Everything Is Average Nowadays: A Typically Inconsistent West Ham Season

The 2018/19 Premier League season was close to average for West Ham. Slightly below where we might have expected to finish but slightly better than we have typically done in the past.

The 2018/19 season finally ended on a positive note with West Ham recording a third successive win that allowed them to sneak into the top half of the table at the expense of Watford.  Better than anticipated a few weeks ago but no open topped bus parade! A first run of back to back victories since December allows us to go into the summer break with an unexpected sense of optimism.

The general consensus in the media was that it was a good first season in charge for Manuel Pellegrini and but for a disastrous start (and the usual collection of dubious refereeing decisions) it could have been even better.  In truth, pundits don’t pay detailed attention to clubs outside of the ‘big six’ and their views are often superficial and patronising.  Which players from the likes of West Ham, Leicester, Wolves or Everton could attract interest from the elite is the usual extent of their insight.

The exciting last day finish together with the dominance of English clubs in the European finals has reignited claims that the Premier League is both the best in the world and the most competitive.  It certainly has the best players money can buy but, in reality, it is largely predictable.  If you rank and compare finishing positions with the revenues of each club you will find a very high level of correlation.  In any year there will be over-achievers (Wolves, Watford) and under-achievers (Manchester United, Southampton) but the majority of clubs finished the 2018/19 season within two places of what their revenue ranking would suggest.  My research suggests that West Ham are 8th highest revenue earners suggesting that a 10th place finish is just below average.  Of course, it is not just about having money – you need to use it and use it wisely!

Looking at West Ham’s performance against their Premier League history you might conclude that it was a slightly above average season.  The following table shows how this season compares with the average for the 21 seasons in which the Hammers have competed since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches (eagle eyed observers will note that points does not tally with the results for the average season – this is due to rounding) :

P W D L F A W D L F A Pts
Average 38 8 5 6 28 24 4 5 10 19 31 47
2018/19 38 9 4 6 32 27 6 3 10 20 28 52

The 9 home wins was the best return since the move to the London Stadium.  The last time West Ham won more than 9 games at home during a season, however, was back in 2001/12 (12) while the most successful season was 13 home wins in 1997/98.  That same season also saw the fewest home defeats (2) with the worst being 9 in both 2006/07 and 2010/11.

Away from home, 6 victories is towards the top end of West Ham’s on-the-road achievements and has only been bettered in 2005/06 and 2015/16.  However, the move away from the cautious ‘respect the point’ philosophy saw a below average number of away draws.

Aside from the record points haul of 62 in 2015/16, this year’s total was the highest since 2005/06 and the 7th highest out of the 21 seasons reviewed.  The 2015/16 season is famously the only Premier League one where West Ham have finished with a positive goal difference and this season’s total (-3) was in the top six outcomes and bettered the 21 season average of -9.

If goals are what you like then the best teams to follow in 2018/19 season would have been Bournemouth (126), Arsenal (124) and Manchester United (119).  West Ham matches saw 107 goals awarded – ranking in 10th position.

Most would agree that the style of football has improved significantly this season, even though a shocking inconsistency has frequently overshadowed this.  Excellent performances in matches against top sides were balanced out by some shockers with struggling sides.

In summary, there are enough positive signs to believe that Pellegrini is moving the club in the right direction but recognising there is plenty of work to do and plenty of additional investment necessary if the club is to consistently achieve its expected position of 7th or 8th.  Unfortunately, any progress beyond that (unless there is another collective top six blip as happened in 2015/16) would require massive external investment – the idea of a next level without that happening is really wishful thinking.

That leaves us with looking forward with interest at how the summer player recruitment and sales pan out.  How much money can be made available, can we hold on to our better players and will the club be able to make further astute signings that suit Pellegrini’s style of play and ensure that relegation battles are a thing of the past?

Mind The Watford Gap: A Welcome Break To An Average West Ham Season

West Ham and Watford go through the motions in their final Premier League game of the season at Vicarage Road. Can a third straight win add a little gloss to the Hammer’s campaign and allow them to slip into the top half of the table?

If the weekend Premier League fixtures were a music festival then the West Ham game would be scheduled for a small tent behind the portable toilet cubicles.  There will only be one act on the main stage and that is to know where the make-believe helicopters need to deliver this year’s league trophy.  The title going down to the wire is a marketing dream for the Premier League and they are sure to wring every ounce of tension out of it.

It would be fitting in the final match in the pre-VAR refereeing era if the title were to be decided by a monumental blunder by officials that gifted the title to Liverpool.  Having seen Fabinho’s outlandish dive at Newcastle last week, whatever happened to the ruling about gaining an advantage through deception that saw Manuel Lanzini receive a retrospective suspension a few years ago?

Turning attention to more mundane matters and West Ham end their 2018/19 campaign by travelling to the edge of the known world to meet the club that is almost but not quite in London.  Inside the M25 and on the London Underground, maybe, but certainly not a London club!  Nevertheless, the Hornets have enjoyed a commendable season and may potentially not sack their manager even if they lose the upcoming FA Cup Final.

It might be safe to assume that the Watford team will have at least one eye on next week’s Wembley appointment with a mostly meaningless end of season commitment against West Ham being viewed as an inconvenience.  Even if the financial rewards to the club (from an extra league position or two) are not much different from winning the cup, there is no comparison when it comes down to the glory and kudos to be had from bagging a trophy.

I can remember Watford’s previous cup final appearance (in 1984) being a very disappointing effort and they will want to do a lot better this time around.  Not that their task is an easy one and they will almost certainly lose against a rampant Manchester City side who could be looking to complete a domestic treble.  As Elton might have said: “I guess that’s why that call it the blues!”

Despite the Wembley distraction, Watford showed tremendous commitment in their game at Chelsea last weekend.  They bossed the first half during which time Deulofeu, Pereyra and Doucoure all looked threatening; they would have been disappointed that the scores were still level at the break.  They subsequently ran out of steam and it would not be a surprise if Javi Gracia rested a few of his key players this weekend to keep them fresh and injury free.

West Ham’s final league position is now confirmed as somewhere between 9th and 12th.  Interestingly the Hammers are closer in points to Chelsea in third place than Chelsea are to second place Liverpool. The worst-case scenario will happen in the event of defeat on Sunday and Palace winning at home against Bournemouth.  It would be most disheartening if the Hammers ended the season below the south Londoners once more.  The most favourable outcome will occur should the Hammers win at Watford and Leicester lose at home to Chelsea – now that Chelsea’s Champion’s League qualification is sealed this seems unlikely!  That leaves today’s game as a nail-biting 10th/ 11th place play-off scenario in which our boys must endeavour to bridge the Watford gap!

A West Ham win today would be three in a row and a decent note on which to end the season.  It would providing a gloss that leaves behind a lingering sense of optimism to carry us through the empty summer weekends.  I have to admit that when last week’s team-sheet was announced I feared the worst; only to be pleasantly surprised by an efficient and buoyant performance, albeit against a side content to sit back and reflect on having preserved their Premier League status the previous weekend.  The surprise absence of two of our best outfield players was a worry.  What had Declan Rice and Felipe Anderson been doing together to get struck down with a mystery virus?  Was this a Bishop and Morley scenario all over again?

At the beginning of the season I had backed Marko Arnautovic to break Paolo Di Canio’s Premier League West Ham goal-scoring record.  With just seven needed today to equal that milestone (both for him and Felipe Anderson) it seems that the search for a reliable and consistent goal-scorer enters another summer!

It is difficult to see any surprise team changes for the game and there are several players in the match-day squad who we will probably never see again in a West Ham shirt – farewell and good luck to them!  After today’s game we can concentrate fully on the important business of transfer speculation and the size or otherwise of Manuel Pellegrini’s supposed war-chest.  Will it be spending to stand still or is incremental improvement season by season really possible?

Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire gets the whistle for this week’s game in what will be his sixth Hammer’s appointment of the season – won one, lost two, drawn two.

A difference of opinion with pundits this week with Lawro firmly on the fence at 1-1 and Paul Merson confident that the Hornets minds will be elsewhere allowing West Ham to ease home with a 3-1 win.  For me, it is important to keep the faith and hope that we can creep back into the top half with a sneaky 2-1 success.

I heard there were some games played in a minor midweek competition for teams not good enough to win their domestic leagues which ended in wins for both Liverpool and Tottenham.  Is there any way that neither of them can end up winning in the final?  Perhaps a thought to dwell on is that when Tottenham became the first English team to win a European trophy in 1963, the Hammers followed suit two years later.  That could be a history worth repeating!

After The Lord Mayor’s Show? Record Breaking Hammers To Turn Up For End Of Season Party?

The season’s last hurrah at the London Stadium but will West Ham bring the energy and commitment from their famous win at Tottenham into a more mundane appointment with Southampton?

Except when the spectre of relegation is looming large, the final home game of the season will often have a party atmosphere about it – like the last day of school before breaking up for the long summer holidays.  The quality and urgency of the football, however, can take on a decidedly pre-season friendly feel – and that’s even before allowing for West Ham’s infamous inconsistency.

Last weekend’s superb win at Tottenham was an historic one.  When a record is claimed by being faster, higher or further there is always potential for it to be broken.  When you record a first, though, it will stand forever!  Overall it was a very good performance but one that was competent in the first half and excellent in the second.  In the opening exchanges, those trademark gaps between defence and midfield and midfield and attack were all too apparent.  Opposition forwards were given too much space to operate in fromt of the defence and Marko Arnautovic was an isolated figure up front.  Then after the break, everything changed.  Arnautovic finally came back to life, Michail Antonio started to cause panic in the Tottenham defence and the likes of Mark Noble, Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku put in their best performances for some time.  It was also great to see the Fabian Balbuena/ Issa Diop partnership reunited and along with Lucas Fabianski they were excellent throughout, and largely responsible for keeping the scores level at the break.

Tomorrow’s opponents, Southampton, secured their Premier League safety last weekend as their point against Bournemouth and other results did just enough.  Following the appointment of Ralph Hasenhuttl, to organise the shambles bequeathed by Mark Hughes, it was always likely they would have enough quality to stay up.  How they react to the pressure being lifted also adds to the uncertainty of this weekend’s spectacle.  It is a chance for West Ham to complete a rare league double and maybe fifty points is still achievable if sufficient motivation is evidenced.  As welcome as the win at Tottenham was, only being pumped up for the occasional game is not really acceptable.  Finishing in the bottom half, if that is what eventually happens, would remain a disappointing outcome.

Once again, the weekend’s Premier League fixtures are strewn over an extended four day period with the West Ham game one of only two Saturday 3pm starts.  It will be ironic, therefore, if all the important issues are resolved in advance of the hoped for climactic Matchday 38 finale.  Cardiff will almost certainly confirm their relegation on Saturday and when Liverpool fail to beat Newcastle on Saturday evening it will effectively hand the title to Manchester City.  The media will only have the thrilling fourth place finish to fuel their final day frenzy.

Despite reports that both Manuel Lanzini and Samir Nasri are available for this week’s game it would be a major surprise if either appeared in the starting eleven.  I cannot see any changes being made from the team that started at Tottenham.

This week’s referee is Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire making his fourth West Ham appearance of the season.  The previous three encounters all ended in defeat for the Hammers – at home to Bournemouth and Tottenham (League Cup) and away at Manchester City.

Both of the featured pundits are predicting a Hammer’s home win; Paul Merson a thrilling 3-2 knockabout and Lawro a predictable 2-0 stroll.  West Ham have generally struggled against the type of high energy football that Hasenhuttl likes to play and will need to carry over that second half intensity from their last game.  Southampton, though, have a few injury problems at the back and the manager may choose to rotate his squad now that safety has been achieved.  A high scoring topsy-turvy end-of-season affair is not unthinkable and I will put my money on an exuberant 4-2 home win.

Finally, I have never watched a ladies football match either live or on TV but I guess, by default, I am a West Ham fan for the women’s game as well.  Accordingly, I would like to wish the West Ham Ladies the very best of luck in their Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley against Manchester City tomorrow afternoon.  Obviously hoping for a Hammer’s win but most importantly that it is an exciting and memorable day for all concerned.  A remarkable achievement already to have reached the competition final.

Don’t Mention The VAR. West Ham Set To Battle Spurs And Dodgy Refereeing At The Daniel Levy Stadium

Will the run of poor decisions by match officials continue as West Ham visit the North London Diving Academy?

As the frenzied excitement of the Premier League title race builds towards a crescendo, West Ham’s season shuffles forwards to the one match capable of putting a superficial gloss onto an otherwise unmemorable campaign.  A win against the Tottenham Hotspurs, while become the first visiting team to triumph at the Daniel Levy stadium (thus completing a North London double), would at least provide something to look back on in the years to come.

The failure to build on a strong start against Leicester last week, compounded by a collective loss of concentration in the final minutes, effectively consigned West Ham to a bottom half finish for 2018/19.  The final tally will be at the lower end of the 43 to 52 points range with a resulting league position somewhere between 11th and 14th.  Ending the season below Crystal Palace and Newcastle is not now an unthinkable outcome.  But for the purple patch at the end of 2018, events could have turned out to be much more uncomfortable.

Manuel Pellegrini maintains that West Ham are a team in transition – a state of affairs that has existed for the best part of 50 years.  Agreed, the style of football has shown an improvement from recent seasons but little else has changed.  Fitness levels, effort, intensity, pace, guile, cohesion and organisation all fall short of that required to perform well at the top level.  There should be a strong relationship between a club’s revenues and its league position and by that measure this has been a collective underachievement.  Further transition will require significant change – and that will not come cheaply!

Today’s game will be overshadowed by the host’s scheduled midweek appointment in the Champion’s League semi-final.  How did that happen?  The sooner that Mauricio Pochettino goes on to manage a proper big club the better.  Of course, Tottenham still need points to make sure of a top four finish this season but Tuesday will certainly be on the player’s minds.  Can West Ham take advantage of that uncertainty or will they turn out to be compliant opponents just as they were in the League Cup clash earlier in the year?

It is unlikely that Pellegrini will do anything radical with his team selection – it would be out of character. Rather, we can expect him to have another shuffle of the usual suspects to fill the starting berths.  Surely it is well past the time to bring back Issa Diop to reform his partnership with Fabian Balbuena.  Will it be Pablo Zabaleta or Ryan Fredericks; Arthur Masuaku or Aaron Cresswell?  Are there any new options available in midfield that would be a little less ponderous?  Can Felipe Anderson play more than a second half cameo? Will Jack Wilshere make a contribution without further injury?

The long running selection dilemma exists upfront where West Ham are one of a handful of club where no player has yet to reach double figures for Premier League goals.  Does Lucas Perez earn a start following his goal scoring exploits as substitute last weekend? Is Javier Hernandez fit again?  Should we just give up with Marko Arnautovic?  Who knows what the manager will be thinking?  I just get the sense that I will once again be disappointed when I hear the team announced an hour before kickoff!

There is a reasonable case to bemoan how refereeing decisions have gone against the Hammers in recent games.  With the North London Diving Academy having some of the league’s most accomplished exponents of going to ground at the slightest change in air pressure, we must rely on Anthony Taylor keeping his wits about him today.  Or perhaps this will be the day that all the injustices of the past evens itself out before the introduction of VAR – the Hammers scoring four offside goals and earning three penalties.

Both Lawro and Paul Merson believe Tottenham will just do enough and come away with a 2-1 victory.  Theirs is a compelling scenario.  West Ham start with enterprise, Spurs score from a set piece and then a penalty, take their foot off the pedal with Tuesday on their minds with the Hammers scoring a late consolation.  I will predict a somewhat more optimistic outcome on the basis that both sides might happily settle for a draw – rare as that is for the hosts.

Make Do And Mend Hammers Take On The Smarter Investors From Leicester

As a long and disjointed West Ham season takes another stuttering step towards a disappointing and lingering end, is there any enthusiasm left in the locker to make an holiday afternoon of it?

The race to avoid seventh place hots up at the London Stadium this afternoon as West Ham host Leicester City, the team currently holding pole position in the polite scramble for a possible Europa Cup berth.  The Hammers recent poor run has effectively ruled them out of contention but we live in a world of mathematical possibilities.  Considering recent performances, it wouldn’t come as any surprise if our boys failed to add anything further to the current points tally – finishing with 42 points in a lowly 13th or 14th position.  Perhaps acceptable considering the slow start to the season but disappointing given the turnaround by the end of the year.

In fairness, the Hammers were easily the better team last week’s game at Old Trafford and it was only shocking refereeing that denied all three points.  It would be nice to think that such injustice will disappear in a post VAR world but we will have to wait and see how playing field levelling it is in practice.  Although I welcome VAR in principle I do wonder what impact its implementation will have on the continuity of the game.  It is not a stretch to imagine every significant decision being challenged by furious players and managers demanding that the referee consult VAR.  TV will love it as it introduces additional cliff hangers into their coverage, to be milked (and sponsored) to the extreme.  During the week I watched highlights of the Juventus – Ajax game and almost half the coverage was taken up with pending VAR decisions.  Bringing simplicity and clarity back into the game, particularly for offside and handball offences, would be especially welcome for me.  Perhaps AI can provide a better solution for catching offside under the current rules than the linesman can, and should replace him/ her altogether.

It is impossible to know what to expect from West Ham today.  The only half decent performance in recent weeks was the one at Old Trafford, tellingly against an opposition that were prepared to concede time and space for the Hammers to play.  Leicester are unlikely to repeat the favour; especially if they have done their homework and identified how difficult we find it to cope with energetic teams playing with high intensity.  With the season almost at an end it would be refreshing if Manuel Pellegrini mixed things up a little and maybe tried different options to preserve the team’s shape.  There is a longish list of players who surely have no future at the club beyond this season, so why not have at least three or four youngsters included in the match-day squad instead – even if they are not to be starters.  If reports that both Manuel Lanzini and Samir Nasri are unavailable are true then it leaves a big guileless hole in the attacking midfield areas.

WHULEI2

I think most of us were moderately pleased with last year’s summer transfer activity but it hasn’t really worked out to plan – notably due to long term injuries to Andriy Yarmolenko (unfortunate), Jack Wilshere (not unexpected) and Carlos Sanchez.  The signing of Lukasz Fabianski was inspired, Felipe Anderson is an exceptional talent that needs greater consistency, Fabian Balbuena was a steal (sorely missed during his absence) and Issa Diop has had a great first season (and should be back in the starting eleven now).  There are plenty of rumours already regarding upcoming transfers but we will have to wait and see what the size and nature of the investment is going to be.  I know it is speculation but I wince every time I see a link to players approaching or past 30 years old.  If there is any ambition it won’t be achieved through maintaining that ‘make do and mend’ policy.  Does anyone can remember the Johnny Cash song One Piece At A Time; that is how I perceive our team building approach over the years – collect together random pieces and hope that they somehow fit together.

Up at Leicester they seem to have been much smarter investors.  It is three years since their fairy-tale Premier League win and they now boast an almost entirely new team having cashed in on Kante, Mahrez and Drinkwater.  With a third new manager in as many years they have put together an energetic young squad that puts them in a far better position for the future than our own crop of players.  Naturally, the rich clubs will be circling with their eyes on Maddison, Chilwell, Maguire and Tielemans to supplement their Champion’s League benches, but it is not a bad position to be in.  Still with today being the easiest of their four remaining matches I don’t see the Foxes hanging on to 7th place, where they may be overtaken by each of Wolves, Watford and Everton.

There is a difference of opinion between the pundits today with Lawro predicting a 2-1 home win and Merson opting for a 1-3 away success.  Personally, I don’t believe we will get anything out of the game with Ndidi, Maddison and Tielemans able to dominate the midfield and create sufficient goalscoring opportunities for Vardy & Co to do the damage against an overworked Fabianski.  The other three clubs competing for 7th have all visited the London Stadium and won rather comfortably with moderately aggressive and committed performances.  That is also the most probable outcome from today – sad to say, but the game has the look of a 2-0 home defeat about it.

The Deadwood Stage Is A-Heading For Stamford Bridge

Uninspired, unbothered and unmotivated, the odds are stacked high against the lacklustre Hammers recording a whip-crack-away win!

As West Ham prepared to take the field for last week’s game against Everton they knew that victory would have taken them up to 7th place in the Premier League and potentially eliminated one of their rivals in the race for potential Europa Cup qualification.  It was a scenario more than should have provided more than sufficient motivation to a side which had, until recently, been enjoying a good positive spell at last at their home stadium.

What we got instead, however, was quite possibly the most abysmal performance of the season so far – even allowing for the fact that the bar isn’t set particularly high.  In truth, for all the optimism that might have existed, performances since the victory over Newcastle have been consistently poor – with the fortunate win over Huddersfield serving to disguise an overall malaise.  From potential ‘best of the rest’ to probable  bottom half finishers would deliver a disappointing and underachieving season.  All things being equal it would be no surprise if the Hammers bagged ‘nul points’ from the six remaining games against more skilful, better organised and more committed opponents.  Finishing below Crystal Palace is now a definite possibility unless an unexpected turnaround in attitude and application occurs.

Compared to the teams left competing for 7th spot (Wolves, Everton, Leicester and Watford) the Hammers resemble a collection of barely introduced individuals and a far cry from a team with structure and purpose where each member is aware of the roles they play, both on and off the ball.  Intensity, pace and a compact shape are fundamental to modern Premier League football and none of these have been consistently demonstrated at West Ham over the course of the season.  Manuel Pellegrini and his coaching staff must take a huge slice of responsibility for the way the situation has developed.  Admittedly it is still a relatively new regime but if they do not have the players to execute their preferred style then they need to adjust the style to suit the players; at least until better options can be recruited – hopefully, from a recruitment policy that steers well clear of the over 30’s and the perpetually injured.

The full-back situation is a prime example of square pegs and round holes.  None of the current candidates have been performing at an acceptable Premier League standard and yet the setup of the team allows opponents acres of space down the flanks as the full-backs push up there is minimal support from the midfield or attacking wide men.  No wonder so many opposition goals come from these areas and that Lukasz Fabianski is the most overworked keeper in the division.

The emergence of Declan Rice has been a massive bonus for West Ham but he cannot do it all by himself.  The need for better options in the centre of midfield has been obvious for several seasons but has been regularly overlooked unless you want to count the signing of Carlos Sanchez.  Games are so frequently won and lost in this midfield battleground that the strategy verges on negligence.

When West Ham do gain possession they seem unable or incapable of moving the ball forward quickly.  Instead they prefer elaborate, congested triangles which invariably lead nowhere or to lost possession.  Several current players are simply not cut-out for the type of quick, intricate passing moves that may have worked well at Manchester City.

With Felipe Anderson going through an enigmatic phase, the most creative player available to Pellegrini is Samir Nasri but he is another who is susceptible to injury.  It is reasonable to reserve judgement on Manuel Lanzini for the time-being, given the serious nature of his recent injury, but elsewhere possession is ponderous and predictable.

The post new year dip in form coincided with the injury to Fabian Balbuena and the Marko Arnautovic transfer farrago.  With Balbuena now restored to fitness, surely it is time to reform his partnership with Issa Diop in the centre of defence.

The options up front are far less clear cut.  Arnautovic’s attitude is all wrong, Javier Hernandez does not contribute enough off the ball (the concept of leading the line is not in his playbook) and Lucas Perez is hopeless.  Fielding a tailor’s dummy couldn’t be much worse than having Perez on the pitch. Impossible to predict where Pellegrini’s lucky selection pin will land tonight although we might not get close enough to the Chelsea goal for it to be a problem.

The West Ham season is effectively over.  Turn up and go through the motions is likely to be the sum total of what to expect.  We can only hope that plans are already underway to load up the Deadwood Stage and steer it out through the transfer window into the wilderness.  Too many of the occupants have been over-the-hill for some time..

Now that Sarri has realised he has two more gems available to him in the form of Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea have a wealth of attacking talent to call on – even if they have no established clinical finisher.  Add in any combination of Hazard, Kante, Jorginho, Barkley, Willian and Pedro and there is more than enough firepower to overwhelm whatever resistance West Ham take with them.

The hosts can be vulnerable at the back, but see above to understand how West Ham’s attacking limitations are unlikely to cause any panic.

On paper, with Chelsea able to climb up to third by the end of the day, it all looks far too formidable to the West Ham team of recent weeks.  A repeat of the rear-guard action witnessed in the corresponding fixture at the London Stadium (and more recently on show at The Etihad) is the most probable game-plan; but once the wall is eventually breached it will be game over.

West Ham will be meeting referee Chris Kavanagh for the fifth time this season.  Previous encounters resulting in a win over Newcastle, defeat to Wolves and draws with Huddersfield and Brighton.

Unsurprisingly, the pundits see a comfortable home win – Lawro by 2-0 and Merson by 3-0.  Equally, I can see nothing more than a solid defeat unless we can miraculously hold out for 0-0.  The only mitigation against heavy defeat, by three or four goals, is if Chelsea ease up a little once ahead with their Europa League trip to Prague on the near horizon.  I imagine each of the three Top 4 hopefuls that the Hammers have yet to face will already have the game pencilled in as a gimme!

Who Gives A Toffee? Fellow Under-Achievers Everton Take On West Ham In Battle For The Middle Ground

Inconsistency, poor attitude and delusions of grandeur continue to plague the two Premier League nearly clubs competing for scraps at the London Stadium.

A season punctuated by international breaks and blank cup weekends (one unavoidable and one unforced) comes back to life this weekend as the league finally moves towards its thrilling climax (© Sky Sports).

There comes a time in most seasons when you start to wish it was all over.  File it under disappointing and hope that it will all be better next time after a profitable summer pruning the deadwood and strengthening the squad .  I guess there has been definite improvement since the employment of Manuel Pellegrini – more entertaining football, at least –  but the fact remains that, with seven games to go, there is precious little to play for apart from a remote possibility of Europa League qualification.  The feeling is like being at stop nine of a twelve pub crawl, when the sensible option would be to give up, go home and get some sleep, but the voice inside convinces you to carry on to the World’s End.

No doubt when the season does eventually end there will be a football sized gap at the weekend which can only be replaced by the irritation of endless transfer window speculation.  Despite the knowledge that the majority of stories are most likely made up by some bloke in his bedroom, it is impossible to resist clicking that latest teasing headline to yet another spurious rumour.  We will then react with enthusiasm, disbelief or outrage depending on the prevailing view of the board’s ambitions. For the record, I have taken an indicative vote and decided to reject the Shelvey or Mitrovic rumours as undesirable outcomes.

Moving on to today’s game and we welcome fellow serial underachievers, Everton, to the London Stadium.  This fascination of this Cinderella derby, featuring two clubs from big footballing cities who have long lived in the shadows of more illustrious neighbours, is which of their inconsistent incarnations will be on show .  Both appear to have a shared set of shortcomings whereby, lacking the resources to compete with the truly big boys, they assume there is some form of reflected glory that renders it unnecessary to adopt the graft, commitment, determination and teamwork demonstrated by less glamorous clubs.

Everton have long been one of the Hammers principle bogey teams, both home and away, although a win today would make it three in a row for West Ham and earn a rare league double, the first since 1972/3.  The two teams are also in a tug-of-war battle for the honour of most all-time Premier League defeats; a tussle in which Everton have now regained the initiative to lead by 364 to 361.

Many people say that you should not change a winning team but I’m not sure whether that still applies when you have played badly and won.  Given how West Ham had the look of a pub team for much of the match against Huddersfield, until it was rescued by a rousing finish and a fortunate narrow victory, it would be no surprise if the manager decided to shake things up a bit.  Once again it was a poor attitude and lack of application that was mostly to blame.  Unfortunately, it appears that the player who made the greatest contribution to turning around that game, Samir Nasri, will not be available this weekend.

A recall for Fabian Balbuena following his recovery from injury must now be long overdue.  The team, and Issa Diop in particular, have missed his organisational and leadership skills.  In the absence of any other options, Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell will continue as full backs.

It is difficult to imagine that any of the current strikers will still be at the club when the 2019/20 season kicks-off in August, and so it is anyone’s guess which name will appear on the team-sheet today.  Who will be Pellegrini’s choice between the angry Austrian, who remains the most able to play a lone striker role, and the mercurial Mexican who is likely to be full of confidence following his two goal haul against the Terriers?  As ever, playing two up front sounds appealing in theory but would see the flimsy West Ham midfield badly exposed, even allowing for the presence of new England international, Declan Rice.  The media have already agreed that the transfer of Rice to a top six club in the summer is a ‘done deal’ but we might be lucky to get one more season out of him leading up to EURO 2020.

Late season games often see the odd young player thrown into the mix but I do not see any radical team selection decisions being made until the chance of seventh has completely receded.  Personally, I feel that a youngster or two on the bench this time of year is always worth it just in case circumstances allow them to get a run out.

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Everton have experienced as inconsistent a season as West Ham and currently sit two places and two points below the Hammers.  In theory, they are another of the teams that could secure seventh place.  The greatest threats are Richarlison and Sigurdsson both of whom have twelve league goals to their credit this season – compared to no Hammer yet having reached double figures.  Keep those two quiet and the chances of victory are greatly increased.  Sadly, the hapless Walcott is unlikely to feature and his aimless running up and down the wing will not be part of the entertainment.  In the distant past, Walcott saved some of his best work for games against West Ham, but those days are long gone.  Arsenal have always known when the time was right to jettison their spent forces, something that West Ham have learned to their cost on several occasions over the years.

It will be a first London Stadium visit of the season this evening for referee Paul Tierney of Lancashire.  A prolific issuer of yellow cards (83 from 26 games), Tierney’s only other Hammer’s engagement this term was the away victory over Newcastle in December.

Neither Lawro nor Paul Merson were inclined think too long and hard about this fixture and both have gone for the draw, 1-1 and 2-2 respectively.  Failure to win today could be a final dent in the battered dreams of seventh place whereas victory would keep the flame flickering for a little while longer.  By the time kick-off comes around the Matchweek 32 fate of Wolves and Watford will already have been decided, as will the potential for ending the day any further up the table.  Heart is going to overrule head this week with the prediction of a controlled 2-0 home win.