Ajax’s rollercoaster of a week

Erik Ten Hag

Every week seems to be an important one for Ajax at the moment, but this one was even more significant than most. It started in the Champions League and ended with an Eredivisie tie against NAC Breda which was made more significant by PSV’s result the day before.

Wednesday’s Champions League tie at home to Real Madrid was Ajax’s first knockout game in the competition since the 2004/05 season. They weren’t intimidated by the occasion at all though, as they dominated large periods of the play. They created chances as well, with Dušan Tadić hitting the post and Hakim Ziyech having a clear chance saved well by Thibaut Courtois.

Ajax were even the first to have the ball in the net, though it was ruled out for offside. A corner was sent into the box by Ziyech, Matthijs de Ligt won the initial header which popped up in front of Courtois. The Belgian stopper wasn’t able to catch the ball, as it his his shoulder and Nicolás Tagliafico was the first to react, heading it into the net. However, when VAR was used following the incident it was adjudged that Tadić had impeded Courtois from an offside position when the Argentine headed the ball in.

Despite being on top, Ajax hadn’t managed to get themselves on the score sheet and were punished for that on the hour mark. Vinicius Junior drove with the ball at his feet, worked his way into the box before cutting across both centre backs and laying the ball off to Karim Benzema who finished the move off clinically to make the score 1-0 to Real Madrid.

Ajax struck back in the 75th minute when David Neres was played in behind the Madrid defence and cut the ball back to Ziyech. When the ball reached the Moroccan he made no mistake, side footing the ball past Courtois. However, Real Madrid retook the lead in the 87th minute when Daniel Carvajal’s ball across goal was converted by Marco Asensio. There was some controversy with this though, as Lucas Vasquez appeared to foul Frenkie de Jong off the ball during the build up which wasn’t reviewed by VAR. This means that Ajax now go to Madrid with a deficit to make up.

Once the game was over Ajax’s thoughts will have turned to the Eredivisie despite their frustrations. That means keeping an eye on PSV’s results as well as getting wins of their own at the moment, as Ajax went into the week seven points behind the league leaders.

PSV’s match against Heerenveen was yesterday and gave Ajax plenty of encouragement. The leaders went two goals down for the second game in a row. However, PSV had equalised with a late goal last time out and did so again this time around. This time it was a 95th minute strike from substitute Donyell Malen which earned PSV a draw. Despite them managing to salvage a point, the result meant there was still an opportunity for Ajax to close the gap by two points.

Ajax had to be patient in today’s game, as they were frustrated by NAC Breda’s deep defensive line in the early stages, but they eventually won comfortably. They were gifted their opener in the 38th minute when Ziyech’s free kick was handled by Dorian Dervite in the penalty area. Tadić stepped up to take the penalty and converted it, even with Benjamin van Leer diving the correct way.

The game opened up for Ajax once the first goal went in and they ended up winning 5-0, as Tadić got another, Kasper Dolberg got on the score sheet and NAC Breda deflected two efforts in which were called as own goals.

Ajax will be hoping to close the gap even further when they face ADO Den Haag next Sunday.

Ajax lose further ground on PSV

Andre Onana

Ajax’s Eredivisie title hopes have taken another knock this weekend as they lost to Heracles. They went into yesterday’s game five points behind league leaders PSV Eindhoven. Things could have been even worse for the Ajacied though, as PSV only managed to get a draw in today’s away game against FC Utrecht.

Ajax started their game poorly, giving away a penalty just six minutes in when Daley Blind fouled Joey Konings while trying to retrieve Frenkie de Jong’s misplaced pass. It was Brandley Kuwas who stepped up to take the spot kick for the men in black and white, but Andre Onana dived to his left and got a strong hand on the ball to keep it out with a little help from the post.

Just over 10 minutes later Onana undid his work though as he gifted Heracles the only goal of the game. He attempted to pass the ball out from the back but it was intercepted by Mohammed Osman. The Syrian midfielder gratefully took the chance to put his side ahead, placing the ball into the corner out of the reach of Ajax’s scrambling goalkeeper.

Ajax grew into the game in the second half after their initial struggles. However, they weren’t able to get past German stopper Janis Blaswich, who was in fine form. The pick of his saves came against Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who’d got onto the end of a ball into the box, did a step over to fool the defender before flicking it towards goal- only to find his effort stopped by a strong outstretched arm.

Ajax were left frustrated as the score ended 1-0 to the home side, though their eyes will have quickly turned to today’s PSV match hoping for another shock. It seemed as though that would come as goals from Sander van de Streek and Gyrano Kerk saw FC Utrecht go into half time 2-0 up against the league leaders.

However, PSV came out in the second half and immediately put Utrecht’s goal under sustained pressure. It paid off for them as Luuk de Jong bagged a brace to get the game back on level terms. Ajax could easily have been let off the hook in the dying moments though. Utrecht were controversially denied a penalty despite the use of VAR when Denzel Dumfries slipped in the box and took Simon Gustafson down with him.

These two results mean that Ajax are now six points behind PSV Eindhoven with 13 games of the league season remaining. The two sides will play each other at the end of March in a match which could prove to decide whether the Eredivisie title goes to Amsterdam or Eindhoven at the end of the campaign. However, Ajax will want to make up ground as early as possible and this is the second time since the winter break that they’ve failed to capitalise on a PSV slip up after drawing 4-4 with Heerenveen when PSV drew with FC Emmen in their first game back.

Ajax’s attention will now be turned towards their upcoming Champions League Round of 16 first leg tie against Real Madrid on Wednesday, their first knockout game in the competition since 2005. Their next chance to close the gap on PSV will come when they face NAC Breda on Sunday.

January had a big impact on West Ham’s season

ARNT(1)

Things can look very different after a month. With six wins from seven games in December, there was plenty of optimism for West Ham United at the beginning of January. However, an unsettling Marko Arnautovic transfer saga, otherwise uneventful transfer window, FA Cup exit at the hands of AFC Wimbledon and a 3-0 thrashing from Wolverhampton Wanderers have changed the mood in East London.

Many supporters were hoping for a cup run and a chase for European football to add excitement to the end of this campaign. It is being said by many that the second half will be pretty boring for the Hammers though, stating the season is already in danger of fizzling out. It can be difficult for matches to maintain their level of importance unless there is a relegation battle or chase for the top places, it’s a problem which the Hammers have faced in the past and it can be argued will face again this time around.

January begun with Samir Nasri being brought in for free after his doping ban had ended. Despite initial concerns after the considerable length of time he’d spent out of the game there were promising early signs once he got onto the pitch. He’d done well on his debut against Birmingham City in the FA Cup before playing an instrumental role in the victory against his former employers Arsenal. He’s now injured though.

Then there was the Arnautovic drama. The Austrian was linked with a move to China, with his brother adding to the rumours by claiming that West Ham should let him leave. After waving the fans goodbye when taken off against Arsenal, then missing the following games against AFC Bournemouth and AFC Wimbledon it was announced that he’d signed an improved contract to keep him at the club. The contract was announced via a video which was released just after the club’s FA Cup exit, with the forward saying he was “back”. It’s impossible to tell whether his shenanigans were a contributing factor to the club’s recent form but the general feeling is that he’s unsettled those around him. The Wolves game did little to prove otherwise.

With all the talks of exits hanging over the club, there had also been a mention of players who were potentially coming to the London Stadium. Names such as Maxi Gomez have been thrown into the mix and there was mention of potentially bringing someone in on loan from Chelsea. However, when the transfer window ended there were no further recruits aside from Nasri, as Gomez remained at Celta Vigo. There was clear disappointment from many West Ham supporters at the news (or lack of it) as they felt it was an opportunity missed.

The only point gained outside of the win against the Gunners was in a 2-2 draw against Brihgton & Hove Albion. However, as frustrating as January was, it can be argued that this it’s not season ending. The three disappointing results came in the space of 10 days and with the transfer window now closed everyone can get on with the football rather than speculating over moves for now. The FA Cup exit is certainly a big blow, especially considering who is left in the competition this year and it hasn’t helped that two losses against opposition around the Hammers came either side of that shock exit.

However, February brings matches against Crystal Palace, Fulham and Newcastle United. These are all games which West Ham will feel they should be winning and if they do so it could put the men in claret and blue back in with a chance of taking seventh in the league. February –like any other month for a Premier League club- won’t be simple though; the Hammers host Liverpool tomorrow evening and will also face Manchester City. Get wins on the board and some excitement could return to the London Stadium. After all, things can look very different after a month.

 

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Ajax secure their place in the KNVB Beker semi final

Donny van de Beek

Just four days after throwing away a two goal lead to draw with Heerenveen, Ajax faced them again in the KNVB Beker quarter final last night. By surrendering the win they had also lost their opportunity to go top of the Eredivisie table, so will have been eager to put things right in the cup.

That was evident, as it took Ajax just over two minutes to get themselves ahead. Rasmus Nissen Kristensen was played down the line by Hakim Ziyech. When the Dane got to the ball he made a low pass into the box, which Donny van de Beek dummied for Noussair Mazraoui who finished the move with a first time side footed finish past Warner Hahn.

It only took them until the 16th minute to double their lead. Ziyech sent a corner to the back post, Matthijs de Ligt rose above his marker but couldn’t get a clean contact on the ball to send it towards goal. Instead it dropped down to van de Beek who was on hand to volley it into the net.

There was a moment of concern for Ajax though, as Mazraoui –who’d been playing in a central midfield role rather than at right back- was brought off injured in the 30th minute. The Moroccan had been hurt after making a shot in the 24th minute, he tried to play on but eventually had to be replaced by Lasse Schöne.

Ajax remained dominant after the change and added a third goal in the 38th minute. Daley Blind played a superb pass for Dušan Tadić to chase down the line. Once the Serbian got there he dinked it past the goalkeeper and into the six-yard box, where van de Beek beat the defender and pounced to get the ball into the goal.

Despite going into half time three goals up, Ajax will have been wary of giving Heerenveen any hope of getting back into the game after the events on Sunday. They remained comfortable for the majority of the match, dominating possession and controlling every aspect of the play.

That is until the 84th minute, when Kristensen received the ball from Schöne inside his own box and played a blind pass intended for André Onana. Rather than going back to the Ajax goalkeeper, it went straight to the feet of Pelle van Amersfoort who took one touch to turn, used another to get it out of his feet, opened his body and curled the ball out of Onana’s reach to make it 3-1.

Suddenly things didn’t seem so easy for the Amsterdammers as madness ensued. In the 88th minute debutant Lisandro Magallán conceded a penalty when he brought Sam Lammers down inside the box. The striker on loan from PSV had been the main thorn in Ajax’s side on the weekend, as it was his two goals which helped Heerenveen secure the draw, so there was a feeling he was going to upset the balance of the game again. However, his penalty was saved well by Onana, who sprung to his left to keep the ball out with his midriff.

That save was enough to quash any late comeback hopes from Heerenveen, with the final score settling at 3-1. Ajax will now face either Feyenoord, AZ Alkmaar or Willem ll in the semi final as they look to win the KNVB Beker for the first time since 2010.

Ajax miss their chance to go top of Eredivisie

matthijs-de-ligt-frenkie-de-jong-1539673938

Ajax will have gone into their winter break focused on the time they’d get a chance to overtake PSV Eindhoven. Sitting two points behind the league leaders with a superior goal difference, they were in the perfect position to take advantage of any mishaps by Mark van Bommel’s men.

They won’t have expected that opportunity to come as early as the first weekend back. However, the door was opened for them as an injury time equaliser from FC Emmen’s Nicklas Pedersen made the score 2-2 against the champions. Ajax went into their match against Heerenveen at the Johan Cruijff Arena knowing that a win would take them top of the Eredivisie.

They didn’t seem phased by the challenge in the early stages, as they took the lead just 13 minutes into the match. Schone played a short corner before getting the ball back and crossing it into the box. Dusan Tadic found himself completely unmarked just outside the six yard box and side footed the ball first time, sending it beyond goalkeeper Warner Hahn.

This was just the beginning of a whirlwind four minutes, as Heerenveen equalised within a minute. Sam Lammers –who himself is on loan from PSV- received the ball and turned. He managed to force his way past Daley Blind and hit it into the bottom corner to equalise.

Ajax were ahead again just two minutes later. Blind played a cross field pass to Tadic, who played a one-two with Hakim Ziyech. Upon receiving the return pass he got into the box and dinked the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper, restoring his side’s lead.

The score was made 3-1 before the half an hour mark due to calamitous defending from Heerenveen. Schone delivered the ball into the box from a free kick. It wasn’t particularly threatening until Stijn Schaars smashed his clearance up into the air, rather than up the pitch. Hahn came out of his goal in an attempt to retrieve the ball, but he completely misjudged it and took himself out of the game. As the ball dropped it landed on the head of Matthijs de Ligt and went into the goal via a deflection off Pelle van Amersfoort.

The home side were offered a chance to all-but secure the win in the last moments of the first half. They were awarded a penalty when Lucas Woudenberg was caught holding onto Donny van de Beek’s shirt. Tadic, who’d put in a faultless performance up until this point, stepped up to take the penalty, with a hat trick on offer. He hit the ball towards the centre of the goal, close enough to the goalkeeper for him to claw it away with his feet after diving. The half time whistle followed shortly, with Ajax in the driving seat but disappointed to not have put the game to bed.

That feeling of disappointment turned into worry just six minutes into the second period. Lammers was allowed to run forward with the ball and worked his way to the edge of the box. Once there he let off a strike which made its way into the bottom corner.

The scores were made level five minutes later. Ajax were caught over committing bodies, with both centre backs up the opposite end of the pitch. Heerenveen hit them with a counter attack and Mitchell van Bergen was able isolate Daley Sinkgraven. He twisted and turned away from the makeshift left back before firing home to make it 3-3.

Ajax came close to making a quick reply, with Kasper Dolberg having a header saved well and Ziyech hitting the post with a free kick. Heerenveen were almost given an opportunity of their own as a penalty decision was taken to VAR after Konstantinos Lamprou had collided with Lammers while attempting to punch the ball away, but the penalty wasn’t given.

It was Ajax who scored next, regaining their lead in the 83rd minute. Tadic had the ball on the left hand side and managed to work enough space to get a cross into the box. He hit it towards the back post where Klaas Jan Huntelaar –who’d only been on the pitch for four minutes- pulled away from Kik Pieri. Once the ball reached the substitute he stopped it dead with his first touch before firing it in off the post with his second. As it stood Ajax were 4-3 up and destined for top spot.

It seemed as though that story would remain, though that changed in the first minute of added time. A corner was sent into the box and Pieri made up for letting Huntelaar evade him by losing his man and flicking the ball past the goalkeeper.

Ajax almost got themselves back into the lead in the 94th minute, but luck wasn’t on their side as Schone’s shot bounced off the goalkeeper, onto a defender and back into his arms. As the final whistle blew, setting the 4-4 scoreline in stone, Ajax’s warn out men dropped to the floor in disappointment with the knowledge they’d missed their chance to go top.

They’ll have a chance to get revenge over Heerenveen, as they face them again on Thursday, this time in the KNVB Beker quarter final.

Samir Nasri’s brilliant start to life at West Ham United

nasri

There were mixed reactions to the initial news that West Ham United were signing Samir Nasri. Having been banned for doping he began training with the Hammers towards the end of 2018 to earn a contract, with it being announced he had successfully done so at the very beginning of January. Many felt that he wouldn’t be up to the standard after his extended period out of the game. However, Manuel Pellegrini clearly saw enough in him during those training sessions to offer him a contract. His early performances have begun to get the supporters on side as well.

He was on left on the bench against Brighton & Hove Albion –the first game after he was signed- before making his debut in the FA Cup Third Round match against Birmingham City. He played 58 minutes in the 2-0 win, showing the technical ability that had led to him being held in such high esteem during his prime years. There were some touches of true class from the Frenchman during the game, with a pinpoint pass to Marko Arnautovic on the edge of the box after the ball had popped up being a prime example.

Nasri also worked hard throughout his time on the pitch, though it seemed he tired after half time before being brought off. However, even after the training he’s undertaken it would have been a big ask to expect the Frenchman to last the entirety of the game.His creative contributions certainly helped In the time he did play, as the Hammers booked their place in the next round.

His performance impressed the manager enough to earn him a spot in the starting line up for the next game. This meant his first game back in the Premier League would be against Arsenal. It was the perfect setting for his comeback: playing against the club who have loathed him so heavily ever since he left them to join Manchester City.

The Arsenal supporters may have been charged up in the stands, but Nasri remained composed on the pitch. A moment which epitomises this is when he had the ball near the edge of the box and was being put under pressure by the Arsenal defence. Rather than panic and try to get a snap shot off, he patiently waited for Felipe Anderson to arrive before laying it off to the Brazilian for a first time shot. The effort may not have gone in, but that alongside other forms of link up play showed that he will be a creative and threatening attacking presence in West Ham’s side.

His most important contribution came in the 48th minute, when Granit Xhaka’s weak defensive header fell to his feet in the box. He took one touch out of his feet, saw Declan Rice and played the ball to the 19-year-old, setting the youngster up for his first ever senior goal. What made the moment even sweeter is that this was the only goal of the game and handed the Hammers the win.

The Frenchman and his team mates will now be looking to build on these victories. West Ham’s next match will be against AFC Bournemouth, with a win potentially taking them up to seventh.

 

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Michail Antonio is having a brilliant start to 2019

Michail_Antonio

When Michail Antonio gets going with the ball at his feet he’s pretty hard to stop. His powerful running combined with quick thinking mean he can bulldoze his way through the opposition or jink his way past. The West Ham man had struggled to have an impact at the beginning of the season, however, he’s looking to be back towards his best based on recent performances, especially those coming since the turn of the New Year.

This week has been the epitome of what the Hammers’ number 30 is great at. Having played the full 90 minutes three games in a row, Manuel Pellegrini had opted to leave Antonio on the bench for Wednesday’s home match against Brighton & Hove Albion. He was eventually substituted on for Robert Snodgrass in the 63rd minute with his side 2-0 down, due to goals from Dale Stephens and Shane Duffy.

Mark Noble –who’d come on at the same time as Antonio- had set up Marko Arnautovic to make it 2-1 just five minutes after the pair had been introduced to play. Just two minutes later it was the winger who announced himself. With Jürgen Locadia and Bernardo doubling up on him, he kept them guessing until he was ready to make his move. He then pushed the ball past the Brazilian full back, barged him away and just kept the ball in play, cutting it back to Arnautovic. The Austrian took a touch and poked it into the net off the underside of the crossbar.

With Antonio wreaking havoc down the right hand side, West Ham were able to make other opportunities in the game, putting the Seagulls under sustained and intense pressure. Brighton stood strong though and held on for the draw, but nothing can be taken away from the impact Antonio and Noble had.

Three days later and he was starting at right back in the FA Cup against Birmingham City. He has displayed a disdain for playing at full back in the past, when continuously played there by Slaven Bilic. However, with Ryan Fredericks injured and Pablo Zabaleta ill, Antonio has had to fill in there at times in the last month, putting in stellar performances.

Yesterday’s 2-0 win was another of those great showings, as he assisted West Ham’s second goal of the game for the second match in a row. This time, the Hammers had gone up within two minutes and had been in danger of letting their lead slip. It was in the 91st minute that Antonio helped secure West Ham’s progression to the fourth round. He received the ball from Robert Snodgrass and took a touch out of his feet. He then sent a perfectly weighted cross towards Andy Carroll who rose above the defender to head in his first goal since returning from injury.

Aside from that moment, Antonio’s link up play with 20-year-old Grady Diangana was tantalising. The pair put together some brilliant combinations to great effect, taunting the Birmingham defence for the entirety of the game. Diangana was arguably the standout player for the Hammers, but his performance was certainly helped by the overlapping runs and slip balls that Antonio provided him with.

Antonio will be hoping to keep his impressive run of form in 2019 going when Arsenal visit the London Stadium on Saturday. The Gunners have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last four league matches, so Antonio and his team mates will look to exploit any defensive frailties they may meet.

 

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Declan Rice signs West Ham contract extension

Declan Rice

The January transfer window hasn’t even begun, but West Ham United have already secured a piece of business which will surely be their most important of the winter. Less than 24 hours after yet another stellar performance, this time in a 2-1 win against Southampton, it was announced that Declan Rice had signed a new contract.

This new deal will see him stay in claret and blue until 2024, with the club holding the option to offer him an extra year on top of that. His contract negotiations have been long and drawn out, with the board offering less than was seen as acceptable numerous times. Rice had received criticism from some for not accepting the previous offers, with others using his decision to think over his national allegiances having represented Republic of Ireland three times as a stick to beat him with. The time taken over these decisions have led some to question him.

However, most would say that these two decisions are ones he was right to take time over. Most importantly he hasn’t allowed speculation to interfere with his game. Rice has shown incredible maturity and consistency both on and off the pitch, which is impressive for anyone with all those questions hanging over their head. For him to deal with all of that at the age of 19, while maintaining a high level of performance in the Premier League, is highly impressive.

He’s already made his 50th appearance for the Hammers- which came in the 2-0 loss against Watford. During that game and the victory at St. Mary’s, among other matches, the club’s supporters could be heard chanting ‘Sign him up’. Now that his contract is sorted, West Ham fans can enjoy watching the academy graduate in the heart of their midfield without having to worry about losing him. Rice is someone they’ve taken to their hearts due to the way that he conducts himself on the pitch; there is a clear pride to see someone from the academy who has an affinity with the club excelling to this level.

Rice is an integral part of the team now, having started each of West Ham’s last 17 matches in all competitions. His manager has been complimentary of his performances and the way he’s dealt with everything that’s come his way, including that he feels the 19-year-old has a bright future ahead of him.

Tomorrow’s match against Burnley sees Rice face the team that he made his debut against just 18 months ago. It is a testament to his ability and attitude to see how far he’s come in the time since that two-minute cameo. He and his team mates will be looking to secure back to back wins after losing their previous winning streak against Watford, as they look to push further up the table.

That will be the last match the Hammers play before the madness of the January transfer window begins. According to numerous sources it is highly likely that Samir Nasri will be signing for West Ham on a free transfer. Aside from that many feel that, with the form the men in claret and blue are have shown in December, there isn’t much need for too many reinforcements. Everyone’s just happy that Declan Rice’s contract is sorted.

 

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West Ham’s winning run comes to an end against Watford

Watford Troy Deeney

Writing about West Ham’s winning run and the last time they matched it was fun while it lasted. The latest win -which came against Fulham- took the club to four wins for the first time since 2014. However, that run came to an end yesterday in frustrating fashion, as the Hammers lost 2-0 at home against Watford.

The game was open from the very start, with both sides creating chances which should have been taken. It was Watford who were gifted the best chance of the first half though. Roberto Pereyra played a one-two with Gerard Deulofeu which saw him enter the West Ham box. Fabian Balbuena attempted to tackle the Argentine, but made a mess of it, giving away a penalty and sustaining an injury that forced him off just a few minutes later.

It was pantomime villain Troy Deeney who stepped up to take the penalty following the delay while Balbuena received treatment. The Watford captain emphatically drilled the ball into the top corner to make it 1-0 before going off to celebrate in front of the Hammers fans. Lukasz Fabianski is renowned for his heroics in penalty situations, but he was given no hope by Deeney’s strike.

Javier Hernandez almost got a goal back before the break, but Ben Foster was able to reach the Mexican’s volley which had been destined for the bottom corner. He also hit an air shot when Felipe Anderson played him the ball after some great trickery in the second half and had an effort stopped by a block from Abdoulaye Doucouré.

However, it will be Michail Antonio who’s most frustrated to have not got on the score sheet. Early in the second half he latched onto a Robert Snodgrass corner, glancing it across goal with his head. He’d got the slightest of touches on the ball, which was only enough to make it connect with the post before bouncing to the feet of a Watford defender.

His second encounter with the woodwork was even harder to take. Grady Diangana had worked himself some space impressively on the right wing before forcing the ball into the box. Snodgrass’ initial header was deflected off of Craig Cathcart and saved by Foster. Antonio got onto the ball with the goal gaping in front of him, but he was only able to send his header against the bar from a few yards out.

Summarising West Ham’s night, just two and a half minutes later Watford scored a second to secure the win. Pereyra and Deulofeu linked up well again before the latter slotted the ball into the bottom corner in the 87th minute. Having dominated the game for large periods the Hammers had found themselves on the losing side without a goal to their name, the finishing touch which had been so prevalent in their last four games having deserted them.

Following this defeat, West Ham sit 12th in the table going into Christmas, though they remain just three points behind yesterday’s opposition who jump to seventh. Next up for the Hammers is an away trip to Southampton on December 27th. The Saints have recorded back to back wins of their own following the arrival of Ralph Hasenhüttl.

 

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Mark Noble’s contract extension shows his importance to West Ham

Mark Noble

Whenever a new manager takes over at West Ham, the same question always seems to arise among the many on fans’ lips: will he play Mark Noble? Despite the lack of faith some seem to have in him now, he has endured every test he’s come across in his beloved claret and blue shirt. The same has been the case under Pellegrini. He may not start every game, but has featured in 11 of West Ham’s 16 Premier League matches this season.

He is still an integral part of the team and his new contract extension highlights that. The year extension means it will now run until 2021, so he will have been involved with the West Ham first team for an incredible 17 years when it expires. It also makes it likely that he will retire at the club he loves, seeing him become a one club man.

This is nothing short of what he deserves for his continued service to the club and proves to any doubters that he is still firmly in West Ham’s plans. Declan Rice has shown he can be a future club captain –should his contract situation be sorted- and Marko Arnautovic is a formidable presence on the pitch. However, Mark Noble is still the best leader the club has, as is signified by his captaincy.

Aside from the obvious leadership qualities, both in the dressing room and on the pitch, Noble is an important cog in the Hammers’ midfield on merit outside of that. He is as committed as ever and like Rice, is brilliant at breaking down opposition play. Some claim that he has lost his legs and is no longer able to get round the pitch as is needed, but in truth, he’s never been the quickest and has catered his game to dealing with this, with his positional play ensuring he remains a central part of the play.

The Hammers’ number 16 is just four appearances away from 450 in a West Ham shirt, after making his debut in a 2-0 League Cup win at home against Southend United in 2004. He featured in the Great Escape of 2006-07, won the Championship Play Offs twice, captained the team in their final game at Upton Park and has been one of the few constants in the club since the move to the London Stadium. He has over 50 West Ham goals, with a large amount of them coming from the penalty spot. He’s also represented England from Under 16 to Under 21 level.

He hasn’t scored this season, but has two assists- which came in wins against Everton and Manchester United. He has continuously said that he feels the club is heading in the right direction under the management of Pellegrini and this contract extension means he’ll be part of that for an extra year.

For now though, he’ll be looking to Saturday’s match against bottom of the table Fulham. The club are on an impressive run of three wins in a row –something they hadn’t previously managed for over two years. Another win this time around will likely see them break into the top 10.

 

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