While there was no Premier League action last week, everyone turned their eyes nearly immediately from those postponed matches to the next ones on the calendar. For Everton, that meant training and preparing for former manager David Moyes and his West Ham side traveling up north to play a bit of Sunday football.
While the Blues have come out and drawn tough matches while showing tough character, West Ham look overwhelmed and frustrated thus far. Everyone knows this team has more to offer than their results would indicate, and Moyes - much admired for his work on Merseyside - will have to figure out how to turn that around while Frank Lampard stands just meters away from him, trying to keep the frustration going on at least another week.
RBM: Firstly, coming off of the Queen-related match postponements, West Ham will have to look better than they have so far this campaign; they haven’t looked great, but it’s still quite early yet of course. What are the feelings around the supporters, players, and the practice ground about now?
DC: I think it’s been a difficult start. Moyes wants to evolve the way we play as teams have sussed out our counter-attacking threat and we struggle to break down teams who sit deep. Moyes has recognised this and brought in the likes of Paqueta and Scamacca to give us different options. We didn’t get our transfer business done early enough though, and really could have done with a pre-season to embed this new, adapted style. It’s affected our start to the season although we should have beaten Tottenham and got at least a draw at Chelsea. In summary, it’s been a frustrating start but we are a bit of a work in progress at present.
RBM: Last year, around this time and for another several months, no one could stop marveling at Michail Antonio and what he was doing in front of goal, but that spark or magic has been gone for quite some time at this point; what has gone off the rails for him, and perhaps this entire David Moyes attacking structure?
DC: Antonio was flogged to death last season as he was our only striker. He needs regular breaks to get the best out of him and last season was relentless, for him in particular, but also Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice who played the vast majority of our games too. We started brilliantly last season but an injury to the brilliant Angelo Ogbonna derailed us a bit and teams also started sitting deeper against us. With the opportunity to now rest and rotate Antonio, we will hopefully start to see him back to his best when he does play.
RBM: The Hammers haven’t been shy about spending recently either - few Premier League outfits can say they have been - but would you be so kind as to give Toffee supporters a bit of insight regarding who was bought, who was sold, and what type of team is in the process of being assembled?
DC: Alphonse Areola signed a permanent deal after being on loan with us last season. He remains back-up to Lukasz Fabianski, which begs the question why did we not sign someone who is an improvement on our Polish international, especially considering his age. Nayef Aguerd is apparently a good, ball-playing centre-half but he got injured in a pre-season friendly at Rangers so is yet to be tested in the Premier League – he is expected back next month. We had a bit of a centre-half injury crisis at the start of the season so Thilo Kehrer was brought in from PSG – he’s a current German international and has made a generally very decent start, looking composed at the back. Emerson was brought in from Chelsea – good pedigree internationally with Italy but fourth-choice left-back at Stamford Bridge raises some eyebrows so the jury is still out.
Flynn Downes, a boyhood West Ham supporter, was brought in from Swansea but is very much a back-up to the tried, tested and trusted Soucek and Rice axis. Lucas Paqueta is a hugely exciting signing – bigger clubs were apparently after him but we managed to get a club-record deal done. He has the Brazilian flair but also seems to have the discipline Moyes requires in his players – he should fit in well. Maxwel Cornet had a good season at Burnley last season and has been very impressive when he’s appeared for us in Europe, and at Chelsea as a substitute. He’s direct and gets into good positions.
Gianluca Scamacca is a player who I’ve been really keen for us to sign for almost two years, as any West Ham Till I Die reader will tell you! I’ve just thought he would suit our style really well and I’m delighted we got that deal over the line. He may need some time to settle in but has looked excellent in our European games so far.
In terms of exits, Mark Noble’s nous will be missed on and off the pitch. No tears were shed over the departures of Ryan Fredericks, Issa Diop, Arthur Masuaku and Andriy Yamolenko though. The decision to loan former Toffee Nikola Vlasic to Torino was a surprise, considering the number of games we hope to play this year.
RBM: Surely, even with a rough start to the year, there are higher expectations for this team than perhaps in seasons past?
DC: Yes and no. In recent seasons, Arsenal, Tottenham and Man Utd haven’t really been at the races – all three are looking much improved so far so the top six looks all but sewn up. That’s been our aim for the last two years but looks tougher this time around. Newcastle have spent big and will be looking for that seventh spot too, while Brighton have started well. I think this season is one of transition for us – as you will know, Moyes had a season or two when he dipped at Everton but recovered in following seasons. This could be a dip year for us but we’ve been crying out for managerial stability for more than a decade so we need to have patience and think of the longer term.
RBM: Who can you see giving Everton some trouble on Sunday at Goodison, and how might the Hammers lineup against Everton on this trip up north?
DC: I’d like to see Cornet start after his involvement in two goals on Thursday at Silkeborg, as well as his impressive cameo at Chelsea when he was only denied an equaliser by a ludicrous VAR decision. Moyes may well go with Pablo Fornals though, who rarely lets him down. Fabianski, Coufal, Kehrer, Soucek, Rice, Bowen and Paqueta are pretty much nailed-on starters – there could be a decision to be made between Dawson and Zouma, while Emerson and Cresswell will compete for the left-back position. Antonio is probably likely to start ahead of Scamacca.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s affair?
DC: Games between the two sides have been tight in recent years. I think both sides will cancel each other out in a 0-0 draw.
Our thanks to Dan for his time.