Following the total humiliation and the seismic damage to the reputations of the dirty dozen, West Ham resume their top four challenge against one of the “ESL” protagonists

What a week this has been in the world of football! An attempt by a dozen of the richest clubs in the world to distract everyone from UEFA’s announcement of the reformation of the Champions League and the end of season run-ins spectacularly failed when a combination of factors led by fan power brought the concept to a halt just 48 hours after the surprise announcement last Sunday afternoon. Of course not solely fan power, but the announcement was universally condemned by the players, the managers, the media, the broadcasters, royalty, UEFA, FIFA, the whole of the rest of football, and even the Government led by Boris Johnson who were not slow to recognise a popular bandwagon worth jumping upon.

I say brought to a halt, but at the time of writing only nine of the dirty dozen have announced their non-participation with, I believe, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus still in with a chance of becoming the ESL champions, although the format of the competition between the three of them has yet to be confirmed! The Real Madrid supremo Perez appears (amazingly) to still be clinging on to his dream.

The concept of a competition that lacks promotion and relegation is very akin to the American sporting ideal, and it is no coincidence that the billionaire owners of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United in particular were so keen on the idea. What with Perez complaining about the length of a game of football needing shortening being added to the US influence then I wonder how long before we would have had matches consisting of four quarters, timeouts, and stoppages for advertising breaks in the middle of games? Perez suggested that 16-24 year olds are not interested in football. I wonder how much of that theory could be attributed to being priced out of watching games both live at the stadium and via subscription channels where Sky, BT Sport and Amazon all have a share of the games on offer. I’m sure that many of that age range would love to be in the stadiums following their teams but are priced out of doing so.

The combined wealth of the six rebel English club owners is estimated to be around 50 billion pounds. Yes, that is £50,000,000,000 – no wonder they needed a vehicle to extend their fortunes! Amazingly they didn’t even think to consult anyone else who might have an interest, with non-disclosure of the plans to anyone, except a select one or two within their clubs. The whole episode leaves a sour taste, and one whereby I cannot see how they can regain any trust, despite their grovelling apologies which began to emerge on Wednesday.

It gets you thinking about the ownership of clubs by these wealthy foreign investors who have no interest in the history of the game in this country or anything other than making money on the back of their ownership. They are now the most unpopular club owners in the country. Of course it would be a popular move if clubs were owned by wealthy British businessmen instead, thereby improving the popularity of those at the helm. Except West Ham and Newcastle for example are currently owned by wealthy British businessmen and they are generally disliked by their fans too!

When the news broke last Sunday, somebody was quick to construct a league table that disregarded all the games played by the “rebel six” this season. With our “flat-track bullying record” in this campaign it was no surprise to see West Ham at the top with a nine point lead and games in hand, with the revised title virtually won already. Perhaps a new trophy will be awarded this season which ignores the “six” and we will be the inaugural champions? We could add that to other potential competitions that we might win this season. For example, the Claret and Blue Cup decided by the closed shop of games played by those clubs whose primary colours are claret and blue, the London League contested solely by those teams based in the capital, and the “Set Piece Shield” awarded to teams scoring the most goals from set pieces (excluding penalty kicks). I’m sure you could think of others.

A place within the top four is within our grasp, and is still in our own hands with six games to go, provided we beat Chelsea. Defeat in this game would mean an uphill, but not insurmountable, battle to achieve a top four finish, but a draw would not be the worst result. There will still be five games to go for us after this one, and a lot of football to be played.

Shall we have a look at the final few games for the teams involved to see who is likely to make the top four? I’ll exclude Manchester City who are definitely there, and Manchester United who (barring a complete collapse) should be there. That leaves a permutation of two from (probably) six who have a realistic chance of finishing immediately behind the Manchester clubs.

Leicester (59 points, Goal Difference 21, 6 games to go) – Palace, Southampton, Newcastle, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham

Chelsea (55 points, Goal Difference 19, 6 games to go) – West Ham, Fulham, Manchester City, Arsenal, Leicester, Villa

West Ham (55 points, Goal Difference 11, 6 games to go) – Chelsea, Burnley, Everton, Brighton, West Brom, Southampton

Liverpool (53 points, Goal Difference 16, 6 games to go) – Newcastle, Manchester United, Southampton, West Brom, Burnley, Palace

Tottenham (53 points, Goal Difference 18, 5 games to go) – Sheffield United, Leeds, Wolves, Villa, Leicester

Everton (52 points, Goal Difference 4, 6 games to go) –Villa (twice!), West Ham, Sheffield United, Wolves, Manchester City

Of course in addition to the remaining league fixtures there are the added distractions for the teams themselves plus their opponents. Chelsea and Leicester will meet in the FA Cup Final, as well as in one of the remaining league games, Chelsea and Manchester City are still in the Champions League and face two semi-finals (and, of course, possibly a final), Tottenham face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final tomorrow, and both Arsenal and Manchester United are still in the Europa League at the semi-final stage. These distractions could significantly influence the results of teams still battling for a place in the top four as well as teams that they will face who may “rest” players and possibly weaken their sides as a result.

Leicester are in pole position to finish third with points in the bag and the best goal difference, but based on league positions, their final three fixtures are tough and will coincide with their FA Cup Final involvement. Any let up in their next three games could let in others. Based purely on league positions of opponents, both West Ham and Liverpool would appear to have easier run-ins plus a lack of distractions. But it is never that simple is it?

Failure to pick up anything in the North-East last weekend, plus the loss of Dawson for this game to add to the key injuries to Rice and Antonio, and possibly Cresswell and Masuaku makes our task that much harder, but we are still in the running. Other recent results have been mixed for our competitors, but many have not gone our way. This is therefore a real “six-pointer” and if either team picks up three points then the losers will still have a lot to do. But with so much football still to be played nothing can be taken for granted until the final kick of the season.

And in this season especially, the battle for places in the top four is perhaps the most exciting element as the Premier League is drawing to a close. It is often the relegation scrap that maintains the interest until the end, but, although the places in the bottom three are not yet decided, the current three clubs at the foot have been there for some time and are very firm favourites for the drop.

Of course if the “ESL” was in existence then the battle for a top four position would be irrelevant as the places in the following season’s competition would be guaranteed. Already we have yet another reason why the “ESL” was such a terrible idea! But UEFA have released their plans for a reform of the Champions League set for the 2024-25 season, and this has a number of controversial ideas too, such as the raising of the number of teams to 36, the revised format, and the issue of club co-efficients to allocate some places for teams in the competition. But that is still some way off, and infinitely better than the “ESL”!

What will happen this evening? With the game poised at 2-2 will Yarmolenko make a belated return to the team as a substitute and score a late goal to win the game from a quick counter attack? It would be good wouldn’t it? What are the chances?  

West Ham Bubbling Under While Blue Is The Colour Of Deceit, Greed And Duplicity

After the ESL furore, West Ham face off with disgraced Chelsea for the title of most super team in London

In the blink of an eye the world’s shortest coup came crashing down in a blaze of ridicule. The brave new world of the European Super League turned out to be an emperor with no clothes. Whoever imagined this as a popular reform that would be good for all football has some serious delusions. That the rest of the football world would be convinced by a plan dreamt up by a group looking to save themselves (at the expense of others) from a financial mess of their own making. It beggars belief. The unanswered question, though, is what will happen next?

Personally, I am less concerned about the severity of the sanctions served on the shameless six Premier League clubs than I am about the steps required to prevent something similar happening again. Having said that, any team breaking the League’s rules should not be allowed to escape scot-free. Perhaps whatever sanctions are arrived at, they should be doubled for Tottenham and Arsenal for the sheer temerity of considering themselves as elite clubs.

Competitive domestic football must remain the cornerstone of our game. Anything else is icing on the cake. But whatever competition is imagined, it must be based on sporting merit if integrity is to be retained. Independent oversight/ governance and fan participation in any decisions on structural changes should be mandatory if we are to the counter self-interest of self-appointed elites.

It was no surprise that this weekend’s visitors, Chelsea, together with Manchester City were the first to break ranks once they started to feel the heat. Both are the play-things of billionaire owners and, as such, have no need to make a grab for a greater share of the proceeds – just to feed their habit of paying nonsensical transfer fees and wages to players and agents. Their involvement may have been a surprise (fear of missing out), but it makes them no less culpable. Like any crime, this was a joint enterprise, many months in the making.

With all that has been going on, one might easily forget that there is a season still going on. Or that tomorrow will see what might be billed as the final Champion’s League qualification spot ‘play-off’. Two teams separated merely by goal difference.

It would have been nice going into the game with Chelsea a few points to the good. But the Hammers blew that chance with a self-inflicted horror show at St James’ Park last Saturday. A game where we not only lost soft goals and priceless points, but also the services of Craig Dawson, for a brace of reckless challenges. To have lost twice this season to a poor Newcastle side takes some understanding.

With Dawson’s suspension, the ongoing absence of Declan Rice and Michail Antonio and the probable unavailability of Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku, it leaves David Moyes painfully short of options. If Cresswell is out then Fabian Balbuena will deputise for Dawson in the back three with Ben Johnson slotting in again at left wing back – not his best or most natural position by a long way.

I know Masuaku is something of a marmite player with West Ham fans but I do think we miss him (or a player like him) as he provides an available out-ball and a link between defence and attack, particularly when playing three at the back and sacrificing a creative spot in midfield. Every little helps for a side far too prone to giving the ball away cheaply. There has been some talk in the media of Said Benrahma filling that role but I am doubtful that it will have got Moyes attention. Benrahma is looking more marginalised as the weeks go by. The less game time he gets, the more he tries too hard to impress during his short cameos.

In the madly optimistic nature of the football supporter, I had been hoping for a miracle recovery by Rice in time for this weekend. His presence was sorely missed in a compressed midfield at Newcastle. Mark Noble will always give his all, but when he is not slowing play down or dropping too deep, the game is passing him by.

For the visitors, it has been a season for two halves as the naivety of Fat Frank gave way to the pragmatism of new media darling, Thomas Tuchel. On paper, the Blues are among the most talented squads in the division, but as a team they lack a spark to truly impress, even if they have become very difficult to beat. Expect plenty of comings and goings in west London during the close season. Lampard did have initial success by fielding a number of Chelsea youngsters but apart from Mount, they have flattered to deceive. It would be no surprise to see the likes of Abraham and Hudson-Odoi end up as perpetual loanees, following Loftus-Cheek and Barkley. Apart from Kovacic the Blues have a full squad to chose from tomorrow.

It feels like it should be a make-or-break game for the Hammers Champion’s League aspirations even though plenty can still happen in the remaining games. Leicester’s win last night has given them breathing space and a firm hold on third place, now that their injury problems are largely behind them. In the circumstances I would be happy with a draw against Chelsea, but I am also conscious of the dangers of Moyes playing for a draw. West Ham need to be set-up to retain the ball far better and be prepared to show ambition wherever possible – an approach that has rarely been seen against the top teams.

There is no need to boss possession but equally there is no need to surrender it needlessly. The worry is how the team can collectively keep control of the game with so many key players missing. Maybe a first home scoreless draw of the season is on the cards? COYI!

Remember The Alamo: West Ham Plan Heroic Defence To Hold Off Second Chelsea Siege

The battle of the struggling stragglers in the Premier League survival stakes sees West Ham banking on a second lightning strike to secure an unlikely double against high flying Chelsea

Someone mentioned to me in the week that Liverpool had already won this season’s Premier League, although I couldn’t find any mention of it in the media. If true, then well done to them. They were the best team by some distance; and congratulations to Adrian, who becomes another in the long line of ex-Hammers to pick up a league winners medal after having left the club – Adrian, Johnson, Ferdinand, Gale, Cole, Carrick, Lampard, and Ince. That’s almost a full team now!

Tonight, the focus switches again to football’s equivalent of a slow bicycle race, as three of the frantic five relegation candidates take to the field in an attempt to belatedly put some extra points on the board. In the last thirty games combined, the five stragglers have managed just three wins and four draws between them – thirteen points out of a possible ninety.  There is often a mad scramble for the final relegation place, but in this unusual season it is distinguished by mass collective incompetence at the bottom. DLLWLLL may look like the name of a place in Wales but, sadly, it is the Hammers current form. We are indeed fortunate to others that escape is still feasible.

Tonight’s match with Chelsea is one of the toughest (along with the trip to Old Trafford) West Ham’s remaining fixtures. Both those clubs are at the top of the form table, have reacted positively in the early re-start games and will be looking confidently at a top four finish. A win tonight will move the visitors up into third place. I must admit to being surprised at how well Lampard Junior has done in his first term as Premier League manager. I think he can become a top manager but thought this job had come far too early for him. The glimmer of hope is that I said exactly the same thing back in November, when the teams last met. And we know how that turned out. A game notable for David Martin’s heroic debut, a fine Aaron Cresswell goal and zero fouls committed by Chelsea.

It will, no doubt, be another highly cautious approach from David Moyes tonight. A backs to the wall, deep defensive act of attrition. This is partly due to Moyes risk averse character but also partly due to the rag-tag of resources at his disposal, particularly in offensive areas. The task could be likened to defending the Alamo with broken guns and no ammunition.

Reading through Moyes virtual programme notes gives us a clue to how he is thinking. My takeaway from his goals from everywhere plea is that he expects attempts from free kicks or corners to be the extent of our ambition. I know the manager has to say positive things but to suggest that our downfall has been due to not taking the chances that came is a bit of a stretch. Moyes is not able to play the too tired card tonight as Chelsea have played twice since the Hammers last had a game. Perhaps he will claim we are rusty – or maybe we really will be geared up it, after a week off to re-charge the batteries. Tonight has all the hallmarks of a game that the manager wants to get out of the way quickly without too much damage. But I would like to think Moyes has a more cunning plan for the run of winnable fixtures to follow aside from hoping that our luck will change.

The good news on the team selection front is the probable return of Angelo Ogbonna. He is one of the names along with Lukasz Fabianski, Issa Diop, Declan Rice, Michail Antonio, Tomas Soucek and Jarrod Bowen that you would want pre-printed on the team-sheet. After that it is a case of pick and mix.

The bare bones full-back option will likely default to the uninspiring pairing of Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks, now that Ngakia has packed his bags. Ben Johnson looks to be one of the several fringe players (along with Ajeti and Silva) that Moyes doesn’t trust (for whatever reason!) while Arthur Masuaku remains absent injured. According to Moyes, Masuaku is back ‘on the grass’ which leads me think ‘so, that’s what they’re smoking in the West Ham treatment room.’

Also confined to the sidelines is the club’s only striker, Sebastien Haller. I expect either Michail Antonio or Andriy Yarmolenko will be asked to play that lonely role up front. It might be worth giving Yarmolenko a try. There is little to lose and he is remarkably predictable when played in a wider role, no matter how sweet his left foot is. And I much prefer Antonio in a position where he can run with the ball at his feet. He is not a hold it up up player.

I guess from the manager’s comments that we will once again see Mark Noble starting if only for his (apparent) leadership qualities. It is a nice idea but ‘love’ for the club on its own doesn’t get you any points and Nobles best playing days are some way behind him. From another ‘it can’t be any worse’ perspective, giving pitch time to Jack Wilshere has to be a gamble worth taking sooner or later.  Pablo Fornals has demonstrated enough endeavour to be given another chance, but ideally not stuck out on the wing – he works hard enough but doesn’t have the pace. Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini only get on the bench because there are extra spaces available now.

Throw that all into the mix and my preferred starting eleven would be:

Fabianski
Johnson, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell
Rice, Soucek
Bowen, Fornals (or Wilshere), Antonio
Yarmolenko

The officials for tonight’s game are Martin Atkinson out on the pitch with Jonathan Moss struggling to fit behind the desk at VAR central. Time for those poor decisions that are meant to balance out over the course of a season to start doing so.

A mixed bag from the TV pundits. Lawro has woken up from his celebratory Anfield hangover to predict a 1-0 away win, whereas Charlie Nicholas again shows a soft spot for the Hammers by tipping them to earn a 1-1 draw.

If West Ham are to come away with anything from this game it will require massive performances from their key players – while the others must try not to do anything stupid. Chelsea have been on a good run of results without ever being convincing. They do not find it easy to penetrate packed defences but the threat will always be there if we keep gifting them the ball.

There is sure to be plenty of focus on Declan Rice in the light of the repeated transfer speculation and perhaps a thought at the back of his mind is that Champion’s League football is a possibility next season. The idea that Declan might soon be added to that list of ex-Hammer league winners is a depressing one – at least for us.

The Moyes sit back, soak up the pressure and hope for a breakaway philosophy is a long shot – might it just work? I doubt it, but you never can tell. We will need to be razor sharp, but I suspect that a draw is the best a fan get.

What West Ham would give for a repeat of the score at Stamford Bridge earlier this season!

When we kick off at 8.15 pm on July 1st we may or may not be in the bottom three. Even if we are I stand by my assertion from my last blog article that we will not be relegated this season. Nothing that we have done on the field since the return after lockdown backs up my confidence. It is the form (or lack of it) from our rivals in the relegation stakes that makes me believe we will be OK.

Brighton (on 33 points) will almost certainly be OK thanks to their win against Arsenal and draw at Leicester. They have had (by a long way) the best results of the bottom six since resumption and still have seven games left to add to their tally. Four of their next five games look tough on paper (Man. Utd., Liverpool, Man City, and away at Southampton who have surprised me considering how poor they looked at the London Stadium shortly before the season was held up), but in between they play at Norwich, and then finish with games against Newcastle and Burnley. They should be fine.

Watford (on 28 points) now only have six games to play, two (out of their next three) of which don’t look too bad on paper at home to Norwich and Newcastle. Their toughest games should be at Chelsea and Arsenal and at home to Man. City. Of course they face us on July 15 which will be an important six-pointer. They have not looked that great so far, but I think they’ll be OK.

West Ham (on 27 points and outside the bottom three on goal difference only) will, after this home game against Chelsea (more on this later), face five teams currently in the bottom half of the table in our final six games, the only exception being the away trip to Old Trafford for the penultimate game of the season. Newcastle and Norwich (both away) plus three games at home to Burnley, Watford, and Villa are crucial games for us to pick up the necessary points for survival.

Bournemouth (also on 27 points) have a home game against Newcastle that kicks off just two and a quarter hours before our game against Chelsea. This surely is their best chance to move out of the bottom three, because their final six games will see them face Man.Utd, Spurs, Leicester, Man.City, Southampton, and Everton. I don’t see them picking up many more points from those.

Villa (also on 27 points) now only have six games to play, the first five of which are against Liverpool, Man.Utd, Palace, Everton, and Arsenal, before coming to the London Stadium on the last day of the season. Surely they won’t be collecting much from those games without a massive reversal of form.

Norwich (on 21 points) look doomed, although they won’t be the poorest team to have ever been relegated from the top flight. If they can hang on to their better players they will have a good chance of bouncing back.

So that’s my summary of what I think will happen. We won’t pull up any trees in the run-in, but if we still manage to go down now by failing to pick up enough points from the remaining games, then we will well and truly deserve it. And if we did happen to go down I would fear for our chances of bouncing back as quickly as we have done after previous relegations.

Of course we won 1-0 at Chelsea shortly before the end of 2019 in a game remembered for David Martin’s debut clean sheet, and his emotional reunion with his dad Alvin in the stands. Despite our win, we also scored another goal that was chalked off as a result of it “accidentally” touching Antonio’s arm, one of two goals denied to us this season by accidental handball both picked up by VAR. It’s a silly rule anyway in the sense that accidental handball by a defender in his own penalty area does not result in a penalty kick being awarded against him, so why are attacking teams penalised in this way? And don’t get me going about the VAR failure to spot the handball which led to Tottenham’s first goal against us!

As for team selection in this game then of course our keeper picks himself, but it will be interesting to see whether Ogbonna (who is now apparently fit) is recalled in place of Balbuena, who only looks a shadow of the player he was in his first season with us. And talking of players not at the same level as in the past, Cresswell now looks too slow, and seems to dwell on the ball in possession. It wasn’t that long ago that he won an England cap, but now he worries me, and we look especially vulnerable against teams attacking us on that flank.

Rice has been our standout player once again, and I’d like to see him line up alongside Soucek in a defensive midfield position. Of course there has been so much to admire about Mark Noble over the years, and much as I like him, the pace of the game just seems a little too quick now, especially against the top teams. He still has a part to play in this run-in but I’d like him to sit out this one.

Our attacking has been generally poor and we haven’t scored since Leap Years Day when we comprehensively put three goals past Southampton. Bowen and Antonio both scored on that day, and seem to me to be the only two attacking players who have shown any semblance of form in our last two games. Bowen continues to look impressive whilst Antonio has looked OK but is not a centre forward and certainly shouldn’t play up front on his own.

Beyond those two I don’t really know! Anderson and Lanzini have both looked so poor to me, and whilst I can see some potential in Fornals, he hasn’t looked that great in the last two games and certainly not in front of goal, spurning two excellent chances to score. Who else is there? Wilshere has apparently been very impressive in training, and should surely be given a chance to do it in games? If he could recapture some semblance of past form then there is a chance he could unlock some defences, but there must be a reason he hasn’t been given a chance yet in a team playing poorly? Yarmolenko has the highest ratio of goals to minutes played this season, but he has been inconsistent and Moyes doesn’t appear to rate him, nor does the manager seem to trust the inexperienced Xande Silva, nor Ajeti, who despite being an international footballer has not been given many minutes to prove himself.

Of course Haller apparently has a hip injury that is keeping him out. There are some scandalous conspiracy theories going around that suggest he isn’t playing because we will be selling him in the summer, and apparently one more appearance would trigger a hefty payment to Eintracht Frankfurt, the club from whom we bought him. That would be ridiculous! So my team for this game (but definitely not the manager’s selection) would be: Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Johnson; Rice, Soucek, Wilshere; Yarmolenko, Antonio, Bowen.

In the remaining games I’d like to see our manager make better use of substitutes, both in terms of who, and the timing. We are allowed to use up to five, and surely it makes sense to do so, especially if you are behind in a game?

I watched some of the FA Cup game between Leicester and Chelsea at the weekend and I was surprised at how poor Chelsea were, especially in the first half. But Lampard has laid into them deeming so many of their players’ performances unacceptable, and I would be surprised if they didn’t improve markedly when they face us. And talking of the FA Cup, an interesting fact. Teams are supposedly weakened in this competition these days, but the four semi-finalists, are four of the so-called elite six in this country, and in fact each of them has won the trophy in the last four seasons.

What do I expect from this game? Based on what I’ve seen in the last couple of games, I expect to be beaten, think that we could possibly snatch a draw, but hope for an unlikely win, the same as we managed at Stamford Bridge in November. What are the chances?