A Drop of Claret and Blue - An Introduction To West Ham

August 17, 2012 in Features, Premier League

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Ah. It feels good to sit down and type a West Ham related article now that we’re back in the Premier League.

It’s something I haven’t been able to do since May 2011, when defeat to Wigan confirmed our relegation to the Championship. The final game of the season was a mere formality, really; we ran out comfortable 3-0 losers against Sunderland, and I lost the urge to write about my beloved football team.

However, I was coaxed out of retirement, so to speak, during the recent Championship campaign, contributing two articles to Ballsy Banter in the form of Fact and Fiction, which expressed my disappointment despite West Ham’s unbeaten streak towards the end of the season, and Reunions, a build-up to the Play-Off Final at Wembley. I have to admit, it felt good. But it feels a lot better now that we’re back where we belong, amongst the Premier League elite. And I’m committed to expressing my views after every fixture in the coming season - aren’t we lucky?

So, where to start this introductive piece? New signings.

The news that we’d brought in George McCartney after his loan spell at the club last season was received greatly by myself. I really rate the man; if I picked the team, he’d be my first choice left back all day long, if given the team Big Sam currently works with. He is strong in the tackle, and offers so much down the left wing, as was seen last season, constantly making runs beyond Taylor and delivering some wicked balls into the box. He even got himself on the score sheet away to Cardiff after a nice run, but I will always remember him for that sweet volley against Bolton in a 1-1 draw at the Boleyn in 2007, giving Jussi Jaaskelainen no chance. Incidentally, current West Ham captain Kevin Nolan scored the equaliser that day…

If McCartney’s re-signing was met positively, imagine how well I received the news of James Collins coming back. In my opinion, Collins was a great defender during his first spell at the club, and only got better during his stint at Aston Villa, forming quite the partnership with Richard Dunne. We take him back as a much stronger player, and his inclusion in our squad will surely spread confidence throughout the team.

I must admit I’d never heard of Modibo Maiga before West Ham signed him, and I’m still not too informed about the man we’ve spent an undisclosed fee on - though if reported amounts of £4-5m are to be believed, he must be a decent acquisition. Research suggests he knows where the goal is, and a work colleague recently said he was “brilliant … a beast”. Well, there we go then. Let’s just hope I remember him fondly like fellow Malian, Freddie Kanoute.

We’ve also strengthened our midfield with the capture of Momo Diame from Wigan, who will bring valuable Premier League experience, and more recently have brought in French international Alou Diarra, who once again I wasn’t overly familiar with, and my initial concern was due to the fact he’d spent three years at Liverpool and hadn’t made a single appearance. But I have since only heard positive things about him. In fact, I think my colleague referred to him as “a beast” too. Which would suggest West Ham have indeed made a great signing, or my colleague doesn’t know what he’s on about.

One of the biggest talking points in the time since we won at Wembley in May, besides the Andy Carroll transfer saga, is the departure of our number one goalkeeper, Robert Green. After six years at the Boleyn Ground, where he fast became our first choice ‘keeper, Green sadly departed, and will now ply his trade at Premier League London rivals Queens Park Rangers. Obviously, we wish him all the best…except for when it comes to playing QPR, in which case we wish he has an absolute ‘mare and we stick six past him!

The question is though, after signing three goalkeepers already this transfer window, who will be our first choice shot stopper?

Raphael Spiegel is the least likely option; a teenager signed from Grasshoppers, he will no doubt ply his trade in the youth team, where he’ll be touted as one for the future. Stephen Henderson, who was actually part of the Play-Off winning team as a loanee, made his move permanent shortly after that victory at Wembley; he is 24 years of age, and will be some fans choice to go between the sticks on August 18th against Villa, largely because he is thirteen years the junior of his closest contender. However, he appears to have been given the number thirteen jersey, which would suggest, with the number one shirt still vacant, that former Bolton Wanderers stopper Jussi Jasskelainen will pull it on come Saturday. Jussi spent fourteen years at the Reebok, the majority of which playing under current West Ham manager Sam Allardyce. Sam is likely to opt for the Finn, and rightly so, in my opinion.

Expectations for the season?

I’ve already had my pre-season wager with my uncle, with regards to West Ham’s finishing position, and have said we’ll finish eleventh. I don’t think we’ll have a relegation battle on our hands, and as much as I’d love to see it, we’re never going to be competing for the league title, nor the Champions League positions. We might be in for a shout at the Europa League spots, but I won’t hold my breath. If we do qualify for Europe, it’ll be through a cup competition. We’ve been drawn at home to Crewe Alexandra in the second round of the Capital One Cup, which is quite a favourable draw, and perhaps a good win there will stand us in good stead for the rest of the tournament. Maybe we’ll win the F.A. Cup (after 2006, I can dream.)

Back to the Premier League. I won’t pretend to know too much about Aston Villa, except they finished 16th last season, something of an anomaly when you consider they usually finish in the top ten. They have a new manager in Paul Lambert, they play in very similar colours to West Ham, they beat us 3-0 on the opening day of the 2010/11 season, and the last time we played them at the Boleyn they beat us 2-1. Robbie Keane had put us ahead within two minutes, Darren Bent equalised, and Gabriel Agbonlahor won it for the Villans in the dying minutes of the game.

But as a great man once said, the times they are a-changing. Only four members of that eighteen man squad who faced Villa in April 2011 remain a part of West Ham United, with just two of them likely to feature in this opening day clash; Mark Noble should definitely start, while formation will dictate whether Carlton Cole starts or comes off the bench.

If I was in charge of the team, I would opt for a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation, with a starting line-up of:

Jaaskelainen; McCartney, Tomkins, Collins, Reid; Noble; Taylor, Collison; Nolan;

Vaz Te, Cole

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You’ll learn fast that I’m a big fan of the diamond formation, and would have Noble in def/mid, Taylor on the left, Collison on the right, and Nolan just in front of the top two; though Big Sam seems to like the 4-3-3, and chances are he will use Cole as a central striker with Vaz Te and Maiga working the wings, much like he did in pre-season against Braga.

He will likely want to give competitive debuts to Diame and Diarra. Obviously, there’s no way of me knowing if certain players will be fit come match day; Collins and Collison could be doubts after withdrawing from the Wales squad for the recent international friendly, and Nolan might well be struggling with a pre-season knock, having not been named in the team against Braga. Their omissions would pave the way for the likes of Diame and Diarra, and may even see Demel or O’Brien making a start, and let’s not rule out Tomkins playing in midfield again.

I feel like I’ve rambled on long enough for an introductive piece - as you can probably tell, I am a little bit excited for the start of the 2012/13 Premier League campaign. I’ve covered new signings, briefly touched upon opposition, proposed a possible line-up, and all that’s left to do now is predict the score line.

I am going to start optimistically. I’d like to think we could reverse the opening day result from two years ago, and believe we have enough firepower to do so. However, as much as I feel I am looking at a very strong defence, strengthened so by the reintroduction of former Villan James Collins, and Premier League veteran Jussi Jasskelainen, I don’t think we’ll be keeping a clean sheet. This fixture will be closer than my prediction suggests, but the three points will belong to the Boleyn.

Prediction: 3-1 Win

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