It is odd that West Ham have been selected as one of only a handful of clubs to play a re-arranged fixture in the immediate aftermath of the FA Cup weekend. Not sure who has the final say in agreeing to these revised schedules but I can’t believe that David Moyes will be too chuffed that the game against Norwich has been shoehorned in between two testing Leeds fixtures. After all, this was our only cancelled match while others have three or four yet to fit in. Moyes will be fuming rather than buzzing, as the headlines like to say.
That said, a win today would put us right back into the top four, albeit having played extra games over rivals: Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United. The bookmaker’s have the Hammers as clear outsiders from that group for finishing top four at the end of the season. That is no surprise, and it is probably no bad thing to fly just below the radar. The final placings may well be heavily influenced by what each club does in the remaining days of the transfer window. While I would back our ‘best’ eleven against those of the competition, our reserve depth is the weakest by some distance.
Hopes for early additions to the squad have been well and truly managed during the early days of January. Only Newcastle have been willing to spend recklessly and indiscriminately so far. That doesn’t stop the rumours coming thick and fast, though, as we have been linked with a host of new players.
We have all become transfer news clickaholics to some degree. We know we shouldn’t do it, but surely having one last look at the latest link won’t hurt, will it? As long as it is treated as entertainment, you are on safe ground. It really is pointless having a meltdown at the club about a transfer target that has been made-up by some bloke on the internet. That way madness lies!
We just need to put our trust in those in charge. To believe that the bid-preparation team at the London Stadium are working overtime. The manager’s wish-list by their side and the keys to the transfer war-chest hanging on the hook by the door. In the coming days, swoops will be made, cash will be splashed and resolve will be tested. Targets will be prised away as wantaway strikers are snapped up with long-term deals penned before they are torpedoed by other clubs.
It has been the ritual of transfer windows since ancient times. As Shakespeare wrote in his short unpublished play, West Hamlet, “thee hamm’rs might not but maketh a raid f’r that gent who hast issu’d a cometh and getteth me plea, lest thine mast’rstroke be scupp’r’d by the hotspur”
On paper, at home to Norwich has to be the easiest game on the entire fixture list, although nothing can be taken for granted. Prior to their weekend FA Cup win at Charlton the Canaries had lost five consecutive league games, conceding fourteen and scoring none in the process. Their last point was a 1-1 draw with ten-man Newcastle at the beginning of December.
The change of manager from Daniel Farke to Dean Smith has made little difference to results. A desire to play enterprising football without being prepared to invest in the squad is a hopeless rinse and repeat strategy. It is very difficult to see them escaping relegation this year even if one from themselves, Newcastle, Burnley, and Watford will ultimately survive. It would be no surprise, though, if they yo-yoed back up again for the 2023/24 season.
As is normal these days, final team selection is left to the mercy of positive Covid tests. West Ham will again be without injured defenders Angelo Ogbonna, Kurt Zouma and Aaron Creswell, although the latter two are reportedly on the cusp of a return. Said Benrahma is also missing in action at AFCON having come on as an 83rd minute substitute, and missed a ‘golden opportunity’, in Algeria’s scoreless draw with Sierra Leone yesterday. However, Vladimir Coufal may well be available again, as is Pablo Fornals.
I’ve a feeling Moyes will stick with Nikola Vlasic rather than recall Fornals. Vlasic has started to show some decent touches lately and looks to have developed a good understanding with Manuel Lanzini. Could there finally be a league start for Alphonse Areola? He deserves a chance even if Lukas Fabianski has done little wrong. Areola does look to command his box better. I doubt Moyes will go for it, though, and my predicted line-up: Fabianski, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Johnson, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Vlasic, Antonio.
Norwich have a number of injury and sickness concerns including highly rated Chelsea loanee, Billy Gilmour and the out if favour, Todd Cantwell – Cantwell looked to be a real prospect on Norwich’s previous foray in the top flight but his start has faded and is now angling for a move elsewhere.
West Ham completed the double over Norwich in the 2019/20 season and the same should be expected this time around. Complacency is the biggest danger. Moyes must ensure the team are well prepared and do not make one of their occasional sluggish starts. All being well, I foresee a comfortable 3-0 win. COYI!