Just five games into the new season and already it is the Year of the Comeback for West Ham. From weakest link to strongest link, the ugly duckling has blossomed into a beautiful swan. The shocking opening day defeat at home to Newcastle has been consigned to history following two excellent wins and a phoenix-like rise from the ashes in the last ten at the Tottenham stadium. Add in the rehabilitation of Manuel Lanzini with that stunning last gasp pearler on Sunday afternoon and the transformation is complete.
The emotional roller coaster ride is a huge part of football’s enjoyment for the committed fan – all doom and gloom one week, and on cloud nine the next. In the aftermath of last weekend, a mainstream and social media trend has been the suggestion that David Moyes is building something special at West Ham. It is tempting to jump on board the unexpected wave of optimism bandwagon (and long may it last) but I think many of us know that lack of cover in key positions is just waiting to trip us up. Like the circus performer spinning plates on poles, once one starts to wobble, the whole lot could come crashing down.
The manager, coaches and players deserve tremendous credit for what has been achieved in recent weeks – especially in the context of the toxic atmosphere that infests the club’s off-field activities. Who would bet against a fine run up to Christmas being derailed by further transfer treachery in January? As someone who was originally ambivalent on the appointment of Moyes he has earned my respect.
It has been some time since we have witnessed such a well-organized, disciplined and committed group of players, working so hard for each other. Is it sustainable? How will they react to the inevitable setbacks that will arise in the coming weeks? More importantly, how will they adapt to any long-term absences?
What has also been pleasing is the quality of the football being played. This isn’t an Allardyce (or Hodgson) style – football by attrition, hoping to nick a goal from a set piece, and then out up the barricades. We have seen a quick and incisive counter attacking team, which I, for one, have found highly entertaining. Only the most fervent anti-Moyes campaigner could refuse to acknowledge his contribution to performances over the last few weeks.
Despite the understandable euphoria at the Tottenham comeback we should not overlook the obvious in that opening 15 or 20 minutes. The compact shape, that had worked so well against Wolves and Leicester, had been left behind in the dressing room. The threat of Son’s pace and Kane’s deeper lying role should not have been a surprise, and it was disappointing that it took three goals to react to it. But it was testimony to the team’s new spirit that they kept plugging away to earn a memorable point. It was a remarkable match!
This is it! This is why, despite Sullivan this, Gold that and Brady the other, we keep coming back! Amazing!The Guardian Minute By Minute Match Blog
The lessons learned from that first half experience will be vital if the Hammer’s are to compete with today’s opponents. Although Manchester City go into the game in the lower half of the table, they are most people’s favourites to regain the Premier League title, particularly in light of the Van Dyke injury. Their strength is undoubtedly the no expense spared resources available to the manager. As ever, they have invested heavily in the squad but I do wonder if Guardiola has put too much faith in outright flair, at the expense of the blended efficiency that he inherited with players such as Kompany, Zabaleta, Fernandinho, Silva and De Bruyne.
De Bruyne and Fernandinho are two players who (hopefully) might be absent today, along with Jesus, Mendy, Laporte and Ake. As we have learned, it is dangerous to rub hands at the thought of a weakened opponent (remember the penultimate game at Upton Park against Swansea?) and City are better equipped than most to deal with injuries. I don’t see Guardiola rushing anyone not fully fit back for this game – with a packed league and European schedule coming up.
Could this be a window of opportunity for West Ham to put an end to their terrible recent run against the visitors?
Injuries permitting the Hammers should line up just as they did at Tottenham. I see no reason to fix what isn’t broken, and there is now an additional option from the bench in Said Benrhama. I have no expectation that Moyes will throw him straight into the fray, and it might be several weeks of substitute appearances before the manager considers the Algerian for a start. Following their cameo performances at Tottenham, Benrhama will face stiff competition from Andriy Yarmolenko and Lanzini for the position of first change. Yarmo is the most enigmatic character to me. He has a great touch, is an accomplished finisher and has the sweetest of left feet (he also looks to be one of the squad’s real characters) but how to fit him into a system that is built around pace and tireless work-rate?
To get anything from the game every West Ham player will need to be at the top of their game. We are looking far more secure defensively down our left-hand side now, with Aaron Cresswell, Arthur Masuaku and Pablo Fornals combining well to track runs and limit supply. If anything, despite the introduction of Vladimir Coufal and the hard work of Jarrod Bowen, we have looked more open on the right, as neither Angelo Ogbonna nor Fabian Balbuena is offering consistent additional cover. Perhaps Issa Diop’s extra pace would be an option in place of Balbuena, but it would be harsh to leave out the Paraguayan at this stage. Cresswell, in particular, has been given a new lease of life as part of a back three. The new setup has given him the space and opportunity to deliver the telling crosses that has made him our assist supremo – back to the days where he had Payet creating space for him.
If West Ham are to taste success today, much will be down to the dependables: the pairing of Declan Rice and Thomas Soucek in the centre of midfield; the energy of Michail Antonio up front; and the safe hands of Lukasz Fabianski between the posts. Rice and Soucek must be alert from the very start to Aguero dropping deep and the runs of Sterling, just as they ultimately got to grips with Kane and Son last weekend.
VAR has been up to its tricks again recently and continues its campaign of interference in the flow of the game. The flawed interpretation of clear and obvious errors is clearly and obviously wrong. How the seven match officials involved collectively managed to miss Pickfords assault on Van Dyke defies logic. And the Mane offside decision at end was to a degree of precision that is impossible to justify. It may be true that you are either offside or you are not, but can anyone guarantee with 100% certainty of where everyone was at the exact moment the ball was played? We are dealing in millimetres here. Maybe players will start to paint their extremities with the camouflage paint that motorists use to confuse traffic cameras.
Apparently, West Ham last scored three or more goals in four consecutive league games back in September 1928. Spookily, the run of games 92 years ago started with a 4-0 home win, was followed by a 3-0 away win and then a 3-3 away draw. The fourth of the sequence was a 4-1 home win. Looks like a pattern that is too good to ignore to me. With a West Ham 4-1 win at an attractive 125/1, it is where my two shillings will be going. Possibly with an extra shilling on a Hammer’s title win at 500/1.
Students of the Hammers won’t be surprised to hear that although that 4-1 in 1928 put them top of the league, they would eventually finish the season in the bottom six. Never mind Spursy – that’s West Hammy!