Written by: Jonathan Lee
So, we approach the start of the 2020/21 season, which of course will continue to be played against the empty backdrop of various stadia around the country, effectively negating any tangible home or away advantage, with Russ our music man under orders to play goal music – just wrong on every level! But where do we sit, in eager anticipation or dreaded fear?
A successful pre-season in 2010 saw us relegated under Avram Grant, while a pre-season to forget in 1985 saw us perform beyond all expectation to finish third, so safe to say we can probably very quickly ignore whatever happened against Wycombe, Ipswich, Brentford and Bournemouth. These are physical work outs as much as tactical master classes; there will be a whole new feel to the game come 8pm on Saturday, but what can we expect …?
Certainly the mood around the fanbase has been better – no transfers in at the time of writing, Grady allowed to join a potential relegation rival, the skipper showing a rare public sign of his disappointment and anger supported online by various other players and underwhelming displays against both Brentford and Bournemouth – why would any decent player necessarily want to join us right now with such an unsteady ship apart from the usual dollar motivation. It looks highly unlikely any new faces will be in for Newcastle, but the window doesn’t close until 5 October so there’s still time for movement – although one fears that may it may be more likely players will leave than join if finances at the Club are as dire as we have been told. Hearing that news doesn’t help when we see the likes of Leeds, Sheffield United, Villa, Newcastle and WBA all heavily investing and improving their squads.
We know we have a tough set of opening fixtures, well into October, and our hope is that the players can forge a bond on the pitch and play for each other, plus the likes of Antonio, Rice, Soucek (if he is available for selection, yet another mini drama in the wings !) Bowen and Ogbonna can avoid injury and maintain the form they showed on the last restart. But make no mistake – whoever is in our squad, to play the top six teams from last season in the first seven games plus a Newcastle team now including Fraser, Wilson and Lewis (how come they have been able to draft in three new significant players, at a cost, and we have none), will be a real test of solidity, shape, work ethic and trust.
We certainly have the characters on the management bench to motivate the players in Nolan, Nevin, and Pearce, but once the players step onto the pitch the responsibility falls fully square on their shoulders. To get any sort of respectable number of points on the board by the end of October we are going to need the likes of Diop, Haller, Fornals, Noble to be returning 7 out of 10 marks each game – not 4 or 5 – and it would be nice to see one or two youngsters used, fearless and with something to prove. Is this finally the season Josh Cullen gets a role or will the inevitable loan to the EFL follow again. This must surely be the last chance saloon for him before a permanent transfer out beckons; maybe not the most technically gifted player but his heart is in the right place and he does what Moyes apparently likes, he runs, he works. As universally recognised, the full back positions scare all of us and the opposition must be licking their lips with Saint-Maximin counting down the time to Sat night to fill his boots down either wing; if Haller or Antonio (or both) get injured – and it feels somewhat inevitable – who is going to step up to the plate ? We cannot, sadly, rely on Lanzini, Yarmolenko or Anderson, all perfectly able players on their day, but whose days rarely come around. Although wouldn’t it be lovely to see all three burst into some consistent form as we know they can do it; more likely Anderson will be loaned out and the others will play bit part supporting roles from the bench.
As ever, it looks like a being a bumpy ride, but then that is the real West Ham Way!