At the start of the season, as a West Ham fan, would you have been happy that, after eleven games had been played, the team were level on points with Manchester United, Tottenham and Wolves? Almost certainly the answer would have been yes. But if you were asked a different question, such as, after eleven games have been played, would you be happy to be sitting below Sheffield United, Bournemouth, Brighton and Crystal Palace in the Premier League table? The answer would definitely have been most certainly not. Such is the nature of the Premier League after eleven games with approaching a third of the season completed. Together with the Red Devils, Wolves and our friends from North London, then compared to last season’s finishing positions, then so far we are under-performing, unlike the other four teams mentioned who are currently occupying positions in the table which are exceeding expectations.
I always like to look at current form (say the last five games), and based on that then we would be in a relegation position with just two points, with only Southampton and Norwich below us on one apiece. Even Watford, who have been rooted to the bottom all season, have picked up three points from the last five games. Our opponents this weekend, Burnley, sit immediately below us trailing us by just one point. Their recent form has not been good either, collecting just four points in the last five games. But if they beat us, they will leapfrog us, and in fact all of the teams down to 17th in the table could go past us with wins this weekend if we lose, as we are only two points above Everton who are 17th.
So what exactly has gone wrong? It wasn’t that long ago when we were being touted (alongside Leicester) as one of the teams that could push ahead and perhaps challenge for a place in the top six, or even top four according to some. My friend and co-blogger Geoff wrote an article after the Newcastle game where he highlighted a number of the deficiencies in the team. In particular he mentioned a lack of pace, width, organisation, fitness, commitment and motivation. It is difficult to argue with those. He also mentioned (and I may have added one or two of my own) a slow pedantic build up when attacking, sideways and backwards passing to no real effect – this was particularly galling as the final whistle approached, a selection of an ageing right back to face one of the fastest wingers in the Premier League, the lack of strategy in not having faster players defending against counter attacks launched by the opposition from our corners, a manager with an apparently strange selection policy by not changing an underperforming team, an apparent reluctance to try something different when things are not going right, including a reluctance to try a different formation, the lack of chances given to in-form younger development players, the inability to recognise the need for the club to have at least two goalkeepers of the right quality for the Premier League, the apparent lack of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of opponents prior to games, and perhaps the most worrying of all, a manager who admits that he has no idea where things are going wrong, and no idea what he needs to do to turn it around. That’s quite a list!
On the plus side we do have some talented players. We are one of a number of teams that are probably not good enough to break into the elite six club at the top, but hopefully too good to become embroiled in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table (I hope!). The fact that Sheffield United in sixth place have 16 points and Everton in seventeenth have 11 points demonstrates how closely matched so many of the Premier League teams are. But we cannot become too complacent, and a continuation of the recent poor run would mean that we do get involved at the wrong end of the table. The theory of averaging one point a game throughout the season to avoid the drop usually applies, and this season doesn’t appear to be an exception at the moment with just three teams falling short of that level at the moment. Bookmakers’ odds in respect of relegation reflect the league table to some extent, although we are only tenth favourite to go down (and Everton are 12th), whereas Sheffield United are seventh. I guess the closeness of this season’s Premier League to date (ignoring the clubs at the top and bottom) makes it more interesting for the neutral observer, but how many neutral observers are there?
Burnley are favourites at around 5/4 to win the game, our odds are around 21/10, and the draw is about 13/5. But when you look at the correct score odds, a 1-1 draw is favourite at 5/1, very short odds for predicting a correct score in a football match! The overall head to head record between the two clubs is slightly in our favour, a fact bolstered by recent times. In the last 40 years we have won 15 of the 23 meetings, with 4 draws and 4 defeats. However our last visit to Turf Moor, just before 2018 drew to a close, resulted in a 2-0 defeat with an abject performance, despite coming off the back of a good run at the time. Burnley had suffered a heavy defeat just before they met us, and the same applies this time! This followed the game at the London Stadium a few weeks before then where we came out on top 4-2.
I’ve absolutely no idea about what the manager will decide regarding team selection. If he sticks with the same starting eleven as last week with no discernible change in how they approach the game, then I fear for us against a strong physical Burnley side. My best hope is for West Ham to do what they have done in the past and surprise me. I like surprises of a good kind!