First there was the tactical foul and now we get the tactical postponement. Clubs hoodwinking officials to get games called off until the circumstances are looking better for them to play – taking one for the shareholders, as it were!
The latest miscreants are Arsenal who have pulled out of the scheduled north London due to a Covid epidemic sweeping through the Emirates – and infecting one player. A virus of convenience that will allow the game to be rescheduled at a time when injured players, those away at the AFCON, and any additional January signings are available to play. There is great deal of irony that it is Tottenham complaining about the postponement, given they were early adopters of the Covid get-out clause. It’s the equivalent of Fernandinho campaigning against the professional foul.
A raft of postponements has produced an unbalanced Premier League table with some clubs now having racked up three or four games in hand. While the Hammers will be fully up-to-date at the end of Matchweek 22, their other fourth place rivals remain well behind the curve.
Putting on my claret and blue tinted spectacles for a few moments. Imagine a West Ham victory today which would take them to 40 points from 22 games – safe at last! By comparison: Arsenal have 35 from 20; Tottenham 33 from 18; and Manchester United 32 from 20. A pessimistic view would be that games in hand might be won allowing both North London clubs to leapfrog the Hammers and push us down to 6th. Of course, that can’t actually happen when they are due to play each other.
In reality, though, the teams in our mini-group are averaging around 1.75 points per game, making points in the bank all the more attractive. A return of 1.75 ppg would bring Arsenal up to 39, Tottenham to 40 and Manchester United to 36. All very close and encouraging – and that ignores the extent of the wobbles that might be breaking out at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, now that the title has turned into a predictable one-horse race.
For any of that to make sense, West Ham must play their part and brush past Leeds at the London Stadium this afternoon. The scenario where you play a team in the league immediately after you have knocked them out the cup usually worries me. It is one of those unwritten football superstitions, like a striker returning to score against his old club, where the beaten cup-side exacts revenge on their erstwhile victors. Hopefully, shoehorning the Norwich game in between will have served to break the curse.
It was a fairly routine win over Norwich which could and should have been more convincing. I didn’t think the visitors were as hopeless as some naysayers have claimed. They played some neat football in central areas but were let down by lapses at the back and a lack of a cutting edge up front. You can see why they are struggling although yesterday’s win over Everton would have given them a much needed boost.
Jarrod Bowen is the man of the moment at West Ham and his brace of goals added to a growing reputation both inside and outside the club. There is much to admire in the skill, effort, and energy he brings to the team. He is a player who never gives up and never hides – whether it is chasing back or getting forward to create goalscoring opportunities. A better goal return with less shots of him, head in his hands, after another near miss would be a perfect bonus. I am looking forward to more of his goals today.
I was also impressed with the fluidity showed by the attacking midfield trio of Bowen, Pablo Fornals, and Nikola Vlasic. It looked a lot less rigid than previous combinations with plenty of positional interchange. It will be interesting to see how it works against better sides than Norwich.
Also encouraging was the selection of academy players sitting on the bench in midweek. Just a shame that none were brought on once the second goal was scored. What was the point of a few more minutes of Yarmo? From watching U23 highlights online I have been impressed by the contribution of one of the benchwarmers, Pierre Ekwah. Looks to me that he is destined for a big future in the game. Having said that, I have been wrong about academy players many times in the past!
Leeds are hovering above relegation danger but don’t look to be in any real trouble. A bad run of injuries has made it a disappointing season for the Yorkshire club after their thrill-a-minute return to the top-flight in 2020/21. They continue to have a lengthy injury list and will be without several key injured players, as well as having Llorente absent due to suspension. It is possible that Bamford may return from injury although reports are mixed on that likelihood. The biggest threat to the Hammer’s defence will again be posed by the runs of Raphina.
Marcelo Bielsa is regarded as something of a guru inside football, but I do wonder whether his style of play has a limited shelf life unless he is open to adapt and refine. It will also be a question on David Moyes mind as opponents become familiar with the Hammers strengths of rapid counter attacking and set pieces. The guile to break through massed defences is still below par, although that is unlikely to be a worry for this afternoon.
The West Ham line-up will likely be much the same as it was in midweek. There are mooted returns for Tomas Soucek and Kurt Zouma but they may be put on hold until next week at Old Trafford. This makes the Hammers way too strong for a weakened Leeds with West Ham going on to win 3-1. COYI!