West Ham 3-0 Southampton: Don’t Put Baby In A Corner

West Ham performed to perfection with their backs up against the wall, hosting Southampton at the London Stadium. With the club owners barricaded in the directors box, the fans tense with uneasy anticipation, and the eyes of the (Premier League) football world upon the London Stadium, the players showed up.

Off to a quick start West Ham burst forward with exuberant pressure and kept the pace up for the entire first half, a half that would see all three goals scored. Southampton could not afford to put forward the pathetic effort they did in this match, as they had an opportunity to leafprog the hammers with a win and could have taken advantage of the toxic atmosphere surrounding the club currently.

Arnautovic who has been West Ham’s main man for offence this season was yet again the focal point of the front line. Arnautovic not only nets the goals but her creates so much pressure on the defence that even when he doesn’t score or assist he factors into West Ham’s success. He also directed the cross in from Joao Mario for his first goal, a rebound off of a laser header.

Joao Mario who had yet to impress this season for West Ham, had his best game in the Premier League today. He scored a rooftop laser and assisted Arnautovic’s first goal. He was effective today because of the pressure he brought in the open field on Southampton’s defenders and midfielders. He goal was brilliant and assist matched it – Mario had an amazing game and provided a glimpse of options beyond Lanzini in attacking midfield.

A saddening aspect of the game was Michail Antonio coming up lame early in the game game, giving way to Edmilison Fernandes in the 9th minute. Antonio left the pitch after an apparent thigh injury, with his face hidden under his jersey hiding tears. He wanted to factor into the turn around for West Ham, an attitude all West Ham fans should be happy to see. Captain Mark Noble ran up while he was walking off the pitch and pulled his jersey off his face, nothing to be embarrassed about here for the injured attacker.

His replacement, the Swiss international Fernandes, was absolutely brilliant in his first club action in four months. Coming off of an ankle injury, Fernandes was slotted in aside Mario and behind Arnautovic in a free roaming attacking mid role. This may be his natural position as his speed and ability to use the width of the pitch made him a constant threat. Edi also held onto the ball well, it sounds simple but its a facet of the game West Ham have been in need of for awhile now.

If you eliminate Arnautovic, the man with the first half brace, from contention for man of the match you could easily give it to either Declan Rice or Angelo Ogbonna. Both were stellar today in a very involved back three. Constantly used in the possession game for West Ham, Rice and Ogbonna were amazing outlets and kept play in the Southampton end for the majority of the afternoon.

Cresswell was also reliable in the back three. It isn’t his natural position but he doesn’t seem to care. Rather than rely on size like many centrebacks, Cresswell jockeyed for position and won aerial battles with his body positioning rather than height. He was great as well, but Ogbonna and Rice were next level.

Rice was coming off two matches for Ireland where he made his first team international debut. He was Man of the Match in game one, and impressed in the second game as well. Ogbonna was also with his home nation, Italy, over the International break but did not feature.

Responsible for the second goal for Arnautovic, Arthur Masuaku returned from a six match ban for spitting towards a Wigan player. Masuaku was immediately a threatening presence in West Ham’s offence and reminded us all what we were missing without him in the side. Always looking for a chance to embarrass a defender along the touchline, King Arthur did not disappoint in his return. He flung a seemingly innocuous ball into the box that somehow found the perfect space between keeper and defender – on Arnautovic’s foot- where it could be volleyed safely home. Just one example of his abilities to create goal scoring chances. He is an offensive spark plug and gave it all for the team today.

As you can probably tell by the steady compliments I’m feeding to the West Ham players that it was a solid team performance from the Hammers. Safe to say they understood that their backs were up against the wall and they performed; baby was put in a corner and fought her way out.

The points were crucial but the swagger that comes with a triumphant 3-0 win where the opponents were held to two (pitiful) shots on net. It was a well rounded game and provided a glimpse into what this team can do. The hill is still tall in front of West Ham but it isn’t as insurmountable as it would have been with anything than less than three points from this match.

 

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West Ham Vs Southampton – The Saints Are Coming

Two points up, yet West Ham feels miles behind Southampton and for all the wrong reasons. Off-pitch issues have ground the season to a halt for the Hammers, and hosting Southampton this late in the season could see relegation staved off again, or all but confirmed.

For Southampton they have two big boosts to their team. New manager Mark Hughes has taken over the manager position from Mauricio Pellegrino. Playing a characterless style of play, Pellegrino didn’t take the Saints to the next level as many thought he could. Hughes stepped in at the beginning of the three week international break and has had time to drill his squad into shape.

The second addition is the reinstalling of striker Charlie Austin. Austin, who scored a penalty against West Ham in their early season victory over West Ham, is rejoining at a time where his squad needs him. Manolo Gabbiadini has left the Saints missing Austin at striker, and the script really writes its self, doesn’t it?

For West Ham they have two similar positives heading into this match. The first is Mark Hughes, yes Southampton’s new manager. Having been sacked by Stoke City earlier this season, Hughes was visibly pissed off at former star Marko Arnautovic who facilitated his move away from the Potters in the summer transfer window. Arnautovic steamrolled Hughes former team to the delight of West Ham fans and hopefully can do so again.

After a hotheaded performance that ended in an intentional elbow to Southampton defender Stephens, Arnautovic took his team to ten men early in the match. Chicharito tried his best to drag the teams level again, but just fell short as the game ended 3-2.

Southampton has yet to see the in form Arnautovic, and that could be West Ham’s secret weapon in this match.

The perfect wingback for Moyes’ unchanged formation returns for West Ham. After a loogie gone awry against Wigan, Arthur Masuaku has had a six game ban to think about his actions. Since then his team has fallen out of relative safety into the Kenny Loggins Danger Zone. What he brings in his return to the lineup is speed, shiftiness, and some impressive crossing skills he showed off against Dag & Red.

This game is almost too close to call really. New manager bump may carry Southampton over the line, where as fan unrest at West Ham may force the team to perform. Whoever wins, should three points be awarded, will secure one of the necessary games remaining for both sides against relegation teams.

The true defining factor for this match will come down to managing. Will Moyes have the guts to abandon his back-5 and implement a formation that will fit all of his of his offensive options? And will Hughes be able to inspire his new squad out of the bottom three?

Good lord, relegation is fun isn’t it? Horrifying, but fun.

Who Exactly Is The Best Player Outside The Premier League Top Six?

Usually an argument reserved for mid-table supporters trying to vie for dominance of the mediocre or, for relegation rivals trying to find solace in a failed season. So with the season winding down and points at an all time high, its the perfect time for the yearly debate: Who is the best player outside of the top six?

There are a few players who have made strong bids this season. The intensity of the table has only magnified the importance of marquee players, as 19th and 10th place are only separated by nine points. So, who’s in the running? I’ve narrowed my list to five.

 

Ryan Bertrand:

The Southampton fullback has had the eyes of the upper echelon Premier League teams upon him, and a possible relegation of the Saints could make a transfer inevitable. With Chelsea owning his playing rights for years, Bertrand was sent out on multiple loans throughout England, before securing a permanent move (following a loan) to Southampton. With three assists this season Bertrand has been chipping in offensively for a side that hasn’t had much to fill the box score with.

Bertrand earned a call up to England’s pre-World Cup squad and will likely serve as Danny Rose’s backup or replacement should he get injured again. With the world’s eyes upon him, it seems that Manchester City’s eyes could be focused on him most intently. Left back options Benjamin Mendy and Danilo have been less than impressive this season for City, so a strong showing from Bertrand would likely see him head north to Manchester.

Wilfred Zaha:

The main man in Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace squad. Zaha is on this list more from peer pressure than me believing he would see regular starting time at any club in the top six. What he does provide is game breaking speed, and seems to have the clutch gene in his game. This season he has managed only three goals and three assists in 21 matches played. But, he seems to score when it matters most (see extra time tying goal vs. West Ham).

His abilities have seen him a popular pick for this prestigious, imaginary designation, but his injury record has hampered any chances for him to maximize his potential. Let’s face it the old adage is true – the best ability is availability, and Zaha has been anything but available this season. He has the skills to impact a top six side but more so as a squad player rather than instant plug-and-play player. He may be the most likely to move to an elite team but is he really the BEST player outside those teams?

Abdoulaye Doucoure:

This ball moving midfielder has garnered a strong amount of attention from elite Premier League teams. The 25 year old French midfielder impressed under Marco Silva at Watford this season and has continued to put forward strong, albeit now individual performances under new boss Javi Garcia. Doucoure has gone cold in recent games, but has still managed seven goals and three assists this season.

Manchester United are linked with him this summer, with Tottenham and Arsenal also looming. With Spurs’ midfield likely full for the foreseeable future, that leaves the Red Devils and Gunners to battle it out for his services should he want to leave. Fellaini’s departure could see a squad space open for him in Manchester, while Arsenal losing Jack Wilshere could open a space in the London squad. His potential is very high and compacted with his age, Doucoure could be the most prized player for top six teams.

Marko Arnautovic: 

The previous pouty passer of Stoke City exchanged his playmaking boots for finisher foot-ware in an offseason move to West Ham United. Originally recruited by the now former manager of the Hammers, Slaven Bilic, Arnautovic was a mess under his management but has been reborn with David Moyes as his boss. Having missed two games for red card suspension, and four for separate illness and injuries, Arnautovic has still managed seven goals and three assists this season.

Originally thought to be a £25 million flop Arnautovic scored his first goal for West Ham against Chelsea in a 1-0 win and hasn’t looked back. His form has been so unrelenting it earned him the prestigious consideration of “Chelsea transfer target” in the January window… after Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch of course. Regardless, if West Ham survive relegation it’ll be on the back of their new main man. Striker, winger, attacking midfielder, he does it all for West Ham and could for the elite, too.

Jamie Vardy:

And the winner is… Jamie Vardy. I mean, is there really any other choice? The main man in the most unlikely championship win in sports history, Vardy’s contributions to Leicester City’s Premier League winning season got him the attention he deserves. Vardy has kept ahold of this attention by continuing his impressive offensive numbers rolling, thirteen goals and six assists last season and fourteen goals (already) this season.

Vardy’s speed is neck-and-neck with his clinical goal scoring abilities for marketable talents. He is a master centre forward for counter attacking football, as well as a true fox in the box when possession stats favour Leicester. Tailor made for Chelsea or Manchester United, Vardy should have been poached coming off of the unlikely win by Leicester City in 2015/16, and again last season. Now at 31 and the face of the franchise it seems unlikely Vardy will depart any time soon. He is the champion of perseverance, coming from leagues distant to the Premier League and has become a star under the big league lights.

 

So there it is, my views on who are the best players outside the top six. Vardy is the crowning jewel, but Zaha a perennial favourite and Arnautovic a newcomer to the conversation. I also only included one defender (Bertrand) and thats on purpose. It’s hard to justify saying defenders on teams that are at least -15 on goal differential are next level players. Gun to my head I’d give my honours to Alfie Mawson of Swansea. He’s hardnosed, tough, and a real bastard to play against. If he had a better squad to play with he could be a game changer. Regardless, my list is as mentioned above!

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!