West Ham are seventh in the table at the time of writing, having won three of their six Premier League matches so far. What have you made of the Hammers’ start to the season?
It has been a good start, it really has. That season opener at Newcastle was amazing and probably the best away game I have been to. The winning atmosphere and environment has stemmed from pre-season when they had a big win against Reading, the emphatic 6-2 triumph over Celtic and the win against Brentford, too. They have fostered a winning mentality and we are seeing that so far. The only match I can think of that hasn’t been great was the goalless draw with Southampton, but barring that it has been really good; the 4-1 win over Leicester where Michail Antonio broke Paulo Di Canio’s record and became the club’s all-time top scorer in the league, the 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace and also the Carabao Cup match, where a second string team played well and beat Man United 1-0.
They received plenty of plaudits for their sixth-place finish last season, which represented their highest top flight finish since they reached fifth in 1998/99. It’s still very early, but do you think they are capable of matching that again this term?
For sure. David Moyes is often on the record as saying it is about time West Ham started thinking about being higher up in the table rather than just being happy to be in the Premier League. The team has enough potential and personnel to be challenging for the Champions League or Europa League places. While it was good they finished in the Europa League spots last season, there is that feeling of ‘what if?’ because they were only two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. For example, had Antonio not got injured against Wolves or had Declan Rice not got injured on international duty with England, the may well have got there. It just shows the progress the team has made under Moyes because, under Manuel Pellegrini, there were questions marks about where they were heading. Now, they have arguably the best midfield in Rice and Tomas Soucek, Antonio scoring goals for fun, a great defensive pairing of Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma and a great set of backroom staff. Everything is clicking so there’s no reason why they can’t keep challenging higher up the table.
Ex-Brentford man Said Benrahma (above) seems to have hit the ground running this season, with three goals and two assists already. How important a player is he in this Hammers team?
Everyone loves him! When players are signed from the Championship, it can take some time for them to get used to the Premier League, a new team and new team-mates, but this season he has flourished. There’s a nice strong connection between the players who speak French, so between him Alphonse Areola, Kurt Zouma, Arthur Masuaku and Issa Diop, they have a strong core at the club. I feel like the turning point for Benrahma was the 2-0 win against Burnley in May. He was absolutely brilliant in that match and ever since then his confidence has been great. Against Leeds last weekend, he was the main attacking outlet and every time he was on the ball, he looked confident. The thing about playing in this system under Moyes is that he wants players to track back and that has been the one hard area for Benrahma because, at Brentford, he didn’t have to do it as much. But he made two great interceptions in that match and that’s how you can tell he has made a lot of progress because, had that been last season, he probably wouldn’t have made those runs. It also shows how good coaching has helped him to flourish, too.
Aside from the Algerian, which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Sunday?
Definitely Michail Antonio because he is in the form of his life right now. At the time of speaking, he is joint-top scorer in the league alongside Jamie Vardy and Mo Salah and he has just been a different beast so far. He changed his number from 30 to 9 in the summer and I believe he feels like a No 9 now because he is playing like one. He is the main attacking outlet for West Ham and is definitely someone Brentford fans should keep an eye on, while whoever comes up against him will have something to fear! His journey from non-league is another reason why Hammers fans love him.
How is David Moyes likely to set up his side at the London Stadium?
It will be a 4-2-3-1 formation. Lukasz Fabianski in goal, a central defensive pairing of Ogbonna and Zouma, left-back Aaron Cresswell and Vladimir Coufal at right-back; Rice and Soucek in the middle, No 10 – I’d imagine – will be Benrahma, Pablo Fornals on the left, Jarrod Bowen on the right and Antonio up front. It has been a consistent team and a consistent formation this season. Last season we saw a wing-back system, but Moyes has preferred a 4-2-3-1 system this season and it has worked.
West Ham won the last league meeting between the two teams, cruising to a 4-0 win at Upton Park in March 1993. What’s your score prediction?
I think this is going to be a tough match, so I’m going to go for a 1-0 West Ham win, with Bowen to score.
Supporters are advised to leave extra time to get to the game with the Central Line supended west of Queensway and congestion expected due to the London Marathon.