After A Fortunate FA Cup Win West Ham Will Need More Than Rice and Luck To See Off The Hornets

It’s back to league action after a disappointing transfer window and then scraping past Kidderminster in the FA Cup. Time for the players to show they are more than a one-man band

I’m still not sure what to make of that performance against Kidderminster Harriers. How could a non-League side pass better, be more confident on the ball and have more ideas than a highly paid team from the Premier League’s top six? Was it just a case of poor attitude on the day against very committed opponents? Or are the Hammers reverting to type? If David Moyes had ordered a slice of luck before the game, he got a far larger portion than was deserved.

The first half was possibly the worst 45 minutes from West Ham for several years. I don’t recall any meaningful chances being created. It was a collective failure by all the players to impose themselves and their supposed superiority on the game. The performance of fringe players was a clear reminder of just how thin the squad is. Mark Noble was pedestrian and played far too deep; Nikola Vlasic was so anonymous it was easy to forget he was on the pitch; Andriy Yarmolenko was lethargic and disinterested throughout the whole two hours; Alex Kral was obsessed with playing first time passes without ever looking up; Issa Diop looked terrified of the opposition Number 9, while he and Ryan Fredericks looked like rabbits startled by the headlights each time the ball came to their feet. Neither did Alphone Areola do himself any favours in his quest to claim the Number 1 spot.

Incredible to think that the likes of Yarmolenko (106 caps), Vlasic (33) and Kral (29) are seasoned international players. This was the type of game they (as well as Said Benrahma) should be taking by the scruff of the neck and demonstrating their class. And whose daft idea was the short corner routine?

It was only the introduction of Declan Rice that eventually raised the tempo above comatose. What a poor side we look without him. Not a reassuring glimpse of a post Decxit future. We can’t always expect him to do all it by himself, even if he will try to. What a player! Surely, one of the best ever and an automatic choice in everyone’s all-time West Ham XI.

It was a heart-breaking way for Kidderminster to lose. They didn’t deserve to lose at all, and the timing of the goals must have been particularly distressing. Still the Hammers live to fight another round, although I am not confident on the chances of overcoming our next opponents. Maybe every cup run deserves a stroke of luck somewhere along the way. We may already have used ours up.

It’s back to league action tonight with Watford the visitors to the London Stadium. A quick re-match to follow on from the Hammers 4-1 win at Vicarage Road five weeks ago. Five weeks is a long time at Watford Football Club though and in that time they have swapped one ageing manager for another – Roy Hodgson replacing Claudio Ranieri. They have a very different concept of Manager of the Month in the Hornet’s boardroom.

Hodgson seems an odd choice to me. No doubt his team will be better organised and more difficult to beat than the shambles put out by Ranieri, but that may not be enough. The relegation race still looks like a four-horse race to me – Burnley, Newcastle, Watford, and Norwich – and the one that gets away will be the one able to score enough goals to win games. Difficult to imagine Hodgson’s Watford doing that.

As amusing as it would be, I can’t see Lampard Jr’s side getting dragged into the equation. Having crunched the numbers through the algorithm with my AI Predictor Pin TM I suspect it will be big spending Newcastle who will survive the drop.

Watford survived a drab goalless draw with fellow strugglers Burnley at the weekend and I doubt they will turn up tonight with entertainment on their minds. They are able to welcome Dennis back from suspension but are again without Sarr who has yet to return from AFCON.

Just as we were about to celebrate Kurt Zouma’s recovery from his worrying injury at the weekend, the dreadful story broke of his cat kicking exploits. Why anyone would do that is impossible to understand. Why they would also want it to be filmed for posterity is staggering. Zouma has made what passes for an apology these days – sorry I was caught out or sorry you were upset – but I would be surprised if he is included in today’s squad. His absence would have a huge impact, but the club need to make a stand for decency, even if it means playing Diop again.

Moyes will know he doesn’t have many options in team selection. His decision making will be limited to Coufal or Johnson at right back and which two of Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, and Manuel Lanzini joins Jarrod Bowen in the attacking midfield three. All that supposes Michail Antonio is fit and ready to resume the striker role. Bowen is not a viable alternative and his use there just weakens the team in two positions.

Predicted team: Fabianski, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma, Antonio

West Ham need to quickly get back to winning ways in the league if they are to build on an excellent first half of the season. A home fixture against Watford would have seemed straightforward some weeks ago. But to win they will need to break down what will be a determined and committed Watford rear-guard action. Unfortunately, there is scant recent evidence the Hammers are capable of this. Apart from the skipper, creativity and ideas are in very short supply.  Could a set piece once again be our best opportunity? Not if they persist with short corners, it won’t!

It’s a half-hearted uncertain prediction, this time around, but I will go West Ham to win 2-0. COYI!    

Hesitant Hammers Hoping For Upset In Hornet’s Nest: Moyes Won’t Be Buzzing

Can West Ham arrest their recent slump against an injury hit and rusty Watford? Or will Dennis prove too much of a menace for the tentative Hammer’s defenders?

Football has long been a game of binary emotions. A run of victories and it’s euphoria. Consecutive losses and it’s a disaster with calls for heads to roll. Our view of individual players lurches from world-class to rubbish over the course of a few weeks. Managers are either buzzing or fuming and supporters can swing effortlessly from ecstasy or outrage in the time it takes to post on Twitter.

There’s no doubt that West Ham are having a major wobble right now. On cloud nine after defeating Liverpool, the team has never really recovered from the international break that followed it. The sparkle and swagger that was shaped during a four-game winning run mysteriously disappeared, even if there was a win over Chelsea in the interim.

The Boxing Day game was arguably the worst West Ham performance for many months, particularly in the first half. It was an odd team selection by David Moyes although his decisions not to name Ben Johnson and Michail Antonio in the starting line-up may have been due to fitness concerns. I think many of us were stunned that Arthur Masuaku had kept his place at left back. But the Hammers recent woes are not all down to Arthur’s erratic interpretation of full-back play. We have seen equally poor performances from Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma. Even the usually reliable Vladimir Coufal has been well below par.

There have read various online theories about the Hammer’s downturn. From doom merchants proclaiming that Moyes has lost the dressing room as opponents have rumbled his dinosaur tactics. To pundits suggesting it has been a Europa League inspired burn-out. Personally, I think it is almost entirely down to the successive injuries suffered by Angelo Ogbonna, Kurt Zouma and Aaron Cresswell. That and the inadequate depth in the squad, other than as emergency cover, that has shattered the confidence and created indecision in our play. Any team that relies on Andriy Yarmolenko as its impact substitution is going to be found wanting.

Which direction the season goes from here will be dictated by how quickly the wounded recover, and what reinforcements (if any) arrive during the transfer window. If I were the manager, I would be banging on the boardroom door for an additional centre back, left back, attacking midfielder and striker. I would want players ready to hit the ground running and I would want them as soon as the window opens, not in the final hours before it closes. It is a strange idea that a player might spend the first year of a three-year contract just to settle in.

As we reach the final game of the calendar year, we should not forget that 2021 has been a very positive period for the Hammers. In 40 Premier League games, there have been 21 wins and seven draws earning a total of 70 points with a goal difference of 19. It is a tremendous achievement given the relatively modest resources. Maybe the return can be improved further after the Watford fixture.

The added dilemma for Moyes today is the one match ban picked up by Declan Rice following a clumsy and unnecessary challenge against Southampton. I believe Moyes will opt for Mark Noble as Rice’s replacement given that Alex Kral has yet to experience a single Premier league minute. He may well get the final 15 or 20 today, though. Johnson must replace Masuaku as the only probable change at the back. In the midfield attacking positions I imagine we will see Jarrod Bowen, Manuel Lanzini and Said Benrahma. While Nikoli Vlasic was no worse than Fornals or Benrahma on Sunday it is still difficult to see what his game is all about. He did look fitter and stronger this time, but I have yet to see what attributes he has to justify the large transfer fee?

Watford have not played since losing at Brentford on December 10 – West Ham have played four games since then. They have several players still missing through injuries and Covid including the potentially dangerous Sarr.  The Hornet’s most impressive player this season has been Dennis with seven goals and a handful of assists to his name in the Premier League. There is also King who can potentially be just as irritating to West Ham as a Hornet as he was during his earlier career. The makeshift Hammer’s defence will need to remain on full alert.

Until recently, my opinion was that VAR was having a far better season. Though it now seems not to have been happy with its much lower profile. I still don’t get how the Dawson foul was a penalty against Southampton. Dermot Gallagher says it was a good call as the foul continued into the box. That’s a new interpretation on me and I look forward to seeing similar and consistent awards in the future. Would it have been given to an away side at Anfield, for example? Added to the other Dawson incident at Molineux and the Coufal penalty against Arsenal, and we see that VAR has done us few favours.

West Ham need a win, any sort of win, to begin rebuilding confidence. On paper a visit to an injury hit Watford is as good a time as any to turn the corner. Watford have looked a poor side and have lost their last four league games. There is little likelihood of Ranieri qualifying for a long service award at Vicarage Road – although he will see this as a winnable game. West Ham of old were the ideal opponents to put an end your winless streak against – as Southampton did on Sunday.  Hopefully, we won’t fall back into those bad old ways.

A scrappy 2-0 win will do for me. COYI!