The HamburgHammer Column

Many roads Leed(s) to Rome. Or Madrid. Or Zagreb. Are West Ham good enough for Europe in 2021 ?

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!

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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 ?)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!!!

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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“.


The HamburgHammer Column

Out of line! Red devils find ways for idle feet to score

Welcome back on Planet Earth! Something had to give. Both United (the proper one, West Ham version) and the Red Devils of Manchester had gone into the game on the back of a run of three successive wins.

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And if things had gone the Hammers’ way we could have climbed to the lofty heights of 3rd place in the table, but on Saturday we forgot to bring a flask of hot tea, some good rope and adequate mountaineering boots to reach the summit. Or rather we DID bring them, but forgot to take them with us beyond the South Col.

Moreover, this time the footballing gods looked away to put the kettle on just as Man U were hoofing the ball into touch and back into play in one massive rugby kick the Springboks in their heyday would have been proud of which unfortunately set up the away side’s first goal.

Just last Monday we got seriously lucky when we beat Villa. I had mentioned in my column that I reckoned we had used up A HELL OF A LOT of bottled up luck in that one. This time it was the opposition who were the lucky ones. Pesky Mancunians! Especially them fans who hail from the Midlands and further south. Bloody football tourists, how dare they not supporting their local team ? ;-))

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It was bound to happen eventually. We had to lose a game again one day. Shame it had to be this one. In this bonkers season our opponents had been struggling mightily in the early going, yet after a great run of results in their last four games they now suddenly are occupying a more accustomed position above us and near the top of the table. Once more though they had to do it the hard way and come back after conceding the first goal.
No doubt about it, the Mancunians were shambolic in the first half.

With better finishing in the first 45 minutes we could have put the game out of their reach in my humble view. We failed to deliver the killer bite.
We let them off the book. One thing you mustn’t do against Man United.

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Fornals alone should have scored two, in fact I was out of my armchair in both instances, starting my goal celebration in the firm belief they were going in. HOW DID HE MISS ???
(I am 100% Haller would have buried that header, although the French striker himself failed to score from a one-on-one later by getting his foot stuck in the grass at precisely the wrong moment.)

Other West Ham players missed even more opportunities or failed to put a cross into the box. We were all over them for the majority of the first 45 minutes and looked good for a first win with fans back at the London Stadium which was both a very welcome, but also very weird sight to behold.

2000 eager souls in that vast concrete bowl simply look wrong.
Like a kid trying to wear the shoes of his/her dad which are way too big for two tiny feet.

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So, the Red Devils had failed to impress. They had performed as if they had collectively put wrong-sized boots into their kit bags. What happened next was frustrating, but somehow all too inevitable…

Frodo Solskjaer from the LancaShire (sorry, but he still reminds me of a Hobbit who used to play football in the PL, hairy feet and all!) had seen enough and brought both Rashford and Fernandes on at the start of the second half, putting a premature end to their planned rest for the CL encounter with Leipzig this week. Needs must. The beginning of the end for us.

Immediately I was convinced that this had killed any chance of us keeping a clean sheet on the day – and so it proved. It didn’t take a prophet or crystal ball to predict that we’d be seeing a much improved performance from the away side for the rest of the game.

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Did the long ball creating the opportunity for their equaliser really go into touch before re-entering the pitch ? In the replays, especially from one particular angle, the trajectory of the ball clearly looked as if it must have briefly left the field of play, but I don’t blame VAR for not ruling the goal out.

The linesman though should have spotted from his position that the ball had quite obviously gone into touch before swerving back onto the pitch.
Guy didn’t do his job properly, simple as.

That goal was the game changer – it properly knocked us for six.
After that our defensive shape collapsed several times and we let the Mancunians run us ragged over and over again, sometimes it only took a long ball over half the length of the pitch to render our defenders in sixes and sevens.

And let’s be honest: Manchester United have too many top-quality players in their side who can all turn a game around with a single moment of brilliance to just lie down and accept defeat. And that’s just what they relied on and we had no adequate answer to that in the second half.

As bad results for West Ham tend to do, this one properly soured my weekend, but you know what ?
I didn’t really get angry. Frustrated, for sure, but not angry.

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Thanks in part to my brother receiving very encouraging health related news from his oncologist just a couple of days prior to the game.
The results of his scan blew even the medical experts away, his cancer is now almost gone and praise God it hasn’t spread into other organs.
We couldn’t have hoped for a better interim result.

To use a footballing analogy, it’s not quite victory yet, but Team HH’s brother has raced into a three goal lead now, with only 2 minutes of injury time left to play against 10 men…

So, on a purely personal and totally selfish level that trade-off works for me, hearing those wonderful news, but having to accept West Ham losing one game of football a few days later. Deal!

It’s a bit disappointing of course considering the fact that Man United were there for the taking. On another day we win this game 3:1 after taking a 3:0 scoreline into half time.

Losing to Manchester United has never been my idea of fun, I suppose the percentage of Hammers who also happen to have a soft spot for the red side of Manchester is fairly tiny to non-existent.

Then again I remember watching us lose 2-4 to them while being out on holiday, in a bar in Paphos, Cyprus, in 1999, with my dad and brother in tow, with West Ham being outplayed once again, as usual in those days. Or not long after that defeat having to witness them dishing out a painful 7:1 footballing lesson.

Our most recent defeat was unfortunate, but they were not head and shoulders above us. And our recent record against them has been pretty solid. In truth, this one didn’t have the feel of a 1:3 reverse.

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If only we had taken our various early goalscoring opportunities or made the Benrahma/Lanzini substitution at halftime…

Well, if my auntie had an immense Adam’s apple and a goatee, she’d be my uncle.

As things stand we are still in a very promising league position here.
7th in the table, still positive goal difference and in touching distance to 4th place. I’ve seen worse.

If I try to put a positive slant on this defeat then it will hopefully serve as a wake up call for the team to keep focussing and working hard while not taking anything for granted.
A shot across the bow, so to speak. We really need to sort out our finishing, but that is a demand which applies to the entire team, not just our striker(s).

So far this season we have had a number of different goalscorers which is a good sign, but we still don’t score often enough.

Nonetheless, right now I feel a lot more positive for a variety of reasons:

1) Our team is playing with guts and effort, with everyone running and fighting for one another. Results have been good, league position is promising. Our fitness levels seem superb and so far we have been alright injury wise.

2) These days we are rarely second best on the pitch. We don’t win every single game. And we will see a few more defeats this season. But we are always in with a chance of beating the opposition. And that includes the big teams. Highly encouraging!

3) And on a personal level, the positive news about my brother will also allow us to have a peaceful (and sensible) Christmas celebration as a family of six, we still have to be vigilant, wash our hands a lot, keep our distance and avoid hugs, but we will at least be able to spend a few hours together on Christmas Eve. Enjoying a nice dinner and some much needed company.

Which is far more than we all could have hoped to wish for only a couple of weeks ago…

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Right now we can all enjoy our football and league position and hopefully more fans will be able to attend games soon. The next transfer window is not too far away either, but I’m saving that one for another column, let’s try not to think too far ahead.

Yes, we lost a game of football. But it’s still a good time to be a Hammer, COYI!!!

(In case you are wondering about the Hamburg football update, both Hamburg teams lost their games. HSV are on a terrible run, slipping further down the table, while there’s not a lot of sliding left to do for St.Pauli who are still second from bottom anyway. The less said, the better…)


The HamburgHammer Column

Heroes and Villans: Hammers' broom sweeps West Ham into 5th place!

Never in doubt! (Only joking, my fellow Hammers!)
Blimey, that game has turned the colour of parts of my barnet a grayer shade of pale although personally I prefer to call that hue silver chalice.
A game packed with incidents and heart-stopping moments galore.

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I can’t remember a game where I have shouted more expletives and naughty English and German words at the screen than this one.
Usually I’m fairly docile thanks to my matchday screwdriver routine.
It didn’t work this time.
I was properly cream-crackered at the final whistle, I can tell you that!

By all accounts we should have probably lost that game. We usually do.
We have now probably used up all good luck we were due for the remainder of the season, we shall see.

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So, how did we do it ?
Watkins sent a penalty kick (after an unnecessary shirt tug by Rice in the box) onto the crossbar. His injury time equalizer got chalked off by VAR due to an eyelash borderline offside position, another of those really tight ones, too close to call really.
It gave us plenty of post-game moaning about VAR from the Scouse llama, Jamie Carragher, and his irritating whiney voice.

On the replay Watkins looked marginally offside, but we have seen other similar cases where the goal was then given anyway.
Make no mistake: The way we won this game is how big teams like Liverpool, Chelsea or Man City win a lot of their games when they’re not really at the races.

With a healthy dose of good fortune. Ours usually likes to go into hiding.
So much so that we put that fact into our club anthem.
Villa had won every away game in the league this season. Onto West Ham away then for Villa. We all know what usually happens with a stat like this, we tend to help opponents out to keep runs going. Or starting one.
But we won!

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Let us talk about Peter Bankes for a minute (I’m sure Bankes is rhyming slang for something!). He happened to be our referee on the night and he basically blew his whistle whenever a Villa player hit the deck while West Ham probably got two free kicks all game. Mr.Bankes apparently is a Merseysider (why am I not surprised ?) and I figured that Villa must have promised him a lift back home (or at least the first bit up to a service station near Birmingham). That might explain why his calls were so lopsided.

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When I was trying to gather some information on the guy, doing my research online, I found his Wikipedia entry which must have been tampered with by a football fan with serious hacking skills and similar experiences of Bankes refereeing games with Aston Villa getting the majority of calls as it read:

“Peter Bankes is a rookie football referee. He was brought up as an Aston Villa fan from a young age. He officiates many games for Aston Villa in the EFL Championship.”

I know it shouldn’t really, but it made me chuckle. Great sense of humour!

The game was also bizarre because West Ham scored early on in both halves. And after both goals we almost immediately handed the initiative, ball and momentum over to Villa for large portions of the game.

66% possession for Villa tell part of the story, six shots on goal another.
West Ham chipped in with 34% possession and only 2 shots on goal.
Both bulged the Villa net though and last time I looked that’s still what counts in football.

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“Only Fools And Horses” is one of my favourite British go-to comedy staples and most of you will have seen the episode alluded to in my headline. The christmas special where Trigger gets awarded a medal for saving the community money by using the same broom for 20 years, sweeping the roads of Peckham. While his broom by his own admission had gone through 17 new heads and 14 new handles in this time, he still maintains it’s the same broom and proudly provides proof of the fact by way of a photo…LOL

The name of that episode obviously worked well for the pun in my headline as we had played the Villans, with West Ham as the obvious but ever so fortunate heroes. But it is also fitting because David Moyes really used the heads and handles at his disposal quite well in this game.
He was certainly making the most of the heads of Ogbonna and Bowen quite literally…

I thought both Masuaku and Antonio had off-days in the first half (Antonio didn’t really look match fit yet). Several other players though weren’t quite their usual reliable self, Soucek, Rice and Cresswell (by their standards) didn’t pull up many trees either.

So I was impressed when Moyes put Benrahma and Haller on for the start of the second half (very early by Moyes’s standards) and both didn’t waste much time (28 seconds to be precise) to have an impact with our second goal, with Benrahma providing a peach of an assist for Bowen to steer a masterful header into the corner with Haller providing back up to nod it in just in case Bowen might not get to the ball after all.

We also saw the return of Mr.West Ham, Mark Noble for a little cameo.
Which was good to see. We remained under the cosh though, Nobes couldn’t really help that.

As in the first half, after our second goal it was all hands on deck again and Villa were running rings around us at times. That’s where my bilingual swearing came in handy. Maybe I’m lucky Mr.Bankes doesn’t understand German, otherwise I might have been red-carded with a lengthy stadium ban thrown in for good measure…LOL

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I don’t know exactly how we managed to get all three points out of this one, but we did get the win. It’s nigh on impossible to keep Grealish quiet or on both feet throughout 97 minutes, but we did a reasonably good job with it.

I suppose that’s where it’s paying off for us that Moyes has been given the opportunity to play the same back three/back five for several games running now.

Chemistry seems to help a lot with winning points. Even more so when you have experienced chaps like Messrs Coufal, Balbuena, Ogbonna and Cresswell protecting your goal.
What a weird name for a British security firm though…;-))

Let’s not forget to give Ogbonna some praise for an absolute monster of a header that gave us a very early 1:0 lead. It must be fun to play for West Ham these days.

But it’s probably less fun for the gaffer to pick the starting XI for our next game on Saturday against Manchester United.

The Red Devils for sure haven’t started the season the way they would have wanted to. But their most recent come-from-behind win at Southampton has shown that you must never ever underestimate that team, take anything for granted or take your foot off the gas after taking a lead.

Manchester United have gone on a similar run like us, winning their last three league fixtures. It promises to be a tight encounter, this one…

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It’s rare for West Ham to sit in 5th place in the Premier League.
And Manchester United are always a tricky customer. But they are certainly no longer as invincible as they used to be. And we tend to raise our game in this particular fixture for one reason or another.

As the above picture shows Antonio and Haller have successfully played together in the past already. I am confident, no, I am 100% certain that they will enjoy being on the pitch together, harrassing opposing defenders.

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I’m not saying that the upcoming game is the ideal foil for that combination. But I would love to see Moyes finding a way to unleash both of them on PL rivals in the near future.
Maybe in a front three of Benrahma, Haller and Antonio against certain opponents.

I’m typing my final words as the clock strikes midnight in Hamburg. The witching hour has begun…I have to admit I’m really impressed how West Ham have managed to ghost their way up the PL table, especially considering that they had to negotiate the toughest list of opening fixtures of any team in the league this season. Long may it continue!

COYI!!!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Schönen Gruß aus Solingen! Hammers put Blades to the sword

Finally! Another West Ham game – does it always feel like the Hammers haven’t played for months after one of those international breaks ?
Or is it just me ?

Weekends just have a more normal vibe and structure if there’s a West Ham game on, innit ? And despite me going for a bold 3:1 win prediction in the blog’s predictor competition, the closer we got to kick-off, the less I trusted my own prediction. And the game proved that premonition.

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To explain this week’s headline: The first bit is obviously German (the umlaut is a bit of a giveaway there!), it means “Best regards from Solingen”, representing a double entendre.

For about 800 years the city of Solingen (near Düsseldorf) has been known as “The City of Blades”, providing Germans, be they heroes, villains or normal folk, with high-quality knives, swords, hatchets, cutlery, scissors and razorblades.

Maybe a few battle axes too. No wonder the Solingen coat of arms has two crossed swords in it.

The phrase “Sending regards from Solingen” has a more sinister meaning attached to it though, overriding the harmless and friendly greetings to loved ones by a traveller enjoying a long weekend in Solingen.
It means stabbing someone in the back (metaphorically), but also sticking a blade into someone from behind in a very literal sense, usually in search of vengeance, using the shortcut of cold-blooded street justice.

Well, West Ham certainly got their revenge against the Blades for last season (VAR taking away Snodgrass’s goal due to Rice’s handball in the build up), bringing back all three points from Yorkshire
Our “friends“ from Sheffield remain rooted at the bottom of the table, but it was a laboured effort on our part where patience was always going to be key. Sheffield United may be struggling, but they are no pushovers.

For once we had more possession of the ball than in previous games and as could be expected we created numerous opportunities from it. Most of which we wasted. Room for improvement right there.

With Antonio not being risked we knew that it probably wouldn’t be a high scoring game. I totally agree though with Moyes making absolutely sure that Antonio is 100% match fit before even putting him on the bench.

Considering his previous hamstring problems I wouldn’t want to see him being out for 8 weeks or so after being rushed back too early and breaking down again with a big tear of his hammy.
Thank God Haller stepped up and put a Hallerva belter into the top corner for us!

Sue that, you Northern nincompoops! ;-))

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Haller was involved a lot more in this game and that came largely from his teammates being closer to him, so several knockdowns and headers from Haller found paved the way for goalscoring chances. Like the one Soucek missed in the first half.

The Frenchman also seemed to run a lot more, made some clever interceptions and shielded the ball time and time again to bring others into play. He surely was key in getting West Ham a win that was always bound to amp up the feelgood factor in East London and for Hammers everywhere.

To put his goal into context from a football history angle:
Haller was the first West Ham player to score a winning goal in a top flight league fixture at Bramall Lane since Geoff Hurst did the same in 1968.
My brother was only ten months old at the time and my dad hadn’t yet produced the batch of swimmers of which one was going to result in my birth four years later in 1972.

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What I’m trying to say is: West Ham United have not won in the league (top flight) at Bramall Lane for a loooooooong time. 52 bloody years!
That’s more than five decades, innit ? Although Trigger and his famous broom from “Only Fools and Horses“ might disagree…LOL

So, Haller’s goal was quite something, aside from being a wonderfully directed shot that made the net bulge properly and beautifully just after nearly breaking Ramsdale’s fingertips.
(Doesn’t Ramsdale sound like he should run a fish and chip shop in Doncaster ?)

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The entire team did a good, professional job on the day, but having Ogbonna back was crucial. He is just so calm and composed which seems to be contagious, pardon the pun while we’re in a pandemic, as far as his fellow defenders are concerned.

There were very few heart in underpants moments (as we say in Germany) for West Ham. Yes, McBurnie hit the crossbar, but so did Rice down the other end. Overall, Fabianski had a fairly relaxed afternoon (but still made a few good saves) which was down to the great shape and organisation kept by the entire side.

If you still allow me a paragraph to have a little whinge and moan, it’d be about Bowen who seems to have been running into a few more dead ends lately, taking a selfish shot or dribble when a side pass to a teammate might have been the better option.

If we want to score more goals as a team, we need to be more intelligent in those situations, play better final balls, find an end product more often than we currently do. That goes for the entire team.

We did look very professional towards the end though, milking the clock by keeping the ball near the corner flag. As a football fan I usually hate that kind of approach, but as a West Ham fan I reckon it was the proper thing to do in order to see the game out. *Eyes on the prize And all that!"
As Bilic might have said…

It’s true, David Moyes has really managed to get a lot out of the players he inherited. Remember, Balbuena and Fornals were Pellegrini buys. But it’s Moyes who has turned them into regular starters and contributors.
And that’s what makes him, for the time being at least, the perfect West Ham manager.

Money is likely to be scarce at West Ham for as long as the current lot are running the show, so finding bargains and making the most of the hand you’ve been dealt is going to be vital for the immediate future.
Which includes bringing up players from the U23s if they’re good enough.
Every youngster you integrate into your first team squad is one less signing you need to shell out for in the transfer window.

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There are quite a few things to REALLY like about West Ham at this point:

Next game could be the first in a long time where Moyes can pick any player he wants for the starting XI as every player should be available for selection for the Villa fixture barring unexpected injuries happening in training.

That’s very much down to Moyes and his coaching staff (plus the physios) who seem to have found a way to train and work the players in such a fashion that the players all seem very fit and durable.

Yes, there will always be knocks, niggles and injuries. But this season there seem to be far fewer injuries at West Ham and if they do indeed happen then the players are out for days and weeks, not months. Which is very refreshing to see.

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I also see a team out there following a carefully devised gameplan and keeping to the script for 90 minutes. Disciplined. Organised. With players knowing their roles and executing them for the benefit of the team. When I look at Soucek and Coufal, for instance, I see players that look very settled after only a very short time at the club. I actually can’t quite believe that Coufal hasn’t been with us for three years already. If he told me that his father had been running a Pie&Mash shop in Plaistow for the past 25 years I’d probably be inclined to believe him…

Fish out of water ? Nah! This particular fish seems to be able to adapt to all kinds of conditions and circumstances. I can only guess, but I reckon it’s down to a generally good atmosphere around the team and the dressing room. Having a fellow countryman at the club in Soucek will have helped, obviously. But to me it looks like ALL the players are buying into what the manager and the coaches are doing.
Which is a massive positive.

I also don’t see any big egos, prancing and peacocking around, stinking up the dressing room. Maybe we really don’t need 40m players at West Ham. (I mean in general, not Haller specifically who cannot be blamed for his price tag.)

Maybe we simply need players the manager wants. Players who are not only good at passing a ball, but passing the sugar for the cuppa in the canteen at the training ground, you know, good people, joyous characters, leaders setting the bar for the team, salt of the earth types.

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How could you not want a guy like Soucek at your club, on and off the pitch ? A total professional in terms of playing the game, working hard without making any fuss.

Playing with a smile on his face.
But you’d also expect him to be there quick as a flash for any of his teammates away from football, wouldn’t you ? Lending a helping hand with fitting kitchen cabinets or some other tricky DIY. Or installing a home cinema. Or, being of Czech heritage, showing his English mates how to brew your own beer at home…:-))

All of this has led to West Ham not conceding many goals so far this season (only Spurs and Wolves are better in this regard) which by extension has also given us a positive goal difference.
Which is very un-West Ham at this stage of the campaign.

We are in the top half of the table, in touching distance to the top. With more winnable games around the corner. Villa are to be respected, not feared. I see them on a par with us, with regard to squad depth and quality.

West Ham are likely to go into this game next Monday with not a single player out through injury while Villa will at least have to replace Barkley.

I would love to see Haller and Antonio together, but I’m realistic enough to know that Moyes probably won’t do that. He seems to favour either Antonio or Haller on the pitch, not both in the same line up.
My gut feeling is that both players would benefit from each other offensively. But do we ditch the formation that has served us well so far in order to see the Ant and Seb Monday Night Goalfest ?
(See what I did there ?)

Lockdown still sucks. I haven’t seen my brother in a while. Which also sucks. But West Ham are in a good place these days, football wise.
Long may it continue. COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update: Let’s get this over with. Both Hamburg teams lost. St.Pauli did so on Saturday, 0:2 at Paderborn. The “Boys in brown” are second from bottom now, firmly rooted in the unforgiving relegation quagmire.

And don’t take anything for granted when it comes to their city rivals Hamburg SV either who lost 3:1 at home yesterday against lowly Bochum.
Their comfortabe points cushion got eaten into, but HSV are still in top spot for the time being. But their first loss this season surely was not expected and has to be regarded as a shock to the system and a serious wake up call.


The HamburgHammer Column

Chill, Winston! Will Reid be back at West Ham in January ?

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First of all, Happy Birthday to my mom, may she rest in peace – today would have been her 83rd birthday. Love you forever, Mom! God knows what she would have made of the crazy times we’re now living in. Especially Covid, quarantine and lockdowns.

Maybe it’s for the better she didn’t have to experience all that crap on top of everything else that was troubling her health towards the end…

All I know is that lockdown is beginning to mess with my mind. We also had another international weekend, so no West Ham game which didn’t help matters. And no Concordia football either of course!

I suppose that goes a long way towards explaining why my dreams are getting really weird and illogical these days. Weirder than usual anyway.

Take my recent dream about a trip to London, bits of which I could still remember after waking up on Saturday morning. Undoubtedly I had been to London since I had walked past some of the famous landmarks that make up the modern London skyline. The skyscrapers in the Docklands, St Paul’s Cathedral, the River Thames and the red buses. Most of the dialogue was in English. Yep, no doubt, London.

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I should have realised early on it was only a dream (but somehow we never can tell the difference while we’re dreaming as even the craziest upside down events seem perfectly normal while you’re slumbering through another REM phase), there were clear giveaway signs that this trip was taking place halfway between the towns of Hogwash and Codswallop.

I was alongside people who are no longer with us. There were celebrities mingling with common people like it was open day at the Golden Globes awards ceremony, with not a single soul batting an eyelid. Nobody was wearing a mask or heeding social distancing rules.
I went to a shop and bought a packet of crisps and a print copy of The Independent (which is only available in digital form these days).

I don’t recall the actual details of the business I was engulfed in throughout the dream or why I was even in London in the first place. The spooky thing is that West Ham had no part to play in that dream whatsoever. I didn’t go to a game. I didn’t walk anywhere near the stadium. I didn’t buy any West Ham related gear or trinkets in the club shop. I didn’t talk all things West Ham in the pub. I didn’t even watch the Daggers or the U23s with BSB.
Not even a bizarre attempt to buy a West Ham shirt over the Pizza Express counter in Upminster or something similarly surreal.

When I woke up, I was properly confused. What the hell was that !?
A trip to London with not a single chapter dedicated to my beloved West Ham ? This was bonkers!
Or had I merely “forgotten“ the West Ham bits this time around once I had my eyes open ? Unlikely.

Again, it must have been due to lockdown fever and the associated ramifications…thank God there’s a West Ham game again next weekend!

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As there is no match to review, I had to think of something else to write about. And as it so happens, I have recently managed to catch a glimpse of the odd MLS game, some of them involving our very own Winston Wiremu Reid, playing for his loan club Sporting Kansas City.

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Legend has it that Kansas City has the most fountains in the world outside of Rome, Italy. That’s why they call it “City of Fountains“. I thought you might want to know that.

It’s also one of the undisputed BBQ capitals of the USA apparently. I was very pleased to learn that! One more destination for my post-pandemic bucket list right there!

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Oh, and the name Wiremu is obviously a nod to Reid’s Maori heritage – it means “Determined protector” or “Helmet of determination“.
Is it any wonder he turned out a very solid centre back ?
A more boring, but equally true explanation claims it’s simply the Kiwis’ version of the name William. Or the German equivalent Wilhelm. Take your pick.

As most of you will know he suffered a freak injury in a nasty incident against Swansea City in March 2018. When he collapsed, in a state of unconsciousness, with the knee buckling under his full body weight, at the time that challenge looked like a potentially career ending impact.

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His loan move to Kansas City in that respect seemed like the culmination of a long road back to recovery and playing professional football again.
An opportunity to prove to the world he could still play and continue to have a career in the game.

Whenever I watched him play for KC he was head and shoulders about most of the other players on the pitch which is no surprise.
The MLS have a few star players, with previous experience at big clubs in Europe, but they are still the exception. Most of the squad players are local youngsters, ex-players from college teams or from South America.
The league is improving year after year, but in terms of quality there is still an ocean, literally, between the MLS and the Premier League.

The KC gaffer as well as the local pundits were in unison how Reid was reading the game beautifully, orchestrating his teammates, being very vocal in doing so and, living up to his name, protecting his goal with determination and experience.
That’s no actual quote, but the general gist of their praise.

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Now, I had to tell porkies if I said Reid did play every game for Sporting Kansas City. He did not. There was the odd niggle, a groin issue here, a slight knock there which made him miss a game occasionally or be rested. But nothing major keeping him out for longer than one game.

Once the MLS resumed with their schedule, Reid was the lynchpin, the leader on the pitch taking Sporting KC on a memorable run (8 games played from October onwards, six wins, one draw, one defeat) that saw them finish in top spot of the Western Conference and in pole position for the playoffs.

These will begin next weekend with a game against San Jose Earthquakes, in a knock-out format which will see Sporting having to win four more games to be crowned champions in the home of the brave.

Reid will undoubtedly be a key starter for them and if they make it to the final in December, Winston Reid will have been one of the main reasons for their success this season.

Strong in the challenge, with the ability to play the ball out of danger with grace rather than blind force plus the vast experience of knowing where to position himself and who to mark, he has often looked like a man amongst boys, playing in the MLS. He really needs to compete against PL opposition again.

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So, is there a way back for Reid to get his body back into a claret and blue shirt in January ? In my humble opinion, it’s a big, fat YES, PLEASE!!!

If he gets through the next few games at KC alright, he will be match fit and probably on an emotional high after playing in a final (hopefully!).

He is an experienced defender with serious PL credentials and he’s under contract at West Ham for another 30 months. Which means we’re paying a big chunk of his substantial wages anyway. He might as well play for us.

And you can never really have enough good defenders in the PL. Especially a team like ours that now favours playing five at the back, so we need three CBs in every game now.

What present events seem to be telling us is that it’s very easy to lose players this season: Through injury or from catching Covid while on international duty or dancing on a table at a wedding in Cairo surrounded by 50 guests wearing tuxedos or after a few days bronzing and partying in the Dubai sun.

If you are then in a position to bring on someone like Winston Reid, to form a partnership at the back with the likes of Ogbonna, Balbuena, Diop or Cresswell, you give your side a proper chance to carry on regardless without really losing much in terms of quality and experience.

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Is he still good enough though to stay toe to toe with young and pacy PL strikers in 2021 ? Only one way to find out. Get him back at West Ham and put him through his paces at Rush Green. I think he can still defend against most of what PL opponents are ready to throw at him. Probably not necessarily against the top PL strikers, but these would cause any defender in the league headaches and serious Barney at times to be fair.

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Let’s not forget that apparently money is scarce for West Ham at this point. So, why spend 20m or 30m quid for a defender when we already have a pretty decent option under contract in Winston Reid ? I know we also signed Craig Dawson on loan (and that the gaffer and teammates seem to have been impressed with the guy after seeing Dawson really busting a gut in training sessions recently). But again, you can never have enough good defenders in the PL, can you ? It’s down to Moyes, of course.

But bringing Reid back to West Ham does seem to make plenty of sense, when you look at all the angles here. If it doesn’t work at least both West Ham and Reid know what’s the score and can make a final call about his West Ham future next summer.

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So, Sheffield United next. The Blades. The Tevezgate derby. For some reason, the whole Tevezgate thing has paled pretty much into insignificance for me personally.

There is a new reason though why I want us desperately to beat Sheffield United next weekend. And that is because of the ridiculous way that our goal against them last season (scored by Snodgrass) was ruled out because a Sheffield player had headed the ball onto Rice’s hand not far from the centre circle in the build up to the goal.

Last season the rule of course made it possible (or even mandatory) to chalk off that goal, this year the rule has been amended so that the goal would likely be allowed to stand if it were to happen again in similar fashion.
If the handball doesn’t happen “immediately“ before the goal is scored, if the handball doesn’t provide the direct assist for the goalscorer, referees should allow goals like the one Snodgrass scored against the Blades.

Let’s hope though that this time we can beat them fair and square, with no need for VAR to step in. We should be able to field a pretty strong side as Ogbonna is rumoured to be back in training already and maybe Antonio too will be fit enough to be an option for the bench at least.
No Yarmolenko who has to self-isolate because of testing positive for Covid unfortunately.

Another chance then maybe for Haller to prove that indeed he is a good player who knows where the opposing goal is…even if he doesn’t play for the Ivory Coast national side…COYI!!!


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