Can West Ham Maintain Hopes of European Qualification?

I was interested to see Jose Mourinho’s thoughts ahead of our derby game at home to our North London neighbours today. In one observation he suggested that the relative positions of West Ham and Tottenham will not be the same at the end of the season as they are now. Of course everyone takes this to mean that he believes they will improve their league position whereas we will falter. But perhaps he thinks we will move up further in the table while they will plunge lower? No, I don’t think he meant that but it’s always interesting to read how his remarks are interpreted as it is not always clear exactly what he means.

He was certainly getting his excuses in early in the event of West Ham winning the game by suggesting that we have a distinct advantage by not being involved in Europe. We’ve had a week to prepare the team, to work on tactics for our next game, for injuries to heal, for players to rest, for the fatigue induced by a congested fixture list to diminish. His team however had to play on Thursday evening giving them little time to prepare and recover. He did concede that we’ve done well so far, but he certainly seemed to suggest that we won’t keep it up for another 14 games. Time will tell. He may be right.

But if you study recent form everything points to an optimistic outcome for the Hammers this lunchtime. Tottenham may have the edge when you look back over history of fixtures between the clubs that goes back to the nineteenth century, but based on the last few weeks we would certainly hope to come out on top.

In the season to date we already have 42 points which is our best tally in the top flight after 24 games for 35 years, which takes us back to that great campaign of 1985-86 (we had 48 at the same stage) when we finished third, and came as close as we ever have to being champions. Already we have surpassed our total points for the whole of last season by three points and there are still 14 games to go.

Recent form is even more impressive. Looking at the last five games only, we have 10 points to Tottenham’s 3. In fact in our last 10 Premier league games we have won six, drawn three, and lost just once (to Liverpool).

Bookmakers are not sure which way this game will go. Both teams are favourites with differing firms and are on offer at around 13/8 to win the game with the draw at 9/4. Of course the first meeting this season ended up 3-3 with our amazing comeback in the final nine minutes. The odds are 55/1 for a repeat of that scoreline, or if you fancy that score with Lanzini scoring the last goal of the game again then you can get 350/1. Or how about our new penalty taker (Rice) scoring a last minute penalty to force a 3-3 draw at 500/1?

I wonder what formation we will start with in this game? I just hope we remember that we need to counter the pace of Son who I believe is their most dangerous player. I wonder if the manager will consider using Fredericks in the same way that he used him to help Coufal to nullify Grealish in the Aston Villa game? Or perhaps Johnson who has looked good in recent games? If Antonio is fit then he will undoubtedly play but who will be the other attacking players? Lingard will almost certainly be one of them but he’ll also be considering Bowen, Benrahma, Lanzini, Noble and Fornals for probably one or possibly two starting places.

I am hoping that David Moyes can be successful against Mourinho for the first time in about fifteen attempts. It will be close. A draw is on the cards but I’ll go for a 2-1 Hammers win with Rice scoring the last goal of the game. That is on offer at around 85/1. Following Liverpool’s defeat to Everton and Chelsea’s draw with Southampton yesterday we can move into fourth place in the table two points clear of Chelsea if we can win today. What are the chances?  

Mind The Gap – West Ham Target Nine Point Lead Over Fast Fading Tottenham

It may be tougher at the bottom, but success can bring its own anxieties as confounded Hammer’s fans continue to pinch themselves over phenomenal season.

I have found myself just recently sitting at the computer and staring at the Premier League table for many minutes at a time. Can it really be true? Last season’s ragged and sorry strugglers are loud and proud in fifth position with twenty-four games already played? With a chance (even if it is an outside one) of European qualification? Surely, it’s just a dream?

It should be time to enjoy the moment, but too many years of bad experience won’t let me shake off the feeling that it can’t possibly to last. I get that uneasy feeling whenever things are going well that it’s bound to be followed by something bad happening. It’s a symptom, apparently, of a condition known as cherophobia – although, technically, that is the fear of being happy, which is certainly not true in my case. I couldn’t be more happier if West Ham suddenly embarked on a momentous fourteen game winning streak between now and the end of the season.

The holy grail would undoubtedly be gatecrashing the Champion’s League places. Although quite how a shoestring squad such as ours could possibly negotiate a CL campaign would defy the greatest minds. In an average year, a total of seventy-one points are needed to bag a CL spot – a target that would require the Hammers to up their points per game tally from 1.75 to just over 2 in the remaining games. Sounds like a tall order, but, of course, it depends equally on how other team’s fare. Qualification with sixty-six points has been known in the past.

As football fans, we are never fully satisfied. A circumstance that led me to ponder those what-if moments that have denied us an even greater points haul by now. (For the purposes of this exercise, I will conveniently ignore any instances where the rub of the green actually went our way.) What-if the incompetent officials had noticed the clearance by the Manchester United keeper had gone 10 yards out of play? What-if a few of those fifteen attempts that hit the woodwork had bounced back into the net? What-if the blatant penalty for the foul on Michail Antonio against Manchester City at 1-0 up had been rightfully given? What-if we had started the comeback against Tottenham five minutes earlier and won 4-3?

That brings us nicely to this week’s opponents, and a game where anticipation anxiety is typically at its highest. A contest where you would be tempted to sell at least a small part of your soul in exchange for a positive result. A West Ham win would open up a nine point gap over the one-time north London giants, while injecting ever greater turmoil onto the chaotic reign of Jose Mourinho. The replacement of Pochettino by Mourinho is now looking as inspired as sacking Harry and bringing in Roeder was. The spirit and verve that once typified Pochettino’s Spurs has been thoroughly exorcised to a point where they now rely totally on the goals and assists from Son and Kane. Still a threat but a far more predictable one.

Something that has surprised me with David Moyes in recent games is his willingness to play around with formations and personnel. Even though some of this was forced upon him by injuries and availability, it did demonstrate a greater tactical nous then we might give him credit for. Manager and team have grown in confidence together.

Although Monday night’s game did end with a routine win, the changes against Sheffield United did illustrate that tinkering can sometimes expose hidden weaknesses – like a man uprating the power of his car engine but not upgrading the brakes and suspension at the same time. With Jarrod Bowen occupied elsewhere he was not available to support Vladimir Coufal. As a result Coufal looked unusually exposed at times, allowing the visitors to get in more crosses than might have been comfortable. It was also no surprise that an opponent with a mainly aerial threat would look to isolate Aaron Cresswell as part of back three. A team with more clinical finishers than the Blades (Harry Kane, for example) might well have made a lot more of the headed opportunities that presented themselves.

The Hammers line-up tomorrow will again hinge on the fitness of Antonio. All indications in the media are that he is available and raring to go. His inclusion would see a return to the favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with a toss up between Said Benrahma or Manuel Lanzini as to who partners Jesse Lingard and Bowen in the ‘3’. This would mean an unfortunate demotion to the bench for Ben Johnson who is rapidly becoming a very fine footballer, both defending and going forward, even playing on the wrong foot.

Tottenham will be without several minor players but may welcome back the unsettled Kane. Watch out for wind assisted tumbles in the penalty area.

West Ham have a below average record this season in London derbies – a return of just nine points from seven games played. The game will be a big chance to correct this and give a boost to the pursuit of finishing as top London club for the first time since 1985/86. If the Hammers are to win they must avoid getting caught by a slow start as they did in the return fixture back in October. Big performances will be needed from the likes of Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Lingard and Antonio, but if they are the scene will be set for another famous victory.

I mentioned earlier the anxiety brought about by cherophobia. This should not, of course, be confused with chorophobia which is, in fact, the fear of dancing. Should my prediction of an impressive 3-1 West Ham victory prove correct, they’ll be dancing in streets of East London tomorrow afternoon.   

Cock-A-Hoop Hammers In The Mood To Win Their Spurs

Buoyant West Ham will be confident of causing yet another upset on the short trip to north London as Mourinho strives to assemble his pick and mix of expensive parts into an effective unit

At 5pm on Friday afternoon, David Sullivan double checked that all the ‘windows’ were now finally closed, poured himself a celebratory Tesco Value brandy and sat back satisfied that most of the hypothetical £40 million transfer kitty had not been disturbed, at least for now. Later he would count it all again, put it in the vault and reset the pressure pad and laser field alarms.

Switching of the blood samples, with some of his own, had worked a treat – the medical team hadn’t been expecting cold reptilian blood. A masterstroke of cunning. The transfer can was well and truly kicked down the road – in the summer permanent deals for Said Benrhama and Craig Dawson could be revealed as exciting new signings and their commitment to spend.

The signing of Benrhama may well turn out to be an excellent move – a touch of much needed flair in the mould of a Payet, Benayoun or Berkovic. He certainly fits the profile of a younger player with something to prove – and with an obvious abundance of natural talent. Exactly how this will fit into the manager’s freshly honed system will unfold over the coming months.

The recent upturn in performances has been founded on a collective work ethic, organisation, and discipline. Modern Premier League football demands that work done off the ball is as important as what occurs when in possession. That is the reason why players such as Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Sebastien Haller have failed to impress. You need to be an exceptional talent if you are not prepared to put in the graft.

Benrhama’s delayed signing means that he is not eligible for today’s game, but I expect his be to a gradual introduction into proceedings. As we have seen during both his spells at West Ham, David Moyes is not the quickest to make changes, even if he gets there in the end. There will be no impulsive or rash changes to shape to suit an individual player. While a back four allows for greater options further forward, it exposes the well-known weakness at left back. Unless Benrhama can match the work-rate of Pablo Fornals his opportunities may be limited to impact substitute in the immediate future.  A welcome addition, nonetheless, to a squad that is one pinged hamstring away from disintegration.

Impossible to imagine any changes to the West Ham starting line-up for today, unless enforced through illness or injury. According to reports the only doubt is Arthur Masuaku who sustained a knee injury on international duty with the DR Congo. If he is not available, I would prefer to see Ben Johnson as s direct replacement rather than a reshuffle bringing Issa Diop (or Dawson) into the back three and pushing Aaron Cresswell back out wide.

Tactically, it cries out for a re-run of what we saw at Leicester. Tottenham’s threat is speed in attack, and it will be the pace of Son (rather than Vardy) that the Hammers must be alert to. Then again, West Ham can boast the second meanest defence in the league, so maybe there is little to worry about – unless that is merely a quirk of the early season table.

For all the hosts attacking prowess, there is vulnerability and uncertainty at the back that can be exploited by the movement of our own forward players. Tottenham have yet to win at home this season and if the Hammers can reproduce their Wolves and Leicester form, it promises to be an intriguing contest. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek will again be pivotal in maintaining discipline and providing the springboard for rapid counter attacking. Painful as it is to say, I think Tottenham will enjoy a very good season as others of the big six flounder, but not until after today’s game. My theory (or is it hope) is that it will take time for Mourinho to instil a workable balance into his side.

Much of the pre-match build up will undoubtedly be focused on the return of prodigal Spurs son, Gareth Bale. Astute readers will have spotted that Bale is an anagram of Abel and that linking up with Kane adds a biblical dimension, particularly with a manager who considers himself a god. The previous Cain and Abel story did not end well, and we must remember that Bale failed to end up on the winning side, in any league game, during his first season in north London. As far West Ham prophecies go, a chance, perhaps, for Moyses to lead his team to the promised land of top six by the end of the day.

The goals keep coming thick and fast in the mysterious atmosphere of a fan free Premier League, despite the dull affair served up by Manchester City and Arsenal at The Etihad yesterday evening. With the statistical averages to date favouring away sides and four VAR approved goals scored, everything points to a 3-1 West Ham win. That would do nicely!