Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Manchester City vs West Ham United: Match Previews - 16/01/2008 & 21/01/2008

1. Seconds Out... Round Three! (And Four)

By the end of this week we will have played Manchester City four times in a little over five months. Wednesday's FA Cup 3rd Round replay followed by Sunday's Premiership fixture will provide us with two stern tests away from home in a few short days.

After an opening day defeat and an unremarkable 0-0 draw in the initial Cup tie, we have thus far failed to impose ourselves on the blue half of Manchester, in contrast to our feisty performance against their more celebrated neighbours.

Perhaps this has something to do with our players keeping one eye on their WAGs as Eriksson moonwalks around the dugout, resplendent in spandex tights and chain-mail vest, his mesmeric pelvis hypnotising every woman in the ground.

2. Eyes On Which Prize?

Much like the age old 'club vs country' row, teams bound in mid-table spend a fair amount of the season weighing up which of the three domestic competitions their concentrated efforts would best serve.

The League title is off limits to all but a few teams, but a high League position is at the top of most fan's wish lists. The two domestic cups take on a greater significance for those outside the Big Four as it provides the only genuine prospect of silverware.

I think the majority of us would sacrifice three points at the weekend if it meant we would progress to the 4th round, particularly as there's now a little gap opening up between the top and bottom half of the table.

3. The History

Our record against Manchester City in the Cup is very good and could possibly hold some promising omens for Wednesday night. First leg apart, we have only played them twice, both resulting in 2-1 wins and both away from home (the last of which being en route to the 2006 final).

However, we have failed to cause City any real problems in our two encounters so far this season - bar the fact that their fans were bamboozled by our harnessing of electricity, the absence of Rickets and the 'horseless carriages' which parade up and down Green Street.

It seems that for the first time this season, we may actually have more first team players available than not. Scott Parker aside (out for at least six weeks with 'chocolate knees'), we've recently been cheered with the news that Etherington, Bowyer, Ljungberg and even Julien Faubert are all in contention for the first team.

By all accounts Bobby Z is making good progress from whatever it was that has kept him out for the last eight years and Nobby Solano is not far away. Even Craig Bellamy is close to a return to full training, having taken a few months off to guide a couple of Hobbits across Middle Earth in a bid to reclaim his "precious".

4. OneTwoThree, Foouur, Fiiive, SixSevenEight, Niiine, Ten, First Eleven, Tweeeeeeeeeeelve!

Readers of a certain age who sat in front of Sesame Street may remember the above lyrics from one of the greatest songs of the 1980's. My minute alteration makes for a tenuous football link at best, but I've been singing it all day.

With news of a few injury comebacks, I have foolishly tempted fate and begun to think of what our First XI should be - an exercise much like when you imagine what you'd buy if you won the lottery.

(In answer - shares in Frey Bentos, a tactically astute army of Spider Monkeys and a full-scale, fully operational Millennium Falcon.)

The back five more or less picks itself: Green, Upson, Ferdinand, Neill and McCartney.

Danny Gabbidon and James Collins are both admirable central defenders, but I don't think Upson deserves to be dropped after a solid season and Ferdinand has been in fine defensive and goal-scoring form since his brush with the Law.

'Gorgeous' George has been as good as he was last season but Lucas appears to only be in the side due to the lack of alternatives and Curbs saving face having made him captain. It certainly can't be on his form - this year he's looked as bewildered as a Mancunian who's been presented with a job application.

Upfront, I think we'd all like to see Bellamy and Ashton in tandem for a few games as potentially they could be something special. Carlton Cole would be unfortunate to miss out having been one of our most industrious performers this season but, for all his impressive endeavours, he is rarely among the goals.

Midfield is the real sticking point as we are abundant in options. On his few performances thus far, I would suggest you would have to pick Scott Parker who has looked impressive when not in a full body cast.

Despite having never seen him play, my one indulgence would be to put Julien Faubert on the wing. There's as much considered thinking in this choice as there is when asking the French Army to hold a defensive outpost, but I get the feeling he's one of perhaps two or three players in the squad who could unlock a defence.

With Etherington on the left providing some width, I'd go for Mullins in the middle alongside Parker allowing the latter to push forward. Hayden has stepped up this season and doesn't deserve to be dropped.

All of which means we could select a solid bench from Wright, Gabbidon, Collins, Pantsil, Solano, Spector, Bowyer, Panstil, Noble, Pantsil, Ljungberg, Boa Morte, Zamora, Cole and Pantsil.

Not too shabby.

5. Hatred Is A Curved Blade

In the spirit of tempting fate, I think we all know why we're praying for a result on Wednesday night.

The prospect of a visit to Bramall Lane and the chance to see our old friends Sheffield United in the 4th round is simply delicious. I remember such wondrous visions being woven outside The Lord Wakefield pub back when we were playing Roma in our pre-season friendly. There seemed to be something of the inevitable about it.

Despite the absence of Neil Warnock, the chance of ramming relegation down their throats for a solid 90 minutes is enough to make a man sell a few of his shares in Frey Bentos to fund the price of a ticket.

No doubt the name of Carlos Tevez would once again be lauded by the Hammers faithful and the whole day could be a highlight of the season.

Who wouldn't want to taunt the home support with our Premiership status? (Whilst out-flanking the city by strategically deploying one's legions of Spider Monkeys...)

6. Away Daze

It almost seems as if we are living ten years in the past.

Take That are the toast of the pop world, The Big Four remain entrenched at the top of the league, people are still banging on about the death of Diana and West Ham are above Spurs and Newcastle with a Ferdinand at the back.

One thing that has changed in the past decade is our away form. Whereas in 1997-'98 we only managed three away wins all season, we have already chalked up five victories on our travels so far this year.

I know I keep harping on about it, but I think most of us feel more confident this term when West Ham are the away side. It suits us when the onus is on the opposition while we have the opportunity to soak up a bit of pressure and nick a goal, which bodes well for our sojourn up to Eastlands.

The former-fortress of the Boleyn has recently been breached more times than an Australian scrum. We have won more games outside of Upton Park this year and are adept at scoring away from home - much like Sven The Love Rat.

In contrast, City have been formidable at the imaginatively titled City Of Manchester Stadium. They remain unbeaten in the League and have conceded just seven goals in their eleven home games. A slight worry is that George McCartney is currently on four yellow cards and would be missed were he to pick up a suspension.

7. In Summary

I don't know about Alan Shearer, but I wouldn't take the Newcastle job if you offered me the keys to all the padlocks on Lampard's fridge.

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