Opposition Q & A

This weekend West Ham return to the London Stadium, where we entertain our South London neighbours Crystal Palace. Ahead of the game I spoke to Jay Crame of The Eagles Beak blog to discuss the game and the season.
Hi Jay, after such a strong start to the season, including beating Manchester United away, you must be hoping that you will not have to suffer the worries of a relegation battle this season?*
Let’s not speak too soon eh? In all seriousness, it makes a change to start the season with a bit of form even if the points have not come as we would have expected. As a football fan, we kind of get used to that but as notoriously slow starters, and after a difficult summer transfer window, it is nice to have double figure points after just seven games. It is something to build on rather than to start panicking about picking up points. It’s all about getting to the 40 point barrier, or securing 10 wins and seeing at what stage of the season that is before you start looking ahead any further.

Roy Hodgson seems to have brought a bit of stability to the club, but are Crystal Palace fans totally behind him? How long can Roy keep going for, he makes our own 66 year old Manuel Pelligrini seem like a spring chicken?
There still seems to be some mixed emotions when it comes to Roy but for the most part, the fans are behind him. Personally, I he has brought stability to the club at a stage when it was much needed after Pulis, Pardew and Allardyce and de Boer (remember him?). He has been a perfect fit and most fans believed he would return to Croydon at some point. He is a hugely experienced and talented coach and we knew he could do a job after seeing what he did at Fulham and West Brom (not so much with Liverpool and England!). It will be interesting to see how much longer he can go on but I fully expect him to take a higher role at the club at some point, maybe one more season after this one but then you question who would we want to come in – let’s have more of this stability first before we start thinking about that!

Talking of Manuel Pelligrini, how do you rate the job he is doing at West Ham?
He has really steadied the ship after what has been a volatile period for the club what with the upheaval of the move to the London Stadium and everything that brought with it. There has been some sensible recruitment in areas that were needed but there is a sense that it remains a work in progress as there seem to be some short term solutions rather than longer term ones but it is coming along, particularly from the outside looking in this season.

And to continue the manager theme: we’ve both had Big Sam (BFS) and Alan Pardew as our mangers. (I suppose the biggest surprise is that you never had Harry Rednapp in charge!) How do you compare the job that both of those guys did for you?
We could still have Harry Redknapp to pretty much complete the set of old school managers that have taken charge at Selhurst Park! Those two had very different roles in terms of aims while at the club and they are completely different managers. Pardew was always given more time than most after his playing days at the club but his time in charge has tainted that somewhat. Having said that, he did take us to an FA Cup final and very almost carried it off and I will always be thankful for that. As for Big Sam, I enjoyed his tenure as he joined us at a very difficult time and did the job he was asked. I was fully expecting a full season out of him after that but he walked away which was a shame but after the England debacle, we did him a favour with a route back into the game and he did us a favour by keeping us up. It was probably never destined to be anything different.

Separated by one point, towards the top end of the table, we have both had better starts than we usually accomplish, is this a sign of the times or just a temporary blip at the start of the season? Where are you hoping Crystal Palace will finish up at the end of the season? And where do you think West Ham will finish?
We will probably not be too different come the end of the season, the two squads are very similar while the managers are wiley old foxes! It has been a very good start for us considering what we are normally used to but it must be something to build on to push for a good finish. It is early days of course and anything can happen, but there is hope after a difficult summer. West Ham have a real chance of finishing in the top ten this season which I hope Palace can strive to achieve as well.

You might as well give us your predictions for the top four come May: can another team shift one of the usual top six this year?
It would be great to see a side sneak up and take one of the top four spots and I would say that Brendan Rogers is doing a great job at Leicester at the moment and they could be that team. Having said that, I think City will pip Liverpool again and be some way from the third placed team who I think will be Arsenal with Chelsea fourth as I believe Spurs and United will have tough seasons.

Early days yet, but who do you think will go down?
The quality in the Premier League is slightly better than last season and it could be tight at the bottom end but I will name Norwich City, Newcastle United and Brighton as the sides we will say goodbye to.

What is the Wilfred Zaha situation: how do you reconcile the fact he has asked to leave again, with him continuing to play? It’s not exactly the same situation that West Ham found themselves in with Dmitri Payet and Marko Arnautovic, but never a easy situation to deal with?

Wilf was going to leave at some point, most of us thought it would be a couple of summers ago but here we are, in the 2019/20 season with him still wearing our number eleven shirt. We are not kidding ourselves, we will not be here next season so we will enjoy every second he plays for us but he has to prove he is worth a club shelling out the money we want for him and that can only be a good thing for Palace. There was a concern about his mindset by the time the season started and while he has been a slow burner after returning from the AFCON late he was excellent against Wolves and last weekend played his best game of the season. He loves the club, the fans love him in return, but he has to challenge himself at the very highest level and while it will be wrench to see him go, it will be with our best wishes.

How about Christian Benteke, he seemed such a strong player whilst at Villa, will he ever come good again?
It is easy to forget he scored 15+ goals for us in his first season and was that striker we had been searching for. Since then he has struggled and a shadow of his former self. He had been carrying an injury which he had sorted and looked strong and lively on his return but his luck in front of goal has been horrendous. His confidence is through the floor, the chance he had against Wolves to seal all three points just proves the point, he did everything right and the ball still would not hit the back of the net. Many are willing him on at every opportunity but it is getting to the point where we have to consider our options as it cannot go on.

Which, if any, West Ham players would you like to join your other ex-Hammers in Cheikhou Kouyaté and James Tomkins? And if any why?
That’s enough, thanks! Seriously though, with our problems up front I like what Haller has done for you so far. Not blazing a trail or anything but showing enough to suggest he could be the man to get you 15+ goals a season which will prove the money was worth spending. It’s not just goal scoring, it is all round game from what I have seen so far and in his time at Frankfurt.

What is the latest news of the development of Selhurst Park?
It has gone fairly quiet but they are exciting times as the ground is in desperate need of a makeover, as us Palace fans can all testify, almost as much as the away fans that visit us. Anyway, visiting teams and fans should not be made to feel comfortable at opposition grounds, right? Or is that too old school? It is an old school ground that has been dragged kicking and screaming into this day and age but it is not wearing well so the sooner the main stand gets its makeover the better. It will really give us something of a legacy from our time in the Premier League which has hit its’ 7th consecutive season, a club record.

Have you paid a trip to the London Stadium yet, and if so what is your take on it?
Yes, for the Foo Fighters, so not for football. It is difficult for me to pass judgement having not been there for a game but it looks to lack something when watching a live game on television let alone being there. I’ve heard plenty of less than complimentary views from fellow Palace fans from our visits there which probably says a lot. Nice venue, just not for football.

Any fond memories of West Ham/Palace games of the past?
Play Off Final at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Neil Shipperley’s shin and we’re back in the big time! (Sorry, not sorry!)

Yes that was a terrible day! How will Crystal Palace line us against us this weekend? Team/formation?
Not too much different than from recent games but Luka Milivojevic is suspended after reaching five bookings.
Guita – Ward, Kelly, Cahill, van Aanholt – Schlupp, Kouyate, McArthur, McCarthy, Zaha – Ayew

Are you feeling confident for this game? Prediction for result?
With the injury to Fabianski being a big blow, I fancy Palace to take at least a point (1-1)

Many thanks to Jay for his time. I am of course duty bound to disagree with his prediction: I think we are due a productive game for both Sebastien Haller and Felipe Anderson, and think we could serve up a 3 – 1 beating. COYI

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