The S J Chandos Column

In Absentia of Kouyate and the wise/famous last words dichotomy!

The current squad boasts higher profile and arguably more skilful/celebrated players such as Lanzini and Hernandez, but in terms of sheer power, physical presence and functionality we literally only has one player like Kouyate. He is a powerful box-to-box midfielder, with the ability to add steel and coherence to the midfield unit and get forward to grab some important goals. He is also blessed (or some would say cursed!) with a wonderful adaptability, being able to play as a holding midfielder, a centre-back or even at right-back. But it is in this box-to-box role that he has the greatest impact. It was noticeable last season how crucial his midfield presence is to the team and how we suffered when he was absent or played out of position. That is a subjective observation on my part, but it would be interesting to see how many points we dropped in his absence last season (especially during the ACON campaign last winter). However, his importance is surely reflected in the fact that his pending surgery, at the end of last season, was delayed until after the home victory over Spurs that assured our PL status.

It was this observation that led me to suggest last season that we needed to recruit another player of similar qualities in the January window to provide cover/competition for the Senegalese international. And it seems that Bilic has reached a similar conclusion and is doing something about it with the pursuit of William Carvalho and, according to various social media sources, a number of alternative, midfield power houses targets (if the deal for the Sporting Lisbon man stalls). In truth, the insipid performance last Sunday was a typical ‘in absentia of Kouyate’ display, with the midfield losing possession far too easily and lacking the sheer power and drive to seriously trouble our opponents. It was more apparent due to the quality of the opposition, but in the PL we will continue to drop points to less accomplished teams if our midfield unit continues to play like that. Indeed, it speaks volumes that the introduction of 18 year old Declan Rice, as a substitute, only served to emphasise the palpable lack of confidence, technique and sheer application demonstrated by much more experienced team mates. There are a number of senior players who should be taking a long, hard look at themselves after Sunday’s debacle. I can tolerate losing to the likes of Man Utd away, but for god’s sake make a fight of it, if not for the players own professional pride then for the sake of the wonderful travelling claret and blue army!

I could not travel on Sunday, due to health reasons, but observing the match on Sky Sports, the experience was all too familiar from previous such bygone fixtures. It was observed during the Sky commentary that statistically it was a case of the PL club with the highest number of winning opening fixtures versus that with the least. I do not feel any pressing compulsion to clarify ‘which club is which’ in this particular case! Indeed, why is it that so many times over the years, and stretching back to the days of the football league, West Ham invariably look less fit and unprepared for a new season than their opponents? Certainly, that is how it appeared to me on Sunday. The team looked like a rapidly assembled collection of strangers (which I suppose they were to a certain extent, with four debutants), who are still half-way through pre-season. The Manchester United players looked far fitter and sharper, not to mention organised, more motivated and hungry for the ball. What happened to all the careful pre-season fitness work and the cohesion that should have accrued from the matches in Austria and Germany? It was called the ideal preparation, and probably it was in terms of avoiding injury, but was it actually a demanding enough programme and did we suffer on Sunday as a consequence?

The player I felt most sorry for was undoubtedly Hernandez, he really did apply himself up front and tried until the final whistle. However, ultimately you have to feed a goal poacher like the Mexican international and on Sunday the service was virtually zero. I also felt that Arnautovic grafted for the team and made some intelligent forward runs, but the crucial early balls forward were either not there or too easily intercepted. Zabaletta played like he still had the likes of Vincent Company to cover his adventurous and pulsating excursions down the right flank and duly got caught out of position on occasions (especially in the build up to Man Utd’s first goal). Hopefully, the return of Antonio and the addition of the likes of Carvahlo will rectify that problem. Alternatively, especially away from home, we might look again at implementing three at the back and give Zabaletta and Cresswell the licence to go forward more readily. But at least in Zabaletta’s case he did apply himself and make the necessary effort, even if he did not reap the rewards on this occasion. I would also give Sakho the benefit of the doubt, he only played two or three games last season and has endured a considerable injury lay off. I am not surprised that he is looking to ease his way back in to the action in those circumstances. By rights, he should be doing that with a run of U-23 appearances, but with Carroll still out and Bilic apparently choosing not to sign another striker, I suppose ‘needs must’. It is better to judge him after a few more appearances, not at this early stage of the season. similarly, Reid looked unfit and decidedly out of sorts, I would not be surprised if he is struggling with a niggle or, alternatively, he has just come back too soon. Hart did fair to middling and, as stated, Rice was excellent, but rest of the line up really did not win any battle honours on the day.

Still, never mind, upwards and onwards. On the bright side, our next fixture is distinctly winnable (if we can sort ourselves out on the training ground this week); we have some key players coming back in the shape of Antonio, Lanzini Carroll and Kouyate, who will improve us significantly; the existing new signings should benefit from another week of training and better build understanding with their teammates; the caravahlo deal is hopefully still in the pipeline; and it is possible there could be further additions, especially if Snodgrass is sold/loaned out. Who is favourite to come in? Well, as I said, at the time of writing, the grape vine has it that Bilic does not want to sign another striker (lets hope that Sakho and Carroll’s fitness justifies that decision). That is fine if it means that Martinez will be in the frame for a first team debut at some point. I suppose Bilic also reasons that Antonio and Ayew can both play as auxiliary central strikers if circumstances necessitate, which is a fair point. If Snodgrass does exit we will need another wide player. We have Antonio and Arnautovic and promising youngsters like Holland, Samuelsson and Quina as cover. I feel that those three should take a step nearer the first team this coming season (although most thought the same about Burke and Cullen) and they should be encouraged to do so.

So, I reckon one additional wide player is necessary and the favourite seems to be Jota of Brentford Town. A Spanish winger, who was their creative font last season and has the very handy tendency of weighing in with his fair share of goals. The player allegedly wants the move to the London Stadium and has resisted overtures from Newcastle Utd (The frozen north does not appeal apparently!). So, the scene looks set for a deal, possibly on deadline day? A new defensive/box-to-box midfielder is likely to be signed if recent reports are to be believed. Lets hope it is the option that we all prefer. Apart from Ogbonna, we lack pace in central defence and is that surprising with both Fonte and Collins still at the club. Rice can play at centre-back, but at this stage of his career is he ready for that position; or would he better deployed in midfield? I am still to make my mind up on that point. In my view Burke should have stayed and provided cover. Remember this is a young player with a number of competitive first team appearances under his belt and he looked the part in pre-season. Still it is notable that the Burke/Cullen loans to Bolton are only until January, so it could be that they will be recalled and figure in the New Year. We shall see? I suppose the safest option is to sell Collins and sign another centre-back, but they did seem reluctant to do that, presumably in the knowledge that they have three such outstanding prospects as Rice, Oxford and Burke emerging from the Academy. However, this evening the news story broke that we are interested in signing Man City centre-back, Mangala. I cannot say that I am very keen on that potential deal, but lets see what transpires.

So, we have hardly ‘hit the ground running’ but it is correct to preach patience and look at the bigger picture in terms of the new squad gelling in the coming weeks. Talking of poor starts to a season, I was reminded recently of the 1974-75 season. It was the early post-Moore/Hurst period and we were in a difficult transition to the succeeding Bonds/Brooking era. In addition, Lyall had just succeeded Greenwood as manager, with the latter becoming General Manager responsible for scouting/transfers amongst other wider club matters. In 1973-74 we just avoided relegation with a 18th place finish, accumulating 37 points from 42 matches, and we started the following season poorly with defeats versus Man City (A – 4-0), Everton (H – 2-3), Newcastle Utd (A – 2-0), Sheffield Utd (H – 1-2) and Spurs (A – 2-1). By mid-September 1974 we were languishing at the foot of the table with 3 points, gained from a 2-0 home victory over Luton Town and a 0-0 away draw with the same opponents. Believe me things looked very grim indeed at that point!

Yet, Greenwood worked his magic and regenerated our prospects with the acquisition of Billy Jennings, Keith Robson and Alan Taylor, as they quickly gelled with the likes of Gould, Paddon, Brooking and Bonds to create a new exciting unit. The change signalled itself as a single, advanced swallow in the form of the 6-0 home demolition of Tranmere Rovers in the League Cup. And summer quickly followed with goals and exciting displays in a run of league victories over Leicester City (H- 6-0), Birmingham City (A -1-3) and Burnley (A – 3-5), amongst some very memorable performances/results. In fact, up until 28 December 1974, we only lost another two matches. Admittedly, the ‘wheels did come off’ results wise in the New Year, but we finished in a relatively comfortable 13th place and by then the 1975 cup run had fully gripped our attentions.

1974-75 will always be one of my favourite seasons, primarily because of the way our season turned around, the quality of our football and that memorable Cup victory over Fulham. I know that performance/progress in the PL is crucial these day, but this example does serve to illustrate that it is not always wise to get too depressed based on initial results because the fortunes of clubs can and do change for the better. Some times beyond the scope of what fans imagine possible at the time of the opening defeat(s).

Lets hope for all our sakes that these prove ‘wise’ and not ‘famous last words’ on our prospects for the 2017-18 season.

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

'Forget' Payet - Snodgrass can fill the void

So, fan idol Payet has finally departed back to France, having proven that he truly did ‘have feet of clay.’ The manner of his departure was shocking, even in this age of over priced and over rated prima donna players. It was unforgivable take a £1m ‘loyalty’ bonus then effectively go on strike to force a move. But what puzzles me is why any ambitious player would swap the PL for the French League? I know that family reasons were cited, but it surely shows a lack of ambition on Payet’s part. And I know that the French media took great initial pleasure in seeing one of their best players move back from English football, but lets see if they are so happy when Payet agitates for his next move to China? Payet has a history of only staying approximately two seasons at most of his previous clubs and I am sure that will continue to be the case. We shall see? Regardless, West Ham were wise to include a 25% sell on clause in the transfer agreement, that could bring a financial windfall at some point.

Anyway, I am reminded of the title of Jean Baudrillard’s essay delivering a scathing critique of Michel Foucault’s philosophy, ‘Forget Foucault.’ We should similarly adopt Baudrillard’s approach and ‘forget’ Payet – he certainly deserves it. It is always difficult to replace a world class talent, but it was obvious that the situation with the player was toxic and was adversely affecting squad morale. The rest of the squad allegedly wanted Payet gone and (if true) that speaks volumes. The players have now rallied around and results (the Man City match apart) have improved.

We made two good signings in the January window that will improve the quality and depth of the squad. Fonte is an highly experienced centre-back and he will help significantly once he settles in. Similarly, Snodgrass is a quality forward, who can play right across the midfield; plus he is a dead ball specialist, who will both create and convert his fair share of chances. Unlike Payet, he also contributes industry to the midfield, as he demonstrated in the excellent win over Southampton. Additionally, Andy Carroll has hit top form at just the right time. If he can just remain fit and playing (a big ‘if’ I know) Carroll will score goals, no doubt about it. Sakho will be back some time in March and hopefully Calleri will finally start proving his quality. Another big plus is that both Kouyate and Ayew are back from the ACON and will further intensify competition for starting places. So, suddenly things are starting to look positive right across the board.

I see that the ‘Bilic to be sacked’ stories resurfaced after the Man City defeat. That seems to be a default media story every time we have a bad result. On this occasion they also made great play of the fact that Mancini was present at the match. The deduction being that Mancini was being lined up as Bilic’s replacement. Firstly, I want the club to stick with Bilic. It has been a difficult season so far, but at least it has tested Bilic and shown that he has the management skills to navigate a crisis. We are in 9th place at the moment and hopefully we will go on the clinch a top 8 finish. If we do that it will be an achievement and would represent a very good recovery from our early season troubles. Secondly, even if they decided to replace Bilic (which I sincerely hope they do not) I would not be wild about Mancini as his replacement. No, lets stick with Bilic, get a good finish this season and move decisively in the summer transfer market so that we can progress further next season.

One unwanted consequence of the Payet transfer is that it led some media outlets to start questioning the club’s ambition. There were a number of articles suggesting that West Ham had reneged on promises made to Payet about signing top players last summer. Consequently, our business next summer needs to demonstrate clearly that is not the case. That means signing two or three ‘top draw’ players to add yet further quality to the depth that the squad already possesses. Hopefully, a couple of youngsters, such as Cullen and Oxford, will also improve the strength of our squad by breaking through and securing a regular first team place next season. We live in hope!

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

We all acknowledge Payet's importance, but lets not forget Kouyate's value to the side!

Well, what can you say about that ‘performance’ (or rather lack of it) against Man City? Just when you think the team have turned a corner, all the old faults and weaknesses re-emerge. We hoped that the nightmare experienced against Arsenal had been put behind us, then we had to watch that total debacle against City. There were certain similarities between the two matches, in that we were competitive until we conceded and then too many heads dropped and a rout ensued. However, for me the biggest common denominator in both matches was the absence of Kouyate and the power, strength and momentum that he brings to the side. While Payet is crucial to our creativity and forward play, perhaps it is time that there was greater recognition of Kouyate’s importance to the energy, physicality and cohesion of the side. In my last column, I expressed concerns about his month long absence, at the African Cup of Nations, and the City defeat served to cruelly underline the point. Lets just pray that Kouyate returns from the ACON (at the earliest possible opportunity) fit and uninjured.

I had hoped that the combination of Obiang and Noble in midfield would compensate for the loss of Kouyate’s power, industry and drive. Unfortunately Bilic did not start Noble and we fell well short. Kouyate is probably the only player of his sort in the current squad; a tall, powerful player, with natural drive/aggression to his game. He is equally comfortable playing as a centre-back, a defensive anchor or a box-to-box midfielder, who is capable of getting forward to score important goals. Arguably, last Friday night’s result underlines the fact that we need another player of Kouyate’s stamp. And fortunately, we have a firm recommendation from the man himself. Kouyate recently praised Anderlecht’s Kara Mbodji’s qualities and suitability for the PL. Mbodji is 6ft 3 inches tall and is an absolute power house on the pitch. Moreover, like Kouyate, his fellow Senegalese international, can play centre-back, as a defensive midfielder and, further forward, as a central midfielder. If James Collins departs to Crystal Palace this January, Mbodj would be an ideal centre-back replacement and, vitally, provide cover for Kouyate in midfield. Yes, Mbodji is currently also part of Senegal’s ACON squad and that might be a consideration. However, if he is the right option, at the right price (he is likely to be available for c.£5m-6m – subject to January’s inflationary prices), then we would have to muddle through until he is available in early February (and even earlier if Senegal are eliminated from ACON). Alternatively, we should look for another player of very similar physical and footballing qualities.

As I write, it appears that Zaza, Calleri and Tore have (or will have) their loan spells cut short. While it looks as if a move (loan, with a view to a permanent deal) to Roma may be on the cards for Feghouli and the club also look to be open to offers for Adrian. I have said it before, and I will say it again, the club has suffered due to the shortcomings of the last summer transfer window. The recruitment was just not good enough (in total contrast to the previous two summer windows) and the consequences are that we are having to attempt to ameliorate the mistakes this January. And we all know that is not a comfortable position to find yourself in and lets hope that the club are able to do it, even if it likely means recruiting at inflated fees.

The players that we are being linked with in this window are legion, including Defoe, Hogan, Batshuayi, Jenkinson, etc. To date (if reports for to be believed) West Ham have already had three bids rejected for both Defoe and Hogan. And that is the nature of the January window, it is essentially a sellers market and selling clubs are able to play ‘hard ball’ on fees. I would welcome the addition of Michy Batshuayi on loan from Chelsea, but there is a suggestion that they may try to link the deal to a permanent move for Antonio and that is not a price worth paying. Antonio has been one of the positives, so far, this season and we cannot afford to lose him from the squad. If we can get Batshuayi on a stand alone deal then great, but otherwise we should pass on the opportunity.

Who would I like to see us recruit this January? There is talk of a January loan deal for Chelsea keeper, Asmir Begovic, and a subsequent c.£15m summer deal for Joe Hart. Adrian’s fall from favour is a sad and rapid development, but there is no doubting that the erratic nature of his keeping came to the fore this season and it has costs us points. However, he is still one of the best ‘reaction save’ keepers around; it is just a pity that he is not more disciplined and dominating in the box. Can he rectify those faults in his game? I would have hoped so, but it very much looks as if his time at the club is coming to an end. Whether Bilic decides on making a change in January or sticks with Adrian and Randolph until the summer will be revealed in due course.

One of the most pertinent criticisms of the summer recruitment was that it was too exclusively focused on the forward positions, at the expense of addressing our defensive vulnerabilities. It is widely acknowledged that we have insufficient cover at right-back. There are numerous rumours about loan or permanent bids for right-backs such as Jenkinson and Iorfa. There is no doubt that there is a need for cover and competition for Sam Byram, at right-back/wing-back and it has been a problem position at the club for some considerable time. That now needs to be rectified and it is just a question of whether the club go for a more experienced option like Jenkinson or opt for the undoubted potential of a player such as Iorfa. There are strong arguments in favour of both options. Iorfa has the potential to become a top class right-back and he has local/Essex connections, being born and raised in Southend. While Jenkinson is older/more experienced and has previously played for the club. Furthermore, it is possible that Jenkinson could be available on a loan deal, with a option to buy in the summer, which would help the January transfer budget to stretch that bit further.

While we have a quality option at left-back/wing-back in the form of Cresswell, are we really convinced by the cover/competition? The club brought in Arthur Masuaku in the summer, but he has struggled with injuries and looked out of his depth in the PL. Perhaps he needs more time to adapt, and an extended period injury free, before we can judge his ultimate suitability. At the same time, young prospects such as Stephen Hendrie and Lewis Page have failed to impress and have been loaned out or sold. Perhaps Bilic will prioritise a right-back in January and continue with Cresswell-Masuaku until the summer. If Masuaku then exits, recruiting a left-back like Leeds Utd’s Charlie Taylor may be on the agenda in the summer.

At centre-back, we could continue with the Reid-Ogbonna-Colins-Oxford combination. However, as previously stated, there may be a bid for Collin’s services by Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace. At 33 years of age, a decent bid could very well prove successful for the Welsh international. If that is the case, we will need a similiarly powerful centre-back to replace him. Yes, we have the emerging potential of Oxford and Burke, but the most immediate priority is to strengthen our squad for the remainder of this season. Burke will not be back with the club until next season and I suspect that while Oxford will eventually grow in to a top-class centre-back, his best and most immediate first team opportunities will in the defensive-midfield role. For that reason, I would go for a powerful centre-back such as Kara Mbodji, especially if (like him) they can also be deployed as a defensive or central midfielder.

In defence/midfield Nordtvelt has not particularly impressed so far, but it is likely he will be given more time. Generally, we are probably ok in central midfield until the summer, providing that we do not lose anyone. It is just a pity that a young, hungry youngster like Josh Cullen is not currently at the club and pushing established players for a starting place. His performances on loan for Bradford City have been very good and hopefully that will be beneficial for his long-term development. It is just that he is as good (if not better better) a prospect as Harry Winks at Spurs and I suspect he could and should have had PL/cup exposure this season. As stated, the talk of selling/swapping Antonio is a total nonsense, to sell our top scorer would be madness and his pace and strength up front cannot be easily replaced. So, the club must stand firm on that issue, but it is likely that we will lose other wide players such as Feghouli and Tore. So we need at least one wide player and the favoured option seems to be Hull City’s star player, Robert Snodgrass. Snodgrass is a very good player, but has tended to play for less fashionable PL clubs. I believe that Snodgrass could finally realise his full potential with West Ham, playing alongside the likes of Payet and Lanzini. Plus, he has the versatility to play not only on the right flank, but right across the front line. It is all about possessing more class options in the squad, with greater strength-in-depth to promote competition and give quality cover; rather than considerations about ‘who would be selected over who’ in a ideal first team XI. Nor is it a ‘problem’ to have more then one player that is a dead ball/set piece specialist. I am sure Bilic would welcome more of those type of problems! Regardless, whether you favour Snodgrass, or other options, the fact remains that we probably need to recruit least one new wide player this January.

However, the vast majority of media/social media speculation has focused on the Hammers recruiting one or two new strikers this January. As I write it seems that Brentford’s Scott Hogan (on a £12.5m-15m permanent deal) and Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi (on loan) seem to be the favoured options. The speculation around a possible deal for Defoe seems to have abated. Essentially, Defoe was seen by the club as a quick (and short-term) fix up front. However, Sunderland have predictably resisted West Ham’s overtures, because they obviously see Defoe as central to their PL survival chances this season. The only way that a deal might be sparked is if the player himself submitted a transfer request, but that does not appear to have happened to date. Perhaps he fears a back lash from irate Sunderland fans? That is understandable considering the fall out, and continuing legacy, of the circumstances in which he exited West Ham in 2004.

As stated previously, I would gamble on Hogan and happily take Batshuayi on loan (providing Antonio is not part of the deal). Hogan has excelled as a goal scorer in the Championship and he could join Cresswell and Antonio as excellent additions from the 2nd tier. The only proviso is that there is no long-term issues relating to his previous knee injuries. We must not recruit another injury prone striker, whether that is Hogan or a more established PL striker like Sturridge. The issue with Batshuayi (apart from the Antonio link) is his match fitness and form. His match time this season has been very low at Chelsea and it has obviously affected his fitness, confidence and form. However, if he is sufficiently fit, only game time will rectify those other issues. If all goes well, we could recruit a classy striker and with an hunger to prove a point about his ability to excel in the PL. And that would only be a good thing.

If he does excel for us, it is unlikely Chelsea would be open to a permanent deal in the summer. But, on the other hand, knowing Chelsea, if they recruit another mega million pound super striker and they might just decide to cash in on Batshuayi. If that happened, we would then be in pole position to seal a permanent move. Alternatively, Batshuayi goes back to his parent club in the summer and we try to secure a big deal for a top striker like Inter-Milan’s Mauro Icardi.

Maybe the Hogan-Batshuayi emphasis is a false one and other options will emerge out of left field, who knows? What we do know is both Bilic and Sullivan have confirmed that, ideally, in January there will be (1) a emphasis upon recruiting British/UK based players and (2) a minimum of three new players recruited. I agree with the policy of recruiting a majority of British/UK based talent in this window, as they have the best chance of quickly settling and having a maximum positive impact. As for the target figure of three recruits, that is likely to translate in to a right-back, a wide midfielder and at least one striker. However, will three recruits be enough to address all the needs/lack in the current squad? Almost certainly not. To do that we would probably need to recruit five or six. With a central defender and a second striker being added to the wish list. While the factor x in the equation is the goal keeping position? Will other pressing priorities see the Adrian-Randolph combination continue until the end of the season, with a big goal keeping addition being planned in the summer?

Three, four, five, six ….. this would be the required scale of signings to address all of the issues in the squad caused by a bad summer recruitment. However, the likelihood is that the difficult nature of the January window will actually see recruitment of three or less new players. If that is the case, we must prioritise the most pressing positions, get by elsewhere for the remainder of this season and then address the remaining substantive issues in the summer.

I just hope that the club’s management and board have learnt the lessons of last summer and ensure in future they get the recruitment right at that juncture and just use the winter window to make minor adjustments/sign players of quality that unexpectedly become available. Also, from next summer, the emphasis must be firmly upon quality over numbers and ultimately that costs. Hopefully, the quality of our youth system will produce more high quality home grown talent and make some transfer expenditure unnecessary. Although the best possible policy is to strike a successful balance between the two strategies (quality youngsters and top class signings).

But first lets complete good and effective business in this transfer window, get through the remainder this season (ideally with a top ten finish) and then re-group and refocus our ambitions/targets in 2017-18.

S.J. Chandos


The S J Chandos Column

Man City in the FA Cup - A chance to dispel Monday's disappointment!

I remember a time when match officials were crucial, but largely anonymous figures (admittedly in an age before Sky Sports and saturation TV coverage/analysis). Yes, they inevitably made vital decisions that influenced the outcome of matches, the issuing of cards, free kicks in vital areas and, of course, penalty awards (like the last minute FA Cup quarter-final penalty vs. Aston Villa in 1980). However, there was always a feeling that the officials were doing a difficult job, calling it honestly and without undue fuss. That is no longer the pre-dominant view amongst a significant number of football fans and the difference probably lies in the attitude and behaviour of many modern referees. Gary Lineker perfectly articulated a common suspicion that ‘attention seeking’ is a factor that unduly influences refereeing decisions on occasions. The latest high profile incident involves Mike Dean, but similar controversy also follows other of his colleagues such as Clattenberg, Taylor and Mariner. In addition, modern referees are very dictatorial figures, with grand hand gestures and an unapproachable persona. Perhaps that is their way of maintaining their authority on the pitch (the behaviour of players can admittedly be challenging at times). However, I remember previous generations of officials being much more open and engaging on the pitch, talking to players and even explaining their decisions. But that is all in the past, the current generation definitely owe more to the Clive Thomas and Keith Hackett schools of refereeing!

Indeed, we Hammers fans have been at the wrong end of a number of poor decisions, particularly in that run of four drawn matches that was a major factor in failing to clinch that fourth Champions League qualifying place last season. The 15th minute sending off Feghouli on Monday evening significantly changed the emerging balance of the match and, ultimately, its final outcome. I thought that in that first 15 minutes West Ham looked impressive and were easily matching Man Utd. After it, the match become a uphill fight, but the 10 man Hammers applied themselves well and put up a real spirited battle. If Antonio had finished that crucial one-on-one with the keeper, things might have been very different. Unfortunately, not for the first time this season, poor finishing was ultimately our undoing. Yet regardless, it was only an exceptional piece of skill from young Marcus Rashford that conspired to put Man Utd ahead. The second, off-side goal, truly flattered the visitors and only added insult to injury for the Hammers.

Losing in those circumstances is always very disappointing, but we can take real pride in the organisation and fight shown by the team and the overall quality of our play. We have now lost the last two PL matches, but I am optimistic that we are on the right path and will avoid any sort of relegation struggle. For me, the key question is how high we can climb and whether we can get in to contention for a Europa League place this season (via league position). If not then, we need to try to get as high as possible (at least top ten) and concentrate on making progress in this year’s FA Cup. Certainly, a good FA Cup run would be a major boost for the club and its support base. And how the grand old knock-out competition needs another all-time classic final, a la May 2006!

Speaking of which, our next opponents are Man City, on Friday evening, in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, at the London Stadium. And it is an excellent chance to bounce back against tough opponents. However, we will have to do it without Kouyate and Ayew, who have departed to play in the African Cup of Nations for their respective national teams (Senegal and Ghana). Kouyate, in particular, is a very influential player and will always be badly missed. While Ayew is clawing his way back to fitness and form and in the injury absence of Sakho (and departure of Zaza and Calleri) it denies us the services of the major back up to Andy Carroll. Yes, Fletcher is still available and there is also the opportunity to promote the very promising Martinez to the bench. Hopefully, Feghouli will have Monday’s red card rescinded and be available, but it might be necessary to deploy Antonio in a more central striking position; especially if Carroll is not deemed fit enough to start. We will also probably see Adrian back between the posts and this will be a good opportunity for him to put in a good performance against top class opposition.

Man City are always difficult opponents, given the class of the options at their disposal. However, if Bilic gets the formation/tactics right and the team plays with pace and power we can grab a win. Payet and Lanzini are also going to be vital, they both need to be at the top of their game. Payet certainly owes us a big performance a la last season. The fans will also have a key role to play in making the London Stadium a cauldron of passion and noise. Lets try and bring a bit of the old Boleyn (under the floodlights) magic to the Stadium and create a genuinely intimidating atmosphere for City and an equally inspiring one for the home side.

Personally, I am really looking forward to the match, the challenge that it represents and (if I am honest) the timely break it gives us from the PL programme. Football is all about these type of matches against top teams. If our players and fans cannot rise to an occasion like this then there must be something wrong with them!! Seriously though, It will be a tough match, but I am going to be optimistic and go for a 2-1 home victory. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

The January transfer window is absolutely crucial to our final finishing position.

It is axiomatic, get the summer transfer right and you have a good season. Then January is just about adjusting the squad, but get the summer recruitment wrong and we are inevitably in crisis territory. And then, in January, other clubs know you are desperate and play hard ball financially. We have (rightly) praised the club for the last two or three summer transfer windows, but this season we fell badly short. We recruited players that have blatantly failed to adjust to the Premier League. Zaza, Tore and Calleri are not up to the required standard. Fletcher and Martinez have huge potential and I feel that Ayew and Feghouli have the ability to impact positively. As for Nordtvelt, we need to give him time to settle and show what he can contribute to the squad. What I really like about Nordtvelt is his adaptability and ability to cover a number of different positions. Yes. I know that Hammers fans are not overly impressed, but give him a bit of time for goodness sake. Who knows you might be pleasantly surprised.

What we need is ‘iron surgery.’ We need to dispose of Tore, Zaza and Calleri as quickly as possible. I would keep faith in Ayew and Feghouli and hope that that the forthcoming African Cup of Nations improves their fitness and form. Yes, there is the danger of injury, but the player I really worry about is Kouyate. Losing him for 3-4 weeks is a huge challenge for the club, such is his importance. Just pray that Kouyate stays fit and returns early from the competition. I do not know about you, but I worry about such a key player being in the hands of Senegal’s physios, given what happened to Sakho and its continuing legacy.

As for acquisitions, I really hope that the rumours about our interest in Robert Snodgrass is correct. He is class and would provide cover both out wide and through the middle. This player is so under-rated and he could make a major contribution, not only whilst Ayew and Feghouli are away, but long term. He should have murdered us during the recent home match Vs Hull City, his creative play was so good. He is in the final year of his contract and a reasonable offer should encourage Hull City to do business. I would also like to see us reinforce our full-back positions by securing Carl Jenkinson, on loan, and Charlie Taylor (of Leeds Utd) on a permanent deal. We probably also need another centre-back and Kouyate has already alerted us to the ability of one of his former Anderlecht team-mates. Perhaps we should follow up on that, considering that James Collins on approaching the end of his top class career.

Up front, we need two new strikers. I would go for Icardi (from Inter-Milan) on loan, pending a summer permanent deal, and take a gamble on Brentford’s Scott Hogan. The talk about Rashford and sturridge is all very good, but one is inexperienced and, the other, is injury prone. Do we really want to gamble on the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, with Carroll and Sakho already on board?

We have had a major revival in recent matches. We must keep that trend going. That means getting positive results against Leicester City (away) and Man Utd (home) and pushing in to the top ten. It is perfectly possible and we need to, build on recent results, and make it happen. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.


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