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

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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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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 keep their first clean sheet of the season

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West Ham came into today’s match against Chelsea off the back of a 3-1 victory against Everton- their first Premier League win of the season. However, there will have been many who doubted that the Hammers would be able to get anything against the Blues, even despite their Europa League travels. Chelsea have won scored 14 times this season, but they were unable to get on the score sheet at the London Stadium, as West Ham earned their first clean sheet of the season.

The game may have ended 0-0 –ending Chelsea’s 100% league record- but the Hammers could have easily won it. Michail Antonio had two chances in the first half which he failed to get past Kepa Arrizabalaga. Andriy Yarmolenko had the best chance though, as he found himself in acres of space just outside the six yard box when Robert Snodgrass crossed the ball in, but his header went wide of the post.

While the missed chances will leave the Hammers frustrated, the lack of opportunities Chelsea created will be satisfying for Manuel Pellegrini and his side. Before the international break West Ham had been widely criticised for their poor defensive displays, especially during their 4-0 opening day loss against Liverpool. They were highly impressive defensively today though.

Chelsea’s midfield three of Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic have dominated games between them this season, however, they were unable to do so today. The trio of Mark Noble, Declan Rice and Pedro Obiang did a brilliant job of keeping them at bay. Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson also played their part, as they also regularly tracked back which led to the midfield area becoming incredibly overcrowded. This led to their forward passing routes being shut off, consequentially there were plenty of backward passes and hopeful balls from the men in blue.

One talking point going into the match was how the Hammers could stop Eden Hazard, who came into the match with five goals and two assists in five Premier League appearances. While cutting off the supply to him helps, it was clear that the Belgian was going to get the ball at times. When he did have the ball at his feet there was always someone hot on his trail. If he drifted to the right hand side he was met by Arthur Masuaku, if he went to the left Pablo Zabaleta would work tirelessly to ensure he didn’t have space and Rice was always there to help the full back out or fill in for them when required. Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena were also incredibly resolute in the way that they defended, pulling off plenty of tackles, blocks and interceptions at vital times.

It was clear that with the attacking talent at Chelsea’s disposal they would be able to carve open the occasional opportunity. Whenever they did Lukasz Fabianski, who has been one of West Ham’s top performers this season, was there to stop them. The Polish goalkeeper was arguably man of the match, as he produced some brilliant saves. The pick of the bunch has to be his stop at the feet of Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard, who had replaced Olivier Giroud let off a shot in the box, but Fabianski rushed out, stopping the ball with his face.

The nature of the defending that earned the Hammers a clean sheet today will be incredibly encouraging. With Manchester United next in the league, they will be hoping to continue this form defensively to continue climbing the table.

 

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West Ham must find a way to deal with Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard

As Chelsea travelled to Thessaloniki, Greece for their Europa League opener against PAOK, which they won 1-0, one notable man had not travelled. Having told Mauricio Sarri that he was tired after the international break and the 4-1 win against Cardiff City, in which he scored a hat trick, Eden Hazard was left home so that he could recover.

The reaction to the Balgian’s request has been mixed, but one thing everyone can agree on is this means he will be fully prepared when Chelsea travel to the London Stadium on Sunday. That does pose one question though, especially for Hammers fans: how do West Ham go about stopping him?

Hazard’s form this season sees him currently sit top of the goal scoring charts. He got an assist in each of Chelsea’s first two games, against Huddersfield and Arsenal. That was then followed up by a goal in each of his next two games, against Newcastle United and AFC Bournemouth, before his mesmerising hat trick last weekend.  It is now West Ham’s task to ensure he doesn’t add to that tally.

With the Belgian’s starting position being on the left hand side of Chelsea’s front three, one decision to be made is who will directly face off with him from the right back position. Having secured West Ham’s first league win of the season last Sunday with Pablo Zabaleta at right back, Manuel Pellegrini may not want to change things. However, with someone with Hazard’s pace it will be a mismatch if Chelsea’s number 10 is able to get in behind him. The other option is Ryan Fredericks, the Englishman possesses plenty of pace but has struggled since signing from Fulham.

Though his base position is on the left, Hazard, especially under Sarri, drifts around the pitch finding pockets of space to exploit. Having produced a superb performance against Everton, Declan Rice is likely to be deployed in the holding midfield role for West Ham, the Republic of Ireland international will likely be asked to keep tabs on the Belgian, especially when he moves infield. What stood out about the 19-year-old’s performance at Goodison Park was his ability to cover his team mates and clear up danger before passing the ball off to a team mate; it is important he is able to do this again if his side are to get a result against Chelsea.

West Ham got a lot of success against the Blues last season, winning 1-0 at home and drawing 1-1 away. Hazard played the entire 90 minutes in both of those matches but didn’t manage a goal or assist. However, in the 2016/17 season Chelsea overcame the Hammers 2-1 in both of the side’s league meetings, with Hazard scoring the opening goal in both games.

Chelsea do possess other threats: Marcos Alonso has one goal and five assists in the league, Pedro (who is a doubt after sustaining a shoulder injury against PAOK) has three league goals, while Willian has one goal and two assists. However, it is clear that if West Ham are to get anything from the game they must nullify the danger that Hazard poses.

 

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Declan Rice shows he’s the midfielder West Ham need

Declan Rice

Before the Everton match last Sunday, West Ham’s midfield had looked lost on several occasions. With three points desperately needed, most Hammers supporters were wondering what Manuel Pellegrini would do to solve this issue, especially following the news that Jack Wilshere would be out injured. The Chilean’s answer was to go with three in the midfield with Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang deployed with Declan Rice just behind them.

With three defensively minded players in the centre of the pitch, many supporters were left wondering how things would work going forward. However, the team looked incredibly balanced, with Rice being the central cog which kept the team’s machine ticking over for the full 90 minutes. He screened the defence brilliantly throughout the match, covered his midfield partners if they were caught in possession and distributed the ball well whenever he had it at his feet.

With Rice playing such a disciplined and protective role, it allowed others around him to thrive. Noble and especially Obiang created a lot more than they normally would do going forward. However, with them still being defensively aware players they were also able to fill in when needed. When looking at the shape of the midfield when Everton were in possession, they were always a unit; close enough to support each other and double up but far enough to ensure that if the point of play was switched they could go out and cut out the opposition’s options. One thing that was always clear though is that everything centred around Rice.

This also helped Felipe Anderson, Marko Arnautovic and Andriy Yarmolenko to wreak havoc on the Everton defence. There have been games since his £42 million summer move where Anserson has looked ineffective, playing too deep so that he could help Arthur Masuaku defensively. This is partly because the number of attacking minded players Pellegrini had been using also forced them to focus on defensive duties. However, with Rice covering his team mates all the time, it gave the Brazilian and his team mates in the front three more freedom to focus on threatening the opposition. It is clear that this paid dividends, with Yarmolenko getting two goals, Arnautovic getting a goal and assist, while Anderson had Jonjoe Kenny pinned back for the majority of the game.

Rice got a lot of praise after the game, but what makes his mature performance even more impressive is the turbulent start to the season he had before this. He had started the first game of the season, but with the midfield being overrun by Liverpool’s, the 19-year-old was the man hauled off at half time with the side 2-0 down. Things didn’t improve after the substitution as the team ended up losing 4-0. He then didn’t even make the bench against AFC Bournemouth and was an unused substitute against Arsenal and Wolves. The only match he played in during that period was the 3-1 Carabao Cup victory against AFC Wimbledon.

Added to his lack of game time, he was at the centre of a media storm, which was whipped up after he decided to take time over deciding his international future. With three Republic of Ireland caps under his belt, the London-born player took the opportunity to mull over whether he wanted to represent the men in green or England. However, this is something which many including James McClean and Kevin Kilbane took exception to. For the teenager to recover from his early season disappointment and block those criticisms from his head, putting in such an assured performance in the first game since the international break, is testament to his attitude.

The next test for Rice and his team mates is Chelsea, the club that the youngster was released by when he was 14-years-old. With the Blues still maintaining a perfect record in the league, it is clearly going to be a big challenge for the Hammers. However, having impressed so much against another side in blue, Rice will see this as another opportunity to show the slot in midfield he occupied at Goodison Park should be his on a permanent basis.

 

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