Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A With Leicester City

This weekend West Ham travel to Leicester where we again try to harvest a few points that will ensure we stay up this season. I see that Nobes is saying that we will not be having a last day nail-biter, so I expect him at least to have his game of the season on Saturday. Ahead of the game I spoke to Chris Forryan of online fanzine leicestertilidie to discuss the season, and the game.

Hi Chris, this weekend you take on a West Ham side desperate to gain points to help them avoid the drop. We are obviously unhappy with the way things have gone for us, but how do you sum up your season?
A rollercoaster – bad start, upturn on the arrival of Puel, downturn the last few months

Claude Puel came in to eventually replace Claudio Ranieri: given that you predicted you would finish the season between 8th and 10th, and here you sit in 9th place, how do the Leicester fans think he has performed?
On a recent poll of Leicester till I die fans 96% wanted him sacked – ‘nuff said’

Not the impression given early on in the season, how quickly things change. You did not seem to be impressed with the appointment of David Moyes as West Ham manager, so I expect you would say his has lived down to your expectations?
I just don’t think he is a manager to take a team forward. If you are happy in bottom half safety then he is your man but I wouldn’t want him at Leicester.

Which Leicester City players have impressed this season, and conversely who has underperformed?
Ndidi, Silva & Iborra – a midfield we can build a new team round.
Underperformed? This would be unfair of me to answer as going on the past few games it has been hard to players to perform well in an untried formation and out of position.

What have been the highlights and lowlights of the season?
FA Cup run, we were unlucky to go out after a rush of blood to the head of Schmeichel.
Lowlights? The start and the finish to the season.

Are West Ham going to be relegated? Who are your picks for the drop?
No I think you will be safe. WBA, Stoke and looking at their run in Huddersfield.

What are your hopes on the playing side for next season?
We start to need rebuilding, a new LB & RB are essential and possibly Musa back from Loan upfront.

Which if any West Ham players would you like to nick if we were to be relegated?
I haven’t seen enough of West Ham to choose any players tbh. Sorry.

How do you expect Leicester to setup against West Ham on Saturday/ Team/formation prediction?
No idea! Puel seems to pick a slip of paper out of the hat with his formation on for that week.

Are you feeling confident of victory, or are your players dreaming of their holidays? Prediction for score?
We have both to come back from heavy defeats, and while you are fighting for your life this is our last home game of the season and the players need to put on a performance after last week in front of their home crowd. Will probably be Mahrez’s last game so maybe see something special from him.
Going to go 2-1 to Leicester.

Well thanks to Chris for his time. I am going to have to disagree with his prediction and go for a 1 – 2 win for West Ham. Surely if David Moyes is going to be our manager next season, then he has got to be able to get the boys up for getting something from this game. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A With Manchester City

This weekend West Ham welcome the champions Man City to the London stadium for a Sunday afternoon game. They are playing the kind of football we can only dream to play, and we know what happens to our dreams! Ahead of the game I caught up with RIc Turner from bluemoon-mcfc to discuss the season, and the coming match.

Hi Ric, first off: congratulations on winning the League! It’s been coming a long time, but you must be delighted to have finally sealed it.
Yeah, it’s great to have another title in the bag, our third in seven years. As you say, we’ve known for some time that we were going to win it, but it’s nice to do it with a few weeks to spare this time rather than it going to the final day, as in 2012 and 2014! It’s been a bit more of a procession this time, unlike the rollercoaster of previous years, which is probably a good thing. Not sure I could handle another QPR/Aguero moment!

I expect you will put Guardiola up there with the likes of Big Mal, and Joe Mercer, and Mancini?
Mercer was obviously well before my time, but is still spoken about in reverential terms at the club. There will always be a close bond between the fans and Mancini, because he assured us that he would rip down “that” banner at Old Trafford, and delivered on his promise. He changed the whole mentality at the club, from losers to winners. However, there’s every chance that Guardiola will end up having an even bigger impact on the club than either Mercer or Mancini. He is a managerial genius.

It must be exciting having a manager who is so committed to playing great football, we all would like to win, but winning with style is even better.
Some of the football we have played this season has been absolutely breathtaking. We’re a joy to watch, even for neutrals I imagine, and it feels like a real privilege to be able to watch this standard of football week in, week out. Pundits wrongly believed that Guardiola would have to adapt to English football, but the reality is that English football will have to adapt to Guardiola. He’s stuck to his guns, when people were questioning his methods, and has been completely vindicated.

How is your success viewed in the red half of Manchester?
With the usual bitterness and resentment! It’s great to see them shrieking about oil money, financial doping etc. They’ve had two decades of endless success, and seem to be struggling to adapt to the new footballing landscape.

What have been the standout moments for you of the season?
The victory at Stamford Bridge early on in the season felt like a defining moment. We went to the home of the then champions and played them off the park. The 1-0 scoreline flattered them. At that point you knew we were on course to win the league, even though it was only the end of September.

Incredibly Pep seems to be making noises about clearing out some players, and boosting the squad further, who will you be sad to see depart, or even glad to see the back of? And where the hell can he strengthen your team?
Last year required an overhaul of the squad, as we had a number of players in their thirties who were ill-suited to Guardiola’s system. This summer will just see some tweaking of the squad. Yaya Toure will leave, and most likely be replaced by Jorginho from Napoli. The only other arrival is likely to be a forward, as we currently only have two strikers in the squad, both of whom have had lengthy injury absences this season.

We on the other hand are firmly ensconced at the other end of the table. Do you think West Ham can stay up, and who are your picks for the drop?
I’m certain West Ham will stay up, barring a catastrophe. I can’t see Stoke or Southampton making up six points on you over the last four games.

Hopefully all the Man City players will have been on the lash all week and we can sneak a point – how should David Moyes set us up against you?
West Ham gave us one of our tougher games at The Etihad this season, and it look a late David Silva goal to win it. It’s difficult to say what the best approach against us is. Going toe-to-toe is probably unwise, as we have greater attacking options. However, sitting back and inviting us onto you is asking for trouble too. I think you’ll need us to have an off day to get a result, I’m afraid.

You intimated last time we spoke that you’re not a big David Moyes fan, how do you rate his performance for us so far?
I actually thought he might take you down, as I think he’s a really poor manager, so assuming you stay up he has probably exceeded expectations. He surely must go in the summer though. It was such an uninspired appointment.

How do you expect Pep to set his team up against West Ham on Sunday: Team/formation?
We’ll stick to our usual 4-3-3. Probably: Ederson, Walker, Kompany, Laporte, Delph, Fernandinho, David Silva, De Bruyne, Sterling, Sane, Jesus

Prediction for score?
3-1 to us.

Well let’s hope that we can drag out a performance that will get us a point closer to safety. I’m not very confidently predicting a 1 – 1 draw. COYI

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A With Stoke

This weekend West Ham welcome Stoke City to the London Stadium for a Monday Night game. We will be looking to future cement our tenure in the Premier League with a win against a team who are looking increasingly likely to go down. Ahead of the game I spoke to long time friend and hard core Stoke fan Neil Adams, currently living in exile in Thailand, to discuss Stoke’s current malaise and the game.
Hi Neil. It’s not looking too good for Stoke at the moment to say the least: are you resigned to going down, or as it’s so close do you think you can still escape?
After the home defeat against Everton a couple of weeks ago, I have been resigned to going down. Our last games are against teams who will also be scrapping for survival, so I just can’t see us staying up. 4 points adrift and terrible goal difference. Of course, there’s always hope!

Like West Ham you have parted company with your manager, albeit at a later stage of the season, are you glad to see him go? How do you sum up the Hughes years? What went wrong in the end for him?

Yes, glad to see him go. A lot of Stoke fans seem to have forgotten that he actually brought some great football to the Potteries during his second year and made a couple of decent signings. He initially, at least, greatly evolved our football from the Pulis era, which was what most Stoke fans were crying out for. But that petered our and the last season and a half were dire and he was lucky to last as long as he did.
What went wrong? Just about everything. He spent a lot of money on some poor signings – Wimmer, Imbula, Berahino, Jese – without improving the squad and our defence went to pieces. The same back four who have been tight and resolute under Lambert were a disjointed shambles under Hughes, leaving us with a shocking goal difference. And despite his attempts to bring in a decent striker, we are left with a well-past-his-best Crouch, a barely premiership standard Diouf and two sulky ‘big name’ signings who don’t even make the squad half the time due to various misdemeanors or personal problems off the field (Jese and Berahino). At least Diouf tries, which is what many of the shop window signings seemed to have stopped doing under Hughes. No attack, poor defence, Apart from that, perfect.
I should mention 2 defining moments that signalled the end for Sparky. One was his decision to ‘throw in the hat’ by fielding a weakened team away to Chelsea (we lost by a demoralising 5 goals to nil) so that his best players would be fresh to face relegation rivals Newcastle at home a few days later. We lost that one 0-1 and were abject. The gamble backfired badly. The other was the classic ‘dead man walking’ quote from Hughes just before he left: ‘if they sack me, who else is going to do the job?’ Brilliant!

I expect you wish you had held on to Tony Pulis, even though he did not appear to be a fan of the type of football played by the Great Stanley Matthews?
Not at all. I don’t think most of us could have stood another season (let alone another 4) of Pulis-ball. He was just what we needed when we went up in 2009 and I believe most Stokies are grateful for what he did for the club. But his style of football became unwatchable and he seemed unable to evolve his style of play. Ask any West Brom fan!

How do you rate Paul Lambert so far as your manager?
Well, he’s a slight improvement, but it’s come too late. He has brought a new determination to the team, more discipline, and tighter defence. But his record of one win in 10 shows he is no magician. He made some poor decisions, like playing Charlie Adam against Everton (he got sent off as expected and we lost as a result), but at least he is making sure we go down with a fight.

What do you reckon to the job David Moyes has done for West Ham, and in football generally?
I think Moyes is one of the many merry-go-round British managers who do a below average job, get sacked, then turn up somewhere else and do another below-average job. You are welcome to him!

Who have been the players that have lived up to expectation this season, and conversely who have disappointed?
You mean at Stoke? Shaqiri (just), Joe Allen (our best, most hard-working player), Jack Butland and loan signing Kurt Zouma. Martins Indi has recently come good and new signing Moritz Bauer has done well. Everyone else has disappointed, but special mention must go to Berahino and Jese Rodriques,

What have been the highlights (if any) and lowlights of the season?
Beating Arsenal 1-0 early in the season gave us all hope but that really is about it. The rest has all be one long and very low lowlight.

Apart from Marco Arnautovic, are there any West Ham players who you would like to see at Stoke?
Ha! Very funny! You can keep Arnautovic, too! He had some great games at Stoke, but some poor ones too, and his shooting was wayward a lot of the time. He can shine, yes, but he is not a team player and his self-centred, brattish attitude sometimes lets him and the team down. We’ve got enough of those characters at Stoke already. To be honest, I don’t see any West Ham player doing much to improve our squad. No offence, but you haven’t exactly lit up the Premiership this year, have you?!

The top of the table seems settled, but who’s going down this season, and where do you see Stoke and West Ham finishing?
I think West Ham will stay up. Stoke, Southampton and West Brom down.

It’s a big 6 pointer between us on Monday night, what’s your prediction for the:
Team/formation/score?

I predict a frustrating draw, 1-1. I think Stoke will stick with this line up:
Butland
Johnson Shawcross Indi Pieters
Sobhi Allen Ndiaye Bauer
Shaqiri
Diouf

Well many thanks to Neil for his thoughts. He doesn’t seem to believe that Stoke have any chance of staying up! I think he is being a bit optimistic on Stoke’s behalf going for a draw, I think we should be able to back up our away thrashing of them with a good win. 2-0 to the Hammers. COYI!

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A With The Saints

This Saturday West Ham welcome Southampton to the London Stadium. We have been pretty woeful of late, and we are desperate to get back on the winning path. Before the game I spoke to friend and Saints season ticket holder Simon Lacey from Dance Company New Adventures to discuss the game.
Hi Simon, the last time we chatted was just before the 2nd fixture of the season. I guess like me you’ve been pretty disappointed with the way your league campaign has gone?
It’s been a near-disaster with it hard to remember any good moments!

Also like us you have parted with your manager mid-season, albeit you did wait a tad longer. Are you happy with Pelligrini going? Likewise what are your feelings about his replacement Mark Hughes?
I’m not a sacker by instinct – was against getting rid of Puel after finishing 8th and being cheated out of a League Cup final win by officials supporting the glory hunters at United at the end of last season – but Pelligrini had to go as he could not motivate the players or show any signs of turning things around. Hughes has only been appointed until the end of the season and if he keeps us up then I will be happy about that, whether he then stays depends on how we have stayed up I would say – if its a scramble and as much to do with the inadequacies of other teams then I wouldn’t want an extension, if we play well and its not a dog-fight to the end then he can be considered.

At least you have the comfort of still being in the FA Cup: how do you rate your chances in that?
We are clearly the rank outsiders, but having said that I think we got the preferred draw for us in that Chelsea are the team we are most likely to luck a 1-0 win against. Spurs have home advantage and would probably turn us over, so the hope is that Mourinho can bore them into submission and we get revenge for last year in the final and relive the glory day of 76! Bigger on hope than expectation though.

Be honest: an FA Cup win or staying in the league? The decision is yours!
Some of my family are saying, FA Cup win but Prem for me; don’t want to watch a minimum of one season of championship fare again with the inevitable loss of any players deemed worthy of playing in the Prem, although not many are springing to mind after this season!

How worried are you about your final fixtures? Any potential banana skins (excepting us – of course!)
They are all worries at this stage as we are currently bottom three; the majority of fixtures this season we have managed to turn into banana skins so again, they all are! City at home on the last day of the season – hhmmmm!

Who do you think will end up being relegated: are you staying with your original choice of Brighton, Swansea, and Palace?
Don’t expect any of those three will drop, possibly Swansea if the old doubts re-emerge and they lose the Carvallho coming-in effect – we still have them to play so have to target that game for 3 points to keep them in the mix. The Baggies have gone and I think Stoke will go too. If it is not us, then the most-likely to join these two are probably Huddersfield then yourself. Hughton has done well at Brighton and Palace & Roy will be fine if Zaha is fit for enough games; put the latter in any of the teams battling it out and I’d fancy them to survive.

I suppose like most neutrals you will be happy that Manchester City look like they are going to walk away with the league?
Who is going to go into the Champions League with them?
Spurs, Liverpool and probably United. City are easily the best and great to watch so happy for them be Champs and (he says though bated breath in both cases) ex-Saints FC at Anfield and Spurs are impressive and good on the eye too.

Which opposing teams/players have impressed you at St Mary’s this season?
Its been hard to focus on that and not the deficiencies of our own rabble but Leicester (under Puel of course) have been the only team that have really turned us over although Spurs were very dominant and Palace showed great resilience and organisation; both the latter games losses after being ahead.

Conversely which of your players have lived up to expectation, and who have not?
The full backs Bertrand and Cedric have been good and others have played well occasionally. McCarthy has looked much better in goal than his more illustrious team mate Forster – that is one thing we share with West Ham, supposedly big-time England goalkeepers who have not impressed – ‘big-ego Charlies’ more like! Just check the squad out for who has not lived up to expectation over the whole season other than those previously mentioned, but they have been badly managed/motivated and the hope is that Sparky lives up to his name in that respect.

What’s your highlight of the season so far?
That takes some thinking but probably seeing your lot off at St Mary’s eventually, having thrown away a 2 goal lead.

How do you expect Southampton to set up against West Ham on Saturday/Team/formation prediction?
I hope 4-4-2-ish as in the Cup against Wigan i.e. with 2 forwards Carillo and Gabbiadini and one of them being a little deeper or wider. When points are the only thing that matters you have to get the ball in and around the box quickly, whether through longer balls or faster and more incisive passing. Other than that, the goalie and back 4 pick themselves (unless Yoshida is fully-fit), Lamina and one of Hjoberg and Romeo in central midfield, Tadic and one of Ward-Prowse, Buffalo and Redmond as the more creative midfielders.

Prediction for score?
It’s not a prediction but a hope, away win and 0-1 with a goal that should have been disallowed for offside will suffice at this stage. I do have one further comment and that is in support of VAR – if it had been in use, the blind/incompetent officials at Watford would have disallowed Watford’s late equaliser when punched into the net by the cheat (red card and suspension too to follow) and we would have had the 3 points deserved for probably our best away performance of the season – would I care if it took 5 minutes to decide and as a fan at the ground I didn’t know what was going on – methinks not!

Many thanks to Simon for his time, we’re meeting up on Sunday and I hope to have the bigger smile on my face! I’m going for a 1 – 0 victory to West Ham, but like him more in hope than expectation. COYI.

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Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A With Burnley

After last week’s debacle of a game, this weekend West Ham take on our Northern Claret and Blue cousins at the Olympic Stadium. Ahead of proceedings I had a chat with hard-core Burnley fan Tony Scholes editor of uptheclarets to discuss everything Claret and Blue.
Hi Tony, the last time we spoke was earlier in the season, when Burnley had got off to a cracking start. Now you sit in 7th place with a historically safe 40 points, you must be delighted with your progress this season.
It’s been an incredible season for us so far. To reach 40 points with nine games to go is something we could never have dared think possible. We’ve even come through a difficult spell when we were suddenly facing all the top teams with quite often seven of our regular starters missing with injury. We finally ended that run without a win last Saturday against Everton and we’ve only been below 7th in the league for one week since mid-October.

Conversely West Ham are one of 6 teams above West Brom who are separated by 3 points: who do you think is going to go down?
This is a difficult one to answer. There was a time earlier in the season when it seemed Crystal Palace were a certainty, then it was Swansea and now it is West Brom. I do think West Brom will go but I’m not sure of the other two. Huddersfield lack the quality needed and I think they will be very fortunate to escape whilst Stoke are just not pulling away as most expected.

Sean Dyche is yet again proving that he can put out a team that is seemingly greater than the sum of its parts. Are you getting the credit you deserve? And do you worry that a bigger team is eventually going to make a move for him?
I don’t think clubs like ours ever get the credit they deserve. We played really well in the Everton win but on Match of the Day the analysis was exclusively reserved for Everton and Sam Allardyce. That’s how it is; we know it will never change. I was worried earlier in the season when so many Premier League clubs were looking for new managers. Thankfully, and incredibly, none came knocking at the door. Sean was on a one year rolling contract at the time; he’s now signed a deal until the end of the 2021/22 season which is brilliant news.

Last time we met Slaven Bilic was still our manager. How do you rate his replacement David Moyes?
Moyes did an excellent job just down the road at Preston and that landed him the Everton job and you would have to say that he was excellent there too. Then came that turbulent period. Manchester United would have been a struggle for whoever replaced Ferguson and it was surely the biggest career mistake of all to go to Sunderland. He’s certainly been a good manager. He’s just had a difficult three years or so.

Presumably Man City have got the title sewn up, I suppose most neutrals can accept that?
It will be crazy if they don’t win the league. They are a fantastic side with some incredibly talented players. We’ve played them three times this season having drawn them in the FA Cup. They scored two goals in that cup tie against us that almost had me applauding, so brilliant were they.

Who do you think will join them in the Champions League next season?
The other three for the Champions League will come from the next four because any teams from Arsenal down won’t be making it. I suspect Chelsea will be the one to miss out which would leave the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Spurs to qualify.

Which opposing teams/players have impressed you this season at Turf Moor?
I could end this right now with Manchester City. They were breathtaking at times but we hung in there and got a point in the end and not many have done that this season.
Other than City, I’d say Spurs. We don’t seem to be able to play well against them. They had some fortune early in the game with a bit of Dele Alli, winning a ridiculous penalty just a couple of minutes after he’d received a yellow card, but they were worthy winners by the end.

Which Burnley players have lived up to expectation, and who has failed to deliver?
So many players have lived up to expectation and beyond that. I hate singling out players but Nick Pope in goal, coming in when Tom Heaton suffered his shoulder injury, and James Tarkowski in defence have exceeded all our expectations. It’s always a team game at Burnley and rarely can you suggest a player has failed to deliver, and certainly not in this season. The one big disappointment has been Jon Walters. I thought he’d do a great job for us but unfortunately he’s been out for much of the season.

Last time we chatted you stated that you rated Michail Antonio, now that he has had a few games what do you think about Marko Arnoutavic?
I did, and Antonio promptly scored against us. I saw Arnautovic play twice against us for Stoke last season. At the bet365 Stadium he was, at times, outstanding. At Turf Moor later in the season he was downright dreadful. I hope he’s the latter on Saturday.

What do you find the most annoying thing about modern football?
Too many things to list but when I first started watching football we had a 3 p.m. kick off every Saturday afternoon, first team one week and the reserves the next. And we didn’t have to watch football in an athletics stadium either.

How do you expect Burnley to setup against West Ham on Saturday/ Team/formation?
If you’d asked me this last week I would have said almost certainly it would have been a 4-4-1-1 formation but we shifted to a 4-4-2 for the second half last week and it was effective. I suspect we’ll start with the 4-4-1-1 though.

Finally what is your prediction for the final score?
It’s about time we won an away game and it’s about time we got another clean sheet. We’ve been done with dodgy decisions in each of our last two visits to West Ham with 1-0 defeats coming courtesy of penalties. The last one at the Boleyn Ground was a pen, no argument there, but the red card was ludicrous. The penalty last season should have been a free kick our way. I’d like it if we got a penalty ourselves, our first of the season, and won it 1-0.

Many thanks to Tony for his thoughtful replies, again Tony’s musings on football can be found at uptheclarets. Well we are in need of a win, and I am hoping that we can break out of our current malaise this weekend. So a not too confident prediction of 2-1 to West Ham. COYI

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