Graham Potter And The Deathly Haller: West Ham To Return To Winning Ways Against Brighton

Not quite Boxing Day football makes its debut at the London Stadium. West Ham will have to raise their game several gears to break their Brighton Premier League duck.

A trip out to an early morning Boxing Day fixture at the Boleyn is one of my fondest footballing memories. I couldn’t tell you how many times that actually happened, but the experience is firmly etched in my personal memory banks, alongside long hot summers, white Christmases and the aroma of fried onions on hot dogs.

Since the move to the London Stadium there has never been a home Boxing Day match and this year has turned out to be no exception. Although today’s game with Brighton was due to be played on the 26th (the first Boxing Day at home since 2013) it was later pushed back 24 hours to fit with TV schedules.

Despite the unusual circumstances that we find ourselves in, the Premier League is slowly adapting to resemble a more typical season, where it is difficult to see beyond Liverpool and Manchester City as credible title contenders.

Although I try to steer clear of too many football statistics (it’s a game is for entertainment, not for study) I found it interesting to hear that teams are doing far less pressing this season than they have in the recent past. Is this a natural evolution in style of play or a result of player fitness/ fatigue in this most compressed of seasons?

Personally, I have found many of the games watched on TV to be verging on dull and bogged down in a congested midfield gridlock. The early doors rush of high scoring games is in the past with goals per game now only marginally above last season’s average (despite Crystal Palace’s best efforts). Caution has replaced progressive, high energy strategies by the majority of coaches, included those with far greater resources than ours.

One contribution to the slowdown in goals scored is the number of penalties being awarded. Having seen record levels in the early rounds of games they are now being awarded with greater discretion. As we are well aware, West Ham are one of just three Premier League sides yet to be awarded a spot kick. Brighton, on the other hand, have witnessed something of a penalty bonanza with ten awarded in their fourteen games played (five for and five against.)

Surprisingly, the Hammers have not won any of their six Premier League games against the Seagulls – three defeats, followed by three draws – and will need to rediscover their mojo very quickly if they are to break that duck. A win would maintain touching distance with the top six chasing pack, while anything less sees us roped in with the dregs of mid-table obscurity.

A run of three games in quick succession in the next five days will test the ingenuity of David Moyes in sustaining some form of momentum while juggling the limited resources at his disposal. Even with a fully fit squad, the bench quality is depressingly light and underwhelming.

Ideally, I would prefer to see a return to 3/5 at the back. Aaron Cresswell is too exposed in a back four, but with Arthur Masuaku missing once again, options are limited – unless Moyes is prepared to give Ben Johnson an outing in the left wing back role. I believe he will stick with a four.

In midfield, there is little doubt that Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek and Jarrod Bowen will all be confirmed starters. Then, hopefully, one of Said Benrahma or Manuel Lanzini (if fit) in the hope of providing some much needed creativity and variation to the attacking play that depends too much on crosses and set pieces. Maybe that lack of penalties is partly down to how infrequently passes are made into the area.

Pablo Fornals continues to divide opinion. Looking at the West Ham pressing statistics (yes, there is such a thing) and no-one does more pressing than Fornals, but rarely leading to possession change. There’s no doubt he works very hard, but is that enough on its own to justify a place? He needs to do far more on the ball. In glimpses he has shown the eye for a pass but pace and strength often let him down.

It may surprise you to learn that the same pressing statistics show that after Fornals, Rice and Soucek with most presses comes Sebastien Haller. As with Fornals, though, his pressing rarely results in West Ham gaining possession.  

It is reported that Michail Antonio is back in training and available for selection for today’s game, but it is likely too early to risk him, at least as a starter. We now need to treat him like our finest china – only brought out on special occasions in case it gets damaged. In his absence, the choice between Haller and Andriy Yarmolenko doesn’t set any pulses racing. Perhaps the memory of Haller’s wonder goal against Crystal Palace just gives him the edge.

In truth, West Ham have not had a regular, consistent goal-scorer in the entire Premier League era and not even Antonio comes close to fitting that bill. Only Frederic Kanoute has scored ten or more goals a season on more than one occasion. It’s not that the team have struggled for goals this term, but having a reliable finisher can take away much of the pressure. I think many of us hoped Haller was that guy but he has turned out more deathly than deadly.

Having watched Brighton earlier in the season I am surprised that they are flirting on the fringes of the relegation battle. They have some very decent and lively players – Bissouma, Maupay, Connolly and Trossard all look useful – and play in an open and attractive style. Perhaps boss Graham Potter is simply too adventurous for his own good at this level.

One of the season anomalies that continues to apply is the relative success of away sides. To date visitors have left with all three points in 40% of games played, compared to a 30% success in 2019/20. It will need a committed and energetic West Ham performance to avoid adding to this statistic, and record that long awaited Premier League victory against Brighton. Both teams will feel they can win the game which should make for an interesting and entertaining afternoon.

Time for the Hammers to get back to winning ways with a Soucek hattrick (one penalty) spurring West Ham to a 3-1 win. COYI!

The Deals Are Done But Will It Be Enough: West Ham Kick Off Their Escape With Pivotal Brighton Showdown

West Ham are the biggest spenders on deadline day but have just as much trouble getting deals over the line as they do the ball.

It was free UK delivery all weekend on the West Ham United official website, yet still there were no takers for Carlos Sanchez. With the transfer window now well and truly closed, David Moyes must make do and mend with what he has available – and find a way to amass those missing seventeen points or so.

As the dust finally settled on deadline day, the Hammers had bolstered their squad with the loan signing of Czech defensive midfielder, Tomas Soucek; the £22 million capture of attacking midfielder Jarred Bowen from Championship side, Hull City; and the return of Darren Randolph to resume his role as spare goalkeeper. Going the other way were hapless custodian Roberto (loan to Alaves) and three of the leading academy players, Nathan Holland, Conor Coventry and Dan Kemp – much to the delight, I’m sure, of the U23 coach who had steered his side to the top of the Premier League 2 Division 2. There had also been talk of Winston Reid packing his bags for the MLS, but I have been unable to find the current status of that move.

The signing of Soucek is, at last, an attempt to address the long-standing problem at the heart of the midfield – introducing much needed energy and an additional physical presence.  Soucek also has a fairly impressive goal return for a defensive midfielder – 20 goals in the last 18 months – although that number does include several from the spot. I got the impression from what Moyes said at his press conference that although Soucek will play a part today, it will be from the bench rather than as a starter. We shall see if that is the case!

When it was revealed very early yesterday morning that Bowen was on his way to West Ham for a medical, I had high hopes that he too would be signed in time for today’s game. It was not to be. Seems he must have taken the scenic route down from Humberside (not like a bat out of Hull), and it was well past 11 pm that the deal was finally announced. Not being an avid Hull City watcher, I have only seen Bowen on YouTube highlights but have been impressed by what I’ve seen. It is not just the goals but the fact that he looks lively with it – not a word you normally associate with many in our squad. Whether he can inflict similar damage against Premier League defences only time will tell. All this assumes, of course, that he is played in a position suitable to his attributes and Moyes doesn’t try to convert him to a left back.

On the face of it, the signings of Bowen and Soucek are just the type of players we should be going after. Younger, not yet established, players from the smaller European leagues or the lower tiers at home. It would be nice to think that this was the result of diligent scouting, but we know that is not the case. Even though they were signed in desperation, they may still turn out to be successful additions – and better value for money than much of what has gone before.

According to reports West Ham will again be without Michail Antonio to face Brighton today. If that is true, then it is a big miss and further highlights the impact of not signing Bowen in time for this winnable game. With Felipe Anderson also missing, the remaining creative option would be to persevere with the disappointing Manuel Lanzini. It is difficult to know whether Lanzini can ever get back to his best, but he has always been more of a support player than the main string puller.

Moyes likes to pick his shape and then select players to fit into it – it is, indeed, a sensible approach. If he continues with 3 at the back then it will probably mean Arthur Masuaku and one of Pablo Zabaleta or Jeremy Ngakia again as wing backs – I hope he sticks with Ngakia after his promising debut on Wednesday. Masuaku certainly divides opinion but at least he offers an element of width and wizardry going forward. I would, however, like to see Pablo Fornals start again. Fornals was beginning to find his feet in the Premier League but his progress looks to have faltered again under Moyes.

Like us, Brighton are well and truly in the relegation mix, two points better off than we are, with a recent run of form that is similar to our own. If we need five or six wins to ensure safety, then this should be one of them.

WHUBRI3The Seagulls have shown a more adventurous style under new manager (and Jonathan Pie look-a-like) Graham Potter but the outcome has been pretty much the same as it was with Chris Hughton. They have some decent players in Pascal Groß and Aaron Mooy but promising attacking play is frequently let down by a lack of finishing. Both Brighton and West Ham have only managed 27 goals from their 24 games this season, although the visitors have been more frugal at the back. Leading scorer Neal Maupay is one of those live-wire players who typically cause problems for the Hammers easily startled defence – and not forgetting that old-stager Glenn Murray always fancies his chances against West Ham, if given the opportunity.

It will be a fourth encounter of the season with referee Michael Oliver from Northumberland with West Ham having lost on each of the previous three occasions. On hand to agree with all Oliver’s on-field decisions but watching out for balls brushing hands and studs straying offside will be Andre Mariner at VAR central.

This week Lawro says 1-0 and Charlie Nicholas 2-1. I like their confidence. We are not exactly in must-win games territory yet (that would be the relegation decider against Villa on May 17) but this is as close as it gets. Neither team will want to lose but who will be brave enough to go all out for the win? I am hoping the reports about Antonio are designed to mislead. If he plays, I think we win. Otherwise it may well turn into a very scrappy affair. With trips to Manchester City and Liverpool to follow, three points today would be kinda welcome.

Yesterday was Brexit, Today could lead to Prexit as West Ham entertain the Seagulls in a massive six pointer

A good transfer window for West Ham? In Tomas Koucek we have undoubtedly improved the midfield. In Jarrod Bowen we have recruited a young proven goalscorer with pace (albeit at Championship level), and with Darren Randolph we have definitely improved the back-up goalkeeper.

I have seen Jarrod Bowen on TV and he looks like the type of player we need. One description I heard was that he was a cross between Antonio and Salah! If that was even half true then it would be an improvement on some in our squad! Only time will tell. If you haven’t seen him in Championship games on TV, just take a look on YouTube to see what he can do. He is very fast, strong and knows how to score goals. Look at his statistics.

The deal appeared to stall in mid-afternoon, and there was doubt right up to the end of the window. So many ex-footballer pundits on TV on Friday have given glowing descriptions of him, and many described the signing as a bargain. In my opinion, based on what I have seen, he will be a tremendous acquisition.

But only West Ham can make such a meal of getting an important signing over the line. As I write this at 11pm on Friday night the deal has still not been confirmed. But my sources tell me that he has signed. I just hope it is true.

There is no sign of the right back that so many have been crying out for, but perhaps it was felt that Jeremy Ngakia made a good enough impression in his debut on Wednesday. Who knows, perhaps more of our Development Squad can be trusted to step up?

The bottom six in the Premier League are now beginning to become detached from the middle of the table teams, with a five point gap now open between Brighton (25) in 15th and Newcastle (30) in 14th. Newcastle are just one of five clubs on 30 points (with Burnley, Everton, Palace, and Arsenal) and Southampton on 31 that could still be pulled into the relegation fight if they have an indifferent run.

The bottom six are tightly grouped with Brighton and Villa on 25, with ourselves, Bournemouth and Watford on 23. Only Norwich on 17 are detached at present. 38 points (or an average of a point a game) is the target for all clubs involved and it might be necessary to even get to 40 this season, or possibly slightly higher. That means at least 15 points (and perhaps 17 even) for us in the 14 games remaining. So many of our away games look tough (Man C, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Newcastle, Norwich and Man U) and are certainly tougher on paper than the remaining home matches (Brighton, Southampton, Wolves, Chelsea, Burnley, Watford and Villa).

What do we have to do then? Five wins and a couple of draws, or four wins and five draws would be necessary to take us up to the 40 point mark. That is certainly achievable. We are outside of the bottom three now, albeit with a slender goal difference margin. Three points today is vital though, because apart from ensuring Brighton stay in the mix, the next two away games at City and Liverpool are as tough as it gets. If we started to fall behind then playing “catch-up” adds pressure to the performance.

Hopefully our signings will give the team and fans a lift and I hope that we can get our first ever Premier League victory over Brighton. It is likely to be tight though.