Opposition Q & A
After the International break enforced absence, West Ham return to Premier League action with a visit to Birmingham on Monday night to play newly promoted Aston Villa. Before the game I had a chat with James Rushton, managing editor of Aston Villa blog 7500 to Holte to chat about everything Claret and Blue.
Congratulations on your return to the Premier League after a three year absence, at what stage of last season did you think you had a good chance of promotion?
Cheers Jeff. It’s nice to think about the success of last season, and thanks for bringing me on to talk Villa: honestly, it wasn’t until quite late into the ten game run that we went on that I started to feel like promotion was possible. It was all rather doubtful until we got into the playoffs, and even then it wasn’t a given. The final and the victory was a real ‘pinch yourself’ moment. It didn’t seem possible.
You’ve had a few managers over the past 10 seasons, how does Dean Smith stand up against the rest? Any of those past managers that you wish were still at the helm?
We’ve been all over the place for a long time and the worst thing? Nobody really knows where we stood with certain managers, especially so with the interviews they give down the line… So I can’t really say that I wish any one of them were still at the helm. For instance, we all assumed Gerard Houllier was a great coup for us, but he didn’t get on with our top performers and seemed to be going nowhere. We all assumed Alex McLeish was awful (and the football was), but the players seemed to be galvanized under him according to recent interviews. All of this hindsight has created a mess and leans us into using recency bias. Steve Bruce was decent enough for us, but couldn’t go the distance. Dean Smith has been a breath of fresh air and isn’t afraid to bet on his talent. I love that.
Apart from the loss of a few familiar faces, e.g. Arsene Wenger, and the arrival of your neighbours Wolves as a Premier League powerhouse, what other notable changes have been you seen in your absence?
Honestly, everything is new. The Premier League is a better league than the one we left and each team boasts elite talent. It’s rough! West Ham’s ‘new’ stadium is a big change for us – and in all honesty, most things are new so it’s difficult to pick out a big change. If I had a gun to my head I’d probably go for the elite tactical styles on display. Manchester City and Liverpool are capable of real genius, and that wasn’t so evident in 2015. They are trendsetters.
As expected you’ve had to boost your squad since your promotion, from what you’ve seen of them so far, who of these signings is going to most improve your team?
Tom Heaton, without a doubt. Jed Steer was a top goalkeeper for us, but Heaton is amazing. He’s capable of genius and he’s the type of character we need to keep us up. It’s testament to Tom that I’m saying this with how much we’ve spent. He is superb.
Do you think you are better equipped to survive this season than you were the years ago when you were relegated?
Absolutely. We’ve got a humble manager with the ability to adapt, we’ve got a good setup and we’ve got a strong team. The pieces are in place for a decent season, but nothing is guaranteed.
Where do you hope/think The Villa will finish the season?
I hope for 12th. I think we will finish 16th. That’ll be a good achievement for us, considering that as the Play-Off winners, we enter at the bottom of the pile.
How about West Ham, where will we end up?
Keep this start up and you might hope for 5th or 6th. West Ham are tricky to predict – and anything can happen, but it’s early so why not go overboard with the optimism.
Early days yet, but who do you think will end up being relegated?
I think Watford, Norwich and Newcastle (as well as ourselves) will be in that conversation right now – so I’ll lean with the former three.
Who are your picks for the top 4? In order.
Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea
In the Premier League era you’ve had a few old West Ham stalwarts turning it for you. How do you Villa fans remember the likes of Joe Cole, Nigel Reo-Coker, James Collins and Marlon Harewood?
All of them have fond memories, and some more than others. Harewood is a bit of a cult hero, Nigel Reo-Coker was steady. Collins was a warrior and Joe Cole was sometimes a spark in a dead-and-buried team. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about those lot.
That’s good to hear. Is there any of the current crop of West Ham players that you wouldn’t mind swapping Claret and Blue shirts? If so why?
I’d want to back this Villa side, but I’d like Haller. He’s very good and he’d be a great option for us up front while we find out what we have with Wesley. I’d pick other options but I’d feel then like I’m damning half this Villa team without seeing some of them play!
Any memories of West Ham/Villa games of the past?.
I destroyed my Premier League memories when we got relegated – but I think about our last matchup often. It was the day hope ended for us when Jordan Ayew threw an elbow on Aaron Cresswell. Up to that point every player showed fight. It ended with that game. We died and fell apart.
How will Aston Villa line up against West Ham on Monday? Prediction for players and formation?
It’ll be a 4-3-3 with our DM dropping into the centre halves. Heaton in goal. Fred Guilbert will be the RB and Neil Taylor on the opposite side. Mings and Engels will be the centre back duo. Douglas Luiz will anchor the midfield while Jack Grealish and John McGinn push up.
Trezeguet, Wesley and Jota will be our forward line.
Are you confident that you will be able to best us? Prediction for score?
I think we can be a threat at home, and I think that gives us an advantage in this one. You’re a good team, but sometimes that means nothing when the atmosphere gets going and the game develops. 2-1 to the Villa.
Well many thanks to James for his time and thoughts. I love his optimism for both Villa and West Ham, but, surprise, surprise, I am going to back West Ham to win this one. I am going to reverse his forecast and go for 1 – 2 to the Hammers. COYI