Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with The Toffees

This weekend West Ham welcome a rejuvenated Everton to the London Stadium, where David Moyes will be looking to put one past his old club, and the rest of us will be hoping that we can once again return to winning form. Ahead of the game I once again chatted to my old mate and lifelong Everton fan James Coke aka the disabled chef to talk about the current state of play at Everton, and our course our Saturday’s game.

Hi Jim. It seems like a case of déjà vu: when we chatted a couple of seasons ago, we had both appointed new managers: us David Moyes, and you Big Sam, and whilst we have reappointed Moyes, you have eschewed the chance to hire Big Sam again and have gone for Carlo Ancelotti. I expect you will be wishing that you would have got El Alledici back? How do you sum up the first half of the season?
I was all set for the return of wee Davie, before Don Carlo was pulled out of the hat by Moshiri and his less than silent partner Usmanov (8th richest man in the UK). He’s set for a £2+m bonus to keep us up – which he will. What with his undoubted reputation I’m sure he’ll sort the wheat from the chaff (we’ve got a lot of the latter) and move on from there. Again like previous seasons we bought poorly and were a tad unlucky with injuries to Gomez and Gbamin, but TBH we were poor under Silva and too one dimensional. Some of the defeats were so frustrating like Norwich at home that it was difficult to watch before Big Dunc saved us bounding down the touchline, hugging ball boys and bringing a bit of belief back to the club. As long suspected there are too many players on outrageous sums of money unprepared to step up to the plate and Ancelotti will change that. As for Sam, well he was part of that problem. The club parachuted him in with no long term strategy and a blank check book – it was like appointing Mike Read from EastEnders – everyone just went run-around! If he’d returned Liverpool would have seen an exodus of its population like never before.

Since Moyes’ departure, you’ve had a few managers appointed that have only managed to stay for a short period: is Ancelotti going to prove to be different?
Well I hope so. I’ve eulogised and slagged them all off on here chatting to you outside of Big Dunc – who is course untouchable, so appointing Carlo is a big statement. I’m hoping he hasn’t just jumped on the Everton gravy train for the money but I doubt it. There’s a real project going on with the new stadium, Usmanov and his billions and of course the sleeping giant that is Everton. He’s got to sell a few lame donkeys but a bloke with his pedigree and knowledge can surely this time be only good news and get the right players and maybe some fabled silverware…… eventually. However being a glass over-flowing type of person, I’ve said that about every incoming Everton manager so don’t rely on my sage musings.

Less of the herb talk please Jim! One of your big problems seems to be that you have spent an inordinate amount of money in the past few years, to little avail, and therefore the owners must be loath to hand out more to each new manager?
To right – it is just embarrassing!! I know you’ve got to have a presence in the market and speculate a bit but our wage bill is staggering and many of those players are out on loan or just not at the races. Sigurdsson is a case in point. He was great last season but disappeared last August and still coins £100k+ a week. The ones that do put in a shift are the DCL’s who are on £20k. Carlo has got to find that nice balance. I hope he dips into the youth set up more and prunes that big blue bush as it is weighed down by dead wood!

Having said that, where if anywhere does Carlo need to strengthen your team?
We probably need another left back, centre half and a striker. Jonjo Kenny needs to also return from Germany as Coleman I sense is nearing his end. Ellis Simms is doing the business in the U21s scoring goals and robbing defenders of their dignity as if he was taking candy from a baby! I’d definitely promote him and a few of the other lads, but we’ll probably sign another No10 or winger. I somehow doubt Ancelloti would have joined unless he’d been offered a big war chest so I’m sure we will be linked with a few.

I assume we both reckon that your city neighbours are going to win the league? That must stick in the craw!
I’ve given up caring now. The 5-2 drubbing was bad enough, but when their under 13s turned us over in the cup – that was the ultimate humiliation. I’m sure they will win the league. At times they have been unplayable but they can grind out results as well.. Some bloke on an Everton forum started a rumour that they were all on crystal meths which was a bit far fetched, but I’m sure VAR was created by one of their supporters as they appear immune from its ravages.

Which teams are going to join them in the other Champions League positions, in order?
2. City
3. Spurs
4. Leicester

Who will be relegated?
18. Bournemouth
19. Villa
20. Norwich

Where will Everton and West Ham finish the season?
I think we can only improve so I’m looking at 6th whilst I think Moyes’s and Stubbsy if he takes the job as assistant can get West Ham up to 9th. However there’s no ‘gimmies’ in the Premiership as I once stated on here so who knows. Obviously when we play you I hope we win, but I have some great memories of Moyesey and wish him all the best and hope he gets a fair run as your supremo as I think he’ll do alright at the London Stadium.

6th!Very optimistic! By the way how are your plans to return from Devon to London to watch Everton play in the capital going?
Well this was the first game I was travelling up by train but couldn’t get one of the wheelchair spaces (each train has 2) which incidentally cost a small fortune, so I didn’t bother. Any form of travel when you are confined to a wheelchair is an issue, especially as I don’t drive now and it takes loads of planning as well you know. Getting a ticket is not normally a problem and facilities for wheelchair users are great in most Premiership grounds since the law change but getting there is another thing if you live 200+ miles away. Thank fully as you know Exeter City have filled the void. It’s great footie and we thrashed Argyle 4-0 in the derby, which was barn stormingly brilliant! That’s one trip I will be making in March when we reconvene at Gnome Park down in Cornwall.

Let’s get back to the Big Hitters:How are Everton going to line up against West Ham this weekend? Team/formation?
Pickford – Sidibe – Digne – Mina – Holgate – Sigurdsson – Davies- Bernard – Walcott – Richalison – DCL

After narrowly beating us at Goodison back in the autumn, are you confident that you can complete the double over us this year? Predictions for score?
Dude I accept the coup de grace was delivered late by Gylfi’s belter but that was one of our better days and we should have won by more. I reckon this one will be very tight although I see you’ve got a few injuries. Accordingly Carlo’s nemesis though is Moyes. He never beat him when he was at Chelsea and Moyes will be desperate not to lose this one. 1-1….after we’ve battered you and been robbed by VAR.

Well many thanks to Jim for his time and thoughts once again. 1 -1 seems a fair prediction, but I live in hope and will take us to beat them 2 – 1. COYI

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Book Review

Opposition Q&A with The Blades

This weekend West Ham travel up to South Yorkshire to play against one of the seasons surprises – Sheffield United. We of course are all buoyed by our perfomance against Bournemouth, and will be hoping for more of the same. Ahead of the game I chatted to Sam Parry of the Sheffield United Blog Dem Blades to discuss the season and the game.
Hi Sam. First, congratulations on your start to the season. Sheffield United sit 8th in the table at the midway point – you must be delighted with how you’ve played back in the Premier League? Could things have gone much better?
It feels a little otherworldly at the moment; however, there has been some continuity. Since Chris Wilder took over, we’ve won two promotions. We’ve had consistent success for three and a half years, so the actual winning part feels quite normal. But then I look at the league, realise where the club has come from, and it’s just an incredible spell of fandom. The crappy days, watching us lose 0-3 to Southend at Roots Hall, only heightens the highs we Blades are feeling now.

Obviously your players must have been at the top of their games so far, which of them have stood out for you so far?
The whole team has been on it, hence why we’ve barely changed the starting eleven all season. If I have to isolate a couple, it would be John Fleck and Enda Stevens (I want to add Jack O’Connell and George Baldock and Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick too!). Fleck is our central midfielder, and he’s an excellent ball carrier and dribbler, he can play the tippy-tappy game, he makes defence-splitting passes, and most importantly, he works so hard. (I think West Ham were linked last season.) Enda Stevens is just a phenomenal left back who we picked up from Pompey when they were in League 2. Recently I interviewed Michael Doyle (former Blades captain; the one who did the pearly king walk after we beat you in the cup on pens) and he played with Stevens at Portsmouth, he said that Stevens always had the quality for the PL.

I suppose that most of your success comes down to coaching, so you must be equally delighted with your manager – Chris Wilder?
Full disclosure: I live and work in London. I work with no Sheffield United fans – the nearest thing is a London-born Liverpool fan – and nobody cared about our promotion to the premier league. But now it’s absolutely cockle-warming to hear the praise from the Arsenal and Spurs, and City and United fans – ALL of that is down to Chris Wilder. And people clock it on Match of the Day every week; it’s brilliant. He seriously, seriously (can’t emphasise this enough), seriously improves players. Not just their performances, but from a fan’s eye view, the natural ability of players too.

The way you’ve been playing I don’t expect you’ll need much improving, but are there any areas you think could need a bit of back up in the transfer window?
Competition is what we need. Wouldn’t mind that Van Dijk off of Liverpool too.

By contrast, West Ham have had an awful half of the season after a promising (if short-livedd) start, I don’t suppose you were shocked by Pelligrini’s sacking. Do you think of David Moyes’ appointment, and will keep us up this season?
Nobody’s shocked about sackings any more, are they? I think Pellegrini would have kept you up and I think Moyes will keep you up by 3/4 margin on his predecessor. But I’m reticent to give strong opinions about the managers of other teams. I don’t watch enough of West Ham; I don’t know a lot about Moyes previous stint. So I shall avoid slagging off either Moyes or Pellegrini too much….BUT, if you ask me “Pellegrini or Moyes?”, then my response would have to be “No thanks!”

Talking of relegation, who are your current picks for relegation, at the beginning of the season you chose Norwich, Newcastle, and Watford?
Happy to stick to that prediction! (Not looking to bad, eh?)

Who are going to occupy the top four positions?
Liverpool, City, Leicester, Spurs.

Where are Sheffield United going to end up? You must be pretty confident of staying up already, and where do you think West Ham will finish?
I should be confident on 29 points, shouldn’t I? But I’m a pessimist. Until we have 40 points, I’ll take 17th! Honestly, I don’t know. On paper, you should finish lower mid-table, but perhaps you’re like an inverted version of the Blades: great players don’t make a great team. We’re seven points ahead of you guys now; I think I’ll be planning a European tour if we’re 7 points ahead of you on the last day of the season!

Who have been the best players that you have seen so far this season? At home, and on your travels?
My answer to that question without hesitation is Virgil van Dijk twice.

Var has made viewing of games a bit different, especially when prematurely celebrating a goal, has it made things better?
For pretty much every goal we score, I think of VAR and pause any celebration. There are some good reasons for introducing VAR, some reasons which I could support, but the way the PL has introduced the system is symptomatic of an organisation who cares more about the generalist, armchair fan than people who turn up. It’s really quite sad.

How will you line up against West Ham on Friday? Prediction for team and formation?
It’s always 3-5-2, and we’ve barely changed the team around all season. Barring injuries it will be:
Baldock, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens
Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck
McGoldrick, Mousset or McBurnie

You got a draw against us at our place, are you confident that you will turn us over back at Bramall Lane? Prediction for score?
Honestly, that game was one of our toughest. Particularly the first half. I think that Pellegrini got his tactics spot-on (probably by judgement, but possibly by luck). Yarmolenko and Anderson pushed up high and pinned back our wing-backs, and we struggled to create anything in the first half. (We were much better in the second half). So what does that teach me? You can hurt us, you have a new manager…but I’m still confident. We’ll be up for it after resting eleven players against Fylde in the FA Cup. 2-0 Blades (sorry!).
(We’ve got this far without mention of Carlos Tevez!? I think I speak for all of us when I say that hatchet six feet under.)

Well many thanks to Sam for his time and comments. I do like to see promoted teams (not Leeds if they come up) doing well. But I’m back to my usual over optimistic self, and will go for a 1 – 2 away win. COYI

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Book Review

Opposition Q&A with The Saints

This weekend West Ham travel to the South coast to take on a Southampton team who are disappointing their fans as much as West Ham are us. Before the game I spoke to old friend and Saints season ticket holder Simon Lacey from Dance Company New Adventures, who are currently on tour in LA to compare woes.

Well we are both having a terrible first half of the season. Where in particular have you been lacking so far?
Where do I begin. Defence, midfield and attack for starters. There is no obvious structure for the team and how it is all meant to work; no link-ups, no sense that anyone knows where someone else will be for a pass, no movement of the ball in midfield that has the intention of setting up chances. Just look at the ratio of goals we have scored from the opponents defensive errors, set plays (JWP take a bow) and individual skill (Djenepo in both instants for our 1-0 away wins at Brighton and Sheffield Utd) as opposed to goals scored from team play.

Despite your position, have there been any particular moments that give you hope for the future?
Djenepo has the ability for individual moments of brilliance as noted above, JWP is the best English dead ball exponent since Becks – witness the latest against Watford, scratches head for anything more to say in answer.

The consequence of being at or near the bottom leads to speculation that the manager’s position is at risk – what are your thoughts on Hasenhüttl? Should he go, or should you persevere with him?
In terms of leadership I’m more depressed that the working class turkeys in the midlands and the the north voted for Christmas in the shape of that Eton toff Johnson; London should seek independence! The jury is out on Hasenhüttl – after a decent second half of last season under him the expectation was more of the same or better. I don’t see a great tactical mind and some of his selections raise eyebrows. Some of it is down to what he has to work with but you see clubs with similar or worse squads doing better.

What about Maunuel Pelligrini, do you think he will still be West Ham manager at the end of the season?
I doubt it but don’t really know where it all has gone wrong. Maybe too many of the squad are not that interested as there is definitely talent there. I like him but if results don’t pick up soon I think a P45 beckons.

Which players, if any have had a reasonable season so far? Conversely who have played below par?
I am glad you say reasonable as I couldn’t name anyone that has had a really good season. Ings has scored a few, Djenepo has his moments and Bertrand has been fine but only one member of a v brittle defence. Below par: Pope, Vestergaard, Cedric, Bednarek, Valery, Romeo, Adams and Redmond for starters.

How do you think VAR has performed so far?
Inconsistently and mostly to Liverpool’s advantage so in that respect no different from referees. It only really works for offsides as that (like goal-line technology) is a factual thing bit still some strange interpretations of second stage and which bit of body is in an offside position I think. Ridiculous that ref can’t check the monitors and the unwillingness to overturn decisions to protect the on-field ref (just makes him seem even more of a Jonah)

Which teams have surprised you with their performances so far this season?
Sheffield Utd and (winces) Leicester.

As usual who do you think/hope is going to win the league this season, and who will join them in the Champions League next year?
Hope anyone other than Liverpool – think Liverpool. City, Leicester and either Chelsea of Spurs to join them in Champions League.

Who are your favourites for the drop at this halfway stage?
Norwich stone-wallers I’d say, Watford very likely and gonna plump for Bournemouth, particularly with their injury situation in key areas

How will Southampton line up this weekend? Team/Position?
McCarthy, Cedric (RB), Stephens (RCB), Bednarek (LCB), Bertrand (LB), Ward- Prowse (CM), Hojberj (CM), Djenepo (LM), Redmond (RM), Ings (CF), Long (F) i.e. 4-4-2. Possibly Boufal or Romeo for Djenepo. Possibly Obafemi or Adams for Long.

Are you confident of a Southampton victory? ‘Cos I’m confident of a West Ham defeat? Prediction for score?
I’m confident of nothing at St Mary’s despite winning the last 2 (Watford and Norwich admittedly). We tend to play better against teams that look to attack rather than those that are content to spoil and break-away so I’ll go for 2-1in hope but just as likely to be 1-2 in reality.

Well many thanks to SImon once again for his time, and giving up the chance to stroll along Venice Beach to think about West Ham’s travails. I agree with his prediction, I obviously hope it goes our way, but would also be a bit shocked if it did. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Arsenal

This week West Ham return to the London Stadium where we take on an Arsenal team reeling from their home defeat to Brighton. We will be hoping for our first home win for months. Ahead of the game I spoke to lifelong Arsenal fan Andy Cross from prison charity St Giles Trust to ask him his thoughts on the recent events at The Emirates and the season.
It’s been a dramatic week down at The Emirates: where do you sit on the sacking of Unai Emery?
Sadly like nearly every other Gooner, I was just waiting for the when rather than if. We were playing so badly I was starting to feel sorry for the guy because I am sure he is a better manager than we were playing. I think he was just out of his depth.

Is it a case of be careful what you wish for regarding the sacking of Arsene Wenger, as you would be pushed to say that Arsenal are better now than they were under Wenger? Were you one of those fans who were baying for Arsene’s head? If so what are your thoughts now?
I wasn’t desperate to see Wenger go but I did feel we were on a downward path in his last season so was happy when he went as it promised a new start. We have a talented squad so its frustrating to see us play so poorly. We showed at the beginning of last season what we can do when it all clicks – it just hasn’t clicked very much at all since then!

Who would you like to see take over? Would you countenance having Pochettino in charge, given that he did manage to drag Spurs above Arsenal in the table after years of your dominance, or would that be too much to bear?
Nope, I have no shame on that front. I think Poch would be good for Arsenal. He may not have won much but he knows how to play well in the Premiership. I don’t have a preference, would be happy to see Arteta given a chance but the people in charge have a poor track record for making good, timely decisions.

One of the major criticisms of Arsene Wenger’s time in charge was that he didn’t strengthen the defence and midfield. Did Emery manage to do this to your approval? Which players that have been purchased in the past season or so to you think will still be there in 2 or 3 years time?

Ironically the best bit of business we did in the summer was obtaining Saliba from St Etienne. He will be a massive boost next season and with Rob Holding there is a future centre half pairing we can be happy with. Add Bellerin and Tierney to the mix and our back four looks pretty good. The problem is none of these have played much and our current centre backs are awful. Our midfield is weak too. Guendouzi will be immense next season but only if he is supported by quality alongside him. Wengers last decent midfield purchase was Cazorla and when he got his horrible injury our midfield was never quite as good again and we have still to find someone who can knit the transition from defence to attack the way he was able to. I think we will lose one or both of Auba and Lacazette in the summer, Ceballos wont hang around and I am praying that Xhaka, Ozil, Luiz, Mustafi will all be sent packing sooner rather than later. The other bright spot in our future is Martinelli, if we can hang onto him he will be a massive player for us in the next 2 seasons.

What would constitute a successful season for you given the start you have had? Where do you realistically think Arsenal will finish the season?
It already feels like a long season! Realistically if we can get into a Europa league spot then I think we can be satisfied we have salvaged something but that is a big if at the moment.

What position will West Ham finish the season?
Wow – there is a question. You could go either way to be honest which means I suspect you will sit neatly in mid-table and be looking for a new manager in the summer J

Who is going to win the League this year? And picks for the other three Champions League places?
Liverpool by a country mile. Followed by Man City. Leicester, Chelsea and Man U. will fight for the remaining 2 places.

Who are your favourites for relegation?
I think Watford and Norwich will struggle to escape the bottom three. My bet for the final place is Bournemouth. When they lose they play stinkers and they don’t have a big squad. I just think their luck might run out this season.

Any particular memories of Arsenal v West Ham games of the past?
One of the sadder moments from my younger days was the 1980 cup final and the joy from the previous years victory over Man U. crushed by defeat at the hands of Trevor Brooking. More recently, it’s the memory of Andy Caroll scoring a hat trick after we had been 2-0 up and we just about snatched a draw. Come to think of it I don’t have any happy memories of this fixture!

How will Arsenal line up against West Ham this weekend? Team/Formation please?
Bellerin, Luiz, Sokrates, Tierney
Xhaka, Torreira
Pepe, Auba, Martinelli

Are you confident that your (and for a short while, our) former player Freddie Ljunberg will garner a postive display form your team? Prediction for score?
Given the way it’s going this evening Jeff let’s say 3-2 to West Ham.

Ha-ha, you probably guessed that he replied to that question during their match on Thursday night. Many thanks to Andy for his time. Regardless of his prediction, I’ll go for a 2 – 0 win: all depending on whether we can score first. COYI

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Book Review

Opposition Q&A with Chelsea

This weekend West Ham fans will be travelling across to West London to play Chelsea, hoping that we can at least put on a half decent performance, at a ground where we have not had a lot of success in recent years. Ahead of the game I spoke to lifelong Chelsea fan Malcolm Walker from prison charity St Giles Trust to ask him his thoughts on the match and the season.
Hi Malcolm, the top of the table seems to be settling down as we near the midpoint of the season. Are you happy with where Chelsea find themselves?
Yes, delighted, Chelsea are playing some attractive football this year. Frank Lampard has changed the style so we are much more attacking.

It must be interesting having Frank Lampard Junior as your manager. How do you think he’s doing so far?
He was always the type of manager that would give opportunities to the younger players coming through but the transfer ban has forced his hand. As manager, Frank will be given more time by the Chelsea fans because of who he is and for what he has given the club on the pitch. Expectations this year weren’t high with a young inexperienced squad as the pre-season and early league games showed – attractive football but susceptible to mistakes both in front of goal and at the back. . Not helped by rumours of Abramovich wanting to sell the club, these rumours have died down a bit now and there is no sign this was actually the case.

Out of the new players who have recently started playing for Chelsea, (youth players and bought in) who have impressed you the most?
A few of the new players are really starting to shine, Mason Mount coming through from the youth squad and Pulisic who we bought last year and went out on loan. Reece James at right back has also had a great start to the season. A number of other young players are getting regular games now – Tammy Abraham is a good talent and has scored quite a few goals but the jury is still out on whether he can step up over time to become a top quality striker, at the moment it takes too many chances to score. Hudson-Odoi also has loads of talent but not sure if he has the right attitude yet, however he is still young and relatively inexperienced.

Any thoughts on how the rest of the squad are performing?
In midfield Kovacic and Jorginho have formed a great partnership this year controlling the midfield and giving us loads of possession. Last week against Man City I think it’s the lowest possession City have had in any game under Pep. We have been without Kante for a while but he is now back. Willian, as one of the more experienced players, is playing well and gives an outlet for the midfielders.

I expect you wish your old manager well in his new post down ‘the lane’? What’s the latest view on Jose Mourinho?
Mourinho as Spurs manager is a big surprise: he had 2 good spells at Chelsea and achieved a lot but is very defence focused. He often wants a large transfer budget to buy established talent which Levy has appeared reluctant to provide so far. I expect short-term results will be good but history shows Jose will fall out with the club’s hierarchy after a couple of seasons.

Who are your picks for the League title this year, and will Chelsea be joining them in the Champions League next season. Prediction for the top for places?
Liverpool are my pick for the title as they are looking strong this year. Man City second. Leicester are a real surprise so far, they have some great players and a good manager but not sure about the depth of their squad so they will need to avoid injuries like they did when they last won it. We will make up the other position. I hope!

Who are your picks for relegation?
Norwich, Southampton and Villa

How are Chelsea find to line up this weekend? Prediction for players/formation?
We’ve got a few injuries at present Rudiger is due back soon and that might help in defence, Loftus-Cheek is also is still out and Abraham is a doubt.
Possible team if Abraham is fit:
James, Zouma, Christiansen, Alonso
Kante Jorginho, Kovacic
Pedro, Abraham, Pusilic

The way both teams are playing you won’t be too worried about playing West Ham this week, prediction for the score?
Possession creates chances and I think the game will have goals but with the Blues’ defensive problems there will be some at both ends especially as I’m not convinced about Kepa in goal. A close game, as derbies often are, but I think the Blues will edge it.

Well many thanks to Malcolm for his time. I’m surprised he didn’t predict an out and out thrashing! I can’t bear to write down what I think the score will be, so no predictions from me today. I will however be following the game with everything crossed, praying to a God I don’t believe in, desperately hoping that the boys will put a bit of pride into their play, and I can come out of my post-match shell for the first time in what seems like months. COYI

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