West Ham: Four wins might do it: Beginning with Sticky Toffee Fixture

Do you remember the days when we could go to the stadium to watch football? It seems a long time ago now. The last home game that we saw was the Southampton game on 29th February 2020. 59,962 of us were there on that sunny afternoon and very few of us would have thought that it would be more than a year before we could come again. Apart from the 2000 who were lucky in the ballot to see the Manchester United game on 5 December last year, none of us have been able to watch our team but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The success of the vaccination programme in the UK means that there is a very good chance that when the 2021-22 season begins it will be in front of full capacity crowds. And even before then, it seems that a lucky 10,000 will be able to attend the final home game of the season, which ironically is against Southampton. Fingers crossed in the ballot.

As a season ticket holder in the Billy Bonds stand I have a good view of some of the pre-match warm ups which take place half an hour or so before kick off. The routine that I tend to watch closely is when the ten outfield players who are in the starting line up play five a side (with no goals) just working on retaining possession of the ball. I’ve often been impressed with the swift interchange of passing that takes place, and sometimes wished that this could be translated to the actual game that follows. But on Monday night at Burnley we were able to watch the team demonstrate these skills in a game.

Our performance was superb as we played some great stuff with high tempo against a Burnley side who surprised me with how good they were. They were just unlucky to come up against us at the top of our game. The only downside was our finishing as we should have had the game wrapped up long before the nervous end that they like to put us through. Antonio took his goals superbly as well as adding a candidate for the miss of the season, but we are a much better side when he is playing.

But so many others had superb games too. Fornals, Lanzini and Benrahma showed great flair whilst at the same time doing their bit as the team defended as a whole. In fact just about everyone looked in great form, even Diop, who after a shaky first half recovered well to put in an excellent second half performance alongside Dawson. I was especially pleased with Benrahma who has had his critics (including the manager) but who began to show some of the great promise and potential that I believe he has. I saw a few Brentford games on TV before he came to us and hoped that he could translate his wonderful skills to playing in the top flight after he joined us. He’s not quite there yet but I believe he will be an important player for us in the years to come.

There are so many outstanding candidates for the Hammer of the Year this time around. Normally there are just a couple of players that stand out in a season but this time any one of a number could win it. My vote would go to Coufal. It is probably quite unusual for a full back (or wing back?) to win but for me if there has been a better right back in a claret and blue shirt since Billy Bonds played in that position (Ray Stewart perhaps?) then I haven’t seen him. Coufal has been a wonderful acquisition, just like his fellow countryman Soucek.  

We have already exceeded our 1998/99 fifth placed finish points total of 57 points, and sit in fifth place before this round of matches on 58 with four games to go. We’ll probably need to finish on 68-70 to end up in the top four, and that might not even be enough but I hope it will. 62 points is our Premier League best (in the 2015/16 final season at Upton Park) and surely we will go past that total. Looking at the fixtures to come then if we beat Everton in this game (or at least don’t lose the game) then I believe that should almost ensure a top six finish at the very least. It certainly helped us when Villa beat them last week.

But we want more than that, don’t we? I hold out hopes (if not quite expectations) of top four still, especially after Leicester began their annual implosion on Friday evening when capitulating to our 2020-21 nemesis, an improving Newcastle. I really wasn’t expecting that. Looking at their three remaining games how many points are they likely to finish with?

Leeds were worthy winners against Tottenham which was another result that helped our quest for a top four finish. But I have to say that I was massively disappointed with Manchester City’s casual approach to team selection, penalty taking, and all round effort against Chelsea. Even a draw in that game, which Manchester City should have wrapped up by half time, would have been a decent result for us, but the late winner puts Chelsea in the driving seat to finish third now. Liverpool’s win against Southampton, the poorest side in the Premier League in 2021 was not a surprise, but I was hoping for a shock there. We may need four wins to stay ahead of them. I’d love Manchester United to beat them but they have four fixtures in an eight day period which may mean they will not be at their best against the Merseysiders.

There are still eight teams involved in the quest for a top four place, and the remaining fixtures of those (excluding the two Manchester clubs who are already there [City], or close [United]) are set out below. I’ve left Everton in this analysis despite bookmakers offering 100/1 on them finishing in a top four position. There is still a lot of football to be played and although they are very definite outsiders, those odds are generous, and they would still have an outside chance, albeit very slight, if they beat us. Tottenham will rely on others losing too, even more so after their defeat at Leeds, even if they manage to win their final three games. It could even come down to Tottenham beating Leicester in the final game to assist our cause. If we can keep winning we will put pressure on both Chelsea and Leicester who still have to face each other of course, but Liverpool are a big threat too.

Leicester (63 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham

Chelsea (64 points, Goal Difference 23, 3 games to go) – Arsenal, Leicester, Villa

West Ham (58 points, Goal Difference 11, 4 games to go) – Everton, Brighton, West Brom, Southampton

Liverpool (57 points, Goal Difference 18, 4 games to go) – Manchester United, West Brom, Burnley, Palace

Tottenham (56 points, Goal Difference 20, 3 games to go) – Wolves, Villa, Leicester

Everton (52 points, Goal Difference 3, 5 games to go) – West Ham, Sheffield United, Wolves, Manchester City, Villa (away)

We are still in a position whereby we need to depend on the results of others whilst attempting to get as close as possible to maximum points in our remaining four games.

I’ve been looking at the odds for the Premier League next season. Manchester City are odds on to retain their title, and the “self-named big six” plus Leicester are the only teams with odds of between 5/1 (Liverpool) and 66/1. Everton are eighth favourites at 100/1, and we are joint ninth favourites with Leeds at 150/1, showing that bookmakers don’t believe that our performance this season will be repeated next time around. Excellent seasons in the past have generally not been consolidated by West Ham but this time I am hoping that it will be. At the start of this season we were quoted at 750/1 to win it this time. All of these prices are immaterial really because Manchester City should easily win again, with possibly Liverpool and Chelsea as the only challengers.

Three points today would be great. What are the chances?

West Ham’s Top Four Odyssey: Nobody told me there’d be days like these!

The clouds have lifted, the sky is blue and West Ham’s road to a spectacular top four finish is looking clear – unless, that is, they get stuck against the Toffees

Successive defeats and an injury ravaged squad had seen menacing dark clouds rolling in on West Ham’s top four aspirations.  But just as it gets darkest before dawn, those negative thoughts were blown away by a superb, barnstorming victory at Turf Moor on Monday night.

The surprise return of a turbo-charged Michail Antonio, the awakening of Said Benrahma and the re-birth of Manuel Lanzini united to give notice that while many in the media may “have thought it was all over”, it isn’t now! The fat lady can put her feet up for a few more weeks, yet.

More good news was to come last night when this season’s West Ham nemesis, Newcastle United, gratefully returned part of the favour by beating Leicester, 4-2. Both Leicester and Brendan Rodgers have previous with letting good positions slip and their one-time grip on third place is now looking decidedly precarious. Picking up points against Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs is no certainty.

Games towards the latter stages of the season are notoriously difficult to call, as an increasing number of teams are left with little left to play for. The champions, runner-up and relegation places are to all intents and purposes sealed leaving only Champion’s League qualification and the crumbs of the Europa League up for grabs.

The race for those remaining two top four places is realistically down to Leicester, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool. Tottenham are sure to be in denial until the last mouthful of lasagne confirms otherwise but it is beyond them to outpoint three of the above. Not to say that the north Londoners couldn’t finish above West Ham, should the Hammers fall away badly, but best not to think about that.

On paper, West Ham and Liverpool have the easiest of the run-ins. Chelsea are difficult to beat but would do exceptionally well not to drop points from games against Manchester City, Arsenal, Leicester and Villa. The re-scheduled Manchester United – Liverpool game could well prove a pivotal moment in a congested programme for the Red Devils. It’s a shame that second place already looks nailed on for them. Hopefully, local rivalry will not allow them to take it easy.

All of this speculative daydreaming would become inconsequential, of course, if the Hammers are unable to keep their end up. As much as we might fancy the run-in, no game is going to be a straightforward. As the tension mounts there will be psychological obstacles as well as the opposition to overcome. With less to lose in terms of expectation, and being considered as rank outsiders, it may hopefully take some of the pressure off. It will still be a huge test of character. Although the ideal would be to win each of the four remaining games, maybe we can get away with one draw.

The first of those four games is arguably the toughest, when Everton visit the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Toffees started the season at a blistering pace but have been largely flat and inconsistent ever since. They look like a collection of potentially fine players without any cohesion or spirit. As with Pellegrini’s Hammers, Everton have spent large on players who are big on reputation, but light on attitude or application. The times that I have watched them recently, they have been predictable and short on ideas. Despite this, they are still in with a shout of the Europa League and cannot be dismissed.

As ever, David Moyes has been coy about the state of the injury situation. Not aware of any new knocks being picked up, the key questions pertain to the return to action, or otherwise, of Declan Rice and Angelo Ogbonna. It would be a massive boost to have them both available. The success of Lanzini in defensive midfield on Monday may allow Moyes to exercise greater caution in the timing of Rice’s return.

The dilemma for Moyes is that an opposition midfield of Doucoure, Allan and Gomes will not give the Hammers the same room that they exploited so well at Burnley. Both Newcastle and Chelsea stifled West Ham by denying space for their runners. Although, the Hammer’s attacking dynamic is very different with Antonio back in the picture, Moyes must find the right balance between getting players forward and not being overrun in midfield.

Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined West Ham being in the mix for the Champion’s League with just four games of the season to go. It’s usually a tense relegation battle or midtable obscurity by now. I’m not quite sure what to expect or how to handle the raised expectations. It seems just as tense as when we are at the bottom and the same hypothetical ‘if-only’ thoughts frequently flash through my  mind – if-only we hadn’t thrown away a three goal lead against Arsenal.

All we can ask is that manager and team give it a real go. No-one can complain if they fall short. It’s been a magnificent effort.

My gut feel is a 2-0 home win, but I will wait to see what the psychic octopus predicts before committing.

Can money buy success? Yes, but not for West Ham!

Deloitte have recently released their Money League figures where they rank all of the football teams in Europe according to their revenue. It is based upon the 2018-19 season and makes interesting reading. West Ham have retained their place in the top 20 of this league for the fourth consecutive year, and are one of 11 English clubs that make the top 30, which highlights the importance of the Premier League broadcasting rights to football clubs in England. An example of this is that West Ham had a higher revenue figure than Ajax who were Dutch champions and reached the semi-final of the Champions League!

I have listed below the positions of the top 30 clubs in the Deloitte Money league table in terms of their revenue but placed them within their individual countries, and then shown the position that they hold in their own league table at today’s date in brackets.

England

  1. Manchester United (5th)
  2. Manchester City (2nd)
  3. Liverpool (1st)
  4. Tottenham (8th)
  5. Chelsea (4th)
  6. Arsenal (10th)
  7. West Ham (16th)
  8. Everton (11th)
  9. Leicester (3rd)
  10. Wolves (7th)
  11. Crystal Palace (9th)

Spain

  1. Barcelona (1st)
  2. Real Madrid (2nd)
  3. Atletico Madrid (3rd)
  4. Valencia (6th)

Germany

  1. Bayern Munich (3rd)
  2. Borussia Dortmund (4th)
  3. Schalke 04 (5th)
  4. Eintracht Frankfurt (13th)

Italy

  1. Juventus (1st)
  2. Inter Milan (2nd)
  3. AS Roma (5th)
  4. Napoli (11th)
  5. AC Milan (10th)

France

  1. Paris SG (1st)
  2. Lyon (7th)

Portugal

  1. Benfica (1st)
  2. Porto (2nd)

Netherlands

  1. Ajaz (1st)

Russia

  1. FC Zenit St Petersburg (1st)

So what does this reveal? In seven of the eight countries the team currently at the top of the league are represented within the 30 wealthiest clubs in terms of revenue. The exception to this rule is the German Bundesliga where RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach are currently 1st and 2nd in the league table, but are not in the top 30 European clubs in terms of revenue.

If we focus on England, then the eleven clubs that are in the top 30 are all in the top 11 of the Premier League with just one exception. Yes, West Ham are that exception, as we currently sit in 16th place in the table. Based purely on revenue we should be 7th in the Premier League.

Looking across the various leagues you can see that money generally does buy success. So why are West Ham under-performing? If you look through the various social media sites you will see so many reasons touted. The owners, the board, the stadium, the management, the coaching, the fitness, the tactics, recruitment policy, poor investment in players and training facilities, playing formation, the players, injuries – these are just some of the potential reasons put forward by those that take to the internet and other media outlets to vent their feelings. It’s a combination of all of those but responsibility lies at the top, surely?

This weekend we take on Everton, another team reckoned to be performing below expectation, and certainly below revenue ranking. We are five places and six points below them with a slightly inferior goal difference. If we can beat them we cut the gap to three points, and we would have a better goal difference.

The Premier League is as tight as ever with just 12 points separating Sheffield United in 6th from Bournemouth in 19th. Norwich are adrift but the majority of clubs in the league could still be in danger of relegation.

The current form table (last 5 matches) has Liverpool at the top with 15 points, followed by Southampton and Watford (13), Manchester City (12), Chelsea (10), Manchester United and Everton (9), Wolves and Sheffield United (7), Leicester, Palace, Arsenal, Villa and West Ham (6), Tottenham, Newcastle and Brighton (4), Burnley (3), Norwich (2) and Bournemouth (1).

If current (last 5 games) form is maintained in the second half of the season then Bournemouth, Norwich, Burnley, Brighton and Newcastle would appear to be the teams in greatest trouble. But it doesn’t necessarily work like that and current form can improve, or indeed deteriorate. You definitely need to add both West Ham and Villa to the five teams I mentioned, and both Watford and Southampton could see a reversal of the fine form they’ve shown to move them up the table. If we beat Everton today then perhaps they, too can be added to the list of potential relegation candidates. So, I’ve narrowed it down to the ten teams that make up the bottom half of the table who could end up in the Championship next season! But even the three London teams which sit in 8th, 9th and 10th places (Tottenham, Palace and Arsenal) could join in as they are not in great form either, each having won only one of their last 5 games. But I can’t see that happening, and they, along with Sheffield United have enough points in the bag, and are probably too good to go down anyway.

Relegation betting is interesting. Norwich are odds on 1/12 to go down. Other odds are Villa 8/13, Bournemouth 4/5, Watford 5/2, Newcastle 10/3, Burnley & West Ham 7/2, Brighton 7/1, Southampton 18/1, Palace 22/1, Everton 50/1, Sheffield United 66/1. All other teams are 100/1 plus. What is ridiculous is that Liverpool are quoted at 2000/1. I hope they don’t accept any bets on that, because if Liverpool lost every single game from here they could still not be anywhere close to relegation. Bad form from betting firms I’m afraid.

Head to head statistics in our games against Everton make us outsiders in the game today. In the last 23 Premier League fixtures we have won only 3 and lost 14. And Everton have won on 7 of the last 11 occasions when they have been our visitors. And going back even further we have lost to Everton in top flight fixtures a total of 63 times, more than against any other opponents.

Although David Moyes has been on the losing side in 5 of his six encounters against his former club, his record as manager at the London Stadium is good with just three defeats as West Ham manager in 15 games. Scoring the first goal would be a good thing for us as Everton have not won a game in 34 matches now when they have conceded the opening goal. Although those are the kind of statistics I hate to see in relation to West Ham. How we love to end runs like that!

Two of Everton’s most dangerous players are likely to be missing through injury, Richarlison and Sigurdsson, but of course our injury list is lengthening all the time. I cannot understand the negativity regarding the signing of Randolph as a back-up goalkeeper. He is certainly good enough for that role and is a definite improvement on both Martin and Roberto.

Everton have scored in 7 consecutive Premier League away fixtures, something they have not done for a long time. I reckon we’ll put an end to that run and win the game 2-0. Perhaps that’s just my optimism, or West Ham tinted glasses, but I feel really confident regarding today’s game. I hope I’m right!

The West Ham Revival Part 2: Bouncing Back From The Blades To Take On Everton At The London Stadium

With his first honeymoon ending in a decidedly limp manner, courtesy of VAR, David Moyes will be looking to demonstrate ‘bouncebackability’ as the Hammers come up against his old club, Everton.

Yet again the important business of transfer speculation is interrupted by having to play a game of football. And to make matters worse, it will be two matches in a week as West Ham kick-off a run of 17 potential ‘must win’ games between now and the middle of May. They probably need to win at least five or six of them.

As things stand West Ham are among the front-runners in this season’s relegation stakes. Things can change, of course, but right now it looks any three from Norwich, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Brighton, Burnley and West Ham for the drop – you couls potentially add in Watford but I don’t see them as relegation material now they have got their act together. Norwich are already well off the pace, but  a revival in East Anglia could set up a claret and blue treble. Optimists might point out that the Hammers have a game in hand as well as one of the better goal differences among the threatened clubs – but both of those could be wiped out when we meet Liverpool at the end of the month. Looking at how compressed the lower half of the table is suggests that clubs will need every one of those 40 points this time around.

Any encounter with Everton is a huge test for David Moyes as it is the Toffees that he is still most closely associated. Although ultimately it required the assistance of VAR to confirm defeat at Bramall Lane last week, it was a disappointing West Ham performance that brought the new manager’s honeymoon to an abrupt halt. The bounce turned out to be of the dead cat variety. He will be desperate to launch bounce phase two against his old club. Moyes may have the natural demeanour of Eeyore but needs to embrace his inner Tigger to breath life into his listless team.

One probable change this week will be the returning Darren Randolph in place of the re-injured Lukasz Fabianski. In his previous West Ham incarnation, Randolph showed he could be a more than competent shot-stopper but I will keep fingers crossed that he has toughened up in the air during his time on Teesside. He is good enough to fill the spot as an understudy keeper but he is unlikely to single-handedly save the season. For that we would need Gandalf rather than Randolph.

Who eventually joins him through the West Ham transfer window is anyone’s guess. As usual there are so many mixed messages as to the type of player(s) being pursued. The usual in-the-knows and reliable journalists have been throwing up new names, from the exotic to the mundane, on an almost daily basis. I would be quite happy with a Barkley or a Clyne, much less so with a Fellaini or an Allen. The sense that we have all been in this very same position before – allowed to drift into a relegation battle and potentially recruit a bunch of journeyman has-beens as a reaction – is highly depressing.

The idea that the club will let yet another transfer window pass without finally strengthening the suspect central midfield area and bringing in pace and athleticism is inconceivable, isn’t it?

No doubt the owners will be persuaded to open their wallets (even if it is for loan deals – which are not a problem in principle) as their only deeply held desire is to hold on to their Premier League status. Never mind taking profits or receiving income from director loans, it is the asset value of the club that is important to them – and that would plummet in the Championship.

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of Gold and Sullivan taking control of the club. In wedding terms that would make it a tin anniversary. If only our own tin men had a heart (or a brain as well come to that). Or is the heart they are searching for the one that many believe has been ripped out of the club?  It has been obvious to me for some time that the owners have no strategy that seeks to incrementally improve the club and the way that it is organised. The fighting words they made on taking over the reins at West Ham has never been backed up by a sensible plan of action. Money has been spent but not wisely or with long term team building in mind. The irony is that despite everything, West Ham is one of the top twenty biggest clubs in the world in terms of revenues. Professional football people taking day to day control of operations could easily make a big difference.

Making a quick return to West Ham officiating is Andre Marriner from the West Midlands. He was most recently in charge of the Hammer’s defeat at Crystal Palace. This week’s Dr Evil in the VAR Stockley Park bunker is Simon Hooper from Wiltshire. In the pre-VAR days West Ham looked to be the one club that would benefit from accurate and consistent refereeing decisions. And yet, the exact opposite has been true in practice – or at least that is how it looks through my claret and blue spectacles. Funnily enough, I don’t remember any hoo-hah being made about accidental handballs leading to goals back then. The new interpretation has tried to fix a problem that didn’t exist – it is ridiculous and inconsistent. If the concern is that a player has gained an advantage then the same must also be true of any ball to hand for a defender in the penalty area – yet it goes unpunished. As I have mentioned before, giving the responsibility for implementing VAR to referees was asking for trouble.

Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are again synchronised this week in calling a 2-1 West Ham win. Although it is a winnable game I am not confident unless we start on the front foot and dominate the middle of the park – something we have struggled with for much of the season. Calvert-Lewin will cause problems for our defenders as he did last season (but now he is scoring goals as well), Richarlison will run at our defence and fall over at the slightest change in air pressure (beware Simon Hooper) while Walcott saves all his best performances for the Hammers. On the other hand they are vulnerable at the back but can we put them under sustained enough pressure? I am not certain that Moyes will be bold enough to throw everything at them rather than keeping it tight. Hoping for a win, but feeling it’s a draw.