when Michail Antonio scored the only goal to inflict Spurs first home defeat at their new stadium. Antonio has scored six Premier League goals against Tottenham, more than he has netted against any other opponents. But it remains to be seen how fit he is after 120 minutes on Thursday night when he was a doubt for that game. Those of you who remember when they used to publish an unofficial London championship in the programme many years ago might like to know that in this season to date Tottenham are currently bottom, having lost five of their seven games.

Tottenham have had a bit of an up and down time so far this season, and it would be great to beat them in this game, but they are understandably the bookies odds-on favourites to win. A draw wouldn’t be the worst result for us looking at the remaining fixtures this season, perhaps 2-2? What are the chances?

Cock-A-Hoop Hammers In The Mood To Win Their Spurs

Buoyant West Ham will be confident of causing yet another upset on the short trip to north London as Mourinho strives to assemble his pick and mix of expensive parts into an effective unit

At 5pm on Friday afternoon, David Sullivan double checked that all the ‘windows’ were now finally closed, poured himself a celebratory Tesco Value brandy and sat back satisfied that most of the hypothetical £40 million transfer kitty had not been disturbed, at least for now. Later he would count it all again, put it in the vault and reset the pressure pad and laser field alarms.

Switching of the blood samples, with some of his own, had worked a treat – the medical team hadn’t been expecting cold reptilian blood. A masterstroke of cunning. The transfer can was well and truly kicked down the road – in the summer permanent deals for Said Benrhama and Craig Dawson could be revealed as exciting new signings and their commitment to spend.

The signing of Benrhama may well turn out to be an excellent move – a touch of much needed flair in the mould of a Payet, Benayoun or Berkovic. He certainly fits the profile of a younger player with something to prove – and with an obvious abundance of natural talent. Exactly how this will fit into the manager’s freshly honed system will unfold over the coming months.

The recent upturn in performances has been founded on a collective work ethic, organisation, and discipline. Modern Premier League football demands that work done off the ball is as important as what occurs when in possession. That is the reason why players such as Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Sebastien Haller have failed to impress. You need to be an exceptional talent if you are not prepared to put in the graft.

Benrhama’s delayed signing means that he is not eligible for today’s game, but I expect his be to a gradual introduction into proceedings. As we have seen during both his spells at West Ham, David Moyes is not the quickest to make changes, even if he gets there in the end. There will be no impulsive or rash changes to shape to suit an individual player. While a back four allows for greater options further forward, it exposes the well-known weakness at left back. Unless Benrhama can match the work-rate of Pablo Fornals his opportunities may be limited to impact substitute in the immediate future.  A welcome addition, nonetheless, to a squad that is one pinged hamstring away from disintegration.

Impossible to imagine any changes to the West Ham starting line-up for today, unless enforced through illness or injury. According to reports the only doubt is Arthur Masuaku who sustained a knee injury on international duty with the DR Congo. If he is not available, I would prefer to see Ben Johnson as s direct replacement rather than a reshuffle bringing Issa Diop (or Dawson) into the back three and pushing Aaron Cresswell back out wide.

Tactically, it cries out for a re-run of what we saw at Leicester. Tottenham’s threat is speed in attack, and it will be the pace of Son (rather than Vardy) that the Hammers must be alert to. Then again, West Ham can boast the second meanest defence in the league, so maybe there is little to worry about – unless that is merely a quirk of the early season table.

For all the hosts attacking prowess, there is vulnerability and uncertainty at the back that can be exploited by the movement of our own forward players. Tottenham have yet to win at home this season and if the Hammers can reproduce their Wolves and Leicester form, it promises to be an intriguing contest. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek will again be pivotal in maintaining discipline and providing the springboard for rapid counter attacking. Painful as it is to say, I think Tottenham will enjoy a very good season as others of the big six flounder, but not until after today’s game. My theory (or is it hope) is that it will take time for Mourinho to instil a workable balance into his side.

Much of the pre-match build up will undoubtedly be focused on the return of prodigal Spurs son, Gareth Bale. Astute readers will have spotted that Bale is an anagram of Abel and that linking up with Kane adds a biblical dimension, particularly with a manager who considers himself a god. The previous Cain and Abel story did not end well, and we must remember that Bale failed to end up on the winning side, in any league game, during his first season in north London. As far West Ham prophecies go, a chance, perhaps, for Moyses to lead his team to the promised land of top six by the end of the day.

The goals keep coming thick and fast in the mysterious atmosphere of a fan free Premier League, despite the dull affair served up by Manchester City and Arsenal at The Etihad yesterday evening. With the statistical averages to date favouring away sides and four VAR approved goals scored, everything points to a 3-1 West Ham win. That would do nicely!   

All Said And Done: It’s Back To The Action As West Ham Take On Spurs

It was a cold February Thursday afternoon in 1979. I was on my way home from work when West Ham appeared on the radio on the sports news at the end of the main news bulletin. At the time we were a second tier side so it was very unusual for us to show up in a sports news item on a weekday afternoon. Then I heard the announcement that West Ham had broken the world record transfer fee for signing a goalkeeper. £565,000 for a 29 year-old from QPR (then in the top flight) with one England cap to his name. It was considered a bit of a risk because even then it was alleged that he had dodgy knees. But he stayed with us for over a decade and became possibly the best goalkeeper we’ve ever had. Certainly he was the best keeper I ever saw playing for West Ham. Reg Pratt, the chairman at the time, made a comment that I can’t recall exactly, but it was along the lines of the fact that Phil was too much for us to possibly afford? But it happened.

The point of relating this is that until I heard on the radio that he had signed for us I didn’t even know we were after him. I was an avid fan who liked to keep abreast of all that was happening at the club but I didn’t have a clue. Contrast this with the situation we have today where, in every transfer window, fuelled and hyped by the written media, social media, and in particular Sky Sports, there is continual speculation regarding players that we are apparently chasing. So many names appear and nearly all of them are wide of the mark, but they spark a frenzy on West Ham sites with fans seemingly believing what they read, and adding their comments pro and against as if they are experts. I prefer the first scenario – the one where I find out that we have signed an excellent player without even knowing about it until he has the shirt on.

The Said Benrahma saga is a specific example of the nonsense surrounding football transfers today. How long has the transfer window been open? As I write this with about five minutes to go until the five o’clock deadline I still haven’t seen confirmation that Benrahma is a West Ham player, although there are some sketchy reports that the deal has been done on a loan basis with an obligation to buy. Apparently the reason for this is that the two clubs didn’t have the necessary time to complete the necessary paperwork to make the deal permanent by the 5pm deadline! There was a lot of reporting about a failed medical which was disputed by David Moyes in his lunchtime press conference, but really it can only be West Ham who typically make such a shambles of transfers. The circumstances regarding the change from purchase to “loan with obligation to buy” are a complete mystery at the moment, but will perhaps be revealed in the fullness of time. As a long- time fan I was just getting ready to hear how the transfer fell through at the last minute (the kind of statement I have heard before), but was then pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t appear to be the case.

I hope that we have secured the signing because, from what I have seen when watching Championship football, Benrahma is one of the most exciting talents in that division (just as Jarrod Bowen was). I don’t dispute what a number of our fans have said when they have suggested that this was not a priority position for a new acquisition and there are other areas of the pitch that perhaps need strengthening first. But we have signed what looks like an excellent right back in Coufal, and Craig Dawson at centre back is no mug either, even if he isn’t a world class signing that some had hoped for. For me he is a better buy than Tarkowski would have been at that ridiculous price being quoted, and if that has enabled us to fork out for Benrahma then so much the better.

But did I imagine that the chairman recently made a comment regarding “too many wingers”? Many fans didn’t understand why Diangana was allowed to go, and a few still believe that Anderson would have come good again, but I believe that Benrahma may be a better proposition than both of them and I hope that turns out to be the case. The purchase still makes the chairman’s comment look a little silly though.  

But enough of all this transfer nonsense, a quick recall of where we were before the unwelcome international break halted our progress. If you thought that the 4-0 win over a talented Wolves side was just another of those West Ham moments that happens once in a while, then you would have been surprised that we even surpassed that when visiting the league leaders Leicester, and comprehensively thumped them 3-0, and (just like the Wolves game) it could have been more. 7-0 in two games against two of the more fancied teams in the Premier League. As well as the host of chances that we created in each game, perhaps one of the most pleasing aspects was keeping two clean sheets, and defending as a team as well as any West Ham side I have seen in recent times. A 3-0 win away to the league leaders would have been headline news, but it barely raised a mention in the media in view of two other extraordinary results that weekend, with Tottenham winning 6-1 at Manchester United, and Villa thumping Liverpool 7-2.

Going back briefly to transfer signings, Coufal played superbly on his debut at Leicester, and looks an excellent acquisition. I was watching some international football in the week (something I don’t usually bother with much these days) and started to watch England facing Denmark. Rice seemed to be having a decent game, but I was bored with the match and switched over to watch Scotland facing the Czech Republic. Although the Czechs lost the game 1-0, they were playing really well. I was mostly interested to watch our two players, Soucek and Coufal, who along with their colleagues (most of whom seemed to be Slavia Prague players) were creating chance after chance but just failing to score. In view of the success of our two recently bought Czech players, perhaps a further raid in Prague for skilful footballers wouldn’t be the worst place to look in future?

So we look forward to another Sunday game (have we played a single game this season on a Saturday with a 3pm kick off?) against our neighbours from North London. Two in-form teams, neither of whom probably wanted the season to be disrupted at this point, will resume their local rivalry. But, despite the form of our opposition I hope that we go into the game full of confidence and continue to play as we have done in the last three league games. I know we lost at Arsenal but we could easily have won that game too. The pessimism surrounding the club has disappeared for the moment and we can be optimistic for another fine performance. We follow this game with matches against the top two from last season, and both Liverpool and Manchester City will be well up for improving on their start to this campaign.

Assuming no injuries I wonder if we will line up in the same formation with the same personnel that won at Leicester? As far I can gather the manager has a fully fit squad to choose from as he resumes his seat in the dugout, with Diop, Fredericks and Masuaku fully recovered from isolation / minor injuries. Just looking at recent history between the two clubs then the fixture looks like a home win, and the newly acquired Bale inspired Lilywhites (What kind of nickname is that? Do fans still use it?) will hope to record their fifth win in the last six meetings in all competitions against us. But as we have seen in our recent games against Wolves and Leicester, we appear to have turned the corner from a defensive viewpoint, and hopefully we will be difficult to break down. Michail Antonio is in splendid form and has a good goalscoring record against Tottenham so let us hope he can extend that in this game. The two managers have been in in opposite dugouts 14 times, and Mourinho has never lost. Well that is just the kind of statistic I like to see. There’s always a first time. Of course Tottenham are odds on to win, but you can get around 9/2 on West Ham notching a third successive league win this season. That’ll do me.   P.S. It’s now 10 p.m. so I thought I’d better check to make sure that the signing of Benrahma was completed satisfactorily and it was. That’s good. With our history I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been errors with the completion or submission of the paperwork, so I thought I’d better make sure!