WEST Ham United have confounded their critics with an emboldened start to the new Premier League season.
They’re sitting in good company, tied for second place alongside three members of the Big Six – Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham. That is just one point off leaders and champions Manchester City.
Notably absent from that group are Manchester United, who are languishing in 11th place with six points to show for four games. And they face a tricky customer in Brighton and Hove Albion this weekend.
Today, if West Ham could somehow salvage a point or even upset the City juggernaut for all three, that would really spice things up at the London Stadium. And who knows where it might lead David Moyes and his charges?
After all, the Hammers are reigning champions in Europe, having won the Europa League Conference trophy in May.
Of course, City also won in Europe in May – the top-tier one, the Champions League.
And it is for that reason, as well as the manner in which Pep Guardiola has got his team to play, that one worries for West Ham in London today.
Should the Citizens get an early goal, then it could well lead to an avalanche. Thus, Moyes will almost certainly be urging his side to hold firm at the back, keep City out for the first 20 or 30 minutes, and let things settle down before having a go at the visitors.
There is little doubt that City will dominate possession, play intricate shapes by passing the ball around, and then unleash, with serious venom, a strike at goal when the opening arrives.
Guardiola would have been pleased to see his ace striker Erling Haaland score in both of Norway’s Euro 24 qualifiers during the international break, but he would not have been surprised.
Centre-forward Haaland is back to his best again after a short lull, and the Hammers may want to make a mental note of that.
England were rescued in their European Championship qualifier with Ukraine by an unlikely source. City’s right wing-back Kyle Walker got the equaliser after former City wing-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, now at Arsenal, put the home team ahead.
Walker will be expected to continue his good form, as are a few of the other internationals expected back ahead of this weekend’s Premiership resumption.
West Ham’s fine start has been put down to a few factors, but it’s because they are playing as a cohesive unit. They also defend well – they’ve conceded only four goals, second only to City and Liverpool.
They are also sharp in attack and have scored nine thus far – only Brighton, Man City and Tottenham have scored more.
What will be of specific interest to many a Hammer fan is how Mexican defensive midfielder Edson Alvarez and Ghanaian attacking midfielder Mohammed Kudus, who can also operate down the right flank, settle in at London Stadium and what sort of impact they will make.
The early signs are that they’ll do well, and Moyes will be glad.
Alvarez, in an interview, said: “Winning gives you confidence. It’s a good feeling, and two wins against two good teams (Brighton and Chelsea) bring extra motivation. We want to keep this feeling.”
Indeed, it would be a good feeling to take something off the champions of English and European football.
For Manchester United, there is no such charm. They will have spent the better part of this week trying to work out how to deal with Brighton, who visit Old Trafford today.
The Seagulls are flying high again, having put that West Ham defeat behind them with a comprehensive victory over Newcastle United.
Man Utd manager Erik ten Hag, who has been busy promoting midfield “genius” Bruno Fernandes, has also had to deal with his dispute with Jadon Sancho, a £73mil (RM424.78mil) buy from Dortmund two years ago.
Ten Hag will also have to do without Antony. The Brazilian winger is taking indefinite leave after this international break to confront assault allegations, which he denies.
The gravity of both of these issues is severe and cannot be just brushed aside. They’ll have an impact on the squad, and it will be up to ten Hag to ensure that they don’t adversely affect the way they play.
Coming up against a consistent and what is proving to be a formidable Brighton side is tough on the best of days, never mind the distractions, one of which is the cost of assembling the squad.
It emerged in midweek that the CIES Football Observatory calculated Man United’s squad to have cost £991.7mil (RM5,770.63mil), the most spent by any football team in the world.
Chelsea, who take on Bournemouth tomorrow, were next with £977.9mil (RM5,690.33mil) spent on their squad, while Man City were third with £898.5mil (RM5228.31mil) forked out.