Fast Rising Hammers Desperate To Be On Top Of The Klopps

Liverpool may have easily seen off one of the capital’s lesser sides in midweek, but it will be much tougher ask against the top team in London.

Another day, another win and the 2021 West Ham juggernaut just kept on rolling with a stylish win over Crystal Palace that was far more convincing than the record books show. For a few days it left the Hammers occupying a Champion’s League spot and starting to attract media attention, much of it focusing on the second coming of the Moyesiah.

In one TV interview, Darren Lewis from the Daily Mirror was asked where he thought West Ham would finish, and replied “definitely top six!” Funnily, I have yet to come across any Hammers fan with such an optimistic view. I’m not claiming scientific sampling on my part, but the consensus tends more towards a 7th or 8th place finish.  Privately, it is great to be in a position to dream of glory, but deep down is the nagging sensation that the wheels are sure to fall off sooner or later.

In a much more competitive Premier League season than normal, West Ham’s fifteen minutes in the media spotlight has followed similar unfamiliar focus on teams outside the rich six including Leicester, Southampton and Villa. While Leicester have continued to set the pace, Southampton and Villa have faded recently after a string of poor results. The true measure of the Hammer’s credentials and progress will be how they recover if and when they experience a similar downturn.

Although West Ham have only failed to score in three Premier League games this season, they are not really scoring enough goals (and are not clinical enough in taking chances) to be a true threat at the top. Any team that has won over half of it’s matches should boast a better goal difference than the current +6. As we saw in the Palace game, a more ruthless attack might have come away with six or seven.

Top quality strikers are difficult to find, though, and its increasingly looking like this transfer window will draw another blank on that ‘score’. Looking at Moyes time at Everton and he had also struggled to uncover any regular and prolific goal-scorers – Yakubu (15) and Saha (13) were the best league returns during his eleven seasons at Goodison. There were, however, good contributions from all over the pitch, notably from the likes of Cahill and Fellaini. Maybe that is by design and is what he is looking to achieve at West Ham. It might certainly be a more productive strategy than panic buying for the sake of it. It does leave a huge dependency though on Michail Antonio’s fitness – Antonio’s importance to the team is much more than just his goals.

With no new striker on the horizon then, the squad did see one new addition during the week with the arrival of Jesse Lingard, on loan for the remainder of the season. Maybe not anyone’s dream signing but he adds competition for places and extra flexibility in attacking areas. I have seen some odd reactions to the signing online, from outrage over his controversial social media presence to concerns that he would be replacing a favourite player in the starting eleven. As I see it, he strengthens and deepens the squad and whether he is a regular starter or is used mainly from the bench will depend on how well he performs. With almost half a season still to go, there will be times when Lingard is called upon and he is an upgrade on Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko in terms of energy and commitment.   

Lingard’s signing was too late to feature in this weekend’s game, but unless any late changes are enforced, David Moyes was never going to change the side that started and performed so excellently at Palace.

Today’s opponents, Liverpool, ended a lean period of results with a win over Tottenham on Thursday night. Reading the reports, it appears the result was either down to the champion’s brilliance or to Tottenham’s abysmally poor showing. Probably somewhere in between.  Liverpool may have easily seen off one of the capital’s lesser sides, but it will be much tougher ask against the top team in London.

Much has been made of the Liverpool injury crisis (welcome to our world) which is either down to bad luck or a cumulative consequence of too many high intensity games in the Klopp style. Whichever way, they do go into tomorrow’s game with a severe shortage of central defenders. Hopefully, this is a weakness that Moyes and team are planning and able to exploit.  

Despite shortages they may have at the back, the visitors are always dangerous and free-scoring in attack – maintaining their position as the league’s highest scorers. Only the highest levels of concentration and discipline will suffice in keeping chances to a minimum. Much of the Liverpool threat comes through the full-backs, and they have caused embarrassment to West Ham in previous games. Essential that space and supply is closed down and shut off for the duration.   

And finally, beware Egyptians falling over in the penalty area. Take note referee Jonathan Moss and VAR pal, Craig Pawson.

The game should prove an intriguing battle. I believe Moyes would be inclined to contain Liverpool and hope to hit them on the break, but too timid an approach might deny the Hammers a rare opportunity to exploit the visitors soft and depleted centre. It is a huge opportunity to reclaim that rightful place in the top four. West Ham to win 2-1. COYI!

Top Of The Klopps: David Moyes One Hit Wonders Aiming For New Record

Things have rarely been unhappier or in worse shape at West Ham. Tonight they face the simple task of resisting the runaway Liverpool juggernaut.

Feels like there are no wheels on the West Ham wagon any more. Things look bad, the fans are mad, and nobody wants to sing a happy song. Whether that is to be our fate now depends on whether owners, manager and players can collectively get their ideas sufficiently bucked up in time to sort matters out. They may have to wait until the weekend, however, before making a start.

There have been some truly terrible seasons at West Ham (Roeder in 2002/03 and Grant in 2010/11 rapidly spring to mind) and this one is only part way through – but it is among the grimmest in living memory. Possibly, this is because it started with such high expectations. On those previous two occasions the team barely made it out of the bottom six all season; this time we were actually pinching ourselves in third place for a fleeting moment.

We had expected better. After all, Pellegrini had enjoyed a solid first season in charge; a top of the range striker had been recruited from the Bundesliga; an exciting young Spaniard was to take his place in an exciting Latin triumvirate ready to tear through opposition defences; and Wilshere and Yarmolenko, back from long term injuries would return like even more new signings. How wrong could it go? How wrong could we be? Even if early performances rarely reached the heights, we were still picking up points and any thoughts of relegation were left to the terminally anxious.

Yet, by early November it was clear that something was seriously wrong. A good, hard look beneath the covers revealed a squad that was slow, unbalanced, ageing and far too thin to cope with the inevitable injuries that come with a West Ham Premier League season. We had, somehow, despite the millions spent, assembled a squad that required major surgery rather than running repairs.

As ever, where spending money is involved, the owners were slow to react – with them it is always a case of waiting until events are ominously bad before taking any action. Planning is an alien concept at the club – amateurs tinkering in a professional sport. They left it too long to replace Pellegrini, just as they have left it to the very last minute to bring in fresh faces during the transfer window.

It was interesting to see Joe Cole speaking with some passion about the situation at West Ham on Sky Sports. He made a point about player recruitment that I have mentioned several times previously – that the club have a history of signing players with the wrong attitude – attracted by the bright lights of London and looking for a guaranteed, all-expenses paid holiday in the capital for the duration of their contracts. The type of players who would have no interest in slumming it in the backwaters of Leicester or Wolverhampton. For me, it was merely an observation; from him, it was circumstances that he had experienced a number of times – although he fell short of naming names.

David Moyes made an immediate impact when he took up the managerial reins with a rousing win against Bournemouth, but the bounce was short lived in the extreme – and the gloom has only deepened after an awful FA Cup exit last Saturday. Moyes would not have been many fans pick for manager, but he cannot be blamed for what has gone on before. He has been making lots of sensible noises about taking a new long term approach to player recruitment but then again …… Jordan Hugill!

Quite what the last frantic days of the transfer window will deliver is a known unknown. Having no discernible scouting network, the club are left at the mercy of predatory agents. Apparently, West Ham’s scouting department comprises one man and a dog – and the dog (appropriately called Scout) is only part-time. “Good boy, Scout, what do you think of that Carlos Sanchez?” “Ruff!”

Which brings us to tonight’s mismatch against Champions-elect Liverpool. What chance does a team soundly beaten in recent weeks by Leicester and then West Bromwich Albion reserves have against the all-conquering Liverpool team? None, that’s how much! The best we can hope for is that once the visitors have cruised into a two-goal lead, they are happy enough to take it easy and keep their powder dry for more demanding battles. At least that will keep us out of the bottom three – for now!

There are many who would not welcome a first ever Premier League title for our Liverpool friends. The thought of the sporting airwaves being overrun with celebrating Scousers and their ‘one-third Irish, one-third welsh, and one-third catarrh’ accents is an unpleasant one. Yet they are by far and away the best and most attractive team to watch in the league right now. Jurgen Klopp has worked wonders at Anfield and their success is well deserved. Good luck to them, I say. Just steer clear of all TV and radio for best part of May.

There is a certain inevitability about tonight’s game – that the result will end in an away win for the record breaking Merseysiders. But can West Ham, the only Premier League team yet to lose to Liverpool this season, set a few records of the their own: no shots on target, no corners, most popcorn sold at half-time, enjoying less than 15% possession? I suppose for appearances sake we should show a shred of belief. Burnley once beat Liverpool 2-0 in a game where they had only 19% possession. Maybe the footballing gods will again show that they have a sense of humour and repeat the performance – with a little help from VAR to right the wrong for last season’s blatant offside blunder.

Record-Breaking Liverpool visit the London Stadium to face West Ham as Premexit is now a serious worry for the home team

One of my favourite jokes from the Edinburgh Festival in recent years is the one that goes “if you don’t know what introspection means you need to take a long hard look at yourself.” Apparently in the aftermath of the West Brom debacle on Saturday Mark Noble addressed his team mates and told them precisely that. They need to take a long hard look at themselves. And it is true. Supporters may not like the owners, the stadium, the manager or whatever, but the fact remains that the players on the pitch are just not doing what they should be doing. We are now fighting a third relegation battle in just four seasons despite a sizeable investment in players in the past couple of years. And in the 40 years since we won the FA Cup we have now played in 80 domestic cup competitions (FA Cup and League Cup), and have been eliminated by a side from a lower tier in almost half of them. I wonder how many other clubs can “boast” a record to match that?

OK so the recruitment policy has been flawed, and for one reason or another we have neglected to sign enough appropriate players to compete in the Premier League, but the fact remains that we still had eleven players on the pitch at all times, and West Brom, who hadn’t won a league game for eight matches, had made eight changes, and with virtually a reserve side, and only ten players for the last twenty minutes or so, beat us more comfortably than the scoreline would suggest. Quite frankly there are so many problems at the moment at our club, but for some reason so many of the players just haven’t grasped a number of simple concepts including the need to tackle opponents to win the ball, the need to pass to a team mate when we do have the ball, and the need to move into spaces (or even move in some cases!) to enable the person with the ball to have somebody to pass the ball to.

We can debate all the many problems at our club at length, but those simple concepts are the ones that went through my mind as I sat watching the game in disbelief on Saturday. For once I decided not to book my usual season ticket seat for this game, but instead chose to sit level with the halfway line at virtually the top of the East Stand. After over 60 years of watching the majority of West Ham home games, as well as some away games too, I’ve viewed the team from many angles and different terraces and stands, and I have to confess I liked the view from where I sat. If I am to believe social media then I am in the minority of fans in that I like the stadium too. Yes, it’s not perfect, and if we owned it then alterations could be made to make it more like a football stadium. The stadium wasn’t a problem when we were thrashing Bournemouth recently.

One thing I did appreciate on Saturday though was the concept of “tourists” that I’d read about on social media, but hadn’t witnessed from my usual season ticket seat, as when I am there I guess I am surrounded by other season ticket holders. There was a sizeable range of nationalities in the seats all around where we sat, and many of them were up and down like yo-yos travelling down to the toilets, bars and food outlets, and returning with their goodies whilst missing large parts of the game. They didn’t appear to be too interested in the game, but having said that, the game on offer before them wasn’t that interesting anyway.

Amongst the comments on social media regarding our performance, some of which reached vitriolic highs, there were some that made me smile. One, which summed up Balbuena’s distribution in the game was very apt. It read “I’d just gone down for a piss, and as I stood there in front of the urinal I received a perfect pass from Balbuena.” There were other comments about Sanchez not taking part in the race between the two mascots, because in practice he didn’t qualify as fast enough to join them, and would have trailed in a distant third. Another suggested that if he ever saw Sanchez in a West Ham shirt again he would immediately be in touch with the Samaritans. One also suggested that Haller would be excellent at the game of statues, while some others made comments about Lanzini and blind alleys.

My ratings for the game were Randolph 6, Zabaleta 4, Balbuena 1, Diop 5, Cresswell 5, Sanchez 1, Rice 4, Fornals 3, Lanzini 1, Ajeti 3, Haller 3. Subs: Ogbonna 6, Noble 6, Antonio 7.

Today we face a side that has won 22 of its 23 Premier League games, and drew the other one. They are on course to break all kinds of records and top the table by 16 points with a game in hand. And that game is against us! I’m not sure that bookmakers have fully grasped how one-sided this game is going to be. We are quoted at around 17/2 to win the game, which means that if the game were played 100 times they believe we would win 12 of them. I think if this game were played 100 times then we would be lucky to win one of them, and that would rely on Liverpool having their pre-match meal at a   certain hotel in Canary Wharf.

Throughout the past sixty years of watching our club, I have often felt that we could spring a surprise and get something against the top teams. But this one is different. We really have virtually no chance whatsoever based upon our recent games. After the dismal display away to Leicester, and then the even more abysmal performance against West Brom, I think we’ll be doing well to keep the score down to four or five. A reverse by four goals would see us drop into the bottom three, and looking at the fixtures coming up we could be well adrift of the pack by the end of February.

I hope I’m being unduly pessimistic. Usually I am unrealistically optimistic that we can win games against superior opponents, but quite frankly not this time. So many fans reckon that it has never been this bad. It certainly has in the days of Avram Grant and Glenn Roeder. And even more revered managers have been in charge when we have been relegated before. But what began as a season with high hopes has very quickly turned sour, and looks like it will rank with some of our worst in the top flight.

We urgently need some new faces in so many positions both in the team and in the squad as a whole. We definitely need more pace in the side, especially in midfield. I was thinking about some of the midfielders we’ve let go in recent times as I watched the lack of movement in the West Brom game. Edmilson Fernandes, Cheikhou Kouyate, and Pedro Obiang all had some limitations, but all had attributes that would have been useful this season. Personally I particularly liked Obiang but just like Upton Park, it is water under the bridge now.

As I write this it would appear that the signing of Tomas Soucek is close, although I never trust these “signings” until I see the player at the London Stadium photographed wearing the claret and blue shirt. He has quite a reputation but I am not sufficiently versed in Czech football to have an opinion. Others are urgently needed too before the window closes on Friday.

Perhaps our recent performances have finally galvanised the owners into buying players that have been required for so long now. But why are they leaving it so late? As fans we all knew what was needed. Perhaps the fans unrest is beginning to sink in. As it is, any new recruits will have to try to settle into a side in the midst of a relegation dogfight. That will not be easy. Nevertheless it is probably our only chance of avoiding the drop.

We also need our injured players back quickly (particularly Anderson), and for Antonio (and others) to remain injury-free. Diangana has been earning rave reviews in the Championship, and although he is currently injured I don’t think it’s a long term thing. He may not be the answer but I am surprised he hasn’t been recalled to bolster the squad as is our right at this time.

There is so much we do need to do if we are to avoid going down into the Championship. We definitely need to avoid losing this game by more than three goals to avoid occupying one of the relegation positions with just 14 games of the season left to go. And we need to beat Brighton this weekend in view of the other more difficult games that are coming up in February. We need a lot, don’t we? I think that tonight we need a miracle. But very occasionally miracles do happen! Let us pray for one today.