RBM: First off, how are the Hammers and their supporters feeling at this point in the season; the team has looked stronger than last year at times, but still some inconsistency, no?
DC: I think it’s been a very good start, although the last couple of matches (Aston Villa and Olympiacos) have seen performances dip a little. Declan Rice has been replaced by two excellent midfielders in Edson Alvarez and James Ward-Prowse – Alvarez sits in midfield and has a good defensive brain, while Ward-Prowse has settled in seamlessly and clocked up goals and assists already. He’s a player I’ve admired for a few years and I was delighted when we brought him in. Before last weekend’s loss to Villa, we’d only been beaten by Man City and Liverpool, which there is no shame in, and we’d looked good against both for some parts of those games. The last two games have seen things dip a little, though, and a positive result today would be welcome to avoid any potential rot setting in.
RBM: How has West Ham reacted to winning a European trophy and selling Declan Rice to Arsenal? How is David Moyes holding up with his new acquisitions and old hats?
DC: Prague was an amazing experience. There must have been over 40,000 West Ham supporters in the city, we had our own fan park and I was lucky enough to be in the stadium to experience events firsthand, having accrued enough priority points from away matches (it made getting in at 3am from a late kick-off at Newcastle, for example, more than worthwhile!). It had been 43 years without a major trophy, more than my lifetime, so to finally see us lift some silverware, and with a last-minute winner too, was just fantastic. The club has been on a high and we’ve taken that into this season.
Losing Declan Rice was obviously a blow but was nonetheless expected. He’d given us a year or two more than some of our other successful Academy products who had left in around 2001-04 and led us to a trophy, we couldn’t have asked for much more. Declan was brilliant for us but I’d like to think that, considering we took him on after he was rejected by Chelsea, that West Ham United were also brilliant for Declan Rice.
I’ve already mentioned Alvarez and Ward-Prowse and the impressive starts they’ve made. Mo Kudus looks a real prospect, very skilful and direct, but is being slowly introduced to the side – we need to find a way of hastening that over the coming matches. Dinos Mavropanos is a former Arsenal centre-half who I’m not sure we really needed, considering we now have five centre-halves in the squad. I would rather have seen us sign a much-needed centre-forward.
As for the ‘old hats’, Areola has taken over from Fabianski in goal – he’s made some tremendous saves but I’m not sure the defence are as secure with him in goal. One clean sheet in ten for him this season in all competitions is a worry, considering Fabianski kept nine clean sheets in 36 league games last season in an underperforming team. Vladimir Coufal has made a very good start to the season, as has Emerson at left-back, although the latter is unfortunately suspended today. Paqueta continues to improve and develop after a slow-ishstart last season, he’s brilliant in tight situations, and Jarrod Bowen is on fire at the start of this season and thoroughly deserved his England recall (not sure how both Phillips and Henderson got in ahead of Ward-Prowse though).
RBM: What is this team doing well this year when they’re at their best, and what are they doing poorly at their worst?
DC: At our best, we counter-attack purposefully and clinically, as evidenced particularly at Brighton where we won 3-1. We also pose an imposing threat from set-pieces with Zouma, Aguerd and Soucek all vying to get on the end of Ward-Prowse deliveries. At our worst, we make poor decisions when in good positions going forward and, on occasion, there can be a lack of clear communication between Areola and his center-halves.
RBM: What are the expectations for West Ham this season after the inconsistent success of last season?
DC: Progression. Matching our Europa League semi-final of two seasons ago will be a real challenge, especially when the third-place Champions League teams drop in after Christmas. I think we’d expect a mid-table finish of around 8th-12th, which would represent progress from 14th last season. I would really like to see us go far in the domestic cups this season though and have a run in the League Cup and/or FA Cup. Two top-seven finishes and a European trophy have been brilliant from Moyes – a trip to Wembley would be next on the wish list!
RBM: Should this side be in the mood to spend more in January, what and who might they be looking for?
DC: We simply have to bring in a striker. It was negligent, really, to allow Gianluca Scamacca (a player who showed great promise in his time with us but was hampered by a serious knee injury) to leave without having a replacement lined up. We are now having to rely on an ageing Michail Antonio who should, by now, be a squad option at best – he seems more interested in making controversial, unsettling comments on his podcast these days. Our only other options are Danny Ings, who can’t play as a lone striker, and 19-year-old Divin Mubama, who has great promise but is unproven. Antonio is our only viable option and we really shouldn’t be in that position – we must sign a striker in January if the season is to be a successful one.
RBM: Who can you see giving Everton some trouble on Sunday in London, and how might the Hammers line up against Everton as the Toffees travel down to London?
DC: Ward-Prowse and the big guns at set-pieces, if they can keep away from Tarkowski! Moyes’ league XI currently picks itself (rightly or wrongly), with the exception of Emerson, who is suspended today – Aaron Cresswell or Ben Johnson will deputize, although both have had injury issues recently.
Areola; Coufal, Zouma, Aguerd, Cresswell; Soucek, Alvarez; Bowen, Ward-Prowse, Paqueta; Antonio.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s match?
DC: I’ll go for a 3-2 West Ham win. Everton seems to be improving and our squad only landed back from Greece in the early hours of Friday so recovery time has been limited. After years of the Toffees being our undoubted bogey side, we have improved our fortunes in our meetings in recent years – I think the Hammers will edge a tight encounter. I wish Everton and your supporters all the best for the season, after today’s game of course!
Our thanks to Dan for his time.