The HamburgHammer Column

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So, the new year has arrived…and West Ham haven’t slipped over the first banana skin lurking on the pavement towards Wembley aka the third round of the FA Cup.
I remember us going out against minnows too often on those occasions, Wrexham springs to mind, way back when I was still living in Barking. Or Allardyce feeding the kids to the wolves of Nottingham Forest to the tune of a 0:5 defeat.

For that reason I shall always be grateful for a cup game win for West Ham. Thrashings of lesser sides do still happen of course in the competition, but they are rare and it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things if we go into the next round after beating Brum by 2:0 or 5:1. It’s more vital that certain players got a well deserved rest while others got some much needed gametime to improve match fitness. Nasri got more than an hour and looked very promising and Carroll lasted for much longer than the 30 minutes Pellegrini had claimed he was capable of delivering.

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Some people said it was a boring game. I can’t agree. I thought Brum were very brave out there, pushing us hard all the way. Yes, we wasted opportunities galore again, but we had a lot of the ball and bear in mind this was a very unusual line up for us which needed some bedding in. And of course things didn’t get any easier when Arnautovic came off as a precautionary measure, giving Carroll a chance to show us what he can do.

He didn’t really show us anything we didn’t know already. We had the collective deja vu feeling of “here we go again” when he quickly went down like a lead balloon after what seemed like a pretty standard challenge, clutching his shoulder. As a West Ham fan you immediately think: “Is it gonna be just a minor injury (two weeks), a regular one (2-3 months) or a serious impact injury (rest of the season and way beyond) ?”

Then there was a long spell when the game pretty much passed Carroll by.
He was not quick enough, he couldn’t hold up the ball well and he missed an absolute sitter, put to him on a plate beautifully by Anderson. That’s one side of Carroll. And then he gave us his trademark leaping salmon routine. Showing us his other side. Powerful header, well placed, no doubt about it, unplayable, 2:0, game, set and match, next round, here we come!

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I have mentioned before that I reckon Carroll’s time at West Ham is coming to a natural end, with his contract expiring and the Geordie not really fitting the profile of a Pellegrini-style forward. Let’s take every contribution of his as a bonus, as a little bit of reward for all the times he was out injured for us over the years while still drawing the kind of wages you’d associate with a player who is pretty much leading the charts in all major performance categories for his team.

Which leads me back nicely to my pet topic as far as our great club is concerned – and that of course is the burden of the badger. The ridiculously long list of injured players.

I honestly don’t remember the last time a West Ham manager could pick his strongest team because there were either no injured players at all or those that were injured were only second-stringers or bench warmers anyway.

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None of us has a Scooby how good a West Ham team could be that has Diop, Balbuena, Rice, Lanzini, Wilshere, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Arnautovic and/or Hernandez together on the pitch at the same time.
I for one cannot wait to find out.

There seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel (and hopefully it’s not just the lights of another train approaching) insofar as Fredericks, Hernandez and Balbuena have all been rumoured to be nearing a return to training this week.

Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean those players will start games again straight away. But at least chances are they will be part of the upcoming matchday squads which should give us a strong bench. And that is what we need if we have to turn games around again which may be quite useful as we have been the kind of team recently to concede a goal or two first before starting to play some football with interest and intent.

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For me the persisting injury issue at our club is something that needs to be addressed by Pellegrini, at least a process needs to be started where everything at the club needs to be geared towards minimising the risk of players getting injured and improving the chances of getting players back to fitness as quickly and as effectively as possible.

I am under no illusions here, injuries are part of football, always have, always will. Some unfortunate knocks and challenges you can do little or nothing about.

But you can try to create a training environment that is state-of-the-art, not just for the sake of having a nice looking facility to present to new players but also to provide the best training and medical support you can get for a team expected to perform in the Premier League. It also requires the scouting network to monitor players thoroughly with regard to their injury history before signing them, evaluating whether a deal is worth a gamble or not.

In the short term this will cost a bit of money (as shown by plenty of clubs in England and beyond), but clubs are still building those modern training complexes and I suppose they have a good reason for it. Also in a economical sense. If you can keep your players healthy and fit, you don’t need to buy or loan replacements…money saved!
You can field your best side more often which should translate into better understanding on the pitch, better performances, more wins, better league position…more money in the bank from TV deals, merchandise sales etc.

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I think it’s something we shouldn’t even have to discuss, talking about a PL club willing to improve and go places. If you are a PL club at a certain point you need to not only keep talking about being one but acting like one too, looking like one, training like one, presenting yourself like one.
With Pellegrini in my book we have a very good, highly experienced and skilled football managaer, with a good pedigree and the knowledge of how it’s done.

I am confident he can at the very least start a process where we can begin to get the injury shenanigans under control to reach a normal degree, in comparison to other clubs. Having the highest number of injured players in the league for one season can be bad luck. If it happens several seasons in a row that excuse alone won’t wash any longer.

Arsenal coming up next weekend, a game I’m looking forward to a lot. Because most would expect Arsenal to win. We always seem to fancy those occasions and for some reason the players seem to be more up for those big local derbies. It’s a game I would expect to be high on intensity, high on incident and high on drama. Let’s hope we see a strong starting XI, a strong bench and a rocking London Stadium! COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update
Concordia have started the new year in style, winning the traditional Wandsbek Cup (indoor football tournament with ten teams from East Hamburg) for the fourth time in a row, beating the same opponent in the final for the third year in a row. I had my brother and my nephew with me and it was good fun overall. Things got a bit heated betweens certain sets of fans though and my little nephew nearly got into a shouting match with some rival fans who were saying nasty things about Concordia.
He was close to dishing out some colourful language and x-rated expletives back to them – I wonder where he got those from – but his dad and uncle told him to rise above it and focus on the fact that Concordia won their first (and most probably only) trophy of the season.
The Concordia teams are kicking off with their regular training schedules this week.
HSV and St.Pauli are still in the winter break.