We entertain last season’s Premier League winners, Leicester City, this weekend, although their league form this season has been, to say the least, unimpressive. To date they have played 27 league games, winning just 7, drawing 6, and losing 14. Ironically, before we played Bournemouth last weekend the Cherries’ league record was played 27, won 7, drawn 6, and lost 14. And we know what happened there, so let us hope we don’t get a repeat.
Until they sacked last season’s Manager of The Year, Claudio Ranieri, a couple of games ago, they had won just five and were really involved in the relegation battle at the foot of the table. However, two consecutive 3-1 home wins over Liverpool and Hull City have eased the pressure somewhat, and they seem to be looking upwards, although they are not safe yet. Some would say that we are not safe either, although it won’t take too many more points for this to be achieved.
The real worry though is their away form. In thirteen away league games they have picked up just three points from three draws at Tottenham, Stoke, and Middlesbrough, and lost the other ten. Anyone who has supported West Ham for any length of time will appreciate the danger I can see here. We do have a penchant for assisting sides to end poor runs of results, and it would be a shame if we enabled Leicester to double their away from home points tally in just one game.
Apart from losing to some of the bigger teams, they have also lost away at Hull, Watford, Sunderland, Bournemouth, Burnley and Swansea, so on their league form this season they are certainly not a team we should fear. But at the same time, our recent form has been nothing to write home about either.
Their salvation this season has been an incredible run in the European Champions League, where they have reached the last eight of the competition, and are the only remaining English side remaining, with Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City all eliminated. You couldn’t have got odds of 5000-1 on this, but I am sure that the odds were fairly lengthy on them reaching the quarter-finals and also outlasting the other English entrants.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the mini-league that was taking place between the clubs placed between 9th and 14th in the Premier League. At the time they were Stoke, Burnley, West Ham, Southampton, Watford and Bournemouth in that order. I am happy to report that a few games later the mini-league continues with the same six clubs involved, albeit in a slightly different order. Previously Stoke were 9th with 29 points, we were 11th with 28, and Bournemouth were 14th with 26. So just 3 points separated the six clubs at the time.
Now, Stoke, ourselves and Bournemouth occupy identical positions as before although the gap from first to last is now six points, and Southampton have taken Burnley’s place in tenth. I write this to illustrate the lack of change in Premier League positions as the season progresses. This season we have three distinct leagues within the league, the top 8 (although Everton and West Brom in 7th and 8th have no chance of getting into the top 6), our six team mini-league, and then the bottom six who are all fighting the drop. Although there are minor changes in the order within each of these three leagues, it seems that they are quite distinct, and teams are having difficulty in progressing from their own sub-division.
What I would like to see is for us to go on a long winning run and start to challenge for 7th or 8th, but it is not going to happen. Where will we finish? I reckon 9th (or top of our mini-league) is about the best we can hope for, and anywhere down to 14th is probably the least, although a really disastrous run could possibly see us even lower.
I have many fond memories of watching games against Leicester over the last (almost) sixty years. Probably the best goal I have ever seen was scored by Martin Peters in a 4-0 win over them in 1968. And another great memory is coming from two goals down on Boxing Day morning in 1967, to win the game 4-2 with a hat-trick from Brian Dear, and a goal from a teenage Trevor Brooking. Four days after Boxing Day we went to Leicester for the return fixture and again beat them 4-2 with two more from Dear and another from Brooking.
A little research reveals that Leicester are the team that we have beaten more often than any other team in my lifetime, a total of 37 times. However the last five times we have faced them in league and cup over the past couple of years we have lost four and drawn one. The draw (2-2) at Leicester last April was a travesty in my opinion, and yet another example of referee Moss awarding a penalty to our opponents in the 95th minute to give them a chance to draw the game. Yes, he has history in this respect. He also awarded a penalty to Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the 95th minute the season before which enabled them to draw 2-2 with us.
This time we have Roger East who I don’t believe we’ve had this season so far. I have a recollection of him officiating a Leicester game earlier this season and awarding them a penalty. But don’t be too surprised. They seem to get a lot of them.
What will happen this weekend? With no justification based upon recent form whatsoever, I confidently expect us to win, and score twice as many goals as them. So, 2-1 then, or perhaps 4-2 to repeat Boxing Day 1967.