Everton host West Ham United tomorrow at Goodison Park. We spoke to our fellow SB Nation blog, and the newest site in the Premier League family, Brace The Hammer about how things have been going for the Irons this season.
A big thanks to Charlie over at Brace The Hammer for talking to us - go over and check out the interview we did there too.
RBM - Have West Ham finally turned the corner after that horrendous start to the season?
BTH - It certainly feels that way. We’re on a 3 game winning streak and our performance against Chelsea at The London Stadium midweek was our best of the season by a long way. We contained them very well and looked dangerous every time we went forward. Simply put, we outplayed them and deserved the win.
Defense has been our biggest problem since Bilic took over but the change to 3 CBs has worked wonders for us. I’m a huge fan of the Reid/Ogbonna pairing and Cheik Kouyate has been very strong since moving back into his original position of CB. Against a very deep sitting Sunderland, we struggled going forward but that isn’t the norm for us. We have a plethora of attacking options and our current formation allows for both Payet and Lanzini to drift around behind the striker, causing havoc wherever they roam.
RBM - Is Slaven Bilic still the right man to take this West Ham squad forward?
BTH - I think there are very few West Ham fans who don’t want Slav to be the guy to take us forward. That being said, he certainly has his faults and isn’t beyond criticism. His persistent playing of Michail Antonio at RB last season was a major point of contention for most. Some of his tactical decisions, mainly substitutions, have also come under fire. However for a team in our position, I believe he’s the best candidate. He’s honest and understands the fans and what they want from the team, a breath of fresh air relative to those who came before him.
RBM - For you as a fan, what at the end of the season would you call a successful year?
BTH - At the start of the season, I wanted to get to the Group Stages of the Europa League and finish somewhere between 7th and 10th in the League. Obviously one of those didn’t exactly pan out but the league position is still achievable. A win on Sunday would go a long way towards that, putting us in 10th while only 2 points behind yourselves. We have a very deep squad built so a run in either of the domestic cups isn’t beyond us either.
However, a Top 10 finish should be the aim given our horrendous start to the season.
RBM - The January transfer window is coming up - what are the Hammers biggest needs?
BTH - During the summer we built a team big enough to compete in both the Premier League and Europa League simultaneously. Given this, we have a VERY deep squad with at least 2 players in every position. I’m personally of the opinion that we actually don’t need to add in January. We’re still figuring out what our best system and who our best players actually are.
A constant point of debate among fans is who should start up front and whether a “20 goal a season” forward is needed. However with Zaza, Carroll, Ayew, Sakho, Antonio, Calleri and Fletcher already playing in this position, I don’t see the board signing off on a move for another unless there is a flood of departures or a player of significant quality becomes available.
Last year we only brought in Sam Byram when an Everton deal for him forced our board’s hand. We saved the rest of our budget for players who were running down their contracts in Europe. This will almost certainly be the case again and I expect us to a have a quiet January.
RBM - How is the youth pipeline at Chadwick Heath looking? Any players breaking into the senior squad?
BTH - For years, instability at our club and having youth-adverse managers like Sam Allardyce meant we had a lost generation. Players like Junior Stanislas and Sebastian Lletget failed to gain significant enough game time to actually grow and break into the first team. In Slav we now have a manager who has brought through players like Luka Modric.
In terms of our current youth teams the obvious name to bring up is Reece Oxford, the centre back who kept Arsenal’s considerable midfield talent quiet while playing out of position on the opening day of last season. We do however have another CB of the same name who looks just as promising. Reece Burke made his Premier League debut 2 seasons ago and spent the last campaign on loan with Bradford, winning 7 categories at their end of year awards including Player Of The Season.
We’ve also recently raided other academies, bringing in hugely promising names such as Martin Samuelsen from Manchester City, Toni Martinez from Valencia and Domingos Quina from Chelsea. Other home grown names to keep an eye out for are attacking midfielder Marcus Browne and the Scott Parker-esqe Josh Cullen.*NOTE FOR WRITER: The academy used to be based at Chadwell Heath but recently moved to Rush Green*
RBM - The irrational fan violence aside, what has the experience at the Olympic Stadium been like?
BTH - Surreal. I’ve been to The London Stadium several times now and it still hasn’t quite sunk in that it’s our new home. Upton Park was cramped and grittily real to a fault. The Olympic Park is absolutely massive and corporately clean. Walking to the ground past other Olympic venues with 60,000 other people is almost awe-inspiring in its scale.
Inside is just as unreal. A lot has been made of the distance between the fans in attendance and the players themselves. There is no getting away from just how far away you are but the sightlines themselves are fantastic. No matter where I’ve sat, I’ve been able to see every single inch of the pitch.
There are however A LOT of kinks to work out, especially in the security and stewardship department. The violence and crowd troubles have been somewhat overblown by the media but they just aren’t acceptable and shouldn’t be allowed to occur. Unfortunately due to West Ham only renting the stadium itself, they aren’t in charge of this but hopefully the Chelsea match and it’s media coverage has served as a wake up call to the operators of the stadium.
RBM - In lieu of the customary prediction question, tell us who you think your Hammers and Toffees MOTMs will be.
BTH - As I said on Brace The Hammer’s Predictions Podcast, there are 3 certainties in life. Death, Taxes and Lukaku scoring against West Ham. It is inevitable that he will score against us. He always does, he always will.
Aaron Cresswell will be back from his suspension and it cannot be understated just how good he is. Very good going forward with a fantastic cross, great at the back, I personally believe he is the best LB in the league. He was excellent against Palace before being unjustly sent off and I’m backing him to be just as devastatingly influential on Sunday.