Now that we’re halfway through the season, what’s your mid-season analysis of how well Manuel Pellegrini has done?
Meirion Williams: The phrase it’s a marathon not a sprint comes to mind. I have to say I was a little nervous early on particularly as at one time I simply couldn’t see where our first win was coming from. The draw with Chelsea was the one where I suddenly though that we were starting to get it right and we were just a performance or two away from going on a run. It’s a distinct possibility we will be safe from relegation by February and that’s something we couldn’t say last season. If I was going to offer a grade it would be a B; Steady but more to do.
Emily Pulham: I’m with Meirion on this – Pellegrini has taken his time to get this right, and we’re starting to see this pay off. The real test will be seeing how we fare against top half of the table teams in the second part of the season, but I’m not even remotely worried about relegation. Wouldn’t it be incredible to be safe by March – dare we dream?
Brian Penn: I think we all expected a bumpy start with a new manager and nine new signings to bed in. Meirion is right, the draw against Chelsea was the first chink of light, but I still eulogise about the Man U game. That was fulfilment of Pellegrini’s vision, and you could actually see his preferred team taking shape. Then Yarmolenko gets injured! Yes, a solid Grade B sounds about right.
Geoff Hillyer: He’s done well, hasn’t he? It’s clear that his ideas and vision are starting to show on the pitch. Take the first four games out and our form would see us comfortably in the top half. Throw in the unfortunate injuries and the sheer mutiny hangover from last season, and I conclude that he’s done well from a low base. I’m looking for continued progression though.
What should West Ham’s number one priority be in the January transfer window?
MW: It’s clear that we are struggling at left back. Aaron Cresswell has never been the same player since coming back from injury some time ago. As for Arthur, he has proved time and time again that he is not a left back. That has to be our number one priority going into the window.
EP: Firstly, not signing players with a very clear and semi-permanent injury record (hi, Jack!) but as per every single transfer window in every single year, we need a defender – and this year it’s a left back. Neither Aaron nor Arthur is playing well enough to earn their spot at left-back, but we have to keep playing them as we are so limited in options.
BP: I think generally our defence needs to be strengthened. We badly miss Winston Reid and I’m not totally convinced by Diop and Balbuena. Bring in some extra cover to keep them on their toes I reckon.
GH: We concede too many goals. As Emily says, this isn’t new and we’re crying out for a solid, reliable left back – remember Julian Dicks?. It says something about our defence as a whole that when we were 3-1 up against Crystal Palace and then they scored again, I sort of expected us to lose 4-3.
Do we need to keep Javier Hernandez after his goals while Arnautovic was injured?
MW: I’ve changed my mind on Hernandez. Originally he was one of the players I would have been happy to see leave in the window. Now though with a change to a 4-4-2 formation we are beginning to see just what the Little Pea can deliver. I would keep hold of him as after all the January window has not been kind to the Hammers when it comes to obtaining a forward.
EP: Absolutely – I’d keep him even if Arnautovic was fit! Sometimes it takes a long time to see where you fit in a team, particularly if said team is a bit all over the place and lacks structure and cohesion. Hernandez is starting to click, and we’re seeing what makes him such a valuable player. His poaching for the goal against Palace was first class, and I can’t help but wonder what him and Carroll could do together on the pitch.
BP: Hernandez seemed very unhappy, occasionally coming off the bench as an impact sub. I don’t think he felt wanted, his body language spoke volumes. But he enjoyed a second wind in December. He is a very good player who now seems more energised – I think we need to keep him.
GH: Of course we do. I still believe he could be a big player for us. We have a real goal poacher on our hands – look how quickly he reacted to the free kick against Palace. How many other players would have done that? I really think that we will see much more of him in the second part of the season and he will have an important role to play.
2019 could be the first year we see Video Assistant Referees (VAR) in the Premier League after clubs agreed in principle for its introduction from the start of the 19/20 campaign. Are you in favour of this?
MW: Absolutely in favour, I cannot see why anyone would not. Time and time again there have been occasions where the referee has had a major outcome on the game. The game is played at a far faster pace these days and referees need that extra help. Also the money involved in the game means one wrong decision can cost a team a fortune. The game needs to move on and I welcome the introduction of this technology.
EP: I agree with Meirion again – this can only be a good thing. Too many bad decisions ruin entire games – and can be the difference between relegation and Premier League football. The only negative is that even VAR still relies on good refereeing to work – the ref still needs to be willing to watch the footage, and make a call. Better tools don’t necessarily mean better craftsmanship – a crap ref will still be crap ref.
BP: 100 per cent in favour. It can cure so many ills plaguing the game; players will no longer be able to hoodwink referees. Definitive decisions for offside, handball, etc can be delivered in a matter of seconds. My only caveat is that VAR should be used to aid the decision making process, the referee should always remain in control.
GH: Just like the others, yes yes yes. It really does seem to me, and I know I’m biased, that we don’t often get a rub of the green. I’m still smarting over Nolan v Manchester United from the other season. Let’s just make sure the referees use it properly, and that we don’t just rely on VAR to make the decisions for them.
Where do you think we will finish this season?
MW: This is a poor Premier League as is displayed by the likes of Everton making a run for the Europa League. In October I would have been happy with just above the relegation zone but now I want more. I want us to finish top half. I hope that we miss out though on a Europa League spot not because of the extra games we would have to play but more to do with events at the London Stadium preventing us playing at home. It’s going to take an age to get rid of that pitchers mound.
EP: I know I’m drunk on a run of brilliant fixtures against struggling teams, but seventh or eighth. No, I’m not willing to show my work.
BP: I think we’re capable of a top 10 finish, we’ve got the momentum going into the New Year. A place in the Europa League is not out of the question, we just need to maintain some consistency. Unfortunately that’s been a concept that’s been alien to us for far too long!
GH: You do know this is West Ham, right? Who seriously knows? I believe that we are capable of finishing sixth. We won’t, but I believe we are capable of doing it this season. So I’m going to have a stab at something like ninth. Do I get a prize if I’m right?