Monday 30 November 2020

Anyone feeling a bit dirty?

There's very little arguing with flying Fifth in the table but any Hammers fans starting to get big ideas might need to think again. The win is always the most important statistic in any game but in every other way Aston Villa are entitled to feel hard done by to leave the London stadium with nothing to show after dominating both halves of the game - apart from the first 2 minutes of each in which they conceded soft goals. 

But enough of Villa, what is wrong with West ham? The loss to Newcastle in the opening fixture of the season remains our worst performance, but the three wins over Fulham, Sheff United and Villa were all disappointing shows where we stumbled home with all the points but little else to be pleased with. 

Against Villa we enjoyed just one third of possession, which as the home team is genuinely troubling. Gone is the quick passing and sleak interplay that underpinned our performances against Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool (from which we only managed a point but demonstrated our credentials as a tough side to dominate). 

Winning with sub-par performances is one of the characteristics of a good side but frankly we are pushing our luck at this stage!

At the core of the problem is our poor passing accuracy. Add to that our increasing reliance on long balls out of defence (yes, that's you Fab and Balbuena) to the relatively immobile Haller. Michail Antonio looked tentative tonight but if he stays fit we can expect to get more out of long balls but in reality we need to use the back five to pass out from the back. 

Also worrying tonite was the inability of Rice and Soucek to get any real hold on midfield. We were left chasing shadows after Grealish but in reality most sides find him a handful. But Hourihane and McGinn also found it all too easy. Moyes tried to stop the rot by changing it up at half time by going 4-5-1 but to no avail. 

With Man Utd visiting on Saturday night we need to get back to the drawing board and start passing the ball a whole lot better. Then again, we do seem to up our game for them so it'll be the perfect game to match a winning result with a decent performance. 

As for tonight, its hard not to feel for a Villa side who deserved at least a point. 


Wednesday 25 November 2020

Moyes: Maker of Men!


The Man with X-Ray Eyes!

Remember when Michail Antonio was a winger? Even better, remember the excruciating pain watching Slaven Bilic's doomed experiment with Michail at right back? Bilic persisted in the face of clear evidence that Antonio lacked the defensive subtlety needed for the position and in all fairness to Michail, he kept the chin up and persisted for the team. Now look at him - one of the most feared strikers in the Premiership, both in terms of physicality and lethality in front of goal. 

Most of which is due to David Moyes' vision to put Antonio top of the house as striker. he may lack the precision of the likes of Sergio Aguero, but the man is a striking phenomenon and his is the name Hammers fans most want to see back in the starting line up for Villa nd Man United in our next two games. 

And then there's Arthur Masuaku.  The lad is immensely likeable but let's face it, he was on his way out of the club at the end of last season. As a left back, exposed and playing deep, Arthur is a time bomb waiting to go off. he has a history of zoning out at crucial times of putting his feet in where they shouldn't be risked. 

Zoom forward to November 2020 and Masuaku is another player reborn in his new role as an attacking left back wing back in a back five that has lost is previous leaky tendencies and is the foundation from which West Ham have become a really awkward team to play. Add to that Arthur's twinkle-toed first touch and the lad is a real threat going forward and links brilliantly with Cresswell and Fornals. Again, it's got to be thank you Mr Moyes for having the vision and trust in a player who has become a real asset to the team. 

Add to that Aaron Cresswell's return to form - with a series of performances that have him on the verge of the England squad again, it's been remarkable stuff! technically, the little fella is now a centre back, although really he's playing as a central left back, but whatever you call it, it's bloody working!

And so to Declan Rice. Many see his career as following that of Bobby Moore or Billy Bonds or Rio ferdinand - starting in midfield and then shifting to centre back for the mainstay of his career. No Way! Declan is far to potent as a defensive midfielder and also has, under Moyes, developed the attacking side of his game. Put simply, he'd be wasted at Centre Back!

Many fans were uninspired by the announcement that David Moyes was coming in to replace Pellegrini but at this stage you've got to admit that he has proven his ability to see where players can be best positioned. 

You have to wonder what he sees ahead for Seb Haller?

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Can We Dream or Will Murphy's Law Kick In?

After a difficult start to the season West ham's manager David Moyes will be delighted how his charges have pushed their way to an impressive 8th spot in the Premiership. One quarter of the way through the season and Hammers fans are startibg to wonder if this season might see the club finally seize a top six position!

After a brace of well chiselled out wins against Fulham and Sheffield United, in both cases without top striker Michail Antonio, Moyes seems to have found the winning formula in games that historically West Ham might have fluffed.

The current formation using a back five has brought out the very best from a previously porous backline who are also contributing to what has become an expansive attack. Moreover, with Rice and Soucek in the middle, there is much less room for opposition sides to attack. 

Things are looking good as the Hammers host Aston Villa at the weekend where a win could push them up to 5th after ten games! So perhaps its not so surprising that Danny Murphy took time on MOTD to suggest that top six status may be a realistic ambition for the club. 

However, veteran Hammers fans will note the lack of squad depth in key positions such as at striker and also centre back, while the club tradition of blowing things just when we seem on the cusp is hard to ignore. It's Murphy's law that after top performances against the Premiership 'elite' we mess up against bottom half clubs.

All the same, recent results suggest that Moyes has instilled a new steel to the side....

Monday 23 November 2020

Fans Stadium Return: Latest News and Opinion

Norn Iron fans return to Windsor Park

In what has been the most unusual season of living memory in English football, more good news has emerged this morning with Astra Zeneca's announcement that they also have a vaccine that appears effective in preventing Covid-19 infection. 

The company have revealed that results from their phase 3 trial indicate between 70 and 90% effectiveness in protecting against Coronavirus infection. This follows from similarly positive results released in recent weeks for vaccines created by Moderna and Pfizer, all of which suggests that the battle against Covid-19 has changed from defensive retreat to attack. 

Despite this good news there remain unanswered questions regarding the duration of immunity from vaccines and whether in addition to preventing Covid-19 illness whether they also prevent those in contact with the virus from spreading it to others. This latter issue is crucial to determining how rapidly we can exit from social distancing restrictions and, of course, gatherings such as football matches.

The issue of safety is also important as it will determine uptake of the vaccine by the general public, which is key to establishing herd immunity. Its worth noting that trials to date provide safety data on sizeable numbers (albeit short term) whilst effectiveness data is based upon the smaller numbers who actually become infected by the virus. 

All in all things are really looking up but what about actually getting to football matches again? The FA and government have been having talks about this issue and how things might change when the current lockdown ends in early December. 

In the meantime, Northern Ireland trialled reduced fan attendance when they allowed just over 1000 fans attend their recent international against Slovakia at Windsor Park. To date, this seems to have been a success as fans adhered to social distancing and created a decent atmosphere within the stadium despite their small numbers.

So what does this mean for West Ham fans? Realistically, widespread vaccination will not happen until a few months into 2021 and in the meantime we will learn more about the degree and duration of immunity that the vaccines provide. 

While some fans are chomping at the bit to get back into stadia, any fans with heghtened vulnerability to severe Covid illness would be best to stay patient - although distancing within the stadium can be achieved, the bigger problems will relate to congregation of fans on the way in and out of matches and its likely that food and drink will not be part of the matchday experience for some time to come. 

One fascinating development will be that reduced numbers of fans at matches will allow for much greater clarity in terms of what individuals are actually saying - as the clearly audible nature of Kevin De Bruyne's expletive-ridden outbursts at the weekend demonstrated. That should make for some amusement but we can expect stadium managers to try to dilute any outpourings with fake fan noise!

Bottom line: the boffins have really risen to the challenge but let's be patient - let the younger folk trial the initial phase of return while the veterans amongst us should observe caution. 

Sadly, for the VWH crew, our matchday experience involves flights from Ireland which brings a whole additional layer of risk with many reports suggesting that air travel is best avoided until the pandemic is under much better control.


Soon Come!

Sunday 22 November 2020

Hammers Ratings in Win at Sheffield

Fabianski: Calmness personified. Had to make 3 important saves that were key to taking all three points. Lets hope he stays fit and we can push on. 7/10

Coufal: Lacks Fredericks pace but has a much better footballing head and is forming a very useful partnership with Bowen. 7/10

Ogbonna: Really at his peak now. Amongst the best CBs in the league so far this season. 8/10.

Balbuena: Solid performance again. Merits his starting place.  6/10.

Cresswell: Really thriving in the new system. Not his best performance but he has set a very high standard of late. 6.5/10

Masuaku: One early sleepy moment but otherwise excellent. Fantastic ball control that he uses to keep possession just when we really need it. 6.5/10. 

Rice: Top player. Bossed things again. Unlucky not to score with a header. 8/10.

Soucek: Always turning up in dangerous places. Missed two decent chances but you gotta applaud him for being there. 7/10.

Fornals: Important part of our engine. Not as creative as we'd like but always involved and energetic. 7/10.

Bowen: Just a tad off his best - needs a goal to get him going. 7/10.

Haller: Very Freddie Kanoute-like with that languid style. Got stuck in in the final phase and for once won plenty of aerial duels. Brilliant strike for the goal and clearly benefitting from consistent game time. 7.5/10.

Moyes: Great to get the win, especially without Antonio. It would have been nice the see Said Benrahma for a run out but then again he did give away the penalty against Fulham. We look solid and with purpose. Time to kick on!

In Devonshire We Trust: Here's How Hammers Can Shake Off Blades Hoodoo

The Hammers head North today looking to continue the excellent form that has placed them in a decent position despite a tough opening series of fixtures. It's time to push on but as always Hammers fans will worry that after heroics against top sides we do have a tendency to stumble when we have the chance to capitalise against bottom half teams. 

And bottom half Sheffield United certainly are! What a difference a season can make - last year they impressed finishing in ninth as a solid team proved difficult opponents to break down. This season they have struggled, especially up front with just 4 goals in their 8 games and a mere point on the board. 

But all that could count for little today in a fixture that still has an edge to it after the Tevezgate business that saw the Blades relegated in the 2006-7 season and then subsequently compensated to the tune of £20 million. Add to that the drama at the end of last season's tussle at Bramall lane where the Hammers were harshly denied a late equaliser then the scene is set. 

As for today's game, the fitness of Michail Antonio is a key talking point with the general sense that Hammers battering ram may not be ready to return just yet. In addition, there is the issue of whether to start new guy Said Benrahma after his impressive cameo against Fulham (VWH are of the view that Fulham's penalty was very harsh but he will have noted that players are far more likely to hit the deck in the Premiership than the Championship!). That aside, we seem to have avoided any injuries during the break among our international players so there seems little reason to alter a functioning unit. 

The bookies have West ham at evens for the win, with the Blades 5/2 which says a lot considering they are at home and West ham have not won away to Sheffield United since 1968! Presumably that statistic underpins Mystic Mark Lawrenson's prediction of a 2-0 home win for the Blades but have no fear as Adam Devonshire - the magnificent bass maestro of supercool Bristol punk band IDLES has gone for a 0-1 away win in favour of David Moyes men. 

Meanwhile Rory Nostradamus, sometime bassist with Irish post punk Godfathers The Sons of Southern Ulster reckons that West ham struggle to keep clean sheets while the Blades are pretty blunt up top and thus has predicted a 1-2 away win. Moreover, with no crowd to urge them on, Sheffield United will miss the home advantage.  

Predicted Starting XI: Fabianski, Coufal, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Rice (c), Soucek, Fornals, Bowen, Masuaku, Haller.

Saturday 7 November 2020

Time To Push On For Buoyant Hammers

It's not quite the 1975 FA cup final, but tonight's clash between West Ham and Fulham is an important one as it can define where an in form Hammers side can set their sights. After a tough start to the sesson, David Moyes' men are mid table and ready to push on between now and Christmas. Unfortunately, as every Hammers fan knows only too well, these are the type of games where we tend to underperform!

With Michail Antonio still recovering from his hamstring problem, Seb Haller will likely get another chance to impress. His performance against Liverpool was disappointing - understandably he didn't get a lot of quality ball, but his chasing down was virtually non-existent and allowed the Reds a cosy platform to build possession from the back. 

That said,  with Rice and Soucek building a forceful midfield partnership, the Hammers will be looking to dominate possession which will suit Haller. Rice has commented in midweek how he wants to grow into a Scott Parker like presence and tonight he will have the chance to impress the three-times Hammer of the year who is at the helm for Fulham. 

The cottagers had a crucial win against the Baggies last time out but have had little else to cheer in a poor season to date, losing all but one other game so far (a draw with the Blades).

We can expect a high scoring game with the Hammers at 7/8 for the win, Fulham at 7/2 and the draw at 3/1.

Kick off is at 8pm. 

Predicted Starting XI: Fabianski, Coufal, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Cresswell, Masuaku, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Haller.