Dan Coker's Match Preview

Match Preview: West Ham v Aston Villa

Hello and welcome to my 42nd and final match preview of a very different season for West Ham United, one which started nearly 12 months ago, was suspended for three months and ends behind closed doors, has seen another change of manager but, ultimately, ends in survival.

Blast from the past

Christmas Day 1925 – approaching the end of a month which had seen the births of Sammy Davis Jr. and Dick Van Dyke, West Ham United emerged victorious from a First Division encounter against Aston Villa with a 5-2 win in front of 22,218 at the Boleyn Ground.

The Hammers handed a debut to 22-year-old full-back Alfred Earl, who had recently arrived from Summerstown. A tall, constructive, cool and thoughtful defender, he would go on to make 206 appearances across eight seasons for the club. He is remembered also for having eaten four hot cross buns before one Good Friday match which led to him collapsing on the field! He moved on to Streatham Town in 1933 before ending his playing days in France.

Aston Villa travelled to east London with England full-backs Tommy Smart and Tommy Mort in their side; wing-half Frank Moss, outside-right Richard York, outside-left Arthur Dorrell and legendary Villa inside-forward Billy Walker were also England internationals. The Hammers’ goals that day arrived courtesy of a hat-trick from inside-right Stan Earle, with one apiece for centre-forward Vic Watson and inside-left Billy Williams. Watson would go on to be the Irons’ top scorer with 20 goals from 39 games; the Villa goals in this game were scored by the aforementioned Walker and York. Villa would get their revenge just 24 hours later, with a 2-0 Boxing Day victory over the Hammers at Villa Park.

Born in Stratford on the 6th September 1897, hat-trick hero Earle played for England Schoolboys before signing as an amateur with Clapton. He played there with future Hammers team-mate Viv Gibbins but also turned out for Arsenal, still as an amateur, between 1922 and 1924. Earle had made his international debut for England against France on 17th May 1924 and continued to play for Clapton, winning the 1924 FA Amateur Cup.

Three months after his England debut, Earle (pictured) signed for West Ham United and scored six goals in 18 games in his first season. He played in 37 of the 42 league games in this 1925/26 season, as the Hammers developed a fine forward line of Earle, Vic Watson and Jimmy Ruffell, the trio notching 41 goals between them that season. Earle impressed sufficiently to earn his second England cap on 22nd October 1927, against Northern Ireland. After eight seasons at the Boleyn Ground, Earle departed at the end of the 1931/32 campaign having scored 58 goals in 273 appearances in all competitions. He ended his career back at Clapton before coaching amateur club Walthamstow Avenue and managing Leyton FC. Earle died in Colchester on the 26th September 1971 at the age of 74.

The Hammers, who had topped the table in mid-September, went on to finish in 18th place in the 1925/26 Division One season while Villa ended up in sixth. Huddersfield won the league title and Bolton won the FA Cup, beating the relegated Manchester City in the Final.

West Ham United: Ted Hufton, Billy Henderson, Alfred Earl, Jimmy Collins, Jim Barrett, Syd Bishop, Tommy Yews, Stan Earle, Vic Watson, Billy Williams, Jimmy Ruffell.

Aston Villa: Cyril Spiers, Tommy Smart, Tommy Mort, Jock Johnstone, Vic Milne, Frank Moss, Richard York, George Stephenson, Len Capewell, Billy Walker, Arthur Dorrell.

Club Connections

Former Villa loanee Robert Snodgrass welcomes his old club while ex-Hammer Henri Lansbury returns to east London. Other players who have appeared for both clubs include:

Goalkeepers: David James, Mervyn Day, Les Sealey.

Defenders: Bill Askew, Arthur Marjeram, James Collins, Gary Charles.

Midfielders: Joe Cole, Carlos Sanchez, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Tommy Southren, Nigel Reo-Coker, Nolberto Solano, Stewart Downing, Ray Houghton, Franz Carr, Fred Norris, Tony Scott.

Strikers: Carlton Cole, Marlon Harewood, Robbie Keane, Frank McAvennie, Peter Kyle, Phil Woosnam.

Alan Curbishley played for both clubs and managed the Hammers.

Today’s focus though is on a player who spent four years with Villa before spending a season with the Hammers. John Carew was born in Akershus, Norway, on 5th September 1979 and started his professional career with Valerenga in 1997, winning the Norwegian Cup before moving on to Rosenborg two years later. He made his full international debut on 18th November 1998, becoming the first black player to represent Norway.

Champions League football with Rosenborg brought Carew to the attention of clubs in the big European leagues and he moved to Valencia shortly after representing Norway at Euro 2000. He reached the Champions League Final with the Spanish club in 2001 and won the La Liga title in 2002. Moves to Fulham and West Brom failed to be completed and Carew experienced Italian football in the 2003/04 campaign when he joined Roma on a season-long loan. The 6’5 striker moved to Turkey in 2004, signing for Besiktas in a permanent deal, but was on the move again in the summer of 2005 when he joined French club Lyon. He won the Ligue 1 title in 2005/06 before a move to the Premier League finally came off in January 2007.

Carew signed for Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa in an exchange deal which took Milan Baros to Lyon. The 27-year-old made his Villa debut in a 3-1 defeat at Newcastle on 31st January 2007 and didn’t have to wait long to score his first goal for his new club, this being the winner on his home debut in a 1-0 win over Alan Curbishley’s West Ham on 3rd February 2007. He scored two more goals in 2006/07 as Villa finished 11th.

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Villa would end up sixth in 2007/08, with Carew finishing as top scorer with 13 goals in 33 games, including a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Newcastle at Villa Park on 9th February 2008. The following season saw Carew score in the away leg against Odense as Aston Villa won the InterToto Cup and eventually qualified for the UEFA Cup. Carew scored 15 goals in 34 matches and was Villa’s top scorer again in all competitions, despite a back problem restricting his appearances during the winter.

Carew faced competition from Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey in 2009/10 but again finished top scorer for the campaign with 17 goals from 42 appearances in all competitions, including a hat-trick in a 4-2 FA Cup quarter-final win at Reading on 7th March 2010. Carew continued to be a key member of the side as Villa finished sixth for the third consecutive season, and reached the League Cup Final and the FA Cup semi-finals. His final goal for Villa came in a 3-1 defeat at Manchester City on 1st May 2010.

O’Neill resigned in August 2010 with Gerard Houllier his replacement; Carew’s relationship with the Frenchman was strained, with the pair arguing in the press, and his first team opportunities were further limited by the big-money signing of Darren Bent in January 2011. Carew’s final appearance for the club came in a 1-1 draw at Birmingham on 16th January 2011. After four years, 131 appearances and 48 goals at Aston Villa, Carew joined Stoke on loan in January 2011 (who he would represent in the FA Cup Final) before being released by Villa at the end of his contract that summer.

The 31-year-old Carew signed for Sam Allardyce’s newly-relegated West Ham United on a free transfer the day before the start of the 2011/12 Championship season. He made his Hammers debut two weeks later, as a substitute in a 2-2 draw with Leeds at the Boleyn Ground on 21st August 2011. Carew again appeared from the bench to score his first goal for the club on 1st October 2011, meeting a George McCartney cross with his head to bag the second equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace on an unseasonably hot afternoon in south-east London. Carew was rewarded with a starting place in the next game a fortnight later and repeated the trick, scoring the Irons’ first of the afternoon with a header from a Julien Faubert cross in a 4-0 win over Blackpool at Upton Park.

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The club’s signings of Nicky Maynard and Ricardo Vaz Te in the January transfer window of 2012 restricted Carew’s first-team opportunities. He made his final appearance for West Ham as a substitute in a 1-1 draw at Bristol City on 17th April 2012. He had scored two goals in 21 appearances for West Ham United but never completed a full 90 minutes for the club – he was either withdrawn early or used as a substitute in all of his appearances for the Hammers. Both of Carew’s goals for West Ham can be viewed in my video below.

Carew was released by West Ham at the end of the 2011/12 season with the club having secured an immediate return to the Premier League. He could not agree personal terms on a return to his first club, Valerenga, back home in Norway in August 2012 and had an unsuccessful trial at Inter Milan in February 2013, with the Italian club harbouring concerns over his fitness. Carew officially retired in October 2013. He had also played 91 times for Norway, scoring 24 goals – his final goal for his country came four days before his last goal for West Ham, in a 3-1 Euro 2012 qualifying win over Cyprus in Oslo on 11th October 2011.

Now 40, Carew has embarked on an acting career. Amongst other projects, he has appeared in a Canadian horror film, a Norwegian television series and also had a role in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil alongside Angelina Jolie and Forest Gate-born actor Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Referee

The referee on Sunday will be Michael Oliver. He has refereed 24 of our matches, officiating in five wins for the Hammers, six draws and 13 defeats. Oliver has refereed the Irons five times this season, in our 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace in October (when he awarded the visitors a match-levelling penalty); for our 3-2 home defeat to Tottenham in November; for our 1-0 defeat at Sheffield United in January; for our 3-3 home draw with Brighton in February; and, most recently, for our 1-0 home defeat to Burnley earlier this month.

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Oliver also refereed our 1-1 draw at Leicester in October 2018, when he sent off Mark Noble. His only previous red card issued to a West Ham player came six seasons ago, when he sent off Kevin Nolan in our 4-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in December 2013. Oliver also refereed our 3-1 home win over Manchester United last season.

Possible line-ups

Ryan Fredericks and Robert Snodgrass are doubts, while Aaron Cresswell and Jarrod Bowen sustained minor injuries in midweek which thankfully shouldn’t keep them out of contention. West Ham are unbeaten in their past four home league games against Aston Villa without conceding a goal, winning two and drawing two. The Hammers have won their final Premier League game in each of the previous three seasons.

Aston Villa will be without the injured Tom Heaton, Ahmed Elmohamady, Bjorn Engels and Wesley but Neil Taylor should be available. Villa are currently on a run of 25 successive away games without a clean sheet in the Premier League, since a 0-0 draw with West Brom in January 2016. There have been just seven goals scored in the last seven league meetings between West Ham and Aston Villa.

Possible West Ham United XI: Fabianski; Johnson, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice; Bowen, Soucek, Noble, Antonio; Haller.

Possible Aston Villa XI: Reina; Guilbert, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Hourihane; Trezeguet, Samatta, Grealish.

Enjoy the game – Come On You Irons!


Parish Notice

New Website Update & Poll

As you know, a new WHTID is being designed. As always in these things there are decisions to be made about what to change and what to leave as it is. Blog readers are very conservative beasts. People like what they’re used to, so I am prepared that some of you will be less pleased than others about changes to the design, layout and functionality.

This is particularly the case in terms of commenting. Russell is at a bit of an impasse in deciding which way to go on the new Comments system. Should he just stick with something akin to the current system or move to a system more like a Chat facility, a bit like Whatsapp. The advantage of that on match threads is clear. But for every day comment threads, people may miss the current system.

I’ve created a poll, with a Comment Box. I’d be grateful if you’d take a minute to take part if you are someone who regularly comments on the site.

Create your own user feedback survey

The new site will be launched in the first week of September, ready for the new season. And the Predictor League will be back!


My West Ham Story

When Will Playing in “Splendid Isolation" End?

It’s “splendid isolation week 16.” I thought Iain Dale would write this in his weekly “Letter from Tunbridge Wells”, because he has been counting the weeks since he went into lockdown in March in his emails which arrive every Sunday. But no, nothing remained the same last week. There has been “a wee spot of light away in the distance,” as David Moyes put it before the crucial game against Watford on Friday, “and we are aiming to get it”.

Instead of reporting “week 16” of splendid isolation, Iain told us that he had ventured into London last Thursday for the first time in four months, and on the Friday Boris Johnson set out a road map for ending lockdown that could see theatres reopen from August and crowds return to sport stadiums in October if “pilot events” go well (the first of them being a cricket friendly in The Oval on 26-27 July). Premier League Clubs are even more ambitious. They are hoping that games could be played with supporters present as early as September, with around 50 percent of capacity, due to social distancing and obeying of healthcare rules. But of course that will all depend on avoiding a massive “second wave”.

So there’s at least some hope that I’ll be able to spend the credit I have with West Ham United on match tickets in autumn. However, the only West Ham game I could attend this season, flying over from Austria, will remain the defeat to Newcastle back in November. Our following weekend trip to London had been planned to take place by mid-March, together with three friends and their wives, with an afternoon being reserved for football in the London Stadium of course! Well, you will have guessed it: It was the Wolves match on March 15th we had intended to watch. And this fixture happened to be in the round which was the first to be postponed entirely because of the coronavirus. We had already decided to cancel the trip beforehand, with figures rising and discussions about a lockdown already much more intense in Austria than in the UK at that time. The lockdown in Austria was announced exactly on the weekend we had planned to stay in London!

”Promise less, deliver more”

Four months later, we still do not know when we will be safe from the virus, but at least West Ham is safe now: On Friday night the Hammers virtually secured their place in the Premier League with their 3-1 victory over Watford and now they are even mathematically safe after their 1-1 draw on Wednesday night against Manchester Utd. That brought back some happiness to the Irons’ supporters who have suffered a lot this season. I’m sure plenty of us have celebrated on Friday as if we had won a cup final, and rightly so! Premier League survival was achieved that night by a team starting with purpose and determination, ready to vindicate what manager David Moyes hat asked his players the day before: “Promise less and deliver more,“ he had demanded ahead of the Watford game.

And they did deliver: Within ten minutes the Hammers were 2-0 up courtesy to goals of in-form attacking duo Michail Antonio and Tomas Soucek. And when Declan Rice made it 3-0 with a brilliantly timed long range shot from Mark Noble’s assist, it was all but clear that “the winner stays up game” belonged to West Ham. I celebrated the victory in “splendid isolation” because I had watched the game all by myself on my notebook, sitting in the parlour of an old mansion house in Reichenau an der Rax, one hour south of Vienna, being the only guest of this newly renovated guesthouse this weekend due to the bad weather (and Covid-19 of course).

”He wears Claret and Blue, he’s West Ham through and through”

Friday evening was also a very special one for skipper Mark Noble who became one of only ten players who have played 500 games for the Club within the last 125 years. In his 500th appearance on Friday evening, he once again led his teammates into a crucial battle and marked this appearance with another typically committed and influential performance from the centre of midfield, also giving the assist to the decisive 3-0 by passing the ball to Declan Rice who scored that beautiful goal (that I will tell you more about below). In the matches since the restart after lockdown, “Mr. West Ham” has played in a more advanced link-up role in midfield which seems to have suited him better than a mere defensive role which he often had to play in previous games. Also in the match against Manchester Utd Mark could not be criticized for playing sidewards and backwards, making the game slow. He linked up with Rice, Soucek and Bowen in some neat attacks, the latters being January signigs who have contributed very much to West Ham’s revival and helping Antonio to become the most prolific goalscorer of post-lockdown.

Mark Noble made his debut in the senior team at the age of just 17 in a League Cup match against Southend in August 2004. That was around the time I renewed and intensified my support for West Ham. The Hammers, in addition to my lifelong support of Rapid Vienna, had first caught my attention back in grammar school when we had developed an interest in English football. They had been on the list of foreign clubs to follow since, but because of their promotion within the season of 2004/05 my interest in them increased significantly and hasn’t stopped to this day. Within these almost sixteen years West Ham have been promoted twice from the Championship via the play-offs (in 2005 and 2012), have reached one FA Cup final (in 2006) and managed a “great escape” in the unforgettable spring of 2007 when I travelled to our first game at Upton Park with my friend Alfred! This game was a defeat (of course…), but with a beautiful goal scored by Carlos Tevez and with Mark Noble playing in midfield.

West Ham in a nutshell

Tevez took the goal from quite a similar position to the one from which Declan Rice hit the back of the net on Friday evening against Watford. It even was almost the same minute of the game, although the circumstances of the matches being very different: Whereas Rice scored the 3-0 in the 36th minute facing a completely empty Sir Trevor Brooking Stand at Stratford, Tevez’ 1:1 came in the 35th minute in front of an erupting Bobby Moore Stand at Upton Park. When I watch the video of this goal I still get goose bumps!

However, that joy didn’t last long back in 2007. With Chelsea’s next attack, just a minute later, they were in front again, and eventually they won 4-1. These two minutes between the 35th and the 36th minute of that game could be seen as "West Ham in a nutshell“: Absolute joy erupting in the ground after Tevez’s brilliantly taken goal, immediately followed by the bursting of the bubble when Shaun Wright-Phillips scored at the other end of the pitch within a minute after the equaliser.

How to change a habit?

David Moyes adressed this “trademark” of the Club in his press conference before the Watford game. It’s this habit of “bursting bubbles” shortly after they have started to fly, which the Scot wants to change when he’s given more time in his second spell than two years back in 2018 when he was replaced after “having done his duty“ of keeping West Ham up. The end of this story (replacing Moyes by a manager of – supposedly – “higher calibers” when the Board decided to turn to former Manchester City and Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini) can also be seen as a typical “fade and die” situation after having “nearly” played the “West Ham way” from autumn of 2018 to the day Fabianski got injured and was replaced by a poorly selected subitute goal keeper. Well, this time round it is all but secure that David Moyes will remain in his managerial position after having guarded West Ham to safety.

When Moyes came back to London in December he said that he refused to consider surviving Premier League relegation a “success” and insisted that in the long term his ambitions sat far higher than that. The manager wants a cultural reset – away from the view he had of West Ham when he was at Everton, namely of a “flaky, inconsistent” side.

That was a view, he said, that was reinforced by one of his earliest memories from the first time he was appointed manager in November 2017, when Watford were his first opponents. “My biggest memory from that night was Marko [Arnautovic] coming off with a sore finger,” said the Scot. “I thought ‘my goodness, what is this I have got here?’. It was my perception [that West Ham were soft] and a lot of managers would still see it that way. It is something we need to change. We have to alter that culture.”

He pointed to a word he heard during lockdown: “One of the things I heard in lockdown came from the Archbishop of York. He said ‘promise less, deliver more’. That has to be a bit of West Ham,” Moyes said ahead of the game against Watford.

Now with the boys having delivered and secured another 4 points and Premier League football next season, it remains to be seen if Moyes‘s intention to change this mentality will reap fruits and West Ham will stop being the team everybody wants to play if a losing streak shall finally come to an end. Far too often, West Ham have not delivered, and famous wins were followed by silly defeats and lacklustre displays. Therefore within the sixteen seasons since Mark Noble’s debut the Hammers have only once qualified for Europe via their league position. And since supporters who have witnessed the Irons winning silverware have to be 40+ of age, two medals for winning the play-off-finals are the only trophies Mark Noble (33) has won with our beloved club. “Let others wage wars for European qualification or Cup silverware, ‘tu Felix West Ham’ celebrate surviving another relegation battle,” that could be our ironic motto in variation of the famous saying about how the (long-gone) Austrian empire had been built by the House of Habsburg (“Let others wage wars, thou, o happy Austria, marry”).

Well, I’m sure no one of us would mind if David Moyes adds some steel to the “soft Irons” when he puts together the squad for next season, as long as he doesn’t forget the attacking flair and creative flow that always has surrounded West Ham! The latest signings of Jarred Bowen and Tomas Soucek have been a success, let’s hope the gaffer will find more “hungry players” he can motivate to give “blood, sweat and tears” when they put on the shirt, like “Mr. West Ham“ Mark Noble has done for 16 years now. Moyes has really earned the chance to show us what he can do for an entire season or more.

The “new normal” sound of football

Next season will start without supporters present in the ground – an isolation of the game which is not “splendid” at all. Without the noise of the crowd, the sound of the game feels like grassroots football on a playing field somewhere in a small village, as one can hear almost every single word which is spoken on the pitch and the sidelines.

The German newspaper “Die Zeit” even had the idea to publish every word that the players had spoken on the pitch during an entire game, filling sixteen pages of the latest issue of “Zeit Magazin” with the words that were exchanged from the first until the last minute of the “Geisterspiel” between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. Reading the repetitive language of the players you may think of rap in terms of rhythm, and some things written down sound like a Dadaist play. It was not a surprise that the conversation was dominated by a trio of David Alaba – Joshua Kimmich – Thomas Müller who warned and encouraged the other players for 90 minutes. If the referee made a decision to the disadvantage of Bayern, they often immediately questioned it and tried to put the ref under pressure.

Let’s hope that not only these “ghost games” will become a thing of the past some time this season (maybe as soon as September or October), but let’s also look forward to the prospect of changing the brand of “soft and inconsistent West Ham” within David Moyes’s second spell. But don’t worry, I’m not dreaming of a Bayern-like transformation of West Ham United. It would be boring to win the league seven times in a row like Bayern or Red Bull Salzburg – that would obviousky contradict the motto of all the years I’ve been a member of the Claret and Blue Army: “Never a dull day with West Ham United!”

Though no promises will be made anymore, according to David Moyes’s call to “promise less and deliver more“, with the positive end to the season – not just avoiding relegation, but doing it in style in recent games, including the first double over Chelsea since the 2002/03 season – we dare to dream that the Irons will perform better in their fifth season in the London Stadium than the four years before. And I dare to hope to witness a game of the next campaign in London, as soon as travelling will feel more safe and crowds are going to be allowed to cheer on their team inside the ground again.

If things are going well, we will meet again in autumn!

Come on you Irons!


Guest Post

Buying on a Budget

Guest Post by ForeverBlowingBubbles

With our premier league status almost certain to be retained with the win over Watford, despite not being mathematically safe, thoughts immediately turn to next season.

Like him or loath him, or somewhere in between, David Moyes looks to be staying on as our manager at least for one year. The argument remains that he deserves time to put his stamp on the team, and – for some – based on the acquisitions of Soucek and Bowen, credit where credits due. However, who made those signings? Do we know? It has been well reported that we don’t have a scouting network that other clubs boast, we rely on agents who are largely out for themselves and on the fabled David Sullivan punt. I don’t know who to thank in this instance, David Moyes, David Sullivan – grits teeth – or a combination of both? Or was their discovery and subsequent impact on the team just dumb luck? Whatever it is, at this point, I’ll take it.

So with the transfer window – augmented due to the fallout of Covid19 – opening shortly, who should stay and who should go?

It goes without saying that we’re not going to have much – if any – money to spend and therefore the majority or all incomings will need to be generated by player sales.
With that in mind, I would be inclined to consider the following for sale, and I’m going to stress this isn’t necessarily what I’d like to see happen but what seems realistic under the circumstances.

Well first off, we’ve already lost 3 players. Two of which can hardly be considered a loss for very different reasons – the ineffective and expensive Carlos Sanchez and the bright young prospect Jeremy Ngakia who was either chasing a payout for himself or his agent. Lastly, veteran Pablo Zabaleta has left the club and while we need more youthful options in the fullback positions, I think you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who could criticise this man’s effort and leadership. He’ll be missed. However, we have lost at least £100k a week from the wage bill, nothing to be sniffed at.

In terms of selling, I think you have to start with Felipe Anderson.

Some people will read this and agree, others will think I’m insane for suggesting it based on what a ray of light he seemed to be for us when he first arrived. We all know the ability he has – as the old adage goes, form is temporary class is permanent. However, I’d like to see him leave for two reasons. One is simple practicality – we need to sell to buy – and he is the only player we have that will recoup a relatively decent amount of money and who we can afford to lose. I would imagine even in the current climate, we may get around £25million for him. That buys us one top quality full back, or two quite decent ones, considering we haven’t spent more than a few million on those positions in years. The second reason is his own mental state. For whatever reason he has gone off the boil for us in a major way and he looks extremely disinterested. Even more concerning, as Daz pointed out recently, in the last game he played he ignored the manager’s instructions repeatedly, when asked to play centrally rather than out on the left. If we’re going to back Moyes, we can’t afford to have someone like that in our squad. We need team players. Not to mention the fact that we are well covered on the left wing/left of a front three. Antonio aside, we have Grady Diangana to welcome back in that position, and Snodgrass and Masuaku can both play there. The latter I would keep for this reason. I don’t want to see him played as a defender, but he’s good going forward and we’ve recently given him a new contract. Snodgrass is good cover across many midfield positions, but he won’t last much longer, and we’d need Masuaku as back up for Diangana on the left if Anderson leaves.

Next for the chop – Ryan Fredericks.

He was worth a try. We took him on a free, albeit on reasonably high wages. His positional sense is really quite poor for a defender, the only reason he often gets away with it is because his speed tends to make up for some of the mistakes. We need better than that. We could recoup anywhere up to £5 million for him in the current climate which would be useful. Let young Johnson have the position for the time being and let us invest properly in a new RB to compete.

Jack Wilshere … where do you start?

One year left on his contract. Should never have been given 3 years in the first place but that was reportedly MP’s fault not Sullivan’s so I suppose we can’t blame him for that. His lifestyle doesn’t support football and he’s rarely fit. He contributes next to nothing to the team for the vast wages he’s on and we have plenty of others who can play in his position as it stands. There is a slim chance we could shift him now for a paltry sum – possibly a bag of magic beans – which would free up another 80-100k from the wage bill before he leaves again for nothing after barely playing for us next summer.

Albien Ajeti

The lad’s never really been given a chance, but he still retains some sort of pedigree in Europe. He was never what we needed. We needed to buy a striker with premier league experience to compete with Haller. The requirement hasn’t changed, we still need that or a youthful prospect. Possibly one of each. If we’re lucky we could still recoup £4million of so from Ajeti, around half of what we paid.

Josh Cullen

He’s been on loan now with Charlton for a couple of seasons. They look like they’d be interested in buying him and we should allow them to do so for a suitable fee – a couple of million maybe – as he doesn’t look like he’ll ever make the grade with us at 24. The championship seems to be his ceiling. Whereas our other loanee, Grady Diangana, I hope we will welcome back with open arms, after a season with West Brom that shows he has what it takes.

Roberto

Need I say more?

There’s a few others I’ve seen mentioned but I’ve left out. Cresswell? I don’t rate him, but we need some cover in the LB position. However, there’s no way he should be our first choice back if we invest properly in the fullback positions this window. Balbuena? I rate him, he was doing well for us before the dip in form and before Ogbonna went full beast-mode. He cost us a pittance and is more than good enough for back up. I don’t think we could replace him with similar quality for what he cost us realistically. Reid? The forgotten man. He still has a long-term contract with us, doesn’t look like we’ll be able to sell him given his high wages and we need a fourth centre back as cover, and we can’t afford to buy one right now when funds are needed elsewhere. Seems a no brainer to me. Lanzini? This is difficult one. He really does look a shadow of his former self, through no want of trying. I feel quite sorry for him actually. He doesn’t look like recapturing his quality, which may be impossible after an injury that could have been career ending. Really it comes down to do we get rid of him or Wilshere? We only need one or the other, as we already have Noble and the improving Fornals who can play in that role. If sold, Lanzini would grant us more funds to spend elsewhere, but there’s also the chance he may come good given more time. I personally would give him one more season to see if he recovers at the expense of Wilshere.

So then, in terms of what we need? I’d argue even a blind man could see it. We need to invest heavily in both the full back positions, at least one new RB and new LB of pedigree who can come into our first team set up. We need to buy a striker to compete with Haller, regardless of Antonio looking difficult to dislodge in that position given his form. We all know he’s one hamstring injury away from putting us in trouble. It would also be nice to see Xande Silva make the step up now he’s fit again. We need to get the fantastic Soucek in on a permanent deal and more importantly than anything, we need to try and convince Declan Rice to stick with us at least one more season. However, if Chelsea do come calling, I personally wouldn’t begrudge him leaving. I would be inclined to purchase someone in the Doucoure mould (if Watford go down) in preparation for that event, so we’re not left short again.

Given all this, our squad for next season could be:

Goalkeepers: Fab, Randolph, Martin
Right back: NEW PLAYER, Johnson
Left back: NEW PLAYER, Cresswell
Centre backs: Oggie, Diop, Balbuena, Reid
Defensive/Central Midfield: Noble, Soucek, Rice, Snodgrass
Attacking midfield: Fornals, Lanzini
Rightsided midfield: Bowen, Yarmolenko
Leftsided midfield: Diangana, Masuaku
Strikers: Haller, Antonio, NEW PLAYER, Silva

Given our resources, I’d say that looks reasonable. We have cover where its needed and we would have bought in the areas that have been lacking for some time. Of course, we would all prefer additional outgoings and incomings in various areas of the pitch, but it doesn’t seem doable right now. Other than the top teams for whom money is no object, I think a lot of clubs will struggle this year with transfers. Inviting 3 new players into our squad, potentially 2 straight into our first team, plus the purchase of Soucek seems like necessary and sensible business.

What do you think?


David Hautzig's Match Report

Manchester United 1, West Ham United 1. Done And Mathematically Dusted.

It’s a rhetorical question, and more than a little absurd during the biggest crisis the world has seen in many yers, but have you ever had one of those days? Today was one of them for me. Which stunk. I was really looking forward to watching the game in peace today, followed by the final day in The Championship. Both West Bromwich Albion and Brentford were streaming here on ESPN. Then life and work interfered on multiple levels, and from multiple directions. So the match was on in my kitchen while I inhaled lunch and tried to put out multiple fires. I texted Iain to tell him to expect nothing from me, and if I could deliver a little prose I would.

The embers are still burning by the way.

If I were writing this like a thesis paper, the point I would want to prove was that we were in this match on equal footing to the home side. Yes, Manchester United had a huge possession advantage in the opening minutes. But it didn’t seem to bother us that much. And as the first half moved through time, we grew into the game. As the opening 45 minutes were about to end, Pogba looked to have taken one for the team right in the kisser. However, the much maligned VAR took a look and the French star allowed his survival instincts to take over. Hands or nose, you ask? The brain doesn’t care much about football at that point and votes hands all day long.

When Antonio stepped up to take the penalty, don’t tell me you weren’t shocked. I sure was. I wonder if there is a bonus for Antonio if he scores ten goals? Maybe Noble just wanted to let his teammate keep up his scoring run. Whatever the reason, it worked as Antonio put it in the back of the net with ease.

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Manchester United 0
West Ham 1

Greenwood leveled in the 51st minute for the home side, but to be fair I was selling some Billecart Brut Rose to a customer and was staring at my IPad when the goal was scored. It could have been a stormer but I wouldn’t know. Still haven’t seen it, actually.

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The final 40 plus minutes of the match were noteworthy to me because, well, we were probably the better side. Bowen came close, and Rice almost scored a duplicate of his world beater against Watford. All the while we looked solid and comfortable at the back. Even Masuaku, who I almost forgot existed, came on and looked perfectly decent.

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Which got me thinking.

Antonio said after Norwich that it was Moyes coaching him, telling him to be in the eighteen yard box more, that has led to this goal scoring bonanza. After Rice scored against Watford, he ran right over to his gaffer. Moyes downplayed it, and it could have been nothing more than exuberance. Ogbonna looks steadier than he has in ages. Is it possible that Moyes is the best coach, the best teacher, these guys have had in years? And if that’s the case, will we see marked improvement in players like Fredericks and even Cresswell? I remember thinking Winston Reid was so out of his depth he might as well sell wine with me when Grant bought him. As it turned out, Sam taught the New Zealand international how to defend and in a short time under his tutelage we were scared out of our wits that he would leave for Arsenal. Moyes has earned the chance to show us what he can, and cannot, do for an entire season.

I’d like to think that now, after all this time, I have finally learned my lesson. Don’t get too excited when things are going well, and don’t despair like I’m Dan Silver’s twin when things are rotten. Oh, we had reasons to be afraid. The run Villa is on right now could have spelled trouble. I expected it from them. Thankfully Sunday will mean little to us.

I know I will not change.

I cannot.

I don’t know how.

COYI.


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