The International Break is, once again, in the rear view mirror and we can focus on club football for a few months without interruption. An especially brutal run of fixtures lies ahead for Tottenham Hotspur, starting off tomorrow with local rivals West Ham making their visit to the Lane. You may not know, but SB Nation just started a new blog for the Hammers, and we’re happy to sit down with Charlie from Brace The Hammer to talk about West Ham’s slow start, what to expect on Saturday, and how all those new signings are doing in the new stadium.
CFC: So...uh....it hasn't been a great start to the season for the Hammers, has it? There doesn’t seem to be an appreciable difference in talent between last season and this season. What’s the reason for the relatively poor start to the season?
BTH: Last season, we were dodgy defensively at the best of times but we were great going forward so we survived. This season, the well we were drawing our attacking output from has dried up. Players who were nailing it last season just aren't this time around. Individually, we have a lot of very talented players. As a team, they're less than the sum of their parts. We look better when playing fast counter attacking football than we do when we're in charge of the game. If teams set up deep and let us be in control, we are unable to break them down.
The atmosphere last season was unbelievable. It felt like there was an unbreakable belief that we could beat anyone. We gave Upton Park the send off it deserved.
It could be argued that we're currently giving the London Stadium what it deserves...
Given the slow start for the Hammers, how has the expectations for the season changed and what's a realistic finish now?
Before the season began, I wanted to see us get to the group stages of the Europa League and finish between 7th and 10th. We have the deepest squad I can remember so it seemed plausible. Obviously, that hasn't panned out so well. I was asked the same question a few weeks ago by Royal Blue Mersey in the Q&A I did with them and at that time I still believed Top 10 was achievable.
We have a truly horrendous run incoming. Tottenham away, Man United away, Man United away again but this time in the cup, Arsenal at home then Liverpool away at which point the ridiculously busy Christmas period begins.
To some extent I still believe that Top 10 in the league is possible but it requires the rest of 2016 to go very well for us. As I said, we are a better team when we're counter attacking and that's all we're going to be doing for a while but this is truly make or break time. If it doesn't go as well as I'm optimistically hoping, Premier League survival has to be the aim.
West Ham brought in a ton of new players in the summer. Who has really stood out to you and who is struggling to adapt to the team?
Out of all the senior players we brought in, only one has truly impressed. Edimilson Fernandes, the young Swiss attacking midfielder. Playing out of position as either LWB or RWB, his attacking flair and youthful exuberance has been a shining light in an almighty dark season. He's gone from a random obscure youth signing to one of the first names on the teamsheet and earning his first senior call up to the Swiss National Team.
Ashley Fletcher has been impressive in the little game time he has had since joining from Man United, but limited almost exclusively to substitute appearances means he's yet to get on the scoresheet. Record signing Andre Ayew was predictably injured within half an hour of his debut but has recently returned and is looking very lively. He is being viewed by some as the light at the end of the tunnel.
Literally every other senior signing has struggled, failing to make an impact with the (very little) game time they've had.
Is it at all worrying to you that your leading scorer is a player who was converted to defense, and then back to offense because he was bad at playing defense?
I see what Bilic was thinking with Antonio at RB. Outside of his defensive shortcomings, he has all the attributes you would want. Super strong and fast with a great work rate and unreal stamina to match. However In the cutthroat world of the Premier League, we cannot afford to wait for him to learn defensive positioning.
This season alone we've played him at RB, RWB, RW, LW and ST. What's next? He's got a decent leap on him so GK perhaps? He'll probably still score more than our strikers.
The Olympic Stadium seemed to have West Ham supporters excited at the end of last year. From an outsider's perspective, it seems like that excitement is gone. Is it as bad as is it seems and how long do you think it takes before supporters start tearing the stadium down themselves and ask for a new one?
I won't talk through every problem the London Stadium has as it would take too long. Instead I will summarise it like so. Yes, it is that bad.
It isn't designed for football and, unlike other former Athletics venues like the Etihad, it wasn't designed with a conversion to football at a later date in mind. Initially it is very impressive but it isn't long before you start to see the cracks. It feels temporary and unfinished because that's the literal situation. At the beginning of the season they hadn't installed all the seats and so some fans were forced to sit on concrete blocks. This is the reality of the situation.
From the very inception of the stadium until now, it has been horrifically mismanaged by everyone involved.
Levy had the right idea when he suggested Tottenham knock down the Olympic Stadium and build one designed for football in it's place.
Do you think Dimitri Payet has a breaking point where he finally says "Screw this!" and asks for a transfer?
Dimitri Payet is a magician with a football. He is obviously our best player by some margin and I would genuinely rather have him than Ozil. It would take a very large bid to convince our owners to sell him. I highly doubt there weren't offers for him during the summer so something must have convinced him to stay. If I were to hazard a guess at what that was, I would say "the project" at West Ham. A team who looked on the rise with a 60k stadium and European football round the corner knowing he would be the biggest cog in that machine.
Just like the rest of 2016 and January will decide what happens to us this season, I think it will decide where Payet is come February 1st. A good run and a signing or 2 could convince him to stay. A continuation of our dismal performances and zero ambition in January could see him hop ship and make what could be the last major move of his career.
How do you expect West Ham to line up on Saturday against Spurs?
3-4-3 is the in formation of the moment and we are part of that trend. The major decisions come in the form of who starts in goal, who replaces the injured Winston Reid, who replaces the suspended Mark Noble and who starts up front.
Against popular opinion I believe Adrian will start in goal and Nordtveit will replace Reid. I am hoping Lanzini starts alongside the lovely Pedro Obiang to help create from deeper and solve our attacking woes. That leaves 2 spaces in our front 3 for a second CAM to partner Payet and a ST to play ahead of them. I think Ayew will play alongside Payet and we will see the return of the controversial Diafra Sakho up front. That makes our XI this:
Kouyate Nordtveit Ogbonna
Antonio Lanzini Obiang Cresswell
Can you give us a prediction?
This may be bold and BTH's Manager/Spurs supporter big Jonny Liebling couldn't quite believe I went there but during our Predictions Podcast (which you should totally check out by the way) I said Tottenham 2-3 West Ham. I think the game will come down to whether you believe your own hype and try to dominate us or whether you play it smart and sit back and let us flounder.
I believe it will be the former and Sakho will lead us to victory.
As always, we want to thank our guest this week for joining us. Brace The Hammer is just a little over a month old, and I sat down with them for their own Q&A session! Check it out when you get a chance.