The HamburgHammer Column
NOTE FROM IAIN: The Predictor League for Crystal Palce on Wednesday evening is open HERE. Entries can be submitted until 6pm on Wednesday.
Do you remember the old West Ham way ? The one where the team found 107 ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory ? The one where a 3:0 lead was nowhere near enough to convince West Ham supporters that a win was actually in the realms of possibility ?
The one where everything was virtually lost if the opponent took an early lead ? Well, my friends: Think again!
Somehow we managed another three points against a side most of our fans before kick-off had deemed to be too strong a challenge for us, too pacy, too overpowering to even contemplate nicking a point there.
It’s true, Leeds are no mugs. They have a strong side, playing attack-minded football that pleases the neutral’s eye and they already look like a promoted team destined to stay up without breaking too much sweat. About time for Bielsa to finally start learning to speak a bit of English I reckon.
Watching West Ham on Friday evenings still is an alien concept to me. It’s just not common to have PL games at that time. Friday nights in Germany traditionally used to be reserved for local lower league football under the lights at least in pre-Covid days.
Or for watching murder investigation flicks with famous German actors on the telly. Maybe a talk show. This time it was West Ham though. Just a day prior I had suffered a bad bout of Hexenschuss (lumbago being the medical term, not to be confused with the lambada. Also known as witch’s shot – and crikey, had the wicked witch aimed well in my case!).
Standing up, sitting on the sofa, lying down, you name it, the slightest movement involving the lower spine hurt like hell or, alternatively, like watching a Roberto highlight reel during his West Ham reign. Not nice!
The Leeds game was a welcome distraction and the ebb and flow of that contest really kept my senses occupied. Just like a miracle the pain was gone for two hours or so. Result!
Things didn’t start well with Haller losing the ball, Leeds going on a quick counter attack and Fabianski conceding the clearest of penalties you are likely to see this season, all happening faster than it takes to say “Is this a 4-4-1-1 formation employed by Moyes ?“.
Fabianski went on and saved the tame shot trickling towards him. The Leeds players in unison jogged back to return to their own half, their faces soured with disappointment and frustration. VAR had spotted though that Fabianski had been off his line too soon.
His heel was an inch or so off, but the cameras these days are in a comfortable position to monitor that particular line much better than, say, the touchline in a game against Manchester United. Just saying…
So, with the law of the game followed to the letter (while a penalty taker can still do all kinds of silly shenanigans with regard to stutter-stepping towards the ball, delaying a shot and whatnot), the penalty was taken once more and this time dispatched with ease.
Here we go! I caught myself thinking. I had briefly forgotten somehow that this is a different West Ham team now. A braver, more resilient version where the players run, fight and bust a gut for each other. A team that doesn’t give up and never says die! Even when conceding first.
Before half time Sous Chef had put us level with one of his trademark headers that had clearly crossed the line before being reached by a defender. West Ham were back in business, very much alive and kicking. After that we saw many, many moves full of attacking intent and numerous goalscoring opportunities from the Men in Black (nice shirts), wave upon offensive wave with Haller missing several good chances, Bowen and Fornals chipping in with hopeful attempts, same as the otherwise brilliant Benrahma. Some quite amazing pressing from our players throughout as well…
End product very much remains the elephant in the room for our club.
We only had 36% of the ball, but it matters what you do with it when you have it. We had 19 shots in total, 8 of them on target. That’s the kind of stat you would expect in a cup tie against Morecambe. On another day we score four or five and yes, I am looking at you, Monsieur Haller!
I am probaby (still) his biggest fan on the blog, but, crikey! What kind of opportunity does he need in order to just smash the ball into the net ?
(We all would be singing his praises though if he had converted that overhead kick late in the game, wouldn’t we ?)
In previous seasons we would have found a way to lose the game under those circumstances. Instead we nicked another goal from a rather unlikely source (the Loaf of Angelo Ogbonna), a bullet of a header and I wonder if Soucek may have taught the Ogmaster a few tricks in training last week…
Let me also remind you of one of the more bizarre scenes witnessed by Hammers fans in recent years, late in the game, when once again we were attacking the Leeds goal with one CB (Ogbonna) crossing the ball to another CB (Balbuena) whose header unfortunately hit the post.
We now have defenders attacking, we got holding midfielders running towards opposing defenders, but we also have strikers not scoring.
I maintain that Haller is merely going through a rough spell of rotten luck and seeing his confidence shot to smithereens. Without confidence you get your foot caught in the grass when it’s easier to just pick your spot and score, that’s how your header bounces straight into the arms of the opposing goalkeeper instead of going into the top corner. Haller was abysmal in the first half, yet highly unlucky, but very industrious in the second.
Yes, he missed/wasted some glorious chances. But it’s a good sign he is getting into those positions in the first place. And he is drawing defensive cover to himself, creating space for others to exploit.
The lad just needs a really good performance crowned by a goal and an assist or two, maybe against Palace. There is a great striker inside of him who is itching to get out. For his own sake and for his teammates as well.
I still believe Haller will come good for us eventually. If, however, he gets sold in January, I would hold no grudges and wish him every success at his next club.
Another decision I would expect to be made in January is about Issa Diop. In case you forgot, he is a young and highly-rated CB who has been struggling to get back into the side after having to self-isolate due to getting tested positive for Covid a while ago. The rest is history.
With Balbuena, Ogbonna and Cresswell keeping guard for us centrally while helping the team embark on a point-winning spree in recent weeks, Moyes has not really had much reason to put Diop back in the side yet.
Diop obviously wants to play. I can only imagine he must have pointed out this fact in a probably slightly inappropriate tone to the gaffer. Otherwise I can’t really grasp why you would put on-loan Craig Dawson on the bench before Issa Diop. It’s not his fault he caught the virus I would presume.
I hope there is no rift, but then again, like it or not, Diop is one player we could actually sell next month for a bit of dosh, to fix several other squad needs. There would be takers who might easily pay 25m for Diop.
And Moyes surely is the kind of guy who would make 25m stretch a lot further than other managers. I reckon he would bring in that Danish young CB, Frederick Alves Ibsen, the half Danish, half Brazilian Seb Haller stunt double, but also a new striker and maybe even another holding midfielder.
I would like to see us keep Haller, if possible (you know I would love to see him play with Antonio and Benrahma – what a nightmare for opposing defenders!), but if we have to bring in another striker, does it really have to be Josh King as heavily whispered on the grapevine ?
The guy has scored PL goals for Bournemouth, I’m aware of that. He is out of contract in the summer too, so why fork out 10m or more for him in January ? And why is he not starting games regularly for Bournemouth in the Championship ? Is he even match fit ?
In short: Is Josh King really the solution here ? Or just a band-aid to placate fans rather than finding a long-term solution for the position ?
A King(dom) for a striker ? Maybe. But is Josh King really what we want ?
I reckon we shall find out soon whether Moyes really wants him and nobody else. If he does, then King is likely to be our player come February at the latest.
I would prefer us to go for a younger striker really. And ideally a strong and pacy type, similar to Antonio, capable to play the lone striker role. As that is the system that Moyes seems to rely on more often than not.
But whatever happens in January you cannot deny the fact that Moyes is getting a lot of effort and quality out of these players. Not the maximum of course because if he did that then we’d be scoring far more goals.
This team, however, does compete in every single game. If we lose it usually involves close or dodgy VAR calls going against us, representing a crucial turning point in the game (think Man United and Liverpool).
Rarely have we been outplayed this season. I don’t worry too much about league position at this point. We may be 6th temporarily, but it could be down to 8th another week, then up to 7th the week after.
With a league as tight as the current version, anything can happen.
As long as we’re top half of the table, things are good. It helps the mood around the club, among the fanbase, in the dressing room, on the training pitch, between the gaffer and his coaches.
The key is to let Moyes and his staff do their work in peace and, if possible, support him in his efforts. Or at least not make things more difficult or awkward for him. Let him keep the players he wants to keep, sell the players he no longer wants and buy the replacements he has identified.
If we can maintain the same spirit within the camp throughout the season, who knows if maybe even European football is achievable for us ? If it were to happen, Moyes would deserve plenty of praise. Plus a new contract.
A manager winning a lot of points, hearts and respect on a very limited supply of funds. Who would have thunk ?
Games are coming thick and fast over the coming days and weeks now. Palace, Chelsea and Brighton in the space of 11 days. I would expect some player rotation happening. But we are in a good place now, provided we don’t get more injuries.
Football will be quite crucial to keep most of us entertained these days.
As you’re reading this Germany will have announced another strict nationwide lockdown, meaning shops, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers/barbers closing down.
Christmas shopping will take a bit of a hit this year for sure. Then again, Xmas in general will be very awkward this time around.
As things stand, rules for meeting up with relatives over the festive period will be somewhat tightened. Luckily enough, close family members from separate households are still allowed to meet over Xmas, including siblings and parents, so my personal circle, a merry little band of six family members, should be fine to meet, dine and exchange some presents on Christmas Eve. Yay!
Still, we’re in another lockdown now for at least one more month. It could easily be 2-3 months with businesses, shops and restaurants closed in Hamburg, no matter if your bar happens to serve Scotch Eggs or German bratwurst as a snack option to accompany any booze.
It’ll all be a bit lonesome. A bit sad and sombre. Everyday life will be low-key, scaled back, with everything being rather dull and quiet. It’ll be strange. Spooky. But it’ll also save lives and protect the health of loved ones. COYI!!!
Hamburg football update: They can still win! Hamburg SV returned home from Darmstadt with all three points. They had failed to record a win in any of their previous five league games, so the 2:1 away victory was pivotal for them to stay in touching distance of the promotion chasers. They’re only two points from top spot now. Good!
At the bottom end of the table St.Pauli only managed a 2:2 draw against Aue, keeping them rooted in the basement of the league table, second from bottom. It’s gonna be a long harsh winter for the “Boys in Brown“.