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.