At this stage last season, West Ham were two points better off than they are now – 42 points against 40. back then, we were in the early stages of the Lingard bounce that briefly raised hopes of a top four finish, that were ultimately undone by the injury to Declan Rice. The Hammers eventually ending the season in sixth place with 65 points.
By comparison, today’s opponents, Leicester City, were on 46 points from the same number of games (ending with 66 points) while Liverpool, who eventually finished 3rd (69 points), sat on 40 points – the same as West Ham have now. It would need a Liverpool like surge to bring Champions League football to the London Stadium – averaging at two points per game until the end of the season. With no new faces to freshen up the squad it looks a huge challenge for a side where results are currently exceeding performances.
The midweek games did, however, offer a glimmer of hope. None of the chasing pack are pulling up any trees. All are beset with inconsistency. With Manchester United also dropping points yesterday, there is still hope for the Hammers if a new head of steam can be found. As things stand, Arteta’s unpleasant Arsenal side look the most likely, but hopefully their poor discipline will let them down.
West Ham’s win over Watford was uninspiring fare. The continuing problem of few ideas when faced with a deep and disciplined defence was all too apparent. And having no game changers on a depressingly tired looking bench never fails to depress.
The winning goal had an element of luck about it, but it was telling that it came when Jarrod Bowen drifted in to a more central area. If only he could play in more than one position at the same time we would be laughing. Unfortunately, none of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma or Nikola Vlasic truly cuts it in the creative Number 10 position. Lanzini probably the pick of the bunch.
Of course, action on the pitch was overshadowed by the continued fallout from the Kurt Zouma affair. It was a disgraceful act from Zouma (and his brother) but some of the reaction from the pundit community has been hysterical. An escalation of outrage (and hypocrisy) as to who can come up with the most draconian career ending punishment – and generate the most clicks in the process. The media will find someone else to kick soon enough. Zouma deserves to be penalised, but it must be proportionate.
Leicester’s season has been underwhelming by recent standards. Currently in the bottom half of the table, out of Europe and soundly thrashed in the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest last weekend. Although manager, Brendan Rodgers, comes across as a bit of plonker sometimes – I blame him for the excruciating phrase “in the conversation” – he is a good manager. It is ludicrous that he should be under pressure.
David Moyes cites Leicester as a model for clubs looking to break into the top six on a regular basis. But Leicester’s experience also demonstrates how difficult that is without massive financial resources. When you regularly sell top players, even if it is at a handsome profit, it relies heavily on the replacements paying off more often than not. It is very much a lottery.
Rodgers has been unlucky with injuries. The promising Fofana has been a huge miss in an otherwise shaky defence. He is also witnessing the twilight of Jamie Vardy’s career, a player who has so often been the match winner for the Foxes over the years. As we all know, strikers like that are difficult to replace.
Like West Ham, Leicester have also found it difficult in games where they are forced to take the initiative rather than relying on counter attacks. Potentially, Madison has the ability to unpick defences but he seems to have lost his way of late.
Once again, we have to say the West Ham team largely picks itself. Not due to the brilliance of performance, but down to the lack of realistic options. My predicted line-up: Fabianski, Coufal, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Benrahma, Antonio. We must hope that Michail Antonio has recovered from his Caribbean jet-lag and is ready to do his bit for the cause. It will be interesting to see whether Andriy Yarmolenko makes it to the squad after his demotion to the U23’s, and subsequent red card, in the week. Please can we have a little more imagination with the bench?
West Ham have a good recent record against Leicester, having won the last three meetings. The Foxes style suits the Hammers counter-attacking game. I am expecting a close game which the Hammers need to win to stay in the conversation for fourth place. Leicester 1 West Ham 2. COYI!