Opposition Q & A
This weekend West Ham a pointless West Ham welcome Wolves to The London Stadium hoping to finally get our first points of the season. Ahead of the game I spoke to Tom Baugh, the editor of Wolves fan blog to discuss the upcoming game and the season.
First off, congratulations on reaching the Premier League: at this stage last season did you realistically think you would be getting promoted? When did you start to believe it would happen?
Thanks very much. I think once we dominated the winter period after most of our rivals openly suggested our Portuguese contingent wouldn’t hack the cold weather, we knew we were onto a good thing. We generally kept a significant margin between ourselves and third place for most of the season, but as a football fan you’re never confident until it’s actually done.
It must be doubly or (trebly even) pleasing seeing as how Birmingham and The Villa are languishing in the Championship, and West Brom were relegated?
It’s certainly nice to be top dogs in the region after Villa failed to get promoted and Albion dropped down. We haven’t been the most successful club in the West Midlands in my lifetime so this is a first. Nice to have a derby though, so wouldn’t be too bothered if one of those clubs can make it back next time.
Nuno Espírito Santo seems to be doing a great job as your manager, tell us a bit about him, and how do the fans view him?
Well, he’s pretty much brilliant. Tactically astute, progressive in how he wants to play the game and very good with the supporters who all seem to love him. It obviously helped that his arrival coincided with serious investment in the side but without him, I suspect we wouldn’t be back in the Premier League. He’s integrated all these big name signings into the side, but equally impressive is the performance levels he’s coaxed out of lesser known players he inherited like Conor Coady, Matt Doherty and Ryan Bennett.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between the Championship and the Premier League in the six years you’ve been away?
I was surprised by the pace the game was played at when we kicked off against Everton. Obviously you expect teams to be better in possession generally but I’d probably forgotten just how quickly the better players can move the ball. There’s a definite period of adjustment and a couple of games later I already feel like some of our own players are getting up to speed.
You’ve had a steady start to the season with a great draw against Man City, but what position do you think Wolves will finish come next May?
Still very difficult to say. We recruited well and have put in some decent performances so far but like West Ham, are yet to get a win on the board. I hope we’ll finish around midtable but still wouldn’t rule out a relegation slog. After all, there’s normally only a few points between those who are comfortable and those who are struggling. I would say that people suggesting we can challenge for 7th or 8th place are being overly ambitious.
We’ve had a nightmare start, where do you think West Ham will end the season?
The only real disappointment from the outside looking in was getting turned over by Bournemouth. You made some big moves in the transfer market and getting Pellegrini seems like a coup, but getting steamrollered by Liverpool and edged out by Arsenal can’t have come as a great surprise surely? With so much turnover in the summer, it was always a tough ask to go straight into those games and be competitive. I’m sure you’ll sort it out and I’d expect you to be comfortable midtable given the talent in your squad.
Which teams are you looking forward to seeing at Molinuex this season, and conversely who are you not holding your breath to see?
It was great seeing Man City last time out just because they’re a phenomenon under Pep. As much as you want to see your own team do well, for a newly promoted side it’s just great to see the best players in the flesh. For the same reasons I’m looking forward to seeing all the big clubs. Wouldn’t say there’s anyone I’m unhappy about playing, only because every game, particularly against less attractive opposition, is a chance to get points. But if you’re pushing me, Cardiff – ha. I’ve had a lifetime of Warnock.
Which three teams do you think will suffer relegation and who will lift the title this season?
From what I’ve seen so far I would guess at Cardiff, Huddersfield and Southampton. I also think Burnley and Newcastle might have a struggle, but very early days of course. Tough to look beyond City for the title.
Happy with your transfer window dealings? Are there any areas that you think still need improving?
On paper yes. I felt we needed a better goalkeeper and Rui Patricio more than fits the bill. Wingback Jonny is on a season long loan deal from Atletico Madrid and seems capable as you would imagine. Bringing in Joao Moutinho to play alongside Ruben Neves in midfield is barely believable for a club with our recent history and he’s settled in nicely. Adama Traore is a bit of a question mark, but you need pace and players who can open doors in the Premier League and he certainly possesses those attributes. Mexican striker Raul Jimenez has done very well so far leading the attack and bringing others into play. He’s on a loan deal from Benfica with a £30 million fee to pay if we want him permanently so you’d expect him to be decent. We also brought in Belgian international Leander Dendoncker who can play in midfield and defence but has yet to make a league appearance. Add to that a number of last season’s stars who made temporary deals permanent and you can’t feel disappointed. We tried to get Zinchenko from Man City which makes sense as competition at wingback is probably the only area we’re short.
If you could have any current West Ham player in your first team who would you choose and why?
Still haven’t seen much of your new contingent so would have to say Arnautovic. Players that are proven to create and score goals are invaluable so a no-brainer to take him. I read rumours about Man Utd wanting him in the summer and surprised they didn’t make a move as he’s the type of player I feel they’re lacking. On a side note, I saw a lot of Fredericks for Fulham over the last few seasons and always rated him highly so he’d also be high on the shopping list given our dearth of options.
Any memories of West Ham v Wolves from the past?
First season back in the Premier League in 2009 you beat us 2-0 at Molineux on the opening day. I felt we played quite well but Mark Noble scored a great goal from distance and it was a case of ‘welcome to the top flight’. Then later in the season we came to Upton Park and won 3-1, which felt seminal at the time as you were also struggling under Zola by that point and that victory pretty much ended our relegation fears.
Which Wolves player(s) will be key to your hopes this season?
Got to be Ruben hasn’t it? I think you’ve already seen in three games how important Neves is to our side. He intelligence, passing range and ability to shoot from distance are all essential to how the team is setup. You could probably take any other player out and we’d cope alright but he is the glue.
How do you expect Wolves to setup against West Ham on Saturday/ Team/formation prediction?
It’s always 343. The team we started against City is the best bet, which is Patricio in goal, then Boly, Coady and Bennett in defence with Doherty and Jonny wingbacks. Neves and Moutinho are the holding midfielders with a front three of Costa, Jota and Jimenez. The only change I might predict is playing Traore in place of Costa, but that might be premature.
Prediction for score?
Given your troubles and the fact you’re still trying to make that team gel, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling confident about a decent result. But you do have a lot of quality and it will click at some point so sods law it will be this weekend. I’ll put splinters in my backside by sitting on the fence with a 2-2. Good luck for the season Irons.
Thanks to Tom again for his time. For my part I think that West Ham will be boosted by beating Wimbledon on Tuesday and will score an early goal and go on to win 3 -1. COYI