Talking Point

Haller to halt Hodgson's Eagles?

The last three matches of football involving Pellegrini’s men have been fascinating, and illustrate where we are as a team. I do not want to touch on the disappointing loss to Oxford too much, what I gathered from that was players on the periphery who often sit on the bench in league matches are no closer to challenging what is now an established first team.

By all accounts he’s a top professional and has undoubtedly carved a great career for himself in English football but 34 year old Zabaleta cannot keep up with the pace of the game anymore. Equally, given he’s reportedly on quite high wages, one has to wonder why Carlos Sanchez is still at the club when he is not very good. It was an extremely poor performance and the only positive that I can identify is Nathan Holland getting minutes. I feel sorry for the very promising Holland that he had to feature in such a bad showing but, from reports, he was a bright spark while he was on the pitch.

Bournemouth became a really significant game following the embarrassing cup exit. Others have already spoken illuminatingly about the game so I’ll try to avoid going over well-trodden ground. It was my Dad’s birthday on Saturday, and we went for a walk as the 3pm kick offs rolled around. I was pretty nervous given our relatively poor record at the Vitality Stadium. Yarmolenko’s wonderful finish in the 10th minute settled my nerves but halfway through the walk my Mum informed me of King’s equalising goal. It sounded like a decent game as I read the match feed with both sides attacking well, a good advertisement for Premier League football. I was mightily impressed by our first goal, Yarmolenko’s left foot is brilliant and he took the goal very well but Haller’s touch from Anderson’s lofted pass was exquisite. The Frenchman plucked the ball brilliantly as he had to jump for it. The club’s record signing might not have scored since the Norwich game but he’s integral to our build up play, and I firmly believe more goals will come for him.

Looking ahead to the Crystal Palace fixture, I’m very excited as I’ll be going to the London Stadium with a few mates, one of which is a Palace fan. My Palace supporting friend is apprehensive given we have a good record against the South London side at home in recent times. Anderson’s goal last season against Hodgson’s side was superb, and hopefully he can open his account for the season on Saturday. Lanzini also enjoys playing against Palace having scored a few goals against the Eagles in the past. Palace have defended reasonably well thus far this season but have lacked creativity and any real impetus up front. Having said that, it will not be easy as we look to extend our unbeaten run. If we can limit their obvious danger man in Zaha, then I believe our talent in the forward areas should be too much for Palace. It’s safe to say my friend Dan certainly does not look forward to the match up of Joel Ward trying to defend against Felipe Anderson!

Both sides will be missing at least one key player this weekend, with our No. 1 sadly being ruled out for a couple of months, and Palace’s captain and midfield anchor, Milivojevic, is suspended. Palace like to play on the counter so we will need to ensure that, while we are likely to have the lion’s share of possession, we do not get caught out. Fabianski’s injury is a massive blow for us given the incredibly high standards he’s been playing at. The Pole was genuinely one of the best shot stoppers in the division last season and has continued that form into this season. Hopefully the 34 year old recovers quickly, but all fans have to support Roberto now. Roberto has flattered to deceive thus far but a run of consistent game time will hopefully boost his confidence and we’ll see good performances. Fans are clearly entitled to an opinion, and most fans are slightly concerned about Roberto, but to hear that some supporters booed him on Saturday is extremely poor. There is a substantial difference between thinking a player is not very good and not supporting them. We must get behind the Spaniard because booing him and abusing him on social media will not help his confidence.

I hope following the full time whistle on Saturday we will be on 15 points going into the international break, and I can repeatedly remind Dan that we just beat his side convincingly! Our defence has looked pretty solid in recent weeks with Cresswell playing well and scoring two in two games, Fredericks has looked good and Diop and Ogbonna have worked well as a duo. A clean sheet would do Roberto the world of good, and I look forward to seeing our talented attacking players in the flesh again.

By no means do I think Palace will be an easy game as Hodgson has done an admirable job with limited resources but, as I’ve previously stated, I think nullifying Zaha goes a long way to them creating very little and us getting a clean sheet. I believe we will win, the team has never lost a game when I’ve watched the game live so I hope that does not change. I’ll go with a prediction of 2-0 to us, goals from Haller and a rare goal for the brilliant Declan Rice!

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

Talking Point

Anderson fillip

We are only four games into the season, and I’ve already seen some West Ham fans predicting our final league position and who we may or may not finish above! The opening day hammering from Man City is the exception to what has been a positive start for Pellegrini’s men, and there is definitely reason to be optimistic.

After the first weekend of Premier League football, we were rooted to the bottom of the table with a -5 goal difference but since then we have drawn one and won two conceding only twice and netting six times. While I think our defence this season might at times be slightly unconvincing, I have no doubt Issa Diop will continue to improve. The former Toulouse defender is integral to the back four, and has been a mainstay ever since coming into the side early on last season away at Arsenal. While he might have his defensive frailties, Arthur Masuaku was brilliant against Norwich achieving an assist for Haller’s first home goal and an 8.8 rating on ‘’ earning him a place in the team of the week. There’s definitely room for improvement in both Masuaku and Frederick’s games, and I have no doubt that both players are working hard to get better. The more games we play with a consistent back four will certainly help both full backs, and they will hopefully contribute to more clean sheets as well as providing added impetus on the right and left flanks.

It speaks volumes about the performances of the team in recent weeks that £25 million pounds worth of talent in Pablo Fornals can hardly get a look in. The Spaniard has admitted he needs time to adapt to the intensity of the Premier League, but the competition for places is fantastic and must please all fans. Manuel Lanzini has started the season in wonderful form accruing 2 assists and has created 14 chances which is only two behind Kevin De Bruyne, not bad company given the Argentinian spent the majority of last season out injured. Pellegrini often praises Wilshere as well, so Fornals will have to ensure he takes his chance when he next features.

The only real negative for the club and fans so far this season is Michail Antonio’s hamstring injury. Antonio looked to be in good form after coming off the bench in both the Brighton and Watford games, and making a really positive impact particularly at Vicarage Road. Whilst it’s unfortunate that the former Nottingham Forest wide man will be out for a reported three months, a positive is that Andriy Yarmolenko appears to be returning to form. With more game time we have to hope that the Ukrainian will continue to get better and chip in with goals and assists because if he’s firing we’ll be very dangerous on both wings.

After his performance against Norwich, Felipe Anderson deserves his own paragraph! He worked really well down the left side with Masuaku and when he plays like he did against the Canaries he’s an absolute joy to watch. The pace, skill and effectiveness of our Brazilian winger was tremendous to see. I was on a train from Hemel Hempstead back into Euston while we were playing Norwich, and I checked Twitter to see one of his nutmegs and I laughed at loud it was that good (probably looked a bit weird to other passengers). Anderson was inspiring and I have no doubt that most Premier League teams would love to have him, but fortunately he’s all ours!

In terms of other players so far this season and particularly against Norwich, I’ll briefly mention them. I feel very safe with Fabianski in goal and he’s just a very good keeper, and by all accounts he put in a stellar display the other night against Arnautovic’s Austria! Declan Rice continues to go from strength to strength and while some fans from other teams might criticise him in an England shirt, he’s still only 20 and very rarely puts a foot wrong. I thought he did his job very well against Bulgaria, nevertheless he’s loved by West Ham fans and that’s all that matters. Mark Noble puts in his trademark performances and leads in exemplary fashion, is it a coincidence we’ve won two games since he’s been back in? I think not! Let’s not forget our new talisman, Sebastien Haller. I already love the Frenchman to be honest, he’s scored three so far but he offers so much as well as goals. It’s actually amusing watching English pundits who know very little of him describe him. The likes of Shearer describing him as a big target man on Match of the Day after the Watford win, but he’s far more than a big lad. Haller can hold the ball up, but he’s also very skilful and brings the likes of Anderson, Lanzini etc. into the game. While hopefully scoring a lot of goals for us, I firmly believe he’ll be one of the most creative forwards in the league.

A positive start overall for us and in my last article I predicted a win against Norwich, I think we should leave Villa Park with three points as well. I saw a statistic that Aston Villa have allowed their opponents the most shots per game so far this season with 19.25. We will need to defend well as Villa will be desperate for their second win, but I think we’ll have too much for them going forward. Haller hat trick maybe, let’s hope so!

Hope everyone is well, have a good week.

Talking Point

Haller be thy name

My Saturday afternoon consisted of a family shopping trip, meaning I had to follow the opening 45 minutes at Vicarage Road via my brothers phone. Ordinarily I would obviously use my own phone, however I had run out of data! To my brother’s annoyance, every 10 minutes I asked for an update. To be honest, after Gray’s equalising goal I did not really check up on the game but the pessimist in me assumed we’d be trailing at half time.

We arrived home as the second half kicked off. By all accounts, Watford started the second half with a couple of chances and I feared the worst. I’m definitely an advocate of free flowing attacking football, but too much pressure is put on Declan Rice to intercept opposing attacks it appears. After the Watford goal, Noble was shouting at the attacking quartet to work back. Creative players such as Anderson and Lanzini do need to consistently track back otherwise we will be left far too exposed and concede unnecessarily.

I was pacing around the house nervously during the early stages of the second half. I was just expecting the inevitable notification from BBC Sport to appear saying Watford 2-1 up, and had it not been for a staggering Will Hughes miss I would have had that notification appear! Thanks Will for putting in an early entrant for the miss of the season, greatly appreciated by West Ham fans!

I was with my Dad listening to the radio when we heard there had been a second half goal, thankfully it was our record signing getting off the mark in the Premier League! Upon watching the MOTD highlights, I really enjoyed Haller’s goal to make it 1-2 to us. Whilst his acrobatic bicycle kick was undoubtedly impressive and a great relief, his first was a proper striker’s finish. I am not convinced at all that Arnautovic would have scored that tap in from Anderson’s cross, mainly because he wouldn’t have made that run. In Haller we have a powerful talisman who can win aerial duels, but he picks up great positions and makes the right runs. Arnie was always a winger converted into a striker, and to be fair did well for us for awhile but Haller has the instincts of a forward. The Frenchman will be integral this campaign, he’s going to score important goals and become a fan favourite (if he’s not already!)

I will avoid going over well trodden ground with regards to captain fantastic, Mark Noble. The man from Canning Town makes us better and motivates players when necessary. You have to feel that we missed an opportunity in the summer window because we should have looked to take the burden off the captain. The No. 16 will continue to put in exemplary performances in the engine room with his underrated passing, however we should not have to rely on the 32 year old as much as we do.

Definitely still work to be done on the defence, and whilst a run of games for a back four is ideal, I wonder whether Balbuena may regain his place sooner rather than later. I’ve always liked Ogbonna, he seems like a funny guy, and an experienced international at the end of the day. He has mistakes in him, and I’ve always felt he’s more comfortable in a back 3 which was the regular formation when he got a game at Juventus. But I hope the Italian stays in the team and makes it hard for Balbuena to regain his place.

Based on the opening three results for both us and Norwich, our next Premier League opponents, you would predict a fair amount of goals. If we can tighten up the defence perhaps in our second home fixture of the season we can keep a clean sheet, but that unfortunately seems unlikely.

Norwich have impressed me thus far, like us they play an attacking brand of football and showed very positive signs despite losing to both Liverpool and Chelsea respectively. I hope the Pukki party does not continue at the London Stadium…

After watching the Canaries’ lose to Lampard’s Chelsea on BT in the early kick off last weekend, I saw areas our attack can definitely exploit. Farke likes to push the full backs Aarons and Lewis high and wide which could leave space for Anderson and probably Antonio to attack. Similarly, I was impressed by the young centre back, Godfrey, however Grant Hanley is a championship level defender and I think Haller can give them real problems. The less accomplished Tammy Abraham grabbed a brace and they couldn’t deal with his physical presence and hold up play, so I would hope our No. 22 can capitalise on their potential weaknesses. It will be a difficult match as they all are at this level, and whilst I think their attack can give us problems, I feel our firepower going forward coupled with the home support will see us gain our second win of the season.

Overall, Pellegrini still has things to consider and work out about this team and the balance but a clinical striker in Haller helps tenfold. An injury to Rice however would derail the season and we’d be a significantly worse team. In January you have to feel there will be investment in a holding midfielder who improves the squad and can confidently back up Rice, as well as potentially a defender or two. I still feel reasonably optimistic about this season, the players need to work hard to improve on areas of weakness in training, but on our day we have a really exciting attack which will cause most teams issues. In Haller I hope!

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

Talking Point

Left back in the changing room

The new football season brings along a fresh sense of optimism and I am often buoyant about West Ham’s chances. I watched the first 55 minutes on Saturday but elected to turn the television off when Gabriel Jesus scored City’s third which was eventually ruled out by VAR. I feared the worst after Sterling’s 51st minute goal, and you could tell the team were deflated by it.

I opted to go for a walk instead of watching the remainder of the second half, and I think I made a good decision. I could discuss the match but others have already written very good pieces on it. The immediate thoughts after receiving the full time result notification on my phone were definitely negative. However, the more I have read and thought about Saturday’s game, the more I think we must accept City’s brilliance as opposed to a totally abject performance from Pellegrini’s men. Guardiola’s team are outrageously clinical and you only needed to look at a bench that consisted of Aguero, Bernardo Silva, Cancelo etc. to know we were in for an extremely tough afternoon. City are a marvellous team but the game certainly highlighted areas we must improve on…

After the club announced Masuaku’s contract renewal, Pellegrini stated that he (Masuaku) ‘_is a player with excellent technical ability… we look forward to seeing him make a big contribution in the future._’ This quote goes a long way to explaining why the club did not invest in the left back position as seemingly the manager is happy moving forward with Masuaku and Cresswell. Cresswell had a poor game against the champions with four of the five goals coming from his left flank. It appears that the 2015 Hammer of the year has not been the same player following various niggling injuries. The explosive pace of Kyle Walker emphasised Cresswell’s inability to cope with opposing full backs and wingers with power and speed. Overall, neither Cresswell or Masuaku instil a great amount of confidence from a defensive point of view, therefore I would select Masuaku as he’s quicker and now offers more on the attacking end.

One of the positives from Saturday was the team’s new talisman, Sebastien Haller. The 25 year old won 2 aerial duels, had 90% pass accuracy and completed 4 tackles across the 90 minutes. The Frenchman will hope that against Brighton he receives better service as the team can carve out more opportunities than against the Cityzens. If the creative players as well as the full backs can provide good chances for Haller, I have every confidence he will score the goals.

I’m sure that upon reflection most fans will view Brighton away as the season properly starting! The result against Graham Potter’s men may well determine whether we are in for a distinctly average season wherein we lose to physical sides with less talent than us. Although, a good performance and a win against what appears to be a revitalised Brighton side would show character and provide optimism.

Under Chris Hughton’s stewardship, we had not beaten Brighton as he set the team up in a deep block looking for goals from set pieces. Glen Murray consistently scored against us and games against Brighton were becoming extremely frustrating. Speaking from limited experience and clearly at a much lower level of football, when you have to break down a team who are content to sit deep and counter, it can be very difficult. I have no doubt that Pellegrini told the team to continue dominating the ball and chances will come, and you definitely have to be patient. Under Graham Potter, Brighton look like a far more expansive side and they will try to keep the ball and attack us which may well favour us despite us struggling against them in the past. We could be in for an end to end game at the Amex stadium, and I’m quietly confident we might leave with 3 points.

Ultimately, while I think it could be easy to write the City defeat off entirely and just praise a magnificent team, I think and hope the manager knows we must work on the defence and staying concentrated for 90 minutes. However, City will beat numerous teams by 5 or 6 goals as in my opinion they comfortably finish ahead of Liverpool to win a third consecutive Premier League, so we should not lose too much sleep! I hope that Masuaku plays on Saturday, I hope that Anderson starts, I hope that Glen Murray gets sent off in the early exchanges so he cannot score against us! I also hope that Haller scores a hat-trick and we leave Brighton with an impressive 3 points and clean sheet, but as we all know it’s the hope that kills you…

My six a side team won 2-0 on Monday evening having lost last week in the first league game. Given that it’s holiday season, a few of my friends will not be available for the coming weeks, so numbers will be thin!

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

Talking Point

From Madrid with hope

It’s been a while since I sat down to write about West Ham and pleasingly, a new face in the form of 25 year old Frenchman, Sebastien Haller has since arrived.

Along with a few friends, we went away to Madrid to visit our friend who’s been living in the Spanish capital for a couple of years. My takeaways from a great trip that also saw us visit both Atletico’s relatively new Wanda Metropolitano and the Santiago Bernabeu were Kieran Trippier’s name on an Atleti shirt looks very odd, the Spanish metro is far cleaner than the tube, plus McDonald’s in the UK needs to start selling beer like Spain!

As Manuel Pellegrini embarks on his second season managing at the London Stadium, the excitement is already building for what as fans we hope is successful and enjoyable campaign. Along with my family, I’ll be at the stadium on Saturday as we play host to La Liga outfit, Athletic Bilbao. Watching both Fornals and Haller make their home debuts will be enjoyable: let’s hope the two men with a combined fee of roughly £64 million pounds can lay on a couple of goals and assists like they did against Hertha Berlin.

Expectations are understandably high, and with the additions we have made coupled with the fact Anderson, Diop, Balbuena alongside a couple of others now have a full season of Premier League experience, we should be looking up. The opening fixture at home to the Champions is clearly the toughest test you could ask for. I’d like to see us win obviously but at the very least not lose convincingly, and use the attacking talent we now have in forward areas.

Our record signing who has represented France at every youth level, even featuring with centre back Issa Diop, is a real coup for the club. The statistics never lie: we have acquired a man as tall as me (6ft 3) who contributed 20 goals and 12 assists in all competitions. Haller was a part of a dynamic and dangerous trio consisting of Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic, the former now a Real Madrid player and the latter being repeatedly linked to Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid. Our new No. 22 was integral to Frankfurt’s domestic success as well as their journey to the Europa league semi-final. Not only can the Frenchman hold the ball up and drop deep to link up play, he has a great shot and will impress with his skill and hard work.

Similarly, former Villarreal midfielder, Fornals looks set to be a bargain. The Spaniard looks tactically flexible in that he’ll be able to play as a traditional 10 but also slightly deeper as an 8. Our new No. 18 will hopefully be able to interchange nicely with the likes of Lanzini, Wilshere and Anderson and provide a fluid quartet behind Haller. When we announced the arrival of the 23 year old playmaker, I distinctly remember a Spanish journalist and La Liga expert stating we’d got a great deal and he was surprised that a number of the top six clubs had not seriously pursued him.

We are very much in the cluster of clubs who are as they say the ‘best of the rest’ but we definitely should challenge for the European places while also looking to go far and try to win the League and or the FA Cup. In my opinion, the teams in and around us include Leicester, Wolves and probably Everton. The foxes may well struggle to replace ‘slabhead’ Maguire if he departs for Old Trafford, Wolves may prioritise the Europa League, while Everton have just sold one of their most important players to PSG in Gueye. No doubt these teams will all still achieve some success but, with the players we have, we really should be contending for that seventh position.

Ultimately, a season for West Ham and the fans often entails ups and certainly downs. However with a bit of luck and hopefully some consistent goal scoring from Haller, we’ll be in for an enjoyable season with few worries. The slight concern is that if we get injuries to several key players, i.e. Diop, Rice, Haller etc. the depth is concerning. Despite that concern, we are heading into the 2019/2020 Premier League season with the best starting 11 we’ve had in a long time with a great manager, and it’s about time we got some luck with injuries, surely?

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.

During writing and drafting this, Fabianski appears to have picked up a minor groin injury in the warm up against Hertha Berlin. Sadly, it’s therefore very unlikely he’ll feature against Bilbao on Saturday, but he hopefully should be fit for the opening day against City.

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