Moving On Up: West Ham Look To Return To Winning Ways Against Injury Hit Leeds United

Excellent cup wins have propped up indifferent league form in recent weeks. Time for the Hammers to bounce back with an awayday victory at Elland Road.

An opportunity today for West Ham to get back to winning ways in the Premier League as they visit a weakened Leeds United at Elland Road. Having flown out of the traps with emphatic victories over Newcastle and Leicester at the start of the season, league form has since faltered with the Hammers having picked up just two points of the last nine available.  

Indifferent league form has, however, been punctuated by two impressive cup victories: first against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League; and more recently over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup.

The win at Old Trafford was particularly unexpected. Having missed out on at least a point in the league fixture at the London Stadium three days earlier, an immediate rematch in cup competition looked a daunting prospect. The Red Devils and their expensive strength in depth were clear favourites in what was always going to be a ‘B’ team encounter.  

It is difficult to gauge what effect the win will have on overall confidence given that Jarrod Bowen was the only player the starting eleven who is in contention for a start again today. It can’t have done any harm though, and there really does seem to be a strong sense of togetherness throughout the entire squad.

There has now been the opportunity to see each of summer signings in action, with positive first impressions. Alphonse Areola had a few uncertain moments but looks an ideal long-term replacement for Lukasz Fabianski. Alex Kral had a solid, hardworking debut and can provide decent cover for Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek when needed. Nikola Vlasic has shown great attitude, and some nice touches, but it looks like he needs extra time and work in adapting to the pace and intensity of the Premier League. All can prove to be astute signings and valuable assets even if they are not yet first picks on the team-sheet.

There were also other promising performances at Old Trafford, notably Issa Diop, Ben Johnson and Ryan Fredericks. If Diop can get his progress back on track, he can become the ‘monster’ he was once billed as.  Johnson is a fine prospect although may find few opportunities behind Vladimir Coufal is his more natural right back role. I’m hoping playing him out of position is good for his development. It is a shame Fredericks picked up an injury laying on the goal for Manuel Lanzini (who himself is also starting to look rejuvenated). If only he could put his blistering pace to good use more regularly, he could have achieved so much more. A matter of confidence, I wonder!

For today’s game, the only likely change from last weekend should be the return of Michail Antonio, with Vlasic dropping down to the bench. No doubt in my mind, the team and game plan look far more formidable with Antonio leading the line.

Leeds have a number of injury problems. Llorente, Koch and Bamford are all missing while Raphina, Harrison and Ayling are considered doubtful. Following last season’s heroics, Leeds are so far without a win this term. Could there be a dose of second season syndrome circulating at Elland Road? Possibly, but a team that runs its socks off are sure to come good at some stage.

Matches against weakened sides have not traditionally been a Hammers strong point. West Ham are a very different proposition these days and I’m not sure I can remember a more hardworking, organised, disciplined, and spirited side turning out in the claret and blue. Old anxieties, however, are difficult to shake off and I still find myself judging the team’s ability to self-harm by historic standards. Will we get intimidated travelling anywhere north of Watford Gap?  Is a three-goal lead with ten minutes remaining a big enough cushion? Will we buckle at the merest suggestion of a physical onslaught? A few more seasons of the current therapy and watching a game might even become a low-anxiety enjoyable experience. A good time to be a West Ham fan!    

Can’t help feeling that we will be too strong for Leeds today. The home defence is not the strongest at the best of times but with players missing there should be plenty of gaps for our boys to exploit. A game against Bielsa’s Leeds will never be easy but West Ham to win 3-1. COYI!

West Ham attempt to win at Elland Road for the second season running. It hasn’t happened before!

The prospect of a game against Leeds always conjures up memories for me as a young boy, and the reputation of the Elland Road outfit under Don Revie at the time. They were a top side but perhaps didn’t win as many trophies when they were at their peak as they perhaps should have done. In many ways they were perhaps the team to beat, the best team in England, but somehow they didn’t always seem to achieve what they might have done. They certainly had their share of being runners-up. For example, following their promotion to the top flight in the early 1960s from 1964-65 onwards they finished 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st in the next ten seasons.

They were also perhaps the most hated side in the country at that time. I guess it’s a long time ago now, and perhaps that reputation is unfair? I don’t know, but my memory is such that people seemed to enjoy Leeds being beaten. Not more so than in 1970 when it seemed to me that most of the country wanted Chelsea to beat them in the FA Cup Final. They did after a replay and so many seemed to rejoice in the victory although the Chelsea side themselves had their fair share of players who could, shall we say, look after themselves.

The Leeds side of that era were certainly high profile, and even now around 50 years later I can recall so many of their players; Sprake, Reaney, Charlton, Hunter, Cooper, Madeley, Bremner, Giles, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Gray. To be honest I can’t recall too many more from the subsequent 50 years, Yorath, Jordan, Batty, Speed, Bowyer, Rio Ferdinand of course, Hasselbaink, Lee Chapman are just a few that spring to mind.

West Ham fans of my vintage will recall 1966 with massive affection. Of course I’m referring to the World Cup, but there are a couple of other reasons that I remember that year in relation to Leeds. Firstly, on my twelfth birthday in February of that year we were playing away at Leeds and were soundly thrashed 5-0. But in the following season later that year the mighty Leeds brought their first team down to Upton Park on a Monday night in November to play us in the fourth round of the Football League Cup (Carabao in modern terms). They were humbled 7-0 with hat-tricks for Hurst and Sissons and a goal from Peters. It was perhaps one of the most astonishing victories in all my years of supporting West Ham. After that win we didn’t beat them at the next twelve attempts until we finally won against them, ironically in a League Cup replay at Elland Road in 1971.

That season was to be the first where the League Cup final was to be held at Wembley. Before then they were home and away two-legged affairs. We progressed to the semi-final where we lost 6-2 on aggregate over the two legs to West Brom, who themselves went on to lose the final to a Rodney Marsh inspired Queens Park Rangers who came from behind to win 3-2.

Which brings me to the present, and our visit to Elland Road today. Leeds under Bielsa won many plaudits for their football last season, their first in the top flight after a 17 year absence. But we did the double over them in empty stadiums winning 2-1 away, with goals from Soucek and Ogbonna enabling us to come from behind after conceding a penalty in the first five minutes, before the return leg in March when Lingard and Dawson scored to give us a 2-0 win. Those two victories doubled our wins over them in the Premier League to 4, whereas they have beaten us 14 times. I looked back in the records to try to find the last time that we did the double over them and eventually found it in the 1953-54 season in Division Two, the second game of which was a 5-2 victory on the day after I was born in 1954! And the last time we beat them three times in a row? That came in 1949 – we won four consecutive games against them in 1948 and 1949, although three of them were at Upton Park. And when was the last time we beat them at their ground in two consecutive seasons? It hasn’t happened.

History is irrelevant though really and current form is much more important. We lost in the league last Sunday of course to Manchester United after missing that last minute penalty which was the subject of much discussion. That was our only defeat this season, and came after two draws had followed our opening two wins. Leeds on the other hand have failed to win any of their opening five league games, but have drawn three of them (against Newcastle, Everton and Burnley) to sit in 17th in the table at this very early stage. They have also suffered heavy defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United.

Our much changed (virtually B team) gained some measure of revenge over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup in the week and were immediately drawn against Manchester City in the next round. We’ll certainly have to win it the hard way! Some good performances throughout the team will mean many will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up in the weeks to come. I was particularly impressed with Areola, Dawson, Diop, Lanzini and Kral, although to be fair almost everyone played their part in the victory which could have been more emphatic in the end but for two golden chances missed by Yarmolenko and Noble.

So what will happen today? West Ham have been playing Leeds since 1921 – that is 100 years now. It’s more than 100 games and Leeds have been victors in many more of those fixtures than we have. I’m hoping that we can resume our winning ways in the league this season, and also record a second consecutive victory at Elland Road for the first time in history. I reckon 2-1 today will change that. What are the chances? 

David Moyes Claret & Blue Army To Outsmart Ole Gunnar’s All-Star Circus

Buoyed by an impressive midweek performance in Zagreb how will the Hammers shape up against Ronaldo & Co in the absence of the suspended Michail Antonio

It’s back to league action today for West Ham just a few days after an impressive Europa League victory against Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. It was a textbook awayday performance that completely belied the Hammer’s recent inexperience of European competition. Goals from Ant and Dec had put the visitors in firm control of a game where the clean sheet was rarely threatened.

The visit of Manchester United to east London is one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of the season. They may be several levels below the standards set under Alex Ferguson on the pitch, but much of their worldwide appeal and glamour has not worn off. If West Ham have any aspirations towards qualifying for the Champion’s League through league position, then today’s visitors are one of the teams they must compete with. In truth, winning the Europa League is a more realistic target.

It is encouraging that many commentators (and opponents) are starting to look at West Ham differently. That perhaps last year’s sixth place wasn’t an aberration after all. But if there is one persistent criticism of David Moyes among pundits, it is that he is too cautious when coming up against the big teams. On the Southampton match commentary, Efan Ekoku, a rather erratic summariser at the best of times, went as far to suggest that had it not been for an overly cautious approach in big games, the Hammers would have comfortably won the two points needed for a top four finish last season. Wishful thinking, quite possibly, but it is difficult to completely dismiss the notion that an inferiority complex has influenced the approach to certain games.

That wasn’t the case in this equivalent fixture last December, though. The Hammers were by far the better team for over an hour, taking a first half lead through Tomas Soucek and looking likely to increase that lead. There was no hint of danger when the visiting keeper desperately kicked for touch in the 65th minute, only for the infamous ‘Wind of God’ to bring the ball back into play from several yards over the line. Pogba equalised in the immediate aftermath, heads dropped at the injustice of divine intervention, and the match ended in an unexpected 3-1 away win.

Today’s major West Ham team news is the absence of the squads one and only striker Michail Antonio due to a one match suspension. With no like for like replacement, Moyes will need to somehow shuffle his resources and come up with a new game plan. The pace and power of Antonio is so fundamental to the way we play that no obvious solution stands out.

If Moyes wants to stick with a 4-2-3-1 formation, then he could go with either Jarrod Bowen or Andriy Yarlmolenko as the arrowhead. Bowen had some success in that role last season but was heavily supported by the initial purple patch of Jesse Lingard’s loan spell . Yarmolenko doesn’t work anywhere near hard enough to lead the line effectively or play more than a token ten minutes. Neither have the physical presence to unsettle what can be an uncertain Manchester defence.

Alternatively, Moyes might consider a change of formation – to either 3-5-2 or 4-3-3. When Moyes first arrived, I believed a back three was to be the default setting but it was most probably down to an expedient way of making use of the limited resources available at the time. I’m not really convinced that either Vladimir Coufal or Aaron Cresswell are at their best as wing backs, and Arthur Masuaku lacks enough game time to be thrown into such a high profile contest.

A change to 4-3-3 is the more interesting option. It is a formation that I think Moyes might toy with in selected games anyway – when he wants to be cautious! Either Manuel Lanzini or Alex Kral could fit in alongside the usual double pivot of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, to stiffen the central midfield and pick up opposition runners. It is more likely to be Lanzini given that Kral has yet to step onto the pitch in claret and blue. That would leave a front three from Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma and Nikola Vlasic to provide an unfamiliar but, what could be, fluid attacking force. It feels attractive but is it too difficult to pull off at short notice?

Whereas West Ham strength is organisation and being greater than the sum of their parts, Manchester United are quite the opposite. It is a team of individuals, seemingly assembled without any grand plan, which can be devastating on its day but who too often blow hot and cold. The squad list looks formidable and yet they are rated some way behind Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool as credible title contenders. They will regularly win the games they are supposed to but will often fall short when up against the big boys – or playing with the Young Boys!

The signing of Ronaldo is typical of the big name, star studded, glamourous, big money attitude to recruitment. Of course, he has been an exceptional player during a fantastic extended career – and will still score goals – but was that really their top priority, and is it a sensible team building move?

Rarely a day goes by without a headline declaring that Declan Rice is yet another of the final pieces in the Manchester United jigsaw. Many in the media have already guaranteed he will move to Old Trafford. I have no illusions about West Ham being able to match his trophy and financial ambitions, but I hope if/ when he does leave he goes somewhere more sensible. Then again, I would be surprised if Solskjær is still at Old Trafford by next summer – but I had the same thought last year.

This will be an intriguing match. I would fancy a home win strongly if Antonio was playing. It works in our favour that Manchester United will not come to sit back but much depends on how well the counter attack works without our Number 9 fronting it? The visitors have an abundance of attacking talent and we mustn’t allow them to wear us down by defending too deep and squandering possession cheaply. Some big performances are needed and looking forward to Kurt Zouma taking care of Ronaldo.

In the interest of positivity, I will trust that Moyes and the coaching staff have devised a cunning plan B and that the players are able to execute it to perfection. West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!

After midweek success in Croatia, and with Antonio unavailable, can West Ham defeat Ronaldo-inspired Manchester United?

Two wins and two draws in the Premier League, and success in the first game of the Europa League in what was meant to be the toughest fixture in Group H. Unbeaten so far with potentially an even more daunting challenge this weekend when the Red Devils visit the London Stadium. Such a shame we won’t be able to field our strongest side with Antonio being forced to sit this one out after what I thought was a needless red card at Southampton last Saturday. It will be interesting to see how David Moyes constructs the team without our number 9, and no obvious replacement in that position without changing the style of play. Antonio ran the Croatians ragged in Zagreb on Thursday evening and will be sorely missed on Sunday.

The 2-0 win to take us to the top of Europa League Group H after the first game was well deserved, and David Moyes deserves massive credit for the way he has transformed this squad since his return to the club. This was never going to be an easy fixture against a Zagreb side used to competing in Europe. It was just a few months ago that they put Tottenham to the sword beating them 3-0 in the round of 16 second leg in last season’s Europa League to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg to progress to the last eight, where they went out of the competition against the Spaniards, Villareal. Dinamo had topped their group with 14 points from four wins and two draws so have considerable recent experience in European competition. They have also made an excellent start in this season’s Croatian League and currently sit on top with 16 points from their opening seven games.

This puts the strength of our performance into perspective. Even with a changed team, all of the players performed well and knew how they fitted into the side, and the roles they needed to play. The unchanged midfield partnership of Rice and Soucek was the springboard to our success, and how good was Rice when intercepting the ball in his own half and striding more than half the length of the pitch to score the second goal through the keeper’s legs? The goal reminded me of his strike in the final game of last season when a similar run led to the third goal in our victory over Southampton that sealed our sixth-place finish enabling us to qualify for this season’s Europa League.

Much credit too must go to the whole team for defending as a unit when we didn’t have the ball, and especially the back four who didn’t allow the home side to have a single shot on target in the entire 90 minutes. I thought that Fredericks had an excellent game, using his speed to great effect when going forward, and conversely when getting back to recover the ball. On the other flank the rejuvenated (under Moyes) Cresswell was as steady as ever. He continues to impress now that he appears to be fully recovered from the injury he suffered a couple of seasons back. But the defensive highlight for me was the massively impressive Zouma who dealt with everything comfortably, forming an excellent partnership with Diop. We have four centre backs vying for two places in the starting eleven when we play with a back four. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zouma lining up alongside Ogbonna for the game on Sunday, although this would be harsh on Dawson who hasn’t done a lot wrong since he was signed. On the other hand I wonder if for this game, with the absence of Antonio, Moyes may consider playing with three centre backs? I don’t think he will and I would anticipate this starting line-up for the game.

Fabianski; Coufal, Zouma, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Fornals, Vlasic, Benrahma; Bowen.

If my prediction for the starting line-up is correct then the choice of players to sit on our bench is also looking stronger than it has for years with a first-class international goalkeeper in Areola, Diop and Dawson as centre backs, and Fredericks and the fit-again Masuaku as well as Johnson covering the full back positions, although I believe Moyes sees Masuaku more as an attacking wing back / midfielder. Noble and Kral seem the likely cover for Rice and Soucek, with Lanzini and Yarmolenko the other attacking options in the absence of Antonio. Not quite two like for like players to cover all over the pitch, as they have at Manchester City and Chelsea for example, but nevertheless stronger than in recent times. Let’s hope that some youngsters from the Development Squad can make a name for themselves and become involved at the top level as the season progresses.

Manchester United have been strengthened by the addition of world-class Ronaldo, who might not quite be the player he once was, but nevertheless he is still a massive goalscoring threat. He has hit the ground running and already started scoring goals in his first week. Let’s hope we can keep him quiet on Sunday. Manchester United are favourites, particularly with the additional rest-time from midweek endeavours of 48 hours compared to ourselves, but I still believe we can beat them, despite Antonio not being available, although it will be tough to do so without our in-form number nine. Others will have to step up to score, and I fancy Jarrod Bowen to do so.

Bookmakers certainly don’t rate our chances highly, but as an unbeaten team playing at home after a midweek success in Europe playing against a Manchester United team who surprisingly lost to Young Boys of Switzerland, the odds of a home victory at 7/2 are certainly more enticing than the odds-on chances given to the visitors. The odds for West Ham winning 2-0 are 18/1, or a 2-1 victory is priced around 12/1.

I always enjoy a fun bet at long odds that rarely comes off, but you never know. Ronaldo to score the first goal and then West Ham to come back and win the match is priced at 50/1. Ronaldo to score the first goal and West Ham to win the match 2-1 is around 90/1. Or if you fancy Bowen to score the first goal and West Ham to win the odds are 20/1. Or perhaps Bowen to score first and West Ham to win 2-1 you can get 87/1. Rice to score the first goal and West Ham to win 2-1 is priced at 342/1. For a bit of fun I’ll choose one of those. What are the chances?    

A nice Selection Headache for David Moyes as the Hammers head to the South Coast

That’s the first international break over. Personally I’m not a fan of how the domestic season gets interrupted by three international breaks before a dozen Premier League games have been completed. I think we get four more league games before the next interruption and then four more before the November internationals. Of course at West Ham we have the Europa League getting underway very soon too, and I’m looking forward to that.

And thinking of our foray into Europe the transfer window has now slammed shut, and I believe we appear to have done very well this time around. David Moyes stated publicly that he didn’t just want players to make up the numbers in the squad, he wanted footballers that could enhance the first team, whilst allowing for the additional fixtures that we would be playing on Thursday nights in Europe. Four established international footballers would appear to be a much better result than seemed likely with just a few days of the window to go, although of course as always we have to wait and see how well they make the transition into our squad, and how the manager integrates them into the team. It will be interesting to see how quickly they get their chance to show what they can do, but with the opening Europa League fixtures less than a week away it shouldn’t be long.

All four of our new recruits will ensure that there will be strong competition for places in the starting eleven in most parts of the team, especially in goal, at centre back, and in an attacking sense. There is no direct alternative for Antonio though, and we wait to see how this one plays out when he is either injured or needs a rest. Zouma, especially, will put pressure on the centre backs for a starting place, as will Vlasic on Bowen, Fornals and Benrahma, who have all started the season in excellent form.

As this season was getting underway it appeared that Lanzini was looking at a new role playing deeper than in the past, but it will now be even more difficult for him to get into the team, with Kral in a similar position too. You’d want both Rice and Soucek to be starting as many games as possible, but from what I’ve seen I’d imagine Kral playing in their role when one or the other is not available. But perhaps our manager has other ideas? And Mark Noble will surely find opportunities even more limited for him to play a part in his last season. One thing is for sure though, we now have so much more quality cover for injuries than has been the case in the past. At this moment David Moyes is perhaps more spoiled for choice than at any time at the West Ham helm.

With the season barely underway it’s hard to predict what to expect at Southampton. We have won six out of the seven most recent Premier League encounters, including the final game of last season when 10,000 of us were lucky enough in the ballot to be able to attend the game. The Saints have yet to win a league game this season, drawing with Newcastle and Manchester United and going down at Everton. They sit thirteenth in the (very) early season table. On the other hand we are second following our two excellent wins and the slightly disappointing draw at home to Palace. Tottenham are the only team with 100% record after just three games and they visit Selhurst Park this weekend.

The newcomers have barely had the chance to meet their new team mates yet, so perhaps it is a little early for any of them to be pushing for a place in the starting eleven. For me, if any do get the nod I reckon it will be Zouma, but the others will surely be warming the bench waiting for their chance.

Despite being away from home we are slight favourites with the bookmakers to win this game at 6/4, with Southampton at 15/8 and the draw at 23/10. There were 6 goals in our opening game this season, 5 in the next, and 4 in the Palace match. I reckon 3 this time, with us winning 3-0. We’ve put 3 past Southampton in 5 of our last 9 games against them, so why not 6 out of 10? What are the chances?

What The Dickens: The Best Of Times On The Pitch But The Worst Of Times In The Transfer Window

Performances on the pitch continue to defy the behind the scenes discontent as West Ham set their sights on a three match winning start to the season by defeating Crystal Palace

In normal circumstances, I wouldn’t give a second thought to the league table after just two games played. But life is too short not to make exceptions. And with the Hammers sitting proudly at the top of the table, why not take the time to enjoy with a little smug smile of satisfaction. Even if we know it is only a temporary state of affairs.

Look no further than the fact that Arsenal were top at the same stage last season as a cautionary tale on how bad things can turn out. In fact, seven different clubs led the table last season before Manchester City eventually hit the front to win the title at a canter.

It’s all a bit Jekyll and Hyde at West Ham right now. A club with a split personality swinging between the many good things happening on the pitch and the ongoing turmoil of inaction behind the scenes.

To see the Hammers described in the press as “disciplined and aware, determined and resilient” is unfamiliar territory for seasoned supporters. We may have seen teams with greater individual flair and flamboyance in the past, but the current level of unity, courage, and team spirit has never been as obvious.

The performance against Leicester on Monday was close to perfection. Outstanding organisation and a rigorous compact shape, founded on the formidable Declan Rice/ Tomas Soucek partnership, gave the visitors little scope as an offensive threat. Vardy and Maddison were neutralised, our defences were untroubled, and attacking players allowed to flourish.

Michail Antonio rightly received the plaudits for his record breaking goal-scoring exploits, but it was equally pleasing to witness top notch performances from Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen. I would go as far to say it was Fornals best all-round performance in a West Ham shirt – an extra helping of creativity added to his undoubted endeavour and work-rate.

If things are going well on-the-pitch this feels at odds with the usual transfer window shenanigans from the boardroom. To say West Ham have been quiet in the transfer market is a massive understatement. With just three days left until the ceremonial slamming-shut, no permanent signings have yet been made (unless you count the option to buy for Craig Dawson).

While other clubs are able swoop in and sign a player within a few hours of him being linked to a rival, the West Ham hierarchy continue to move at glacial speed – so what chance is there of completing more signings by Tuesday night? There is a fine line between getting a good deal and completely missing the boat.

I would be happy with the signing of Kurt Zouma but will not be counting any chickens until I see him holding the shirt. The move has been going on so long they could make it into a Netflix series. The deal has been off and on so many times it is difficult to keep track – personal terms, payment terms, agent fees, dodgy knees and whether to have pineapple on the take-away pizza they have ordered in. Supposedly the medical has been completed OK, but still minor issues to resolve before pen is put to paper.

Signing Zouma does nothing to resolve the striker debacle, however – although I did read he used to play right-wing. Hmmm? It is seven months since Haller was sold and still no sign of support or backup plan for the clubs one and only injury-prone frontman. It is impossible to read between the lines of what David Moyes has said on the striker search, given that he is notoriously cautious and unwilling to reveal his hand, but the omens don’t feel good. If there was ever an ideal time to invest in the squad this would be it.

Today’s visitors to the London Stadium for an unaccustomed Saturday 3pm kick-off are occasional West Ham party poopers Crystal Palace. It has been a slow start to the season for the Eagles and new manager, Patrick Viera, with just a single point and no goals to show from their two games. From the outside it looks like Viera has a thankless job on his hands in making something of the ageing squad left by Roy Hodgson. Hodgson’s Palace were exceedingly dull but he had them organised well enough to keep relegation out of harms way. They will be banking on there being three even worse teams in the league this time around though.

With each passing season Palace’s talisman, Wilfred Zaha, has become less talismanic. The kryptonite of not getting his move away from Selhurst Park has left him a weaker, irritable, and forlorn figure – to the point where a cardboard cut-out might even do a better job.

As ever, the danger is treating today’s game as a forgone conclusion. It’s fine for us supporters to do so, but the players mustn’t fall into the complacency trap. There is still a difficult job to be done. As much as our rapid counter-attacking style of play has the beating of Leicester these days, it will need to adapt to meet the challenge posed by a team with no intent of bossing possession.  Creating goal-scoring opportunities against a packed defence requires a different level of cunning.

I am tempted to look at the clues 4-2, 4-1, and see a 4-0 demolition as the next in the sequence (I may have been watching too many episodes of Only Connect).  I doubt it will be a rampant display, though, and will settle for a more conservative 2-0 win. Maybe that will be enough to keep us top of the table going into the international break. COYI!

“I Don’t Believe It!” – West Ham fans erupt as they score four again to go top of the table

If you thought beating Newcastle 4-2 on the opening day was good, how about a third consecutive win against Leicester (who finished last season in fifth place in the Premier League), and scoring ten goals against them in those three games? And as Michail Antonio thrashed the fourth goal into the net we had the realisation of being top of the league. As hardened West Ham fans we know it won’t last, but we’ll enjoy it for now, especially because we are watching a team playing some great attacking (or counter attacking) football. All over the pitch the players are playing with massive confidence and belief in their abilities.

Richard Wilson was on the TV on Wednesday. For those of you who have forgotten, or are not old enough to remember him, he was the main character in the sitcom One Foot In The Grave, playing Victor Meldrew, a grumpy sixty year old who had just involuntarily retired. He encounters a series of problems, many of his own making, and has a catchphrase “I don’t believe it”, a phrase echoed by most football fans seeing the Hammers perched at the top of the table. Incidentally I was surprised to see that the last episode aired over 20 years ago.

After all we are not noted for barnstorming starts to the season. The last time we won the opening two games in a Premier League season was in 1997. Comparing this season to last we are already six points ahead of where we were after two games. But as I say we won’t get carried away, but while we can keep our first choice players fit we can continue to win games. The problems will arise as the fixtures pile up with the Europa League games, and our relatively thin squad, especially if we get injuries to key players.

Here’s another poser for you. When do you think we last won our opening two games in the top flight and scored eight goals in the process? It has happened before, way back in 1930, a mere 91 years ago. That season we began with two home games, beating Huddersfield 2-0 in the first, and then in front of just 11,682 on the following Monday we put seven past Liverpool. Both of those teams went on to finish in the top half of the table, whereas we didn’t.

Our main goalscorer at the time (and the club’s leading goalscorer of all time) was Vic Watson. He scored six goals in those opening two games, and just like Antonio now was the leading goalscorer in the league. He scored 11 goals in the first 7 games and then he got injured and was missing for the next four months. Back then we had a ready-made replacement to play up front (Viv Gibbins) who took over the number 9 shirt and scored 19 goals in 22 games. When Watson was fit again he resumed his place in the team and Gibbins was left out, just playing a handful of games when Watson was injured again at the end of the season.

How did that season turn out after the brilliant start? Despite being fourth at Christmas a poor second half of the season saw us finish in 18th place. The two teams relegated that season were Leeds and Manchester United. Incidentally we won the first two games the following season too, but we only collected one point in the final ten games and finished bottom and were relegated. Of course there won’t be any parallels this season but the lack of cover for Antonio (at the time of writing) is a potential worry unless David Moyes has an alternative that we don’t know about.

Crystal Palace have collected just one point from their opening two fixtures, losing 3-0 to Chelsea and drawing 0-0 with Brentford. They were also dumped out of the EFL Cup 1-0 by Watford with an Ashley Fletcher goal (remember him?). In three games they have yet to score a goal and we are overwhelming favourites to make it nine points from our opening three games before the International break. We are 8/15 to win the game, with Palace at 5/1. We are now seventh favourites at 75/1 to win the Premier League too.

We’ll enjoy it while it lasts, and I’m hoping that my pre-season prediction of finishing sixth at the end of the season doesn’t end up being very far wide of the mark. Perhaps we can even do better than that? I’m hoping for four goals on Saturday for the third game in a row at the start of a season. I don’t believe that has ever happened before. What are the chances?

The Joy Of Six: West Ham And Leicester Take An Early Opportunity To Check Each Other’s Balls

Unbeaten starts to the season, Premier League scoring records, frustration at the lack of transfer activity and takeover rumours will echo around a packed London Stadium for this evening’s top-six encounter with Leicester City

Faced with the prospect of buying a new pair of shoes, a man and a woman might approach the task very differently. Our typical man heads off to the High Street, tries on a few pairs for size, then once something is good enough, pays his money and spends the rest of the afternoon in the pub. Our woman, on the other hand, feels obliged to visit every shop likely to be selling shoes (including the designer ones she knows will be too expensive), tries on as many shoes as possible and worries whether they will match her outfit, handbag, and accessories. Realising many hours later that the best pair were the pair from the very first shop, she returns in a panic only to find they have since been sold.

David Moyes search for squad reinforcements feels a lot like the lady’s search for shoes. The notion of the perfect signing having created a transfer window equivalent of the ‘Yips’, a psychological fear of commitment preventing any deals from crossing the line.

Of course, we have little idea what goes on behind the scenes. The manager may have submitted a lengthy list of preferred targets to the Board only to be told that the credit card limit is maxed out and a deal can’t be done. But time is running out now and the thought of trying to make do and mend until Christmas makes as much sense as putting one through your own net in the first minute of every match. The longer we dither, the fewer the options available and the greater the temptation to panic. The equivalent of the last-minute shopper buying an overpriced pair of Chelsea boots at closing time that will simply end up at the back of the wardrobe until the next car boot sale – Ross Barkley or Reuben Loftus-Cheek, spring to mind.

Still Moyes has a fine recent record so far with transfers, and it cannot be an task easy to address the many gaps in the squad with the balance of quality and affordability. As they say, before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.

Today’s game against Leicester promises to be an intriguing affair. Early season matches can often offer unreliable pointers to the season ahead, but both teams got of to a flyer last week as they look to build on their 5th and 6th placed finishes. A scan of the likely starting elevens and it is difficult to separate the two teams. But the visitors have a far superior bench by some distance. A result of astute transfer dealings in recent years.

Barring injuries or sickness, it is impossible to expect any changes to the Hammers starting line-up for the game. Had it not been to waste a few precious seconds, the game at St James’ Park might have concluded with no West Ham substitutions. There is no-one on the bench (apart from Areola) knocking on the door for a first team start. And no impact super sub capable of coming on and changing the course of a game. 

West Ham’s double over Leicester was one of the highlights of last season. The 3-0 win at the King Power was voted by supporters as the outstanding team performance of the season on the club’s official website. The return fixture at the London Stadium was a more nail-biting affair that ended in a narrow 3-2 win. This came during a run of games where the Hammers would race into a three-goal lead and then endeavour to throw it all away.  In both games Moyes matched Rodgers’ formation by going three at the back, with Vladimir Coufal and Arthur Masuaku operating as wingbacks. Player availability suggests a return to a back four in both camps tonight, setting up an absorbing midfield contest as a result.

As ever, Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek will be pivotal to any West Ham’s success, creating the space and opportunity for Said Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen to continue their encouraging early season form. But they face formidable opponents in the form of Ndidi, Tielemans and Maddison. But it is Barnes who particularly worries me. His pace and directness is of a style that often exposes vulnerabilities at the heart of the Hammer’s defence. He will need careful watching.

It was pleasing to see that referees continued to allow more robust challenges for a second week running. Hopefully, this will not be one of the early season initiatives that quickly gets forgotten or reversed because Jürgen or Ole have been complaining about the lack of soft free kicks coming their way. Eliminate exaggerated play acting and the new tactical head injury and it will be just like old times.

Away from the pitch, there has been the amusing distraction of an apparent takeover bid for the club by a shadowy consortium backed by investment firm PAI Capital. Rather than pursue the matter in the Boardroom, the consortium has come up with a dubious plan of courting West Ham fans in public and convincing them that they are the good guys. So far, they have failed miserably on that objective. Although it is not clear what that would have achieved. Difficult to believe that this will lead anywhere.

A win by four goals tonight and the Hammers would end the weekend sitting proudly at the top of the Premier League table. We can all dream, can’t we? A tight game with a single goal separating the two teams though is a more reasonable outcome – nineteen out of thirty non-drawn West Ham games last season were decided by a single goal. Keeping Vardy quiet will again be vital, but the visitors have plenty of other attacking options these days. A hard fought 2-1 win will do for me with Michail Antonio at last overtaking Paolo Di Canio’s record for Premier League goals scored. I’m sure he will be well prepared with a suitable dance and a ‘48’ T Shirt underneath his playing kit.

Can West Ham become the fifth Premier League side to boast a 100% record after two games this season?

Well that was a superb start wasn’t it? Three points away from home against a side who did the double over us last season. Conceding two headed goals in the first half wasn’t great defending, but that aside, most aspects of our performance were very pleasing. We do need a competent penalty taker though, Cresswell perhaps? He does strike the ball cleanly.

It certainly was an entertaining game for any neutral viewers with the chances created and attempts on goal, in addition to the six goals that were scored. I even thought the Sky TV commentary team were good (Bill Leslie and Andy Hinchcliffe). One thing that annoys me though – they love to highlight a player who loves playing against West Ham (e.g. Lukaku, Callum Wilson etc). They tell you before the game, and don’t they just love it when they score. They can’t stop going on about it.

I thought we were unlucky to be behind at the interval and loved the way we turned it on in the second half. Benrahma and Antonio combined so well for the counter attacking fourth goal, reversing the assist and goal scorer for Benrahma’s header. I’m looking forward to Benrahma being a key player for us. Soucek and Rice were excellent (as ever) and Coufal got better as the game progressed. Cresswell’s goal demonstrated how VAR should be used, although I was not convinced that Bowen was actually offside at the point Cresswell struck the ball, but that was not revisited with the thicker lines we can expect to see drawn from now on giving the benefit to the attacker. Bowen’s mazy first half run showed great dribbling skill but he should perhaps have been more composed and scored.

We now move on from a team that beat us twice last season to an opponent that we defeated in both games scoring three times in each one, although the away victory was more comfortable than the home one. Leicester were the only team that we managed to beat who finished above us in the table, and we achieved it twice.

Coming from behind to win 4-2 last weekend reminded me of facing Leicester way back on Boxing Day in 1968. That was a morning game at Upton Park, and it seemed we had barely taken our seats when we were two goals down. However a massively entertaining game ended with us winning 4-2 thanks to a Brian Dear hat trick and a goal from a very young Trevor Brooking. Four days later we visited Filbert Street, Leicester and won again with a 4-2 score line.

There were some high scoring games against Leicester in the 1960s and 1970s. The season following the two 4-2 wins we recorded a 4-0 win at Upton Park with two more from Dear. That was the game where I witnessed the best goal I’ve ever seen (scored by Martin Peters). In the seventies I remember beating them at Upton Park 3-2, 5-2 and even 6-2! On the other hand they also defeated us a couple of times in the sixties by 5-2 and 5-4.

Assuming no injuries I fully expect David Moyes to name the same starting eleven for this game. We are narrow favourites to win at 8/5 with Leicester at 7/4 and the draw at 23/10. Will it be another high scoring game? You can get 50/1 on 4-2 to West Ham (and incidentally 4-2 to the Foxes too).

If we win we will become the fifth Premier League side to boast a 100% record after just two games this season. That will be five more than achieved the feat in the ultra-competitive Championship where not a single team managed to win their first two games. History is against us. Can you remember the last time we won our opening two fixtures in a Premier League season? You have to go back to the 1997/98 campaign when we recorded two consecutive 2-1 wins, away at Barnsley and at home to Tottenham. That was a good season – we eventually finished eighth, winning the final game 4-3 at home to Leicester. Yet another high scoring game between the two clubs! Perhaps we’ll get another this evening? What are the chances?

Whistling A Happy Toon: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Opening Day Rout At St James’ Park

West Ham swept to victory in a thrilling game away at Newcastle. The lessons learned and player ratings.

That’s Entertainment

It was great to get a Premier League season off to a winning start for a change. Hopefully, not an omen for what transpired after last season’s opener, where with the result reversed the Hammers went on to great things while Newcastle faded into indifference. A fantastic win at a stadium where West Ham rarely bring anything home, but more than anything it was good old-fashioned entertainment. Credit to both teams and the officials for that. A recognition that football is a contact sport where tackling is part of the game. It’s not a foul every time a player goes to ground at the merest suggestion of contact. Six goals and thirty-five goals attempts in an end-to-end thriller was superb value for money. The icing on the cake was that VAR did its job quietly in the background – unobtrusive in correcting obvious errors just as it is supposed to be.  

The Defence Rests

The clean sheet obsession is a relatively new phenomenon in the stat dominated world of football. Give me a competitive 4-2 victory over a cagey 1-0 win any time. Any team showing a sense of adventure will always present occasional chances at the back. Having said defensive competence is expected and the careless play that contributed to both Newcastle play should be avoided. Both times possession was surrendered cheaply close to our own penalty area with poor marking compounding the errors. The first began with poor control from Aaron Cresswell, was assisted by Declan Rice failing to prevent the tricky feet Saint-Maximin from getting to the bye-line, and was completed by Craig Dawson and Vladimir Coufal losing Wilson in the penalty box. The sloppy second started when a combination of Jarrod Bowen and Coufal failed to clear their lines and ended with an unmarked Murphy presented with a free header from a cross that landed on his head.   Both very poor goals to concede!

A Game of Two Halves

In his post-match comments, David Moyes suggested the Hammers had played well throughout ninety minutes. I don’t agree with that. A spark was missing in the first 45 minutes but was thankfully reignited in the second period. At half-time Newcastle were good value for their lead and it looked like they wanted it more in front of a passionate and vocal (but what a great effort from the visiting West Ham supporters) . Rice and Coufal in particular looked completely different players after the break as the Hammers took firm control on the game. Moyes claims he didn’t change things at half-time but there was a discernible change in attitude. Whether it was renewed belief as a result of Said Benrahma’s fine headed equaliser, or the consequence of superior fitness, but the Hammers increasingly looked to be the likelier victors. Even the Oracle Cloud Win Probability Predictor thought so. Once West Ham were ahead it would always be difficult for Newcastle’s counter-attacking tactics to get them back in the game. And talking of counter attacking what a sweet breakaway goal the Hammer’s fourth from Michail Antonio was. In my match preview I pointed out how few goals the Hammers scored last season between the 61st and 75th minutes. How wrong that was this time. West Ham saw out the closing period comfortably and by the 87th minute I was completely relaxed that we wouldn’t be losing this game.  

Spot Kick Conundrum

Penalties are always a matter of opinion. Some are more obvious than others, and while the one given for the foul on Pablo Fornals may have been close to 50/50, it was not a clear and obvious error to award it. The defender (Murphy) stuck out a desperate leg which caused Fornals to go over. You could see Murphy acknowledge his mistake and Fornals attempted to get up again in pursuit of the ball. A reasonable call in my book. Not sure what process led to the decision to nominate Michail Antonio as designated penalty taker, but he looked no more confident with the responsibility than Rice did in the past. I like to see penalties old-school with a decent run-up (at least to the edge of the penalty area) and striking the ball as hard as you can. I’m sure Tomas Soucek would be a better pick, but Cresswell would also be a good call.   

Strong Team, Weak Squad

On the second half showing it is apparent that this is a very decent starting eleven, with tremendous spirit, who are good enough to compete for a place in the top six of the Premier League. But a look at the bench (with I think only had Arthur Masuaku missing) reveals how shallow the squad depth is. It can never be good for a team to effectively pick itself with no competition for places. And that ignores the injuries and suspensions that will inevitably turn up during the course of the season. Additional numbers are badly required in several key positions. A new central defender is needed but not surprisingly the striker situation gets the most attention, and is naturally the most difficult to fill. The 50 or so misfiring strikers that Gold and Sullivan have signed during their tenure at West Ham demonstrates the dilemma facing the club right now. And time is running out fast to solve it.

Ratings: Fabianski (6), Coufal (7), Ogbonna (7), Dawson (6), Creswell (7), Rice (8), Soucek (7), Bowen (8), Benrahma (8), Fornals (7), Antonio (8)