…because we are about to enter the Danger Zone.
Fresh off the back of a fantastic 4-1 win against Southampton, the coming weeks look to be a much sterner test for West Ham than the start to this season has proved so far.
After Wigan away this coming weekend, West Ham play Man City (H), Newcastle (A), Stoke (H), Spurs (A), Man Utd (A), Chelsea (H), Liverpool (H), West Brom (A), Everton (H), and Arsenal (A).
It’s certainly a tough string of games, but there are points to be had. What is absolutely vital is that we take points off the teams that we should, starting with Wigan this weekend.
Wigan have begun the season in typical slow fashion. Sitting 16th in the table, and owners of a -7 goal difference, the Latics are coming off a 2-1 loss away at Swansea. But being a Roberto Martinez team, they are well-coached and like to play a pressing, passing intensive game, a bit like what we just faced against Southampton but with more experience and quality in the squad.
Wigan’s Kone has been a real bright spot for the club, scoring three and creating two goals in eight matches. Kone looks to be a real threat and we’ll have to keep him quiet if we are to have a decent chance this weekend.
The thing that has always plagued Wigan is a porous defense, and they’ve shown very little evidence of that changing any time soon. The likelihood is that Wigan will score, as games between West Ham and Wigan have been dramatic goalfests in the past few meetings.
Wigan also like to keep the ball and retain possession, but what West Ham has proved this year if anything is that it’s not how much of the ball you have, but what you do with the ball. We are simply going to have to limit their clear-cut chances, break up their passing to throw off their rhythm, and hit them on the break.
I have no doubt that West Ham can score, and score often. Andy Carroll is causing so many problems for opposing defenses, Kevin Nolan is always in the right spot and our midfield has been completely bossing games, if not in terms of possession just in terms of grit, determination, and creating chances.
Yossi Benayoun has finally gotten the start he so desperately wanted and honestly put in just the performance that, if he can build on it, could take the position away from the injured Vaz Te. Yossi was extremely impressive against Southampton, and his assist was that of a truly experienced player.
Noble, again, was immense, and not because of his goals (his set pieces have been fantastic all year). He has shielded the back-four so well this season, and that tackle he had to break up one of the Saints’ attacks was exquisite. Noble went 38/46 passing (83%, lower than normal), while going 15/20 in the attacking third. Despite what some people claim, only 10 were backwards (10/10) and four square (4/4). He was 24/32 going forward, with five of those being long balls (1/5). He had three interceptions (most of the Southampton match). Quite simply, Mark Noble is West Ham’s engine room.
Anyhow, enough about my love for Mark Noble. Shut up. No homo. What I am driving at is that West Ham has the means to win this game on Saturday, and they have extra motivation considering that the schedule is about to get much more difficult.
Back to back wins would be a great boost in momentum before these hellish two months. West Ham can win this game, and it could be argued that they should. We are in form, have only failed to score twice (no Andy Carroll in either), and have kept 3 clean sheets this season.
I think we’ll be favored to win, and we all know our traveling fans will outsing the home support. It’s up to the players to execute this Saturday and I have faith that they will.
But after the Wigan match, West Ham are in for a brutal stretch of the schedule that will take extreme preparation, execution, and lack of injuries to get through with a decent amount of points. Now, there isn’t anything saying we can’t take points from the big boys and surprise a few people.
Some of the big clubs (Chelsea, Man City) play too narrow, and struggle to break sides down some times. Still, there’s too much quality in both of those squads and it’s almost impossible to hope for a clean sheet. Man Utd have an awful defensive record so far, but they simply outscore their opponents.
The emphasis can’t be on taking on the big clubs (though I’d love to take a few scalps!!). What must happen in a stretch like this is the team must be efficient in taking points off of clubs they simply should be. That’s Newcastle (A), Stoke (H), West Brom (A), Everton (H), and Liverpool (H). These are all tough but ultimately winnable games. A draw against Newcastle and West Brom (both away) would be terrific results. The games at home against Liverpool, Everton, and Stoke are certainly winnable, and it’s paramount we win one or two of these home games, because the games against the top clubs are simply too tough to realistically expect much.
I am not saying we can’t compete and even surprise some folks, but we cannot look to these games as a reliable way of picking up points. That said, I can see a point from Spurs and maybe Chelsea or Man Utd. Seriously, the match ups position-wise make it possible. But those games against Liverpool, West Brom, Newcastle, Stoke, and Everton are vital.
Multiple wins are needed and a few draws wouldn’t be too bad, either. On the other side of this gauntlet, beginning on the 29th of December, we face Reading, followed by a nice run against some really struggling teams. But it is imperative that we maintain momentum (and gain some more against Wigan this weekend).
There are winnable games, and those should be our primary concern. There’s no shame losing to this Chelsea side, or any of the other top sides, but we can take points off a few of ’em (I’m looking at you, Spurs). I have every faith that this squad can take a good haul of points over the coming 2 months, regardless of how rough it looks potentially. And who knows, with a little luck, we may well surprise a few people while we’re at it.
Keep the faith. Chins up. Chests out. Come on you Irons.
**Stats powered by Opta, via the marvelous FourFourTwo app on iPhone