The Manuel Pellegrini Golden Bullet Farewell Tour heads to the south coast late on Saturday afternoon for the last of its currently schedule dates. We shouldn’t expect anything more than the same old tired performance; going through the motions with the usual absence of energy and lack of co-ordination. The tours co-promoters, G&S Self Promotions Inc, will reportedly decide, after the show, whether to add any further venues to the tour or finally call it a day.
Pellegrini is supposedly once more down to his final life – like some cornered avatar in a fantasy computer game. A West Ham win might earn him two more lives; a draw would mean not losing a life; while defeat and it is game over. As the sacking decision is now clearly only about money, any pretence of keeping faith with the manager to ‘turn things around’ has completely evaporated. West Ham occupying one of the relegation places at Christmas has now become almost guaranteed.
From the demeanour of manager and players, it has been obvious for at least a month that Pellegrini was a dead man walking. The problems run so deep that there was never any likelihood of a way back – the plug should have been pulled after the Burnley game. To blunder along in the dark, week by week, hoping for a miracle has been beyond negligent. Only time will tell whether the penny pinching, dithering Daves have allowed history to repeat itself and acted too late.
There continues to be much speculation in the media as to who the next manager might be. Despite everything, managing in the Premier League at West Ham will still be seen as an attractive job – with an attractive benefits package to go with it. Let’s face it, nearly all top flight manager appointments end up in ‘failure’ to some extent or the other – so who wouldn’t be prepared to give it a try. It would be nice to think that our search would extended beyond the usual list of unimaginative hopefuls that always crops up when such a vacancy occurs. I cling to the hope that a younger manager with ideas that have been not been obsolete for the last decade could be in the frame. As it will be Sullivan who will be making the decision, though, I will not be holding my breath.
So, what about this weekend’s six pointer between a resurgent, high energy, cohesive Southampton side and a dispirited, bewildered, lethargic West Ham one? Which way could it possibly go? OK, so I was equally pessimistic before the Chelsea game and look what happened there. Maybe, the same lightning will strike again this time. We must pin our hopes on the possibility that Pellegrini has again left preparation for the match to one his coaches, rather than taking any part himself.
The main topic of team related discussion this week has been whether the Hammers will throw caution to the wind with a two man front-line. Such a change would entail Michail Antonio partnering Sebastien Haller with Felipe Anderson relegated to the bench. Sounds fine in theory, but difficult to see who would be loading the bullets if we have to rely on the combined sluggishness of Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals. I do understand the frustration that many supporters have with Anderson, but he remains the best (only) source of the unexpected. As with the Arsenal game, the fear is that once Antonio has run himself into the ground after an hour, there will be no meaningful threat left.
The best strategy may be one of containment with the hope of snatching a goal from a set piece or defensive mistake – in true Fat Sam style. Whether, it will work against Southampton, as it did against Chelsea, is the gamble. I sense that Danny Ings and Shane Long will create panic in the visitor’s defence while Nathan Redmond (who is usually mostly harmless) often looks a world beater against the Hammers.
The refereeing combo at St Mary’s consists of Martin Atkinson (whistle) and Jonathan Moss (remote control). Atkinson from West Yorkshire will be making his first appearance at either a West Ham or Southampton game this season.
As well as predicting a 2-1 Southampton victory, Lawro made an interesting comment about Pellegrini comparing him to an empty tube of toothpaste, from which the last squirt was being extracted. At the time of writing, Charlie Nicholas has yet to reveal his selections – possibly out celebrating the expectation of a future independent Scotland. I will predict his prediction as a 3-1 home win. Personally, I can see nothing other than more dark clouds for the Hammers this weekend; but with the silver lining of a change of manager on the horizon. At least that will offer a little hope until the name of his replacement is made known.