On Thursday evening West Ham waltzed into the last 16 knockout stages of the Europa League with yet another professional performance without playing as well as we can. With a little more composure in front of goal it could have been four or five nil but with eight changes it was still a more than satisfactory performance. With the other game in the group between Dinamo Zagreb and Genk ending 1-1 it would have only needed a draw in Vienna to top the group with a game still to play, but the confidence that the fringe players will have gained from the comfortable victory bodes well for the remainder of the season. With so many games to play in such a short space of time (10 in 31 days), many of the squad players are likely to be called upon.
Four clean sheets and just two goals conceded in five games is the best defensive performance of all 32 teams in the Europa League. In this game some of our most important and influential players (such as Zouma, Rice and Antonio) were not needed and most of the other Premier League regulars did not play full games. There were many good performances but one that stood out for me was that of Coufal who I believe should regain his place in the league team this weekend. It was also good to see a 17 year old debutant given his chance and he so nearly scored too. I wonder how many fringe players will be given an opportunity in the final group game against Dinamo Zagreb?
This weekend’s Premier League game away to Manchester City is about as tough as it gets. Along with Chelsea and Liverpool, City are undoubtedly one of the three standout teams that will contest the title. It wasn’t that long ago that we spoke about the elite six, but now in my opinion there are only three teams that are well ahead of the rest. We are one of a few teams that will be fighting for that fourth spot in the table. City will be desperate for revenge after we dumped them out of the League Cup, a competition that they have dominated for the last five years. They were excellent when disposing of PSG to top their Champions League group on Wednesday and we will be doing very well to come out of the game with a point. But it’s not Impossible if we are at our best and they are not. Crystal Palace won there recently so I hope we can do the same, but I wouldn’t underestimate how difficult it will be.
Bookmakers recognise the gulf between the top three and the rest, but their odds set for this game are even more extreme than the league positions would suggest was appropriate. City are at home and one would expect them to be favourites of course. They are currently second in the league on 26 points, just three points ahead of ourselves in fourth. Recent form is similar although we were a little disappointing in Wolverhampton last week. Nevertheless, based on this, one wouldn’t expect us to be the biggest outsiders in all the games this weekend. But we are and I’ve seen odds of up to 10/1 on a West Ham victory and around 6/1 on a draw. City on the other hand are around 2/9. Astonishing really given the closeness of league form and positions.
I am a little less confident for a positive result in this game compared to our previous fixtures this season, but wearing my optimistic hat I will be hoping for a draw, and predict 1-1 with Dawson scoring our goal with a header from a corner. Dawson to score the first goal in the game attracts odds of around 50/1. The odds are the same for him to score the last goal in the game. I’ll go for the latter with my fun bet this week. What are the chances?