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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Chicharito making his mark for West Ham

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Javier Hernandez has started more league matches in the last week than he had in the entirety of this season combined. It wasn’t so long ago that he’d been linked with a move away from the London Stadium, but it now seems unimaginable that he wouldn’t be in the starting line up.

The build up of fixtures was likely to be a factor in the rotation which played a part in reinstating him to the starting line up, but his performances have ensured it hasn’t resulted in him coming back out of it. With the Hammers currently missing the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Andriy Yarmolenko and long term absentee Manuel Lanzini, Chicharito has truly stepped up to help his side. December was coined as the most important period of West Ham’s season and the Mexican has been integral in making sure that period has begun with success.

The first match came away against an in form Newcastle United, in which Hernandez was handed his first start since a draw with Leicester in October. He opened the scoring just 11 minutes into the game at St. James’ Park, as he latched onto a pinpoint ball in from Robert Snodgrass and played it first time past Martin Dúbravka. It was the type of goal which the Mexican has become so well known for throughout his career. Having missed a few chances, he got his second of the game when he got onto the end of Arnoutovic’s header, raced forward and calmly slotted the ball away at the near post, getting the second of the Hammers’ three goals.

Chicharito started again in the next game, which came against Cardiff City. He may not have scored but  the striker was a constant threat for the 64 minutes he was on the pitch. West Ham managed three goals again, as they earned their first back to back victories since January 2017.

West Ham were desperate to keep their run going against Crystal Palace and Hernandez helped to ensure that happened. The Hammers had gone 1-0 down in the sixth minute, but as Andy Carroll replaced the injured Lucas Perez they got into the game a lot more. After Snodgrass had drawn the sides level with his first league goal for West Ham, Hernandez was able to put the Hammers in front.

It was a goal which highlighted his poacher’s instincts for all to see. Felipe Anderson struck a free kick to Wayne Hennessy’s left. The Welsh stopper was able to palm it away from the goal, but while everyone in the wall had been focused on trying to stop the initial hit, Hernandez ran behind them and into the perfect position to get the rebound, striking the ball into the roof of the net. This goal helped West Ham to their third win in a row, something they hadn’t achieved for over two years.

With the games coming thick and fast, this is the perfect time for the Mexican to find form, especially with Arnautovic currently out injured. He’s always been able to get goals no matter where he’s been in his career, but having struggled since joining the club in 2017 there were fears that things wouldn’t work out for Hernandez in East London. Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly managed to get the best out of him and his team mates though. With an impressive run of games behind him, everyone involved with West Ham will hope this form continues against Fulham on Saturday.

 

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The Premier League has turned into a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool

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What, where when? Just when we thought a few weeks ago that there were at least four teams capable of winning the Premier League, everything has all of a sudden opened up. After the midweek games which was the 15th round of matches in England two teams have emerged as possible title winners. The first and in top place is champions Manchester City, the second is Liverpool who have yet to win a Premier League title and have not won England’s top division since 1990.

So how did Chelsea and Tottenham suddenly fall away from contention? Maurizio Sarri’s side have won just 1 game in their past four matches and yet up until the 12th game of the season he had an unbeaten side at his disposal. But first they were exposed by Tottenham at Wembley, easily losing 3-1. They bounced back against Fulham in the west London derby only to lose to Wolves, which was seen as a shock result given how poor Wolves have been in the past month.

Chelsea are now 10 points behind City and are clinging onto 4th place only on goal difference to Arsenal. Tottenham in beating Southampton are back in 3rd place after being dislodged in the top 4 over the weekend when they lost to eternal nemesis Arsenal by 4-2. But Spurs have bounced back well. But they are still evidently a few levels below City and Liverpool, they have 33 points and are 8 points behind the league leaders.

All of this means of course that the league has turned into a two horse race before Christmas, although the flurry of fixtures could well shake that up. Manchester City will play Chelsea away next and a win for Pep Guardiola’s side will surely signal the end of Chelsea’s title hopes. Games follow against Everton, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Southampton. It is fair to think that from all of those matches City could expect 13 points which would put them on 54 before the year is out.

As for Liverpool who are the romantics choice of league winners giving how it has been 28 years since they won the league they will have to play Bournemouth, Manchester United, Wolves, Newcastle and Arsenal. The Reds seem to have a tougher run and could end up with 11 points which would put them on 50.

It is possible then that only 4 points will separate the two teams. And you can guess which fixture comes after the new year- that’s right these two teams will meet and it will be Manchester City who will be at home in what could be a big step to deciding the title. Still there are plenty of games to be played before then and like a typical Premier League campaign there will be plenty of twists and turns that is for sure.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was wrong to run on the pitch but should he be punished?

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Liverpool and Everton’s fierce Merseyside derby was going to end 0-0 and then in the 96th minute Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made the error of the season to gift the Reds a goal and they won 1-0. At that point Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager ran onto the pitch and broke FA rules, but should he be punished?

We need to look as always from both views of the argument. What Klopp did was wrong and disrespectful, that there can be no doubt. Liverpool didn’t score a magnificent last minute goal, it all stemmed from an error by Pickford where if he was given the choice another 99 times he would have used his common sense as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe and let the ball go out of play. Klopp celebrating like he did just seemed out of place and wrong.

And yet he celebrated not to rub Pickford’s nose in it but for three things: 1) a last minute winner, 2) a win in a derby game, 3) Liverpool still keeping in touch with Manchester City. Had the game as expected ended 0-0 Liverpool would have found themselves 4 points adrift to Pep Guardiola’s team.

Klopp is a lovable figure and unless you were an Everton fan let’s face it the sight of him running onto the pitch like a fan and then embracing goalkeeper Alisson was funny. But still Klopp seemed to lose control of himself. This was an important game true, but it wasn’t a cup final or a game that decided the league.

Marco Silva, the Everton manager was clearly not happy with what had happened and the fires have been stoked more with Klopp claiming that he apologised to Silva. Yet Silva has denied this, so the plot thickens.

As for Klopp, the FA will inevitably open up a case against the German, again should he be punished? The answer needs to come in two parts because Klopp is facing a fine and touchline ban. One should presume that romanticism still exists in football despite the money poured into it which has bridged a gap between the players and fans. In that way Klopp should not be punished with a touchline ban and put his team at a slight if psychological disadvantage for their next Premier League game.

But Klopp should be fined, nothing too serious, but he has to pay for breaking the rules as anyone else would do too. And it might make sense for him to apologise for the second or in Silva’s case the first time again to Everton.

After 19 games unbeaten, has Emery stepped out of Wenger’s shadow?

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Unai Emery is being hailed as the new messiah by Arsenal fans after the club convincingly beat their arch rivals Tottenham 4-2 at the weekend.

The Gunners have now gone 19 games in all competitions unbeaten after losing their first two matches of the season. But still question marks remained over the club because they had not beaten a top 4 side- at the weekend that changed with victory over Tottenham, and it was a win to saviour for the Arsenal faithful.

Not only did Arsenal beat the team they most want to beat every season but they also leapfrogged them into 4th place on goal difference, which has been richly deserved this season. This version of Arsenal, Emery’s version is slick, attacking and determined. Sure there is still some naivety at the back which allowed Tottenham back into the game but the team had fighting spirit circa Arsene Wenger’s team from 2004 and it showed this past weekend.

Every fan at the Emirates seems to have forgotten about Wenger, well at least the last couple of seasons version of him and all praise has rightly been aligned to Emery who has been a massive success for the club given that this is his debut season. The fans wanted change and were finally given it and Emery for now seems like the perfect coach to have been chosen. But have the club really improved this season from last?

It may be surprising to note that at least statistically almost nothing has changed at the club from last season. This time last season after 14 games Arsenal had 28 points under Emery they have 30. If this trend was to continue then Arsenal may finish the season with 5 points more than last giving them 68 points and perhaps missing out on  a top 4 place. But this is simply talk and this Arsenal team look like they will kick on.

But of course it is in how the Gunners are playing, and there is a massive change in how the team approach their games under Emery. The belief has been reinstalled and it was interesting to see how they reacted once going 2-1 down after leading the game. That should tell you everything that we needed to know about how Arsenal are playing now under Emery.

The real tests are yet to come, games such as playing Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United away from home. But for now considering Emery is just 4 months into the job, the man deserves respect and 10/10 for effort. Arsenal look like they are going places and that can only be a good thing for a team that have suffered from a lack of confidence for the past decade.

 

West Ham must manage injuries over festive period

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Like many other Premier League teams, West Ham have an incredibly important period coming up in December, as they prepare to play seven matches in the space of a month. Each of those is seen as realistically winnable, as the Hammers will face: Newcastle United, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Watford, Southampton and Burnley. However, at a time that is notorious for causing injury, it is vital that Manuel Pellegrini manages the squad well.

The Chilean is already without Andriy Yarmolenko, Ryan Fredericks, Manuel Lanzini and Carlos Sanchez among others. He’ll be boosted by the imminent returns of Andy Carroll and Jack Wilshere, though they will both need to have their game time managed in order to avoid a return to the treatment table.

Among these two, others who should have an eye kept on them are Marko Arnautovic and Pablo Zabaleta. The Hammers’ leading scorer this season has had trouble with his knee in recent weeks, if that were to be aggravated to the point where he can’t play then the Hammers will be without their main threat, with the impact on the team being heightened due to how quickly the fixtures come along.

In the case of Zabaleta, Pellegrini has already claimed that he will be looking to rotate the Argentine, saying that at 33-years-old he shouldn’t be playing that number of games in such a short space of time. With his usual replacement Fredericks suspected to be out until after the New Year, Pellegrini will have to find a suitable replacement for when Zabaleta is rested. Michail Antonio was used at right back by Slaven Bilic which didn’t go down well, so he may not be used. Another option could be Reece Oxford – seemingly down to his last chance to impress in a West Ham shirt- who played at right back multiple times while on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach last season.

There have been times already where a youngster has come in due to injury and ended up impressing enough to keep their place. Declan Rice and Grady Diangana are the two main examples, as they’re currently regular features in the starting line up. This could encourage Pellegrini to use the likes of Oxford, Nathan Holland, Marcus Browne and Joe Powell at certain points during the festive period in order to keep his older and more experienced players injury free.

The manager will of course need to find a balance between keeping players match fit and fielding a strong side. As he has already stated, it is far from guaranteed that the Hammers will win a plethora of games just because they’re avoiding the biggest teams in the league. However, it is important that they do pick up points, as despite being 14th in the table, they currently sit just four points outside the relegation zone. This is arguably the most vital period of Pellegrini’s tenure at West Ham to date, it is also likely to be the most difficult to manage. West Ham’s manager has struggled at times since moving to East London, though it’s imperative that he and his team get things right in December, as if they don’t they could be in trouble.

 

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Manchester City gear up for busy Christmas period

Pep Guardiola is expected to make changes ahead of Manchester City’s Premier League clash against Bournemouth on Saturday afternoon as the reigning champions enter their Christmas period which includes nine games in December alone.

Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva all face a race against time to be declared fit and will undergo a late fitness test while Kevin de Bruyne remains on the sidelines with a knee injury he picked up in early November, with Manchester City’s match against Bournemouth coming too soon for the Belgian. Continue reading

Does Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp avoid pressure on job due to media love in?

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Jurgen Klopp is probably one of the most friendliest and down to Earth managers in the game today. If we think of the German, manager of Liverpool our thoughts are immediate: His smile, laughter and his set of perfect teeth. He is a dedicated football man who wants nothing more than to win trophies- but after 3 seasons at Liverpool he has failed in that department. Why is it then that Klopp for the most part has avoided any pressure on his job despite spending hundreds of millions on players?

A certain Jose Mourinho at Liverpool must feel dumbfounded at times at the pressure on him, which is pretty much constant despite winning 2 major trophies with Manchester United since he joined the club in 2015. The Red Devils also put in a solid season last, no trophies but finishing 2nd to perhaps the greatest side ever to grace the Premier League in Manchester City. As others have pointed out most other seasons and United would have been champions with the points that had been amassed.

What gives then? Why do certain managers feel the wrath of pressure when failing when others don’t when doing the same thing? Think of Mourinho like we just have with Klopp, what comes into your mind? Mourinho comes across as glum, downtrodden, he hardly breaks a smile even when his team wins and he is critical of players through the press. And this seems to be one of the redeeming answers, Klopp doesn’t get the back pages attacking him because the media love him.

And the media are in love with him because in almost every press conference he is smiling and happy go lucky. At times it seems like the real Liverpool manager is waiting in the wings whilst Klopp kicks off the show with a comedy routine. He is infectious and a real charmer. Think of when he was caught smoking a year or so back by a paparazzi photographer. The news was forgotten within 24 hours, now imagine that was Mourinho or Pep Guardiola, or the new Arsenal boss Unai Emery- that photo and story would run for years. England loves Klopp and Klopp loves England, and that is all very well.

However surely Klopp’s time at Liverpool will be remembered for reaching cup finals and losing. A Champions League last season and a Europa League defeat a few seasons back are evidence. It is incredible with the way Liverpool have invested and played how they have nothing to show for it apart from some memorable games and goals.

One hopes that Klopp stays around in the Premier League, football needs more of him- but at the same time isn’t it time to start passing judgment on how his record as a coach will stand at Liverpool?

More bad news for West Ham as Marko Arnautovic looks set to leave the Hammers

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It’s not been a great start to the Premier League campaign for West Ham and new coach Manuel Pellegrini and this could be compounded more by the imminent departure of striker Marko Arnautovic.

Arnautovic whilst not coming out as wanting away via shouting from the rooftops like Eden Hazard at Chelsea has been hinting that now is the time for him to leave for a bigger club. Such has been the progress of a desired move away that Pellegrini has had to make his first denial in a recent press conference and for him the Austrian international will be staying. But it looks inevitable that he won’t.

In some ways it’s difficult to deny Arnautovic his move. He has never played for a top 4 club and at 29 he is approaching his last big transfer move. Reportedly Manchester United are very interested in taking the player and it would be a dream move for him. He may just be the perfect player for an Jose Mourinho side, a dogs of war side that have a striker up front, standing at over 6ft tall whose presence will be dangerous in set pieces.

For West Ham they were just taking to Arnautovic as he enters his 2nd season with the club and has scored 16 times from 47 games. It isn’t a brilliant return but with better players the feeling is that he can score more goals. Plus he puts in a superb work rate for the Hammers and will be surely missed.

The problem for West Ham is that if a deal is going to go through there are suggestions that a team such as United would not want to wait for the summer and have the transfer go through in January. This would be a huge body blow for a club who only have a small gap from the bottom three. Losing a player of this quality even if they will make a good profit at such a time as the 2019 run in could prove even costlier to the club in the long term.

West Ham will naturally resist all offers for now but if United offer £50m or upwards you would feel that the London club would take that. Plus on a personal level Arnautovic will feel that all of his hard work has earned him the right to play in a team that can realistically win trophies and push on and play in the Champions League. A shame for West Ham true but Arnautovic looks like he will be spreading his wings very soon.

 

Lack of finishing touch is punishing West Ham

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Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to got toe-to-toe with Manchester City was a brave or naive one- depending on how you look at it. However, there were two aspects of his side’s performance during the game which made sure the manager’s risk wouldn’t pay off. The first was Arthur Masuaku’s lack of concentration at vital times. The second is more of a problem: a collective inability to finish off chances.

The commentators praised the Chilean’s tactics and enjoyed the open spectacle that it allowed, however, with just three wins all season the Hammers manager would much rather have some extra points on the board and if the Hammers hadn’t been so wasteful in front of goal, especially in the early stages, there is a chance he could have got them.

Instead, his was the sixth game in the Hammers’ 13 league matches so far in which they failed to score. In the past this has been blamed on a lack of creativity, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. Michail Antonio arguably had the best of the chances, but Marko Arnautovic, Pedro Obiang and Fabian Balbuena all had clear opportunities to score which they were unable to convert. West Ham actually had the same number of shots as City during Saturday’s game, they just didn’t manage to force any in while the visitors hit the back of the net four times- David Silva and Raheem Sterling getting one each and Leroy Sane bagging a brace.

It isn’t necessarily a concern that the side were beaten by City, it is the lack of cutting edge in the final third that will lead to worry. The Hammers have a favourable run -they won’t play any of the big six in their next eight games- so there will be pressure for the team to pick up points during the festive period. Now is not the time for shooting boots to go missing.

There have been worries that the Hammers have been too reliant on Arnautovic for their goals in recent times, with the Austrian directly involved in six of the club’s 14 league goals this season. If there is ever a time when he’s having an off-day it rarely seems that there is someone to step up and put the ball in the net, something which must change if West Ham are to climb the table.

West Ham may be 13th in the league, but they currently sit just four points above the relegation zone. There are many who believe that the side’s run between now and the New Year will be decisive in the club’s season, so it’s important that the team learn from matches such as this and start putting the ball into the net. With Grady Diangana having broken into the first team fold and Felipe Anderson showing improvements in his overall game, West Ham are beginning to create a lot more chances than earlier in the campaign. They just need to start putting them away with more regularity now.

 

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