An end of season game against a side with nothing to play for, who have only won four of their last eighteen games and who have an injury list as long as a line of supporters streaming out of the stadium before the final whistle. What could possibly go wrong?
Today the West Ham roadshow travels to the home of former champions Leicester City in search of the remaining precious points that will seal Premier League survival – at least for one more season. David Moyes says that the mood in the camp is good despite the disappointment of last Sunday’s performance but I would take that very much with a pinch of salt. In all probability today’s approach will be to try to contain Leicester, protect the point, and maybe hope to hit them on the break. Recent history will already have taught most of us that containment is a risky strategy for a side with league’s worst defence but continuing to flog a dead horse has long been a favourite pastime for West Ham managers.
Leciester for their part have continued to wallow through the afterglow of their never to be repeated Premier League crown; but at least they have done it once which is more than most. In appointing Claude Puel they seem to have accepted that mediocrity is their place in the world and it is a measure of own incompetence that mediocre looks a mighty fine place to be from right down here –even though a fine run of 5 or 6 – nil wins could still see us overhaul the Foxes. Despite a lacklustre season for the club, Jamie Vardy has still managed to plunder seventeen goals and if there is one team who are not yet wise to the ball over the top of the defence ploy then it will be ours. I suspect that the Hammers have spent all week practising how to defend against it but, even so, a collective amnesia will once again strike once they leave the tunnel.
Head to Head
The home fixture against Leicester was Moyes first West Ham point back in November last year. In the last twelve away fixtures with the Foxes, West Ham have won three, lost five and drawn three. The last Premier League away win was in January 2000, a 3-1 success courtesy of Wanchope (2) and Di Canio – Emile Heskey scoring for the home side.
Moyes must look at his squad in much the same way that a woman rifles through her wardrobe prior to a night out and declares she has nothing to wear! There are only the same tired unimaginative combinations to choose from while the expensive mistakes (that seemed like a good idea at the time), the ones that have seen better days and those that no longer fit are quickly discarded. Hopefully there will be no place for Patrice Evra (whatever was he thinking last week) or Edmilson Fernandes but is there anything better available? I don’t see anything special in Josh Cullen but could he do any worse than Mark Noble or Cheikhou Kouyate have performed of late? Andy Carroll spent time during the week on the naughty step and his now back in contention for a place on the bench.
The West Ham academy continues to disappoint and offers no exciting alternatives. Apart from Declan Rice, the only other player who has impressed (admittedly from only brief online glimpses) is Nathan Holland. Reece Oxford appears not to want to return to the east end and the other youngsters out on loan rarely get a game at their struggling clubs.
As mentioned Leicester have a long injury list but they still have Vardy and Mahrez available to taunt West Hams. Also a likely starter is Iheanacho, one of the many apparent failed targets for the Board during last summer’s smoke and mirrors transfer window. As well as those missing through injury, Leicester are also without the suspended Albrighton.
Man in the Middle
When the referee appointments are made each week there is one website that routinely proclaims ‘Referees are announced and it’s bad news for Moyes’; the logic being the existence of lucky or unlucky referees. In truth we lose so frequently that any referee can be proved to be unlucky. Today’s candidate is Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire and, indeed, his one and only ever West Ham game was this season’s cup defeat at Wigan – where he sent of Arthur Masuaku for spitting.
It seems that Paul Merson couldn’t be bothered to make any predictions this week (at least not at time of writing) while Lawro goes for a 2-1 Leicester win. I would be more confident had the Foxes not been so humiliated last week but I believe this game has a draw written all over it.