West Ham’s triumph over Liverpool is just what Moyes does. He wins.
It’s December 2019, that period between Christmas and New Year where nobody quite knows what day it is, and David Moyes is once again the butt of everybody’s joke.
After rescuing West Ham from relegation 18 months before, Moyes was jettisoned by the
Dildo Brothers Messrs Gold and Sullivan who wished for a more ambitious appointment.
But the Manuel Pellegrini experiment was a failure. Pellegrini often spoke of creating a ‘big club mentality’ at West Ham but it simply looked like more of the same – a side with all the backbone of a puddle, filled with expensive but lightweight signings, who were mired in yet another relegation battle.
It’s against this context that Moyes said: “What anybody is getting with me is an experienced Premier League manager.”
“Arguably there is only two or three who have got more than me. I’ve got the biggest win rate out of a certain number of managers as well. That’s what I do. I win.”
‘I win’. A line that appeared destined to damn the West Ham manager. The hyenas of social media lept upon it like lions who’ve discovered an errant human in their enclosure.
The response from the press wasn’t much different either. Jonathan Wilson, perhaps still smarting from Sunderland’s relegation under Moyes, wrote a particularly vicious piece in The Guardian.
Jonathan Liew, of the same paper, started his own piece with: “Well, I’m sorry to say again: it’s Moysey,” and concluded: “Moyes is the perfect emblem of these bleak and perplexing times: a man who neither improves teams nor greatly degrades them but will simply be there, right until he isn’t.
“He won’t take you in the wrong direction, because he doesn’t take you in any direction.”
It’s fair to say both journalists have treated themselves to a large slice of humble pie in recent months.
In all honesty, plenty of West Ham fans were uninspired by the return of Moyes. Fast forward to November 2021 and every Hammer has marks on their arms from repeatedly pinching themselves.
No, this isn’t a dream.
Over the past two years, Moyes has assembled a team that’s almost a Premier League cheat code. West Ham possess athletic centre-backs who relish defending. They have two modern full-backs. The Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek axis in midfield is the envy of the rest of the division.
Forwards such as Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma and Pablo Fornals are both creative and could profitably sideline as nightclub bouncers. While Michail Antonio behaves as predictably as a wasp at a picnic, he’s an absolute nightmare to play against.
Married to excellent organisation and a ruthless application of set-plays, West Ham have risen from being bottom dwellers to (almost) conceivably being talked up as title contenders.
And the win over Liverpool showcased the very best of Moyesian football.
West Ham are flying through up to third place in the table!! Beating Liverpool 3-2 at home 🔥 pic.twitter.com/SLuTqGYHMf
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) November 7, 2021
Jurgen Klopp, showing all the magnanimity of David Brent inspecting a Victoria sponge, claimed Alisson had been fouled for West Ham’s opener. What the Liverpool boss failed to note was that his goalkeeper visibly shrank under Angelo Ogbonna’s challenge.
From there, West Ham defended resolutely but allowed their opponents too much possession. Blink and you’d confuse them for Gareth Southgate’s England in a big tournament game.
So, paradoxically, the inevitable equaliser was the best thing that could have happened for Moyes. After tweaking things at half-time, pushing Fornals further forward to expose Liverpool’s midfield frailties, West Ham took the game to their powerful opponents.
Last January, West Ham faced Liverpool on a similar run of good form and meekly surrendered to a 3-1 defeat. It was a match that indicated that, despite the progress Moyes had made, he’d always bottle the big occasions against strong opponents.
But not this time. Second-half goals from Fornals and Kurt Zouma, the latter exploiting Trent Alexander-Arnold’s metamorphosis into a Squid Game participant playing Red Light, Green Light, secured a famous victory for the happy Hammers.
"I don't know why in these situations Liverpool don't run back!"
Pablo Fornals fires West Ham in front against Liverpool! 🔥
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) November 7, 2021
Despite reports that parts of east London had been submerged in celebatory champagne, Moyes wasn’t getting too far ahead of himself afterwards.
“I want to be really positive all the time. I would like to say that is what we can do but I don’t see that at the moment,” he told BBC Sport when asked if his side are title contenders.
“We missed out on Champions League football by two points (last season) – so why can we not be there?
“We are not getting carried away but it is feeling good at the moment.”
It certainly hasn’t felt this good for West Ham supporters since the mid-1980s. Perhaps, this time, the bubbles won’t fade and die before they reach the sky.
And everybody seems to have forgotten about Moyes’ ‘winner’ comment. Funny that.
By Michael Lee