Early squad news ahead of the Man City match

A familiar face returns to the Hammers starting line-up, with Adrian replacing Joe Hart. who naturally is ineligible against his parent side. Adrian now has a first class opportunity to impress, will he snatch it with both hands and could that mean trouble for Hart?

In defence, Byram, Collins and Reid are on the injury list. Although Reid is subject to a late injury test prior to the match. If Reid is not successful in proving his fitness, Ogbonna could partner with Kouyate and/or Rice in central defence. The selection is largely down to whether David Moyes goes with a flat back four (his apparent preference) or three centre-backs and two wing-backs.

The midfield selection could see Noble and/or Fernandes in midfield, along with Lanzini. Again, factor x is whether Obiang is retained or benched? Both Antonio and Arnautovic are thought to be fit, but it is unclear whether they will both start? Ayew is also fit, but may find himself starting on the bench today. Similiarly, up front both Carroll and Hernandez are thought to be struggling for fitness. As such, it is more likely Sakho will lead the forward line.

Whatever the final selection, the players must show pride in the shirt and, equally important, pride in themselves as professional footballers. And the Hammers crowd at Man City need to both make their expectations clear and really get behind the team. We showed at the LS vs Leicester City how we can inspire the players to improve performance and the away crowd need to try and do the same here. If we lose, we lose (Man City are currently the finest side in English football, that is perfectly clear), but the Hammers side need to show grit, put up a good display and fight them right to the final whistle!

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

is it time to return to three at the back?

Well, the squad certainly did not cover themselves in glory with another ineffectual display at Goodison. If a poor side like Everton can rip us apart like that, what is going to happen against Manchester City this coming Sunday? Arguably, Moyes must use Sunday’s match to try to find a defensive organisation that will prevent us conceding so readily. And inevitably, if he has done his research on Bilic’s tenure, he will know that the safest option is to go with is a central defensive three and two wing-backs. That system will give us the additional defensive cover that we invariably seem to lack with a flat back four.

However, current injury problems mean that Moyes selection options, in central defence, are likely to be decidedly limited. Reid is likely to be unavailable with the knock he picked up on Wednesday evening and James Collins broke down in his return game for the U-23s. I am not sure of Fonte’s current status, but if he is also injured, it means that we may need to cobble together a make shift defensive unit of Ogbonna, Rice and Kouyate. It is not ideal, but nevertheless,’ needs must’ as the saying goes. Who knows, radical change might just inadvertently lead us to hit upon a better solution to our current defensive woes?

Expectations will be low on Sunday, so it could be an opportunity for Moyes to experiment. That could see Noble and/or Fernandes considered for a return in midfield. Similarly, with Carroll’s fitness also uncertain, Sakho could start at centre-forward, perhaps with Lanzini, Antonio or Ayew playing behind him in a more central attacking role. That would also mean Martinez, in Hernandez’s continued absence, having a place on the bench.. Should Arnautovic start? Perhaps the Austrian international should be benched for this fixture to facilitate the testing of alternative options/tactics? While at right wing-back, Zabaletta is a almost certain starter and it is then a choice between Creswell and Masuaku for the left wing back slot.

Whatever Moyes’ individual selection decisions, we probably need to set up with a solid five at the back (with the wing-backs getting forward and providing width in possession), three across the middle of the park and two up front. Against Man City it is crucial that we are set up to narrow the play, cut down the options for them to pass through and get behind us. And of course cut out the silly mistakes which have plagued this season . Easier said than done, but we have to give it a real go.

It would certainly be a boost to the squad’s confidence if we could go up there and put on a solid defensive display. What we do not need is another four goal plus hammering! Perhaps if we experiment then it could unexpectedly point us in the right tactical direction to enable us to stop leaking goals and make us much more difficult to break down. Unlikely I know, given the quality of the opposition, but lets go for it!

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

Will Moyes target 'grafters' in the January transfer window?

Another winnable away game, another defeat at Watford! While the work rate looked to have been raised, we continue to play like a collection of individuals. Indeed, if you look at our squad and that of Watford there is no comparison in terms of the quality. Yet if that talent is not deployed and anchored within a strong team context, it is invariably wasted. The difference is that Watford looked like a team, played like a team (running, fighting and covering for each other) and were tactically well set up by their manager to do a tactical job, which they accomplished very well.

As I stated in a previous article, it was admittedly difficult for Moyes not to be able to work with his players away on international duty until a day or two before the match. In addition, we were also depleted by the injury absence of crucial players like Hernandez, Ayew and Antonio. But enough excuses, Watford is gone and dusted, as we all turn our attentions to this Friday’s home match against Leicester City. We still have the matches to get away from the relegation zone and the sooner we discover winning ways the better. This Hammers manager and squad of players should be able to avoid a relegation struggle with ease, but they have got to start finding form and consistency. In order to do that Moyes, Pearce, et al, need to drill organisation, work rate and consistency in to the players and build heightened morale and team spirit. Get those things right and the obvious talent in the squad can start to come to the fore and results will hopefully improve.

However, I have to say that there is something fundamental about the balance of this squad that concerns me. And I think it could be that there is not a sufficient balance between what we might call the ‘artists’ and ‘artisans.’ We all know about the famous West Ham artists, such as Brooking and Devonshire, and their starring role in successful Hammers teams; but what about the artisans that did the donkey work and won them the latitude to weave their magic. I am talking about the likes of Billy Bonds, Patsy Holland, Geoff Pike, Mark Ward, Peter Butler and Neill Orr. Do we have a enough of that type of player, who will run, tackle and cover and free creative players like Lanzini and Arnautovic to maximise their impact in the final third? Perhaps that is why Moyes is supposedly targeting an all-action player like Harry Arter, of Bournemouth, in the January window. In an effort to re-balance the team and inject more graft and hard running in to the side.

One existing player that we really do need back is James Collins. We need his experience and 100% commitment to the cause. Similarly, it is possible that Fernandes could be drafted in to midfield and give us more back bone in that vital area. While Obiang needs to get back to his best form and start shielding our defence better than he has hitherto done. What we also badly require is for Antonio to get fit and back to his very best. We miss his physical presence and menace in the final third. We fans can make these points all day long, however, (fortunately or unfortunately?) we now find ourselves totally in the hands of Moyes and his staff and they are the ones who must ‘crack the whip’ and build cohesion and togetherness in the squad. I guess that this is where Stuart Pearce will have a particular role to play in the coming weeks.

These are very troubling times at the club and it is going to take gigantic effort and leadership to turn this team’s fortunes around. It can be done, but all the coaching and tactical instruction in the world will be useless unless we have players ready to fight for the cause when they cross that white line. The current squad need to prove that they can do that ahead of the January transfer window. Regardless, it is likely that Moyes will be looking at adding players with battling qualities to strengthen the spine of the team when the window opens.

Lets just hope that a revival is well under way well before then and that makes all of our lives a lot easier!

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

Will youth get more first team opportunities under David Moyes?

No one can fail to have been impressed with the performances of the young England sides, in the recent friendlies, against Germany and Brazil. England coach Gareth Southgate has shown a clear determination to give young players a run out in these games and it has seemingly paid off. This has occurred against the background of the recent U-20s and U-17s England World Cup victories and a renewed confidence about the quality of young English footballers in the pipe line. Yet, the fact remains that the majority of of those youngsters are very likely to be frozen out of the first team picture at their parent clubs and loaned out. This shows that regardless of potential or actual capability most PL clubs are currently still prioritising expensive foreign imports over home grown talent. However, many people in the English game are increasingly asking why this should continue to be the case? The view gaining currency that PL clubs must increase the first team opportunities for this emerging domestic talent for the long term good of the English game.

West Ham are a club renowned for their Academy and the production of top class talent. Unfortunately, however, in recent years Hammers managers have shown a distinct reluctance to give youngsters adequate first team opportunities. Sam Allardyce never seemed to have any faith in our Academy and Slaven Bilic also showed a surprising reluctance to hand youth their chance. Yes, Bilic blooded Reece Oxford, as a 16 year old, against Arsenal, but he subsequently failed to show sufficient commitment to developing his talent at first team level. Admittedly he called up Declan Rice this season, but also quickly dropped him after the Irish youngster made a mistake against Newcastle United. While, Reece Burke performed admirably whenever called to first team duty, but regardless has been continually loaned out to gain further experience; and Bilic also showed a real caution in calling up prolific U-23s striker, Toni Martinez, to the first team squad, even when injury and suspension decimated our available striker options.

New Hammers manager, David Moyes, has commented on the situation of young English talent failing to break through at PL level. He has expressed his admiration for the performance of the England U-17s, in winning the WC at their age range, and suggested that perhaps PL squads are too ‘cluttered’ and this is stopping youngsters making the break through. Moyes quickly followed this up by calling up a number of the U-23s to train with the first team squad and hinted heavily that they will get their opportunities under his managerial regime. Obviously, Declan Rice is reasonably well established now in the senior squad and others, such as Martinez, Samuelson and Holland, are pushing hard for inclusion. In addition, it is more than possible (considering his lack of game time in Germany) that Moyes could call Reece Oxford back from his loan deal in January and re-integrate the youngster back in to the senior squad.

Naturally, while we struggle, in and around the relegation zone, the emphasis will be upon experienced players lifting us clear of trouble. However, there is little doubt that, in the right circumstances, Moyes will give youngsters their big break. And that is the way that it should be at a club with West Ham’s long standing reputation for youth development. The hope is that we can pull away from trouble quickly and afford ourselves the opportunity to fully test the abilities of the likes of Martinez at first team level. Indeed, the opportunity for the Spanish goal poacher could even come, sooner rather than later, if Hernandez fails to recover from injury in time for the Watford match. With Carroll likely to start, then Martinez could possibly claim at least a place on the bench for this Sunday’s match.

Arguably, PL squads should benefit from having good quality youngsters performing well and pushing for first team places. It keeps the senior players on their toes and gives them the extra motivation to maintain their own standards. One of the problems at West Ham has been that regardless of how well a youngster is doing in the U-23s, or indeed in training, there was little chance that he would be promoted. The Academy needs to continue producing players that are going to lay claim to a first team place and add to the competitive mix of the squad.

Hopefully, Moyes understands that and will deliver on his promising early statements/actions relating to our U-23s. I certainly think that it will go a long way to getting Hammers fans to warm to Moyes if he is seen to be serious about developing the Academy and promoting players to first team duty.

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

It was a very long time coming, ....

but the axe has finally fell on Slaven Bilic’s West Ham managerial regime. I think that most Hammers fans were willing Bilic to recover from the poor start to the season and take the side back up the PL table. Alas, it was not to be and now we face the consequences of that failure, taking a huge gamble on the ability of David Moyes to recapture the managerial competence of his Everton years, rather then re-enact the shambles of his season long tenure at Sunderland. Although the Spurs cup result offered a brief hope that Bilic could steer the ship to safety, the abject nature of the Liverpool capitulation made his exit inevitable. And in the end, the board’s decision was almost a relief, because neither Bilic nor West Ham United could afford to let the situation continue. Bilic is a man of integrity and honesty (rare qualities in modern football) and we all felt his pain as he cut a powerless and defeated figure on the touchline as his side floundered at home against Brighton and Liverpool. Similarly, we could only sympathise as his players badly let him down in allowing a 97th minute equaliser against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

Sure, Bilic was not perfect, and he could be said to have been culpable with some of his tactical decisions, but the players themselves must also take their share of the blame. Hammers fans know when players are not applying themselves 100% and that is what arguably underpins the recent fan walk outs at the London Stadium. I have always believed that you stay until the final whistle and show your solidarity with the team, whether in victory or cruel defeat (and then you celebrate or moan on the way out), but more recent generations of fans do not seem to subscribe to those principles. They show their anger and protest via an early exit. I do not agree with it, but they pay their money and they are entitled to show their displeasure in that way if they choose. It certainly does not sit well that astronautically paid, and under-performing, players should question fan loyalty for walking out early. The truth is that they would not do it if the team was delivering on the pitch, something that they have blatantly failed to do for most of this season. In short, the management and players have a responsibility to give the fans something to cheer. I think Bilic understood that (he never took fan discontent badly), but some of his pampered ex-players obviously do not!

Anyway, the Bilic regime is now history and we face the future with Mr Moyes at the managerial helm. Like many of you, I have serious reservations about this appointment, but we are, where we are and nothing is going to change that. We all knew that the options for a change of manager (during the season) were limited and that the board would struggle to recruit a top line manager. The board certainly knew that, but the worsening situation with Bilic backed them in to a corner and they were forced to gamble with one of the few viable options available to them. They are undoubtedly praying that the Sunderland episode was an aberration in his career and that Moyes is hungry to restore his former reputation at West Ham. If that happens then it will be seen as a good appointment and the board will be feted for their vision and foresight. If the other scenario prevails they will be castigated and we will be cast in to the disastrous bear pit that is Championship football. That latter possibility is just unthinkable for the club and we must hope that Moyes does come good.

David Moyes has certainly started well, saying all the right things to get the fans on board. Namely, about West Ham’s ‘big club’ status and his desire to play attractive and attacking football. He has obviously been briefed and it shows that the club have learnt from some of the unfortunate statements made by Sam Allardyce while he was at the club. If you want a manager to succeed at West Ham, you must get the fans onside. Allardyce never did that and the simmering antagonism always poisoned the relationship between the manager and the supporters. Similarly, Moyes has also helped created early positivity with the way that he has hit the ground running on the training pitches. It projects the image of an hungry and motivated manager, getting down to business at the earliest opportunity. No doubt the back room appointments will soon follow and there is bound to be an ex-Hammers star or two included in the new coaching team. Or, rather, there will be if they want to continue in a positive vein. Hammers fans always respond to ‘one of their own’ and the club should not under-estimate the importance of that factor. Finally, Moyes has to manage relations with the squad very skilfully, trying to get players on side and motivated and avoiding any damaging early spats/fall outs with stars like Hernandez. There is prior history there from their Manchester United days, but hopefully it will be case of putting that behind them and starting with a clean slate at West Ham. He will also need to get players like Antonio, Reid, Noble and Arnautovic playing to their true abilities. Arnautovic, in particular, will be a challenge for Moyes’ man management and motivational skills. However, get the Austrian back to his best and West Ham will have a very dangerous player. I guess the skill is in knowing how to get the best out of different players, the ‘rocket’ as opposed to the ‘arm around the shoulder.’ Different personalities respond to different strategies and Moyes will need to get that right.

Creating some early positivity around the appointment was vital. However, it ultimately all comes down to improvements on the pitch and results. If Moyes is going to succeed he needs to also ‘hit the ground running’ on the pitch. In the first match at Watford, we need to see greater organisation, defensive resilience and team cohesion. In short, we need to start looking like a team unit and not a collection of individuals. All of these things are established on the training pitch and reinforced on the field of play. In making his preparations, Moyes will be acutely aware that he will have limited time to work with his players on international duty. That creates a specific difficulty for the Watford match, but it is one that he will hopefully be able to overcome to get a morale boosting result. That would set us up nicely to tackle a difficult run of games up to Christmas that includes: Leicester City (H), Everton (A), Man City (A), Chelsea (H), Arsenal (H), Stoke City (A) and Newcastle Utd (H).

Moyes will have his minimum points target for that eight match sequence and we all have our own opinions on that! Regardless, it will make life easier if we can get off to a positive start and take it from there; rather than starting with say two poor results and then look to recover it. For me that positive start is taking a minimum of four points from the Watford and Leicester City games. It is asking a lot, but obviously the objective must be to get up the table, and away from the relegation zone, as soon as possible. No nerve wrecking relegation battle please, I am happy with boring mid-table mediocrity this season!

If we can do better then great, but safety before May arrives must be the initial and primary PL target. It will not all go smoothly and there are likely to be some bumps and poor results along the way, but hopefully we will get there in the end. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

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