Two teams in relegation territory—a draw almost feels like a loss—while a loss would feel like another big blow to David Moyes, Frank Lampard, and both sets of squads. A win, meanwhile, would be massive with how congested the bottom of the Premier League currently is.
As has been witnessed regarding Wolves, from this position, it takes but a victory or two before you have made your way substantially up the table. Both the Toffees and Hammers will be looking at their respective positions through that lens when the Blues take on the east Londoners in their neck of the woods.
RBM: First off, it must be said that no one saw West Ham in this position at this point in the season when the season began; what are the feelings around the supporters, players, the practice ground and the pitch at this point in mid-January?
DC: Personally, I thought we’d dip to around mid-table (12thwas my pre-season prediction) as there was a lot of overhaul last summer – I don’t think Moyes is the type of manager who wants to bring in lots of players all at the same time unless he has to, and we did have to replace a lot of outgoing players last summer. However, I don’t think any of us thought we’d be in the position we currently are, although I do think we will get out of it.
I think the supporters are divided on where we should go next. Many point the finger at the manager, but there are a number of reasons why we are where we are and also plenty of reasons to be hopeful with only two points separating the bottom seven. We have a number of key players currently out of form – Soucek, Bowen and Antonio have not been producing what they have been in recent seasons but there is no lack of effort, just a lack of quality at times in the final third. Defensively, we’ve generally been as good as we have been in the last two years or so.
RBM: What can explain the remarkable turn that has seen West Ham go from a European competition contending side to one that is currently fighting for its Premier League life amongst the bottom-dwelling sides of this year?
DC: The large turnover of players, and integrating them all. The switch from being a counter-attacking side to one which has had to adapt as teams get wise to that and start to sit deeper. And the fact that, of the players we did sign, many do not improve our starting XI – Areola, Kehrer, Emerson and Downes are not significant upgrades on what we already had, whilst Aguerd and Cornet have spent a lot of the season out injured. Scamacca has shown great promise but has also suffered from niggly injuries and Paqueta is still adapting to the demands of the Premier League.
I’d rather have seen us sign fewer players but significantly upgrade. The need for a possession-based central midfielder has been clear but we didn’t sign one – Moyes wanted Onana but he obviously went to Goodison. I wanted us to take a punt on Andreas Pereira from Man Utd – he’s now having a very decent season at Fulham and cost £2m less than Downes.
So the number of signings, and the quality of them, has affected us, along with too many players suffering dips in form and fine margins – we came close to picking up points at Anfield and Old Trafford, and VAR conned us out of one at Stamford Bridge. Hopefully the signing of Ings will help us in the final third and give the team a bit of confidence.
RBM: What does this side do well when it’s healthy and actually clicking on all cylinders under David Moyes, and why hasn’t it been able to do so too often this campaign?
DC: When we go ahead in games, we can play our counter-attacking game of the last couple of seasons. When we fall behind in games and teams can protect a lead, we struggle to break them down. We have four league wins this season and we scored the first goal in three of those. Set-piece success has also been key to our rise over the last couple of seasons, and the fact we’re not as effective from those now is contributing to our fall.
RBM: Having invested in the club across the last several transfer windows, what will the side do with Declan Rice and any other player who might be looking to jump ship this winter or summer? Will the team look to buy to sturdy themselves and risk exits later or will it be a mixed strategy of sales and purchases—if anything is done at all of course?
DC: I thought, after the expenditure of the summer, that we might make a couple of loan signings in this January window so have been pleasantly surprised to see Ings join on a permanent deal. Dawson is on his way out due to becoming unsettled and we’ve done well to keep him to a point where he won’t be able to help Wolves until February. I don’t see any more outgoings, unless we get another striker in and decide to offload Antonio, who hasn’t been the same player since he became distracted by his podcast. Perhaps a defender on loan may be added (Wan-Bissaka and Maguire have been mentioned from Man Utd). As for the summer, Declan will go and should depart with our best wishes after great service, whichever club he ends up at next. A replacement will be needed.
RBM: Is David Moyes in real danger of losing his position so quickly after having looked to have found a real home in east London?
DC: I hope not. We were once famous for only having had eight managers in the first 100 years of our existence. Moyes has done great things with us over the last couple of seasons, and I’m fed up of changing manager every two or three years. We need stability and a long-term approach and I am backing Moyes to still be the man to give us that. Moyes had a dip in one of his early seasons at Everton when the Toffees finished 17th but went on to have even greater success after that dip. The further worry is who the club will appoint if they did dispense with him – we are fine defensively so bringing in a Dyche or a Benitez is not going to drastically change our fortunes while a Bielsa type would not be able to stamp a mark on the team in such a short space of time. I’d stick with Moyes personally but he could be in trouble if Saturday doesn’t go well.
RBM: Who can you see giving Everton some trouble on Saturday at Goodison, and how might the Hammers line up against Everton as the Toffees travel down to London?
Said Benrahma, if he starts. And Danny Ings, if he starts! If neither does start, they should at least give us a lift from the bench if the game is tight but I really do think a strong start is important for the atmosphere on Saturday – I’d start both.
Difficult to know how we’ll line up. Could be a back three or a back four. Fabianski will probably be in goal and hopefully former Toffee Kurt Zouma will be fit enough to partner Aguerd in central defence. Probably a midfield three of Soucek, Paqueta and Rice and hopefully a front three of Bowen, Ings and Benrahma. I’d personally like to see Fornals in there somewhere, I think he could link up well with Ings.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
1-0 to West Ham. Tight and scrappy but a much-needed three points.
Our thanks to Dan for his time.