Hammers Have Hope In Their Hearts For Annual Anfield Altercation

Will the dreams be tossed and blown or will they fade and die as West Ham make the annual pointless trip up north to play Liverpool

According to popular wisdom: “it is better to travel in hope than to arrive”. That has certainly been the case for West Ham visits to Liverpool in the past. A contest that has seen the visitors accumulate a paltry three away wins in ninety-nine years of competition. Recent experience provides no greater comfort with a run of five straight defeats since the Hammers last came away with a point in December 2016. Famously, a 50+ year hoodoo had been broken the previous season – but that was not to be start of a new era and the fixture continues to carry the hallmarks of a contractual obligation.

The ‘travel in hope’ quotation is said to have been coined by by Robert Louis Stevenson. Quite appropriate then that it would require a monstrous Jekyll and Hyde type transformation from last weekend’s respective performances for the visitors to improve on their sad record.

Following Liverpool’s stuttering start to the season, where their problem has been far too many drawn games, it was a shock to see them stifle and defeat a free-scoring Manchester City side, who I had earmarked as potential Invincibles material. Perhaps they were fortunate that Haaland had gone ‘off the boil’ by extending his goal drought to a whole match! Still it was a far more energetic and purposeful performance by the hosts in which the only straw clutching hope is that it may have taken a lot out of them – and resulted in one or two more injuries.

True to form, VAR once again found itself at the centre of attention when it went into overdrive to disallow what might heve been Manchester City’s opener. Had Haaland pulled Fabinho’s force with sufficient grippage (is that a word?) ; did Haaland subsequently kick the ball out of Alissons hands; if not, should that have constituted a new phase of play; does anyone understand the rules; do they make them up as they go along? Suffice to say, we shouldn’t expect any favours from the VAR team this evening.

As for the Hammers, it was a case of two points dropped at St Marys Stadium on Sunday. The absence of four recognised central defenders from the West Ham line-up set the scene for the game with David Moyes opting for an unusual all-full-back back three of Ben Johnson, Thilo Kehrer, and Aaron Cresswell. As I have written before, my aversion to playing three at the back is not that it is negative, but because there’s no-one in the squad capable of playing effectively as wing-backs. Vladimir Coufal and Emerson went on to prove that point perfectly. Sad to see that Coufal received abuse on social media. Whatever the shortcomings or poor form of various players, I don’t see any that are not giving 100%.

The makeshift defence started like a group of strangers and although understanding steadily improved, the Hammers found themselves a goal down by then. It was a goal conceded in bizarre circumstances when hapless referee, Peter Bankes, body checked Jarrod Bowen to present Perraud with a shooting opportunity. Bankes, and his VAR minder, would later go on to miss a penalty area judo throw on Tomas Soucek – the type of challenge that was penalised at every other ground over the weekend.

If the starting line-up that Moyes opted for could be seen as understandable in the circumstances, his substitutions were once more beyond perplexing. His team had been well on top for most of the game. Possession, goal attempts and corner kicks were off the scale, and Southampton had given up any pretence of trying to score. Only one team were capable of going on to win the game. Surely, time to give it a real go – an opportunity to see Giancarlo Scamacca and Michail Antonio terrorise the Saints defence for the final ten or fifteen minutes? But no, that’s just what they would have expected us to do. Far better to take off your biggest goal threats and tamely play out the remaining minutes to bank the point. A lovely goal by Declan Rice, by the way!

This week’s episode of Centre Back Crisis season 2 is the subject of conflicting reports. Wishful thinking says that at least one of Kurt Zouma and Craig Dawson should be available to play, while past performance indicates that recoveries always take longer than anticipated from the West Ham sickbay. It’s good news that Nayef Aguerd is nearing first team action and it can’t come soon enough. Relying on the ageing bodies of Dawson and Angelo Ogbonna in a packed programme of fixtures is never going to end well.

Even in perfect conditions, a trip to Anfield is a daunting task for West Ham. Having to play the same defence that took the field at Southampton would bring the pessimism level down several more notches. A silver lining is that Liverpool have their own injury problems, except they are still able to throw the combined talents of Salah, Firmino and Nunez at our depleted defences. The confirmed team news will be viewed with interest. If Antonio is preferred to Scamacca it will be obvious what sort of evening we are in for. An ultra-low block with hopeful punts up-field as the one and only outlet.

Perhaps Moyes will pull a surprise for once. But his record and deference against the ‘big six’ is well known. Over the past two seasons of relative West Ham success, his teams have lost sixteen of twenty-four games played against the ‘elite’. Away from home the record is poor in the extreme: played twelve, won none, drawn one, and lost eleven. Only Manuel Lanzini’s very last minute strike at Tottenham preventing an outright whitewash.

In the interests of travelling hopefully though, perhaps there’s an outside chance we can escape with a point. COYI!

Are Upbeat West Ham Ready To Exploit The Irregular Rhythm Of The Saints?

Despite the winning mentality building at West Ham out of recent league and European exploits it will be a tough test on the south coast against under pressure Southampton

When asked what he thought about football, a wise man once said: “It’s a funny old game.” It’s a fascinating insight and one that is particularly pertinent when it comes to football management. How else can you explain why anyone would want to give Steve Bruce a job?

Very few managers these days ever get to win a trophy – such is the financial dominance of a small group of powerful clubs. In the past ten seasons, the three major English honours have been shared by just five clubs (sorry, Tottenham) on all but four occasions – Leicester’s league title in 2016 and FA Cup win in 2020, Wigan’s FA Cup in 2013, and Swansea’s League Cup, also in the same year. In the last five seasons, Manchester City have won nine of the fifteen prizes on offer.

For anyone managing outside the richest clubs, success is purely relative. Trying to keep the owners and supporters happy (in that order) by maximising prize money and steering clear of relegation. Buried somewhere in their priority list is a precarious balance between expectations, results and entertainment.  

Just a few weeks ago, the ominous rasp of knives being sharpened might well have haunted David Moyes dreams. But a run of six wins from seven games (in all competitions) has been enough to silence his band of critics for now. A strong enough position to see off at least another two or three Prime Ministers.

Although the Hammer’s league position still leaves much to be desired, securing another feast of post-Christmas European football adds further credit to the manager’s account. In truth, a Premier League side not being able to qualify from a Europa Conference group must be regarded as a monumental failure (sorry, again Tottenham). Still, doing so with two games to spare, and using a largely second-string set of players, could not have gone any better.

This week, by complete coincidence, I came across a critique of Jose Mourinho’s management style by Spanish journalist, Diego Torres. Not a huge fan of the Special One, Torres distilled Mourinho’s footballing philosophy into the following principles:

  • The game is won by the team who commit fewer errors.
  • Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition.
  • Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it’s better to encourage their mistakes.
  • Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake
  • Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.
  • Whoever has the ball has fear.
  • Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger.

While it would be harsh to tar Moyes with precisley the same brush, there are certainly familiar themes – which become more visible as better players are brought into the club. When Moyes first arrived he did an amazing job of getting the best from the limited resources he had available. But as the value of his squad increases, he needs to demonstrate more variety in his game plan. The cycle of defend deep, break quickly, and score from set pieces cannot repeat indefinitely. The squad now has players that can add creativity to the energy and organisation, but there needs to be more freedom, less inhibition, greater adventure, improved fluidity and movement; and less respect for opponent’s reputations.

The transition is not an easy one, but there can be no linear path in football for clubs like ours. Without a preception of success, improvement, and momentum, the better players will move on, and it will be back to square one. See Leicester City for details.

Today, West Ham travel to the south coast to meet floundering Southampton. A string of four consecutive defeats, including reverses against Wolves, Villa, and Everton has seen the Saints slip alarmingly down the table and propelled Ralph Hasenhuttl to frontrunner in the managerial sack race, currently neck and neck with Steven Gerrard at Villa. A good time for West Ham to play them or will we see a survival mode response from the home side?

If there were to be an armchair poll of supporter’s preferred West Ham line-ups, my instinct is that it would show a strong desire for Alphonse Areola to replace Lucasz Fabianski, Flynn Downes to replace Tomas Soucek, and anyone (Michail Antonio, Said Benrahma or Maxwell Cornet) to replace Pablo Fornals. It is certainly what I have been longing to see, although none of that is likely to happen today.

Moyes has spoken highly of Downes in recent weeks but appears set on bringing him on minute by minute in the league. Last weekend Downes doubled his Premier League minutes from one to two; a rate that doesn’t suggest a stunningly rapid development plan. Surely, he must be given a twenty to thirty minute shift before too long.

The persistence with Fornals is the perfect example of Moyes’ aversion to risk. Preferring to employ him as an auxiliary defender rather than fielding a more attack minded player. I doubt any other side in the league plays with fewer players who are primarilyy focus on offense. The lack of options and movement that this creates contributes significantly to the below average level of ball retention.

Fans will remember that West Ham and Southampton were promoted from the Championship together in 2011/12. In the twenty league matches played since, West Ham have won ten, Southampton five, and there have been five draws – four of them goalless affairs at St Marys. The Saints did, however, run out comfortable winners when the teams last met in the fifth round of the 2021/22 FA Cup.

The current Southampton side is full of busy players but they are short of true quality, aside from the dead ball expertise of Ward-Prowse. That said, I am not as confident as others that the game presents something of a ‘gimme’ for the Hammers. Much will depend on two factors: one, whether the Hammers can find enough fit central defenders to start the game following injuries sustained in midweek; and two, whether they can shake off the characteristic slow start that has tended to follow previous midweek European outings.

I would love to predict a third league win on the bounce. One day we may get to see a West Ham romp inspired by the burgeoning skills of Gianluca Scamacca and Lucas Paqueta. It could be today but equally I can easily see the spoils being shared. COYI!

West Ham at Southampton, the Anderlecht game, and thoughts on VAR, offside and handball.

Did you read Geoff’s excellent article in Under The Hammers on Thursday prior to the European game against Anderlecht? In it he described how it never ceases to amaze him how much of a pigs-ear officials have made of implementing VAR, and how the beauty of football is it’s simplicity. He went on to discuss the meal that the VAR review system made of last Sunday’s game against Fulham. For once all three West Ham goals stood following review, but they took an absolute age, didn’t they, taking the spontaneity out of celebrating a goal scored?

I’ll put my cards on the table here and say that I am a fan of the concept of VAR. But, and this is a massive but, only if it is used as it was surely intended, to highlight to the referee that he has blundered by not seeing something that has resulted in a clear and obvious error.

Goals are checked for offside, but it seems to take an age to draw the lines, and in the end it often comes down to a toe being in an offside position or not. I’d personally like to see a change to the offside law. It was originally introduced to prevent goal-hanging more than 100 years ago and this made sense at the time, and not to decide whether a player had a toe (or any other part of the body that can touch the ball legally) in an offside position anywhere in the opponent’s half. Surely it would be simple enough to change the law such that if any part of the attacker’s body is in line with any part of the defender’s body then the attacker is onside? It would take literally seconds to confirm this.

Perhaps even more controversially, how ridiculous that you can be offside anywhere in the opponent’s half? Why not extend the line of the penalty area and only give offside decisions in the final 18 yards of the pitch? This would mean that the game would be stretched over a greater area. You can’t be goal-hanging 50 yards from the goal! Perhaps this idea of mine is a step too far, but at least I understand that technology is advancing to an extent that cameras will soon be able to identify offside automatically without the need for linesmen, or assistant referees as they are now called. Perhaps that will enable them to concentrate on assisting the referee more? Is that something we would want them to do?

But even more contentious than offside in the modern game is the concept of handball. I was interested to read an article by Mike Dean in his column in the Daily Mail this week where he talks about handballs being the hardest part of being an official. “Give me a tackle, a trip, a push, some grappling in the box or an offside any day of the week” he says.

But going back to Geoff’s point about football being a simple game, why can’t we make the handball law much more straightforward? Dean goes on to discuss what the officials have to consider when assessing handball. “Did the ball strike the player on the red zone (below the shirt sleeve) or the green zone which I assume to be above the shirt sleeve? I wonder how they assess this if players are wearing long sleeves? What was the proximity of the player to where the ball was struck from? Did they have time to react? Was it deliberate? Was their arm in an unnatural position or was it naturally a consequence of his body shape an movement? How can you be sure what position is natural for the arm from one individual to another? Was there a clear movement of the arm to make the body bigger?”

He goes on to say that “handballs have always been a talking point and they remain so to this day regardless of the introduction of VAR.”

Dean’s comments lifted from his article are in bold italics in the paragraphs above. No wonder it takes so long to come to a conclusion! Once again I have what I think is a simple solution. Just leave it to the referee to decide if a player deliberately uses his hand / arm to gain an advantage. If so, then penalise him. So many handball decisions seem to be given where there is no intent. Of course the decision of the referee will be a subjective one – these are often not clear-cut, but even after looking at a multitude of camera angles, it seems to me that it is impossible to decide whether all of the points that Dean raises for handball decisions lead to a clear conclusion. Pundits analysing the decisions on TV have varying opinions. Yes, VAR can intervene if the referee has made a clear and obvious error, but let’s keep it simple. Only intervene if the referee has missed something clear and obvious. Just have one criteria. Was it deliberate or not? And that’s the end of it.

The result of the Anderlecht game was not really a reflection of the 90 minutes. At 2-0 the team concentrated on possession rather than adding to the lead, then towards the end Ben Johnson made a clumsy challenge in the penalty area which led to an unnecessary few uncomfortable minutes to see the victory out. Once again a good performance from a number of players that haven’t been in the starting eleven in league games. Once again, Flynn Downes demonstrated his midfield potential and must surely get more minutes in the near future.

Southampton are the opponents this weekend. In my start of season predictions I forecast them to be one of the three clubs to be relegated this season, and nothing I’ve seen so far has made me change my mind on this. Three Midlands clubs (Leicester, Forest and Wolves) currently occupy the relegation places with Southampton immediately above them.

Their seven points all came in the opening month of the season, drawing at home to Leeds, winning at Leicester, and at home to Chelsea. In September they lost at Wolves and Villa, and in October so far they were soundly beaten (as so many are) by Manchester City and then last weekend lost at home to Everton.

We have yet to reach the heights of the last two campaigns this season, but our form contrasts with our south coast opponents. Where their game appears to be deteriorating with four consecutive league defeats, our form has slowly improved after not such a good start with six wins in our last seven games, two in the league and four in Europe. The European campaign has been promising without being outstanding, and we have (almost) already won the group with two games to spare.

I’d like to think that we’ll beat Southampton easily, but you never can be sure of how it will go on a Sunday following a Thursday game. 2-0 perhaps? What are the chances?

There’s Only One F In Stratford: West Ham Entertain The Cottagers At The London Stadium

Two wins, two clean sheets and the luxury of selection dilemmas might finally put a smile on David Moyes face

A week is a long time in football. Two wins and two clean sheets in five days have transformed David Moyes demeanour and medium term outlook beyond his wildest expectations. Gone was the startled Scooby Doo look of panic that was a constant during his time at Sunderland, to be replaced by the smug satisfaction of a man who had just found a can of Irn-Bru in the mini-bar of his Brussels hotel room.

Having made nine changes to his side for the midweek game at Anderlecht, the Hammers put in a professional performance to take control of the game, even if needed the introduction of Declan Rice, Gianluca Scamacca and Lucas Paqueta to finally seal the victory. An impressive trinity to be able to summon from the bench.

I’m already viewing the title of Group B champions as a done deal, and have started to look at which teams could potentially block the path to the final. Of those in the Conference itself, Villareal pose the greatest threat, followed by Koln and Fiorentina, though neither have made impressive starts in their respective groups. More of a problem are the clubs dropping down from the Europa League. Clearly, we wouldn’t want to face either of the English clubs – given previous inferiority complexes shown against Arsenal and Manchester United – and thankfully neither are likely to end up eliminated. Of the sides currently sitting third in their Europa groups, Roma and Lazio would be the greatest worries and best avoided. I’m all in favour of the clearest and easiest route possible to the final in Prague.

Standing in the way on back-to-back West Ham Premier League wins this weekend are newly promoted Fulham. The Cottagers have made a decent start back in the top flight and currently sit in ninth place with eleven points – having recorded wins at home to Brentford and Brighton and away at Forest. But a home victory today would lift the Hammers to within a single point of the visitors.

The Fulham gig has seen the resurrection of Portuguese manager, Marco Silva. Once the rising star among young Premier League coaches, Silva floundered, as many have before and since, in the graveyard of managerial ambitions that is Goodison Park. Eyebrows were raised when he replaced Scott Parker at Craven Cottage, but a barnstorming run to last season’s Championship title has represented a remarkable rebound in his stock.

A large part of Fulham’s resurgence has been to contribution and goals of Mitrovic. This time around he has offered far more than the typical blunt instrument impact of previous campaigns. Fortunately for West Ham, the Serb is a highly probable non-starter today.

The visitors were soundly beaten by Newcastle at Craven Cottage last time out when the early dismissal of Chalobah did little to help their cause. Chalobah’s ensuing suspension may herald an interesting return of Issa Diop to the London Stadium.

Moyes has a handful of selection dilemmas for the game which will test his loyalty to the established order. Has Alphonse Areola finally earned the inevitable upgrade to number one, Number One status? Who gets the nod between Emerson and Aaron Cresswell for the problematic left-back slot? Has Flynn Downes done enough to show he can be a Premier League starter in preference to Tomas Soucek?

I can’t see Moyes leaving out either Lukasz Fabianski or Soucek. Both had decent enough games last weekend against Wolves meaning the midweek heroics of Areola and Downes will likley go unrewarded. Fabianski will need either injury or serious howlers to lose his place.

It is ridiculous that Downes has just one minute (and no touches) of Premier League football to his name – in the season opener against Manchester City. The value of committed, no-nonsense players like Downes and Craig Dawson who make a real nuisance of themselves is hugley under-rated. If Downes doesn’t get a start he must be given at least twenty minutes or so to demonstrate he can cut it at this level.

It’s a toss-up for me at left back as I’ve yet to be convinced by Emerson’s defensive prowess. The problem with Cresswell’s rapidly waning powers, however, is that his presence almost guarantees the inclusion of the under-performing Pablo Fornals to baby-sit as a supplementary full-back. It’s the structural problem with the way that Moyes sets up in that our wide attacking players are given way too much defensive responsibility (well beyond the need to track back in response to an emerging threat). The consequuence is that out-ball options once possession is regained are severely limited.

Far better if the more advanced players are deployed further up the pitch to launch offensive actions and ensure the main striker does not get isolated. It was once said that it requires surgery to get a joke into a Scotsman’s head. Possibly harsh, but a similar procedure might be necessary if Moyes is to be persuaded that Scamacca and Michail Antonio can prosper together in the same side.

Scamacca is now the clear and obvious first choice frontman. He has demonstrated a predatory nose for goal and there are signs of promising understandings developing with both Jarrod Bowen and Paqueta. But Antonio still has much to offer – he is our leading all-time Premier League scorer after all. But as a striker, he gravitates towards the wings too much anyway, so why not play him there in a reprise of his earlier days at the club?

West Ham can boast an excellent record against Fulham over the years and in recent history with the Hammers having won three and drawn one of the last four meetings. Even so, both games in the 2020/21 Fulham relegation season were close run things and but for Lookman’s comical last minute penalty would have ended all square.

The absence of Mitrovic would be a huge blow to the visitors. Despite their promising start to the season they still have one of the worst defensive records in the divion. But West Ham’s profligacy in front of goal must improve if they are to advantage. A 2-0 win for the home side. COYI!

East London faces West London when Fulham are the visitors to the London Stadium to face a West Ham side looking for a third win in a row

After an indifferent start to the season the last week has been a good one for West Ham. A 2-0 win over Wolves which led to the sacking of their manager was followed by a 1-0 win in Belgium, a minor form of revenge against Anderlecht for our defeat in the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup final. Two victories, two clean sheets and an opportunity for most of the first team squad to get minutes on the pitch under their belt, and a chance to show the manager what they can do.

Three points last weekend were badly needed to move out of the bottom three and a game against Fulham is an opportunity to build on that. That is not to say that the newly-promoted West Londoners should be under estimated for they have made a decent start in their return to the top flight. They sit in eighth place with eleven points with wins over Brighton, Brentford and Forest and a draw against Liverpool being the highlights. Their last game a week ago was a bit of a nightmare after having a player sent off in the first few minutes, and they eventually lost 4-1 to Newcastle. They will be looking to bounce back. But this is exactly the type of game we should be looking to win if we want to continue our progress up the table.

Nine changes from the league game gave a lot of fringe players the opportunity to shine on Thursday evening, and in my view one player stood out, namely Flynn Downes. In two European appearances he has been my man of the match on each occasion. Surely he must be given an opportunity soon in the league? I won’t get bogged down in statistics here, but he demonstrated his skill in so many facets of the midfielders role. One thing that I particularly admire is his ability to find a team mate with his passing enabling retention of the ball, a skill not necessarily shared amongst all his colleagues.

Areola had very little to do but showed his concentration when making a magnificent save late in the game to confirm the win. The summer recruitment meant that we had the strongest bench seen for a long time, and the triple substitution bringing on Rice, Paqueta and Scamacca was key to taking the lead. I would have liked to see the manager experiment for at least a short period with Antonio and Scamacca on the pitch at the same time but he seems reluctant to do so, preferring just one at a time.

I don’t usually publish the team I would like to see playing in a game, but for this game against Fulham I will. I know the manager will not pick this team but here goes.

Areola
Kehrer, Dawson, Zouma, Emerson
Downes, Rice,
Bowen, Paqueta, Antonio
Scamacca

It won’t happen of course and I fully expect Fabianski, Cresswell, Soucek and Fornals to be in the starting eleven. I like Benrahma but he appears to be lacking in confidence at the moment. He has the skills to unlock defences but seems to have lost his composure when making the final pass or in front of goal. He needs a manager to have faith in him. I worry about Cresswell, Ogbonna and Lanzini. All three have been great servants but haven’t been the same following serious injuries. Fornals and Soucek have some great attributes but both seem to me to give the ball away too easily at the moment.

Apparently Mitrovic is an injury doubt, but if he plays he will be a threat. But I predict a third clean sheet in a row, a 2-0 win. I can’t remember the last time that we won two league games in a row – it must be many months ago. 

Belgian Waffle: West Ham’s Revenge Visit To Anderlecht

If revenge is a dish best served cold, then waiting forty-six years to take it should bring a deep frozen sense of satisfaction. But can the Hammers do the business in Brussels?

In a bad week for conferences, West Ham renew their Europa Conference campaign with an away trip to Belgian side, Anderlecht. Should the Hammers prevail and maintain their perfect start in Group B it would create clear daylight between themselves and the rest of the pack. Getting the group sewn up early would be a huge bonus given poor domestic form and the prospect of ten games in the next thirty-seven days.

Older Hammers will remember well the only previous encounter between West Ham and Anderlecht. The 1976 European Cup-Winners’ Cup (ECWC) Final, played at the infamous Heysel stadium – a 10 km hike across Brussels from tonight’s venue.

Anderlecht were part of the European elite back in the 70’s and 80’s. The days before mega TV deals and big money when success was shared around more evenly, allowing the Belgians to win two ECWC Finals, one UEFA Cup and two UEFA Super Cups – as well as appearing as losing finalists four times.

In the 1976 Final, the Anderlecht line-up featured Dutch masters Rob Rensenbrink and Arie Haan plus future Hammer, Francois Van der Elst. They were firm favourites to win the game against an out of form West Ham who relied heavily on the legendary services of Trevor Brooking and Billy Bonds. If you think the Hammer’s current form is bad now, in 1976 it was abysmal. In all the league games played between January and May the record was: played nineteen, lost twelve, drawn six and won one (against QPR). A run that saw the team fall from top spot in November to finally finish eighteenth (out of twenty-two).

Even so the Hammers put in a decent shift on the night. An early lead through Pat Holland was cancelled out just before half time before following a poor Frank Lampard back pass. Van der Elst put Anderlecht ahead just after the break, but the Hammers clawed their way back into contention when Keith Robson headed home from Brooking’s cross twenty minutes from time. With the tie nicely poised, the game turned when Holland was adjudged to have brought down Rensenbrink in the penalty area. Where was VAR when you needed it? Rensenbrink netted from the spot and Van der Elst scored his second late on, to make it 4-2, as the Hammers pushed forward for an equaliser.

Anderlecht remain Belgium’s most successful club side of all time although their pre-eminence has been usurped by Club Brugge in recent years. Although the Purple and White have never finished outside the Belgian league’s top six, they are floundering this term in a lowly tenth position. What we wouldn’t give for tenth!

David Moyes is likely to make several changes for tonight’s fixture following a welcome first home win, with some signs of improvement, at the weekend. It will be the usual switch of keeper and possibly the return of Vladimir Coufal and Angelo Ogbonna in defence. Ideally there should be further chances for Flynn Downes and Said Benrahma in midfield and possibly a recall for Manuel Lanzini. Surely, Gianluca Scamacca must be allowed to continue his splendid Euro scoring form and maybe, just maybe, with Jarrod Bowen and Maxell Cornet nursing injuries, we might even get to see Scamacca and Michail Antonio on the pitch at the same time. It has been reported that several youth team players have been added to the squad in Brussels but past evidence suggests that carrying the bags is the only action they will see.

Most recognisable names in the Anderlecht line-up are ex-Tottenham warhorse, Jan Vertonghen and expensive Wolverhampton striking flop, Fabio Silva – a player so ineffective he couldn’t get a game in a team with no strikers.

The previous two group games have seen (what has become) the trademark slow start from Moyes’ team, having fallen behind against both FCSB and Silkeborg. A repeat tonight would be best avoided while another three-goal haul (making it five in a row in the competition) would be more than welcome. West Ham to win 3-1.  

West Ham’s season so far – poor performances, poor decisions or bad luck? Can we turn it around before the World Cup interrupts the season again in mid-November?

If you’ve been away to a remote island for the past couple of months and missed the beginning of the season then a quick glance at the Premier League table will tell you all you need to know about West Ham’s start to the 2022-23 campaign. Or will it?

Certainly it’s not ideal to be occupying a place in the bottom three at any stage, although only seven games in gives you the opportunity to put matters right by next May.

But after two consecutive seasons of qualifying for European football by virtue of a top 6/7 league position we have already given the rest of the teams a head start and made it difficult to achieve the feat for a third successive year.

So what has gone wrong? Why have we only collected four points from the opening seven games? For much of the time the players on show have not reached the levels achieved in the previous two campaigns either individually or collectively. For me, Fabianski, Coufal, Cresswell, Fornals, Lanzini, Benrahma, Soucek and Bowen all fall into that category to some extent and even Rice has not performed at the top of his game, but we can’t expect him to do it all! From reading social media I know that some will agree and some will differ with my assessment.

Our new recruits look good on paper with lots of international footballers, but have they been given sufficient opportunity yet to show what they are capable of? And have we bought the right players to blend together to become a top seven Premier League club? 

Many fans believe that the manager has continued to select out of form players that have done it in the past whilst being reluctant to throw new recruits into the fray claiming they are not yet ready. New signings at other clubs seem to hit the ground running!

So many poor decisions all round have contributed to our league position. Things might have been different if officials had not ruled out (controversially) Benrahma’s goal when Antonio was blocked, not the other way round surely? Or the failure of the referee to send Forest down to 10 men with the deliberate hand ball? Or Rice’s decision to take the penalty kick? Added to the bad luck hitting the inside of the woodwork twice and we could easily have collected 3 points from the opener at Forest.

It goes on. Poor finishing towards the end of the Tottenham game meant only one point when it could have, perhaps should have, been three. There’s no way Chilwell would have scored Chelsea’s opening goal If Fabianski had not left his line at the post. The refereeing decision to deny our late equaliser has been well documented and 99 per cent of people believe it was wrong. We should have had one, and possibly three points from that game too.

True, the luck did go our way in the Villa game with the deflected goal, but the inside of a post denied us a point at Everton in an uninspired performance from both sides. There was no way we would have beaten Harland-inspired Manchester City, and as usual we performed abysmally against Brighton and deserved absolutely nothing from that game which is exactly what we got.

In a parallel universe we might have had ten or twelve points from those first seven games, but the fact is we have just four points and sit in the bottom three.

In a season interrupted by a World Cup in November/ December the powers that be decided that there should still be an early international break. The additional interruption caused by the decision to postpone football matches following the sad death of the Queen will only add to the congestion later on, but I wonder if this will work in our favour in the long run?

I wonder if the lack of games recently in a period when we haven’t been playing well will give us a chance to regroup? Will our costly defensive signing Aguerd be back soon? Will the manager give Cornet more game time? Will Downes (who was my man of the match in his only start in a European game) at last be given an opportunity to show what he is capable of? Is it time for Areola to replace Fabianski? What influence will the European schedule (Thursday- Sunday) have? Can we start to retain possession of the ball more? Will bad luck convert to good fortune in the upcoming games? These and so many other questions will be answered in the next few weeks.

Wolves on Saturday, followed by Fulham, Southampton, Liverpool, Bournemouth and Manchester United are the six league games in October. They are followed by Palace and Leicester in early November. And then we break again for the World Cup. Five of the eight are at home. 

By mid November we will have played 15 games (8 at home). We could still have four points at that stage! If that were the case we would be in deep trouble. We could have won eight games in a row and have 28 points and be challenging near the top.

More realistically I reckon we would need to have picked up at least 16 points from the next eight games to be back on course for a potential top 7 finish.Can we do it? What are the chances? 

Can Moyes Substitute Courage For Caution: West Ham Seek Premier League Points At His Old Stomping Ground?

In a game that has the look of a banker stalemate, can either team break free of their shackles and climb away from early danger?

We are spoiled this weekend with a glimpse of Premier League football matches before it all stops yet again, this time for an enforced international break. It seems an age now since the farcical VAR farrago at Chelsea which established a new low-water mark in the rich history of shocking refereeing. At least the Chelsea manager did the honourable thing and got himself sacked in the immediate aftermath. More than can be said for the two hopeless officials who walked away unscathed and with their whistles intact.

At least the Hammers have enjoyed two kick-abouts since then as they kicked-off their Europa Conference League group stage campaign. This phase of the competition has a going through the motions feel to it and, although unconvincing, two wins is a decent start in what is arguably our best chance of glory and a continued run in Europe. In contrast, it is the first action for Everton since their hard-won point in the most recent Merseyside derby, a game which for once provided decent entertainment.

A West Ham visit to Goodison Park is invariably framed as the return of David Moyes to the ground where his reputation was originally built. Like many fans of other clubs, I never paid close attention to the ins and outs of his time at Everton, but the take-away was always a period of relative success punctuated by unexpected poor starts to the season. If that is an accurate assessment, then history may be repeating itself now at West Ham. Is this a manager who continues to have difficulty dealing with transition and evolution? Does he struggle to adapt his side’s playing style once they have become a known quantity? Is he overly loyal to players who have served him well in the past and overly cautious when looking to introduce new players? The answers are eagerly awaited.

This season’s poor start in the Premier League – having already dropped fourteen points – makes an assault on the top six for the third season running look like a very long outside bet. After two seasons of being part of the ‘conversation’ being marooned in mid-table obscurity would be a huge disappointment. A double bubble of disappointment in the context of the significant investment made to the squad during the summer. Even though I am confident of improvement, a barnstroming run to the top of the table feels improbable in a safety first environment.

On the evidence of the season to date, any discernable tactical change to the Hammer’s style has been impossible to detect. What we have seen so far is the same plot but with a slightly different cast – Lucas Paqueta a replacement for Manuel Lanzini and/ or Said Benrahma; Gianluca Scamacca an understudy or replacementfor Michail Antonio. The prospect of Antonio, Scamacca and Jarrod Bowen collectively ‘unleashed’ to rattle an opposition defence is one for fantasy league enthusiasts only.

Moyes has been flirting with three/ five at the back in certain games this season but I really don’t see how we have the players, notably wing-backs, with the skill-set to handle that. Such a system relies heavily on wing-backs to provide width and pace to attackes, attributes that are not apparent with the current personnel. On the left, Aaron Cresswell has gone some way past his best and we have yet to see exactly what Emerson has to offer. On the right, Vladimir Coufal remains way short of his first season form and Ben Johnson appears worryingly injury prone. A look at what Thilo Kehrer can bring as a full-back/ wing-back would be interesting now that the centre back shortage has eased with the return of Craig Dawson and Angelo Ogbonna.

It was a surprise that Flynn Downes was not given another opportunity in midweek. Has he been held in reserve for this weekend? He would offer more energy and greater ball retention than Tomas Soucek does, but without the defensive height and attacking goal threat. If Soucek is not deployed to focus on the things he is good at, he is a very average player.

The other apparent undroppable is non-stop Duracel bunny, Pablo Fornals. There’s certainly no doubting his effort, likeability and commitment to the cause, but does he really do enough with the ball at his feet for an attacking midfield player at the top level? Unfortunately, I think not!

Having looked at a few of the predicted lineups in the media for the weekend’s game, many have gone for what is effectively last season’s team but with the addition of Paqueta. That would be a very strange move after a multi-million-pound spending spree in the summer. Surely, eyebrows would raised in the boardroom. For what it’s worth this is what I would like to see given a try: Areola – Kehrer, Zouma, Dawson, Emerson – Rice, Paqueta, Downes – Bowen, Scamacca, Antonio. One can dream.

Everton currently sit one place above West Ham by virtue of a superior goal difference. Apart from Leicester, they are the only side in the division without a win this season. They have, however, only lost two to the Hammer’s four, amassing their four points courtesy of draws with Forest, Brentford, Leeds, and Liverpool. They certainly played with a lot of spirit in the Merseyside derby and were able to survive thanks to a string of fine saves by Pickford, now missing through injury. The Toffees (like West Ham) are a low possession, counter attacking side who rely heavily on the pace of Gordon and Gray to drive attacks. It might suggest a paint-drying match played mostly backwards and sideways across the middle-third.

With Everton the draw masters and West Ham a mixture of slow starts and stifled ambition I can’t see past a share of the spoils for this one. Even the Orcale Cloud Win Probbaility will struggle to predict a winner for this one. COYI!

Further thoughts on West Ham at Stamford Bridge and subsequent events

What goes around comes around (sometimes sooner rather than later)!

It’s Wednesday morning on the 7th September 2022. I’m listening to some John Lennon music tracks, and one of my favourites – Number 9 dream. I wonder what Michail Antonio dreams about? Perhaps it is referees and the decisions that have gone against West Ham in the opening games this season, the disallowed goals at Nottingham Forest and Chelsea?

I’m sure you know who Lennon is, but in case you don’t he was one of the twentieth century’s greatest musical talents. He was a world-famous singer / songwriter who, together with Paul McCartney, fronted the Beatles and penned virtually all their hits. He was shot dead in New York in 1980, a sad and untimely death, aged just 40. And just in case you don’t know the Beatles, they were the world’s most successful group who changed the face of popular music in the 1960s.

As I listened to some of Lennon’s great songs I was reading through the BBC Sport website looking at the football for the previous evening. I had taken no notice of the football results last night with little interest in the early group stages of the Champions League. It’s a different matter thinking about the Europa Conference League, which, as a West Ham fan I will be following closely of course.

I read about Manchester City’s exploits and unsurprising win in Seville, and then about Chelsea’s defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. I cannot deny it. It brought a smile to my face. I looked with interest to see that Mendy had been dropped from the starting eleven, or was he rested, or injured by that vicious assault by Jarrod Bowen last Saturday? Being unfamiliar with the Chelsea substitutes I spotted his name amongst the substitutes but wasn’t sure whether he was the only keeper there.

Arrizabalaga was in goal for this game. I wonder if Mendy will have recovered in time for Chelsea’s next league game, or even from his injury? Remind me again, was it a broken or dislocated shoulder? Another report said it was a knee injury that ruled him out, even though the Senegal keeper was named on the bench and apparently took a fully active part in the pre-match warm-up. Now I am confused. What part of Mendy’s body did Bowen’s boot brush against? I also read that Chelsea had a goal disallowed in Zagreb. I don’t know if VAR was involved but I do hope so.

As I was reading the match report a message flashed up on my phone to say that Thomas Tuchel had been sacked. Surely not! What football club would hand their manager the world-leading transfer kitty in the summer – how much was it £250 million or close to £300 million – and then sack him so early in the season just after losing his 100th game in charge less than one week after the transfer window had been slammed shut? Only Chelsea could do that! They have lost their Russian benefactor who was famous for sacking managers but the new regime still seems to have unlimited funds to spend. By the way, does Financial Fair Play still exist?

I was fuming on Saturday about the closing stages of our game at Chelsea. Not only by Cornet’s header against the post which might have secured three points, but the events following Chelsea’s goal to give them a 2-1 lead. It seemed incredible to me that the well-taken finish (by Cornet, making up for his glaring miss) could possibly be disallowed but the referee, after consulting the pitchside monitor, decided to do so. It’s a decision which has been condemned by virtually all football fans and pundits and even the referee’s body (PGMOL or whatever they are).

The only people who seemed to suggest it was a foul are Mendy (for his writhing around on the floor), Tuchel (who said so in his post-match interview on Saturday), and Graham Souness (that successful ex-football manager writing in his weekly Sunday newspaper column). Perhaps there are one or two others but the vast majority, including a couple of Chelsea fans I know could not believe the injustice of how West Ham had been robbed of a point. Apparently Tuchel was also reported as saying (after the Zagreb game) “I just didn’t see it coming.” He was referring to the poor Chelsea showing and the defeat, but I guess it could just as easily have referred to the actions of the Chelsea board on Wednesday morning! I don’t feel sorry for him. No doubt he will be well compensated for the early release from his contract.

Anyway back to the music. I was listening to a number of John Lennon tracks whilst preparing my twice-weekly music show that I present on local community radio. Just as I was reading the Chelsea stuff, about their poor result in Zagreb and the sacking of Tuchel, the next John Lennon track came on. It was a song that reached number 5 in the UK charts in 1970, and it became the first single by a solo member of the Beatles to sell a million copies. The lyrics of the song focus on a concept in which the consequences of one’s actions are immediate rather than borne out over a lifetime. They mean that your actions influence your future, perhaps sooner rather than later. I now had an even wider smile on my face. The title of the song – Instant Karma.

West Ham Head Up West To Take On The Second Best Team In Fulham

Unbeaten in two, the resurgent Hammers look to extend their recent improvement as they visit a stuttering Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

At long last the daily dose of red-hot speculation, tabled bids, failed deals and last-minute hijacks is finally over. The window is closed, its hinges oiled; it is securely bolted, padlocked with the curtains drawn until winter. The omnipresent Fabrizio Romano can give his twittering finger a well-earned rest and Rob Newman can toss his list of 2022 targets into the recycling. According to reports, he has already ripped a fresh sheet of paper from his pad, written “2023” on the top and underlined it twice. In the coming months a new list of exciting names will be progressively added to it.

There can be few complaints (there will always be some -ed) on the amount of money that has been committed by the owners this summer. It’s early days, but the incomings look to be a significant upgrades on the departed. Perhaps we are now business class rather than premium economy? But is this level of transfer activity a one-time splurge or the start of a new abnormal at the London Stadium? A golden era of enlightenment from Gold & Sullivan or the emegent transition of influence towards Daniel Kretinsky?   

Incidentally the Czech Sphinx was in the news for different reasons this week, having purchased a whole chateau in France for roughly the same outlay as recruiting Lucas Paqueta. Kretinsky’s net worth is now reported to be a whopping £3 billion. A fortune, it is said, that has been largely assembled through buying up a string of unloved assets – “do they mean us?” (© Derek Jameson)?

David Moyes feels the Hammers now have a squad capable of competing at the top end of the table. On paper, that is true, and it is now up to him to translate that potential to performances on the pitch. A win and a draw have moved the narrative from three consecutive defeats to unbeaten in two. It is imperative to maintain that momentum in the league while navigating the Europa Conference group stages which start next week. In total, West Ham face eighteen matches and one international break in the ten weeks prior to the World Cup. Careful squad rotation is necessary to claw our way back up the league and keep the UEFA co-efficient ticking over.

The squad now has realistic options and competition for most positions on the pitch. Perhaps a change in style is also on the cards. Relying less on counter attacking and creating more with the ball to provide penetration against opponents who refuse to play our game and are willing to surrender possession. It also gives us more room to deliberation on team selection other than pondering which two from Pablo Fornals, Manuel Lanzini and Said Benrahma will be starting this week.

Possible variations to formation away from the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 has also been mooted with some suggesting Moyes may now favour three at the back. Personally, I’m not convinced that we have the wing-backs offering defensive competence and pace and width going forward that such a switch would require.

It was a much improved performance in the midweek game against a highly cynical Tottenham side, particularly after the break. By the end, it was disappointing not to have taken all three points. What was even more remarkable was that our goal came as a result of a throw-in – a West Ham throw is invariably among the quickest ways to return the ball to the opposition.  The last throw-in inspired goal I can recall was King Arthur’s humdinger against today’s opponents, Chelsea, in December of last year.

It is difficult to know what to make of Chelsea in the post- war (the Ukraine one) era. They have invested heavily during the summer but the bottomless pit of dodgy Russian money that had financed success over the past twenty years will no longer be sloshing around. They are a team in transition that has made a stuttering start to the season and, like Tottenham, their most realistic target this term is to target the fourth Champions League spot.   

Looking through the Chelsea team sheet no longer strikes the fear of god into opponents as it once did. They have good players but not great ones. Tuchel has his side playing a fast, enterprising style of football that creates plenty of openings, but without enough product at the end of it. For me, James and Sterling are the players to watch out for. Interestingly, their line-up today may include both Gallagher and Broja, two players heavily linked with a move across London during the summer, and who partly built their reputations on fine performances against the Hammers in the past.

I suspect a further dose of Moyes caution today by leaving Paqueta and Gianluca Scamacca (if fit and well) on the bench for the first hour. Emerson might well be preferred over Aaron Cresswell but otherwise predict the same starting eleven as on Wednesday. Some have been calling for Jarrod Bowen to be benched but thought he was starting to look a threat again against Tottenham – and the only potential replacement would be to shift Antonio out wide. Pablo Fornals is another who has been dividing opinion. His work on the ball has been well below required levels but I’m convinced Moyes will stick with him due to his tireless pressing off the ball.

Quite a few Hammer’s fans I have spoken to are very bullish about today’s game. Their sense that of the two games played this week, away at Chelsea had greater points potential than home to Tottenham. Not sure I fully share that optimism, although the game is there to be won if the attitude is right. A second half performance from the first whistle would be a nice change. The tendency for slow starts and undue respect for once glorious opponents must be flushed from of the system.

If Declan Rice and Thomas Soucek continue their return to form and the excellent Thilo Kehrer and Kurt Zouma remain alert to the forward runs from deep, it could be a profitable afternoon for the boys in claret and blue (or white and orange). I do think, though, that another draw is most likely outcome. COYI!