Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with The Arsenal

On the back of an unlucky loss at Anfield, and then last weekend our first win since New Year’s day, West Ham travel the short distance to just off the Holloway Road to face an Arsenal team who are slightly resurgent, having appointed a new manager at a similar time to us. Ahead of the game I once again 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.

Hi Andy, the last time we spoke Arsenal had just given Unai Emery the big heave-ho, and were yet to appoint a manager. The board have done what they might have done 18 months ago, and what you were open to, and appointed Mikel Arteta – how are you liking what you see so far?
Liking it a lot. It’s not so much the results but the fact they look like a team again, who actually know how to play football! I like his honesty and his belief in the right attitude and behaviour on and off the pitch. It suggests a level of player interaction Emery clearly never had.

What will you consider a success or a failure, or have you already written this season off?
Well we are still in the FA Cup so a trophy is still in our grasp. And Top 4 can’t be dismissed given our form in the league since Arteta took over and everyone else showing zero consistency. Failure actually would be another Europa league campaign. Not sure how much benefit there is although I’m sure West Ham fans would disagree at the moment!

Where will Arsenal be looking to strengthen next season?
Defence. Another CB, Right back cover for Tierney, a decent creative midfielder. Up top it looks rosy unless we have to sell Auba or Lacazette.

You’ve enjoyed an unbeaten run in the League of late, but that European lost last week must have been a hammer blow. Arsenal currently sit in tenth position, where do imagine you will sit at the end of the season? Will you top your Northern rivals in Tottenham? Will you mange to get into the European slots?
If we carry on with our league form there is no reason why we won’t finish in a European qualifying place but I won’t be upset if we dont. Finishing above Spurs would be a bonus but hey let’s face it they are not setting the world alight either!

While we’re in the prediction mode assuming Liverpool win the League, and Man City come second, who will end up in the next three places, as one of these will quite likely take Man City’s slot into the Champions League?
I think Leicester have done just enough to avoid being caught by the chasing pack and I think Chelsea have just enough to hang on and pip the Gunners ????

West Ham followed your lead and sacked Manuel Pelligrini, what do you think of his replacement David Moyes’s appointment as our manager?
I can see why fans are unhappy but he is solid. He knows what hes doing and he is not Alan Pardew! It’s the owners who need to be questioned especially how they spend money on average players.

Will David Moyes keep West Ham up? It’s very tight at the bottom who are your picks for the drop this season?
Although West Ham are doing their best to screw up their season I still think it will be Norwich, Watford, and Bournemouth. But it will be close between all the bottom teams.

How will you line up against us this weekend? Prediction for team/formation?

Bellerin Mustafi Luiz Saka
Xhaka Ceballos Ozil
Nelson Nketiah Auba: Tried and tested!

West Ham showed some nice touches against you last time out, before being ultimately steamrollered. Are you going to do the double against us this season? Prediction for score?
Hmm. I think it will be close but I am going to be optimistic: 2 – 1 to the Arsenal.

Once again, many thanks to Andy for his time and thoughts. I am going to revert to type, and pick us to get a sneaky away win: 0 – 1 to the Cockney boys. I shall be be keeping up with the game from my hospital bed, having just had a knee replacement operation (Thursday), so a win will definitely help to ease the pain COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Liverpool

West Ham sit in the bottom three, and to rub salt into a suppurating wound we travel to Anfield this Monday evening to try to put the blocks on a runaway Liverpool team in a fixture that in my 57 years we have won precisely twice! Ahead of the game I spoke to lifelong Liverpool fan John Watson who has married into the same family of Evertonians as I have to discuss the fixture and the season.

Hi John, Liverpool seem to be having another memorable season, whilst West Ham fans will be hoping that this will not end up being a disaster. Last year’s points total would have won the title during most seasons, are you really that much better this season? What do you put the improvement down to?
The main area of improvement has just been the mentality of the squad. Even with 5,10,15 minutes to go at 0-0 you still feel like the goal is coming whereas last season that didn’t feel like the case.

You had a difficult game, and loss against Athletico last week: would you prioritise staying in the Champions League over having an unbeaten record over the Premier League season?
Yeah it was a tough game. Only thing I would say is last season we might have let the atmosphere get to us after the 1st goal went in and conceded 2 or 3 (ie. Barcelona away) We kept ourselves in the tie and I would fancy us to go through. I’d sooner stay in the CL to be honest. I understand the whole invincibles thing but I’d rather have a 7th european cup.

I expect you will assume that you have the title sewn up? Who will join you in the Champion’s League spots next year?
Not sewn up yet! Learnt that the hard way as a Liverpool fan but yes I’d expect us to win in. Got to be Man City and Leicester in 2nd and 3rd. Chelsea seem to be coming good at the right time and I’d expect them to get 4th. If 5th gets in the CL, I hate to say it but with Spurs injuries and Sheff Utd’s lack of goals I think Man Utd will sneak 5th.

You must be worried for next year that Everton finally seem to have a manager that can once again restore them to their former status?
I’m not sure worried is the word I’d use! Seriously though he’s the best manager they’ve had in years. Still think they’ve got a way to go before being able to challenge the top 4 though.

Is Everton’s former boss David Moyes going to keep West Ham in the Premier League next year? What if anything did you think about his appointment as our manager?
It seemed a strange appointment to me. Your board didn’t renew his contract because you didn’t think he was the right person to take you forward but 18 months later they decide he is! Very short term appointment in my eyes. He might have the skills to guide you out of trouble like last time but I’d be surprised if he lasted past this season either way

Following on from that, who are your favourites for the drop?
Norwich seem a certainty. Then any two from Watford, West Ham, Aston Villa and Bournemouth. If I had to guess I’d say Watford and Aston Villa

Which of this current squad would you put up there with Anfield greats of the past?
I wasn’t born when we had domination in the late 70’s and 80’s so it’s hard to say but Van Dijk is the best centre half I’ve ever seen. The thing that sets him apart is he never seems rushed; no panic whatsoever. I’d say in time Trent could be up there as well. Great to have a local lad doing so well. Whilst he doesn’t get the plaudits others do Jordan Henderson has gone from nearly being sold to Fulham a few years ago to captaining us to European Cup and a (likely) Premier League trophy. Made up for him because he’s had so many people saying he wasn’t good enough since he signed.

Where if anywhere will Jürgen Klopp look to strengthen your team for next season?
I think we could do with another top attacking option. Whether that means someone like Timo Werner and dropping Firmino into a deeper role possibly.

How will Liverpool line up against us on Monday evening? Team/formation?
We will have had 6 days since Madrid so I hope full strength but he might rotate the midfield a bit. Alisson, Trent, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Keita, Milner, Mane, Salah, Firmino

As West Ham have had success at Anfield twice in the past 50 odd years, you will probably not be too worried that we will sneak a win against you this week. Prediction for score?

Well many thanks to John for his time and thoughts. I’m sure many West Ham fans will agree with his thoughts about David Moyes appointment whilst we languish in the bottom three. It’s hard to argue against his prediction of a win, though I hope it won’t be a thrashing. I’m hoping for at least one shot on goal. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Liverpool

Tonight West Ham welcome a flying Liverpool in the midst of an incredible season to the London Stadium, where we can but hope not to get a thrashing. Ahead of the game I spok e to Duncan Oldham, the editor of Liverpool FC fanzine koptalk to talk about the game and the season.

Well last season was a great one for you, but this one looks as good, if not better. Surely you must be certain the league is wrapped up?
I was 15 years old the last time we won the league. It’s such a big deal for me and our club to finally win another title. I just can’t tempt fate, even though it looks fairly obvious what the outcome is going to be. I refuse to say it’s ours until it’s officially secured. I can’t bring myself to answering this question as I’d like to!

Also you are on an unbeaten run, would you take an ‘Invincible Season’, over the Champions League?
No, I don’t understand our fans who say they would rather have an ‘Invincible Season’. Silverware is far more important to me. The Champions League is massive. It has to be more important than going unbeaten.

Jurgen Klopp must be right at the top of the list of Liverpool managers. Where do you place him on the list?
Calls from fans for a Klopp statue are a bit premature to me. There’s no doubt he’s a genius and that he is up there with some of the best managers we’ve had. However, without sounding too mean, I think he needs to secure more major silverware to be considered a ‘great’. He is, however, going in the right direction and I think he will achieve that elite status one day.

Which of the current crop of players will make it on the long list of Liverpool greats?
There’s so many great players at the club these days. Alisson, Van Dijk, Mane, Firmino and Salah have to be up there as too does Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.

I was a big Kenny Dalgleish fan, but it’s Mo Salah a better player?
No. I think they’re very different and to me, Kenny is one of our greatest players of all time and I don’t think anyone comes close to him.

I suppose you must also be delighting in Manchester United being seemingly knocked off their perch for a long time?
As much as I hate United, I am a football fan and I think they deserve much better than what they’ve got. The manager is out of his depth but I also think those above him are too. Long may it continue, of course, but I personally like to see a competitive league. Can’t believe I just said that!

Assuming you will win the League, which they clubs will join you in The Champions League next year?
I’m assuming nothing! But, surely it will be City, Leicester and Chelsea. I really hope Rodgers achieves that. Seeing another club in the competition is good for the game I think.

Is the reappointment of your old rival David Moyes the right one to keep West Ham up this season, and for the future?
I’d like to say I was shocked at his appointment but your owners never fail to surprise me. I think you deserve so much better. I hope he keeps you up but if he does, I don’t see him really taking you much further.

Following up from that, who are your picks for relegation?
Norwich, Bournemouth and Watford. Can I just add that I hope Leeds secure promotion. I think they’re a well supported club and that the league is better when Leeds are in it. Leeds vs Manchester United is one of my favourite fixtures on the calendar.

How will you line up against us on Wednesday? Team/formation?
I think it will be similar to the one deployed at Wolves Mane, of course, won’t be involved.

Are West Ham going to burst your balloon? Prediction for score?
No. We should have this one. Wishing you and your readers all the best. I hope you stay up!

Well many tanks to Duncan for his time and thoughts. I think he is probably right with his prediction, but no prediction from me. COYI

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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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