‘Exposed kamikaze tactics’ The expert West Ham view on Aston Villa, Robert Snodgrass & big-money strikers
Last time out, Villa were undone after a Jordan Ayew strike at Crystal Palace while, with just seconds left, referee Kevin Friend cancelled out substitute Henri Lansbury’s late – and legitimate – equaliser for an alleged Jack Grealish dive in the build up.
Back at the club’s Bodymoor Heath base, though, Dean Smith and his coaching staff have been rallying the players and have welcomed back a number of international stars this week as preparations continue ahead of game number five in the Premier League.
On Monday, it’s another night under the lights at Villa Park and Smith’s side will be hoping to back up a result just as they did in B6 last time out against Everton with a victory over their claret and blue counterparts.
The Hammers have spent big this summer and, like Villa, splashed out a club-record amount on a striker in £45million man Sebastien Haller. The Frenchman has scored three in three and will be a huge threat for both Tyrone Mings and Bjorn Engels.
Here, in our latest in-depth opposition Q&A, we’ve spoken to West Ham club writer Sam Inkersole of football.london about all things Hammers, from who to watch out for to how fans’ favourite Robert Snodgrass is getting on…
Q: WHAT SHAPE ARE WEST HAM IN COMPARED TO LAST SEASON? SQUAD / XI BETTER?
It’s a lot better than last season, that’s for sure. The Hammers have got rid of some expensive deadwood players who were draining the wage bill and replaced them with real quality. The squad is a bit smaller than last season and strength in depth is a concern in some areas but the overall quality of the players in the squad is a lot, lot better than this time last year.
Q: HOW DO WEST HAM LINE UP? WILL IT BE SAME VS NORWICH, WITH RICE SITTING AND ANDERSON AND YARMOLENKO SUPPORTING HALLER?
It’s more of a 4-1-2-3, with Declan Rice sitting behind a midfield two of Mark Noble and Manuel Lanzini, the two wide men and then Sebastien Haller up front. Yarmolenko is coming off a ten-month injury lay-off and has played three games in a relatively short space of time so whether Pellegrini continues with the winger remains to be seen, he might fell he needs protecting after such a serious Achilles injury.
Q: HOW DID THE LAST GAME GO? HAMMERS DOMINANT VS NEWLY-PROMOTED SIDE AND LOOKED SOLID AT THE BACK?
West Ham battered Norwich last time out, with Daniel Farke’s kamikaze tactics getting ruthlessly exposed. The only disappointment from the day was that the Hammers only scored two goals, they could have had six or seven. They looked better at the back but there are still some issues there, especially at centre back where Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna haven’t been firing on all cylinders so far. That said, they are the only team to keep out Norwich striker Teemu Pukki so far this season at club and international level.
Q: VILLA HAVE A BIG, BEASTLY STRIKER IN WESLEY – AND WEST HAM HAVE ONE OF THEIR OWN IN SEB HALLER, IS HE THE DANGER MAN ON MONDAY? WHO ELSE SHOULD VILLA AND SMITH BE WARY OF?
Haller is the obvious danger man as he’s not just a “beastly” striker, there is a lot more nuance and style to his game than just that. But the real danger man in my opinion is Manuel Lanzini, who has started the season in fine form, penned a massive new contract extension and is playing some of the best football of his career. If Villa can’t get a hold of him and stop his runs between midfield and the Villa defence, they could be in a spot of bother.
Q: HOW’S ROBERT SNODGRASS GETTING ON? HE’S STILL A HERO UP HERE FOLLOWING HIS HUGELY SUCCESSFUL LOAN SPELL IN 2017-18. MANY VILLA FANS WOULD HAVE HIM BACK IN A HEARTBEAT…
Last season he was superb, doing a job as the Hammers squad was severely stretched thanks to a number of long-term injuries. He signed a new contract earlier this summer and could feasibly see out his career in east London. This season though he is being used more sparingly as the Hammers have better quality in the midfield now, plus the return from long-term injury for the likes of Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshere and most importantly – the aforementioned Lanzini.
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Q: HOW ABOUT CARLOS SANCHEZ? HOW’S HE BEEN? HE WAS IN THAT ILL-FAMED VILLA SIDE WHICH WAS RELEGATED IN 2016.
Sanchez missed 95 per cent of last season after tearing his ACL last September and didn’t feature for the rest of the season. In 2019/20, he’s firmly second-choice in the defensive midfield position behind Declan Rice. He’s out of contract at the end of this season and unlikely to stay beyond that. He’s still a bit too slow and cumbersome on the ball to be effective in the Premier League and you just know there is a mistake in him somewhere.
Q: WHAT HAVE YOU MADE OF VILLA THIS YEAR? 12 NEW SIGNINGS, WILL VILLA STRUGGLE OR WILL THEY BE OK? WHAT HAVE YOU LIKED? THREE DEFEATS IN FIRST FOUR GAMES NOT THE BEST START…
I said before the season started that Villa will be absolutely fine and I stick by that. I don’t think Jack Grealish has quite got up to speed yet but once he does, Villa will be a different proposition entirely. The midfield for Villa has been a struggle so far as well but a lot of that depends on Grealish, others will follow him when he improves. Plus, it’s still early doors in the season, it’s far too soon to make any snap judgements. They will survive in the league comfortably.
Q: WHAT’S YOUR PREDICTION FOR MONDAY + HOW DO YOU SEE WEST HAM’S SEASON PANNING OUT / EXPECTED FINISH?
I’m predicting a draw on Monday, a result I think Pellegrini will take after the Hammers’ struggles on the road last season. I think Wesley will cause Angelo Ogbonna problems all night while West Ham are very, very potent going forward. I’ll go for 1-1.