The HamburgHammer Column

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.