West Ham have seen out the first half of their Europa League group games, defeating each of our rivals in Group H. Dinamo Zagreb, KRC Genk, and Rapid Vienna have all left the pitch scoreless against Moyes’ claret and blue boys, and we are also ranked number one not only amongst Group H but also with our points and goal difference leaving us highest of all teams in the Europa League.
There is a sense of joy amongst us fans as this is the furthest we have reached in recent European competitions, and to hear that we are the favorites to win by awestruck pundits has set the bubble machines a sputter. To keep ourselves from soaring too high, I decided to do follow up interviews with fans of our competitors and debrief before the second half of the group stage ends this month.
Our first away day was against Dinamo Zagreb. We thought Dinamo would be our fiercest competitors in the most hostile environment – the Stadion Maximir – lorded over by Zagreb ultras the “Bad Blue Boys”, but we had an easy victory, 2-0 off some poor defending. Nick Stampar – our Slavic aficionado – was not surprised by the win, but by West Ham’s control and clean sheet. Zagreb had been slumping in form but he wasn’t expecting a rout.
Stampar believes Zagreb will be worried primarily about Genk as they are their next challenge and then Vienna, with West Ham their final competitor: ‘Zagreb will be hoping the West Ham fixture means as little as possible to their outcomes and for that reason I expect they’ll view it in the larger context of getting back into form and try to find their best XI by early December.’
Tactically Nick thinks they have been playing Petkovic in a deeper role instead of a classic number 9 and they’ll be in problem solving mode changing the 4141 formation they used against West Ham. Stampar was not surprised by the hospitality of the bad blue boys, shown by the citizens of Zagreb to West Ham fans as ‘they are a cosmopolitan European capital used to European competitions’. He does believe that Vlasic will continue to be jeered by the crowd.
Although Stampar doesn’t believe Zagreb will offer an immediate threat to West Ham, he is confident that they have the strength to make second place in Group H and will improve as they are currently second in their national league.
Jimmy Klerx of Genk, was also not surprised by West Ham’s 3-0 win or the strength of Moyes’ squad. He views Moyes as a good manager, who’s created a squad with a ‘positive vibe’ and was ‘impressed by a manager who can put whoever he wants in and the performances will still be decent’. This is the opposite of Genk’s management.
Klerx believes the manager John Van den Brom has to go. The home advantage that Klerkx spoke about in his first interview as an ‘electrifying atmosphere of a passionate fan base’ will not be a threat, because ‘we are a dead team and everybody’s waiting for the manager to be sacked. A bit like in Manchester now’. The assistant manager was sacked, and even though the Director of Football is a genius scouting youth talents, he cannot pick a good manager.
Klerx will attend the West Ham match but believes ‘it is no longer my Genk’ and thinks Genk will lose the match, and could possibly hope to finish 3rd in Group H. He’s had a positive interaction with West Ham fans and loves to banter against ‘the top 6’ in the Premier League like Tottenham, Chelsea, and Man United, believing West Ham have remained humble with recent success.
Last but not least, we had a 2-0 victory over Rapid Vienna at home, and Rapid fan Helmut Kronika was not surprised in the least. He suggested Vienna’s in-game form that ‘we do face the issue of getting worse towards the end of the game on a regular basis especially in our league. On the whole the result was fair enough’.
Helmut thinks that Rapid Vienna can play better and should be strong at home, as they were in their win over Zagreb but confirmed that West Ham is a strong side. Regarding the dust up between West Ham and Rapid Vienna fans in which West Ham was fined, Helmut states the Austrian media had a different report of the origins of the conflict than the English media and said it sprung from West Ham fans rather than rowdy Austrians.
Helmut has no presumptions that Rapid Vienna will win the group but has faith in his side that they will clinch the second place. With West Ham’s form and feeling right now, we believe we will clinch the Group stage first spot, and will have to maintain discipline to conquer old flames in Felipe Anderson’s Lazio, Dimi Payet’s Marseille, and Pellegrini’s Real Betis who are all currently successful in their group stages.