Royal Blue Mersey had the pleasure of chatting with Stuart from Iron Views, a hugely popular and widely followed West Ham United blog. This is what he had to say ahead of his side's trip to Everton this weekend.
RBM - This season is one of parity in the Premier League. What were your expectations going into the season, and how have they changed now?
Going into the season, I thought we'd be nailed on Top 10 - I haste to add that's not being arrogant, it was just in regards to our acquisitions over the Summer (even before adding Alex Song late on).
I didn't want to get carried away after a few games of us playing well, but being fourth after 11 games is an indication of how well we've started. Especially when you consider the only game we deserved to lose was against Southampton. Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Hull City and Aston Villa got lucky in different circumstances.
I doubt we'll finish near where we are right now, but I do hope that us and some other clubs can take advantage of the way this season is panning out. Southampton seem the most realistic candidate, but the more that break into the top six this season the more it'll release the grip the 'big boys' have over the league. That, can only be good for the whole league, right?
RBM - Sam Allardyce is in his fourth season at the Hammers. How do the fans feel about him now, given that he's had some previous controversy about playing "attractive football"?
I recently wrote an article accounting for his time with us thus far. The Championship I don't scrutinise too much as we just needed to get back into the Premier League at the first try. He did that, job done. First season back - just keep us up, anything else is a bonus. Job done, again. The second season was the one where he let himself, the board and the fans down. Everything was worse, partly down to a truly horrific window in which we didn't cover for the long-term-injured Andy Carroll.
Even now there's some who don't want him past this season regardless of how well we do. That, is his own fault in part - but also the ignorance of some fans.
The football itself has evolved from the quality of players brought into a decent squad. The thing which has seen us be even more expansive though was the Hull game. We had set up with three up top, expecting Hull to play a back three as they'd been doing regularly at that point. They changed it at the last minute - so Sam decided to switch the formation to a midfield Diamond. We've used the same formation since, and it has worked tremendously on the whole.
RBM - West Ham has long been known as 'The Academy of Football'. What does the youth setup look like? Are there any players that will be breaking into the senior side soon?
It's in a strange state at the moment. Recently our Development coach has left, if rumours are to be believed, on quite bad terms. The legend that is Tony Carr has been given more of a back-set role in the Academy now (considering his age, it was to be expected sooner or later) and replaced him with a new Head of Academy. If he can replicate half the good work that Tony Carr has done, things will be fine.
There are a lot of very talented youngsters at the moment, a lot of whom are playing in the age bracket above them too (U18's in the U21's, etc) so that bodes well in that respect. As we speak our U21's have beaten PSV in the Youth International Cup. With a 15yo captaining the side (see below) it shows how well we're doing in that respect.
The most prominent of which have been on the bench already this season/been courted quite publicly by Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. Reece Oxford, 15, has already been dubbed the next Rio from the Academy. We have high hopes he'll sign a professional contract but as he isn't on one he can move for less than a bag of peanuts. A bit older and more likely to break through soon we have another young CB in Reece Burke, and young natural-goalscorer Elliot Lee (Son of Rob Lee) who have both been on the subs bench this season.
It gets progressively harder for young players to break through regardless of what club they're at though, something which hopefully can be lessened by the breaking up of the top four/six this season.
RBM - Who would you say are the best players on the squad so far? Are you expecting lots of activity in the January transfer window?
Stewart Downing has been a revelation since being moved inside to the tip of the diamond this season. Diafra Sakho was immense to come from being 'that random guy who scored goals in Ligue 2' to scoring in his first consecutive 6 games for the Club. Song has a way of swaggering about the pitch and making everything look ten times easier than it should be.
All of those are 'obvious' answers though, whilst they've all been outstanding, I would have to go with Aaron Cresswell. He joined after being voted into the PFA Championship Team of the Year, on a small fee and with huge potential. He has made the old cliche of finding the transition to the Premier League look utter tosh! On current form, he has made the fee Manchester United paid for Luke Shaw look even stupider than it already looked.
RBM - The Irons have been pretty good at home, but a middling side when not playing at Upton Park. What changes when they are away?
Funnily enough, we're statistically better Away, having only lost once Away rather than twice at Home. That loss away from Upton Park was also the game we should have at least drawn at Old Trafford!
Our possession is 50% Away, rather than 45% at Home. We rack up more shots on target Away, and we concede more shots on target at Home. It's a peculiar one, as each season we switch from being better Away to better at Home, this season we seem to have a good medium between the two.
RBM - Finally, a score prediction from you for Saturday? Which players (on either side) do you think will have a good game?
I'd love a win, especially after such a long international break, but you're somewhat a bogey team, especially at Goodison, for us.
I do though, feel we could get a win - but I think it'll ultimately be a score draw at best for us.
For you, Leighton Baines is always a dead cert to score against us. I don't think I've ever seen one player score two free-kicks like that in one game. Unbelievable! Others for you who could trouble us are Steven Naismith as he has been in brilliant form this season, Leon Osman who also loves a goal against us and Romelu Lukaku is always a handful regardless of his form.
For us, Song will be important for us to get anything from the game. I have a feeling Enner Valencia will have a big game in him. Carroll from the bench (as shown vs Villa) could prove critical to swing the game if needs be.
Our thanks to Stuart again for taking the time to speak with us, here's looking forward to a great game on Saturday.