Europe beckons for West Ham as the champions (elect) Manchester City visit the London Stadium for the penultimate game of the Premier League season

We’re now in the home straight with just a few days of the domestic football season to go, and things are still not settled at the top or the bottom of the Premier League. West Ham have just two games to go, the visit of the champions (elect) Manchester City today, and then a trip to the south coast next Sunday to visit a resurgent Brighton side who now sit just outside the top eight. And those two games (plus the fixtures involving Manchester United and Wolves) will determine whether we finish sixth (qualification for Europa League again), seventh (Europa Conference League) or eighth (not in Europe at all).

In theory finishing sixth is in our own hands. If we win our last two games that is where we will be. Of course that’s easier said than done with the two fixtures that we face. We can even do it if we win just one of them and Manchester United lose at Crystal Palace in their final game, which is entirely possible. Or if Manchester United draw at Selhurst Park next Sunday then four points from our two games would be enough.

Finishing seventh looks the most likely outcome and we need just one point to guarantee that. We may not even need that if Wolves fail to win both of their remaining games, against Norwich (almost a given), and then at Anfield on the final day of the season. Normally I would not give Wolves too much of a chance to beat Liverpool away from home, but if the title is out of the Merseysiders reach as they go into that match, and in preparation for a Champions League final later in the month then they might take their foot off the gas. Although Wolves lost 5-1 at home to Manchester City in midweek they didn’t play that badly.

To finish eighth would be a disappointing end to what has once again been an excellent season. Of course we would have taken it a couple of years ago, but having had a taste of Europe we want more, and to miss out so narrowly would be a shame. Looking back on the season there are moments where we lost out, sometimes very late in the game, where we might have done slightly better and would already have Europe sewn up by now. The matches I am thinking about are the defeats at home by a single goal to Brentford and Leeds, the draw at home to Burnley, and the last minutes of the Manchester United game at the London Stadium. That’s not to forget Brighton’s last minute equaliser too. And we would already be there too if Wolves hadn’t equalised in the 97th minute at Chelsea last weekend.

So, still all to play for beginning with Manchester City today. Personally I like to watch City play and really enjoyed their 5-1 demolition of Wolves in the week. In an attacking sense they have such an array of forwards that they can call upon, and they have scored more goals than anyone in the Premier League this season with 94 to date. But if that wasn’t enough they will have one of the most prolific European goalscorers (Haaland) in addition next season. You might think that their defence is not so good, but once again they are the best performing Premier League side with just 22 goals conceded so far.

A lot has been written about their defensive injury problems going into the game, but they have adequate resources to cover this with Ake (a much under-rated player in my opinion, and who is returning from injury himself) and others who can fill in. In fact I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see one or more of Fernandinho and Laporte making a rapid recovery and being fit to start the game. I have no sympathy for them with their resources and the players at their disposal.

The game will mark the final home appearance of Mark Noble who has been a tremendous servant of the club, both on and off the field. At his best he could easily have won an England cap or two, just his lack of pace stopping him from being a really top class player, but nevertheless still a very good one. Who can forget his testimonial game at Upton Park on that hot, sunny afternoon six years ago, with memories of Adrian (plus minder) running the length of the field to score, plus Dean Ashton’s stunning overhead kick? But he joins the list of West Ham players who should perhaps have won an England cap but didn’t. Billy Bonds and Pop Robson are the two that spring readily to mind. Can you think of others?

So what will happen today? I can see it clearly it now how the game will end. The score will be 2-2 going into the final minute and we will be awarded a penalty. Mark Noble, who was brought on for the last ten minutes of the game, steps up and slams it home for a famous 3-2 victory which ensures West Ham qualification for Europe, puts the pressure on Manchester United, and keeps the broadcasters happy with the title race going into the final weekend. West Ham will finish sixth if they can out-perform Manchester United in the final game next weekend. Now that would be a fairy tale ending to the season and Mark Noble’s playing career wouldn’t it?

What are the chances? Well according to bookmakers you can get 300/1 and upwards on Mark Noble scoring the last goal of the game in a 3-2 West Ham victory. It won’t happen of course but I can dream can’t I? But we have beaten both Liverpool and Chelsea with a 3-2 score this season. Why not a hat-trick of 3-2 victories against the top 3 teams in the league? That would cap a memorable season wouldn’t it?

West Ham Versus Manchester City And The Case For A Champions League Play Off Place

As the Hammers make a tilt at finally beating City and overtaking United, why is there no play-off for the final Champions League spot?

One thing that is missing from the top level of English football is the Play-Off. If Play-Offs are considered a vital element for maintaining interest and excitement during promotion races from the lower leagues, why are they not also used for the allocation of the final Champions League place?

How much more exciting it would be if Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, West Ham and Wolves still had hopes of snatching a qualifying place going into the final games. What rip-roaring memories could be had from a two-leg semi-final win over Arsenal and then beating Spurs in a final at Wembley. The spectacle would instantly become the biggest single game of the season. A climactic season finale. FA Cup? Chicken feed! Championship Play-Off? Loose Change!

Conspiracists might suggest the Big Six would veto any such such move, but it really doesn’t disadvantage them any more than the current system – even provides a ‘get out of jail card’ in the event of a poor start or managerial change. And the Big Six aren’t equals in any case. Right now, it’s made up of Manchester City and Liverpool plus the four stooges. Maybe tinkering with qualification is not permitted by that anal suits at UEFA Headquarters. Forbidden in the rule book small print alongside clauses on minimum circumference of the half-time oranges and regulation referee hairstyles.

Premier League Champions-in-waiting, Manchester City visit the London Stadium on Sunday for the Hammers final home fixture of the season. In theory it is an opportunity to plant a spoke in the visitor’s wheels, but recent results have all but confirmed a second successive title, and the fourth in five years, for the Citizens. The ten goals scored against Newcastle and Wolves have effectively left them in an unassailable position, barring a miracle or two.

While a West Ham win would cause a temporary setback to City’s title hopes it would have significant implications for their own European ambitions, plus those of the visitor’s Manchester neighbours. The Hammers would leapfrog Manchester United by virtue of superior goal difference and nabbing the Europa League spot would then require West Ham to at least match the Red Devils result on the final day of the season. If only there hadn’t been a late missed spot kick and a last minute winner in those two games against the Reds.

History tells us that beating Manchester City is easier said than done, however. The Hammers last won a home league game against them in October 2014 (2-1: Amalfitano, Sakho). There was another 2-1 win, in September 2015, this time at the City of Manchester Stadium (Moses, Sakho), but since then it has been a run of two draws and ten defeats at an aggregate score of 32 to 8.

The injury news has been largely positive during the week with Craig Dawson and Michail Antonio both reported to have recovered from knocks that saw them leave the field at Carrow Road last weekend. Said Benrahma, however, remains doubtful following his assault by the Norwich pitch.

The visitors are experiencing their own injury crisis in defence and are now down to their last £50 m centre back in Nathan Ake. Injuries to Stones, Dias, Laporte, Fernandinho and Walker requiring Guardiola to shuffle his resources. A shame that Aaron Cresswell will not have the opportunity to see Fernandinho execute the true art of the professional foul, and how to get away with it.

A weakened City rearguard should give hope to West Ham, allowing them to end the season with the record of scoring in every home league game still intact. It will then come down to a simple matter of outscoring their gifted opponents, restricting the likes of De Bruyne, Silva, Mahrez, Foden, Jesus and Sterling to speculative long shots.  Watching Manchester City is rarely riveting but they do have a knack of ultimately wearing teams down, running their legs off. Their intensity on the pitch as relentless as their sportswashing off of it!

As ever, the Hammers limited resources makes little room for speculation over team selection. Who plays at right back is about as heated as any discussion might get! Cresswell will be a worry for me. I’m guessing David Moyes will play him, but he will be hopelessly exposed by pace down the right, and prone to losing Mahrez at the far post.

The game will be a last at home for Mark Noble who is hanging up his boots at the end of the season. Nobes has been a reliable, honest, and committed performer for all of his eighteen years at the club. He never puts in less than 100% effort and has been a great example to those around him, even during the last few seasons where he has been largely a squad player. I hope the club can find a new role for him, preferably not sweeping the London Stadium dressing rooms until retirement: “Watcha Dave, I’ve been using the same broom for 20 years now. It’s just had 17 new heads and 14 new handles”

The last home game of the season generally enjoys a celebratory party atmosphere. In that spirit, West Ham to win 4-3 with a Mark Noble winner in the 6th minute of added time. COYI!

Canary Test Set To Check Toxic Atmosphere At West Ham

The European dream is dead, long live the European dream. West Ham must shake off the midweek woes to seize qualification opportunity

Expectations are funny things. Had the prospect of top six finishes and Europa League semi-finals been dangled in front of us two years ago we’d have thought fate was having a laugh. A season free of relegation anxieties would have been the optimistic extreme of our hopes back then.

But mysteriously we find ourselves in the depths of despondency following midweek failure to barge past Eintracht Frankfurt to book a place in the Europa League final. As it is, the results don’t lie. West Ham didn’t have the wit, the guile or the luck to overcome the Germans. Frankfurt are no world beaters, but over two legs they were comfortably the more accomplished side.

I had felt quietly confident from the opening exchanges in Frankfurt that all was not lost. The Hammers started with purpose and the uphill task of overturning the first leg deficit looked a possibility. Until a moment of madness from Aaron Cresswell changed the whole complexion of the game. You can argue why him in that position, but his red card was for a challenge he simply didn’t need to make. So much for experience!

Craig Dawson might also have done better to prevent the only goal of the game by sticking with his man, but after that rarely threatened. It would always be difficult with ten men to score twice and the changes from David Moyes came far too late. Never mind time wasting ball-boys, Said Benrahma and Andriy Yarmolenko should have been introduced much earlier in the second half. What was there to lose?

While the disappointment was obvious and the emotional reaction understandable, I was still flabbergasted to see Hammers fans calling for the manager to be sacked after the game. Perhaps it was only a vocal minority, but the lack of perspective is staggering. While we remain a (relatively) low budget, short arms, deep pockets club I can think of no better candidate for manager.

It’s back to league action this weekend and the big question is how will the players recover from the low of Thursday’s events? Where will the performance measure on the Iain Dowie’s Bouncebackability Scale? Of the games remaining the visit to Norwich is the one most of us would have put down as a banker three pointer on our run-in calculators. Interesting that after Manchester United’s collapse at Brighton yesterday, finishing sixth is back again in our own hands, making victory today essential.

The not so good news from yesterday was Wolves 97th minute equaliser at Stamford Bridge. There was a feeling that West Ham could end up finishing 7th by default even if they failed to pick up any more points. That unexpected bonus for Wolves now puts that in doubt.

Although many may have pooh-poohed the Europa Conference while Tottenham were in it, I think it is important to compete regularly in European competition if the club really is going to progress . It will bring experience, raise profile, and is another chance of silverware. It would also tick up the all-important UEFA co-efficient.

Norwich are effectively, if not yet mathematically, certain to return to the Championship for next season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them back again in a year’s time if they invest the parachute payment wisely. Aside from being a bit of a whiner, Dean Smith is a decent manager, but then so too was Daniel Farke. They may need to find a more suitable brand of football if they want to enjoy a longer stay in the Premier League.

As usual Moyes won’t make many changes for the game, mainly because he doesn’t have too many options. I wonder whether Cresswell will be replaced by Ben Johnson and I would prefer to see Benrahma starting in place of either Manuel Lanzini or Pablo Fornals. It would also be nice to see one or two youngsters used from the bench if we get our noses in front, but won’t hold my breath on that one. Ex-Hammer Sam Byram is likely to featuring in defence (at centre back according to some reports) for the hosts.

The Hammers recent form is hopeless as is our record before and after European ties. It will also require heaps of character to recover from defeat in Germany. Despite all that I will allow the heart to rule head once more. West Ham set to bounce-back with 3-0 win!

After the disappointment of Thursday night West Ham return to league action aiming to secure enough points for another European adventure next season

We sat down to watch the second leg of the semifinal with Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday evening hoping for a repeat of the outcome when facing the same opponents in Europe in 1976. For 19 minutes it was going ok and from then onwards nothing went right.

From Cresswell’s moment of madness to going further behind to nothing falling our way it was a frustrating watch. You could not fault the effort of the players but sadly it was not to be. So now we return to league action.

The Premier League is now approaching the climax and qualification for Europe next season will now extend down to seventh, so there is still a lot to play for. Having had a taste for European football this season and performing so admirably with a limited squad we would be massively disappointed not to feature in it in the 2022-23 campaign, even if it is the Europa Conference League.

We must not give up in our quest to qualify via our finishing league position. It is our last chance. If we finish sixth then that would mean the Europa League, or seventh would be the Europa Conference. The worst ending to such a superb season would be missing out on a European trophy this time and finishing eighth in the league. That would be a massive disappointment.

We currently sit in seventh place in the Premier League table, and it is looking increasingly unlikely that we will be able to improve on that. Our only hope is that both Brighton and Crystal Palace can do us a favour by beating Manchester United in their remaining two games. We would then need to win two of our last three games to equal United on points. Our goal difference is currently two better than theirs and if they were to lose both of their games and we were able to beat Norwich and Brighton, say, then this would extend to at least six. If we were (by any chance) to lose to Manchester City we would need it to be by five goals or less.

But sixth place does not seem realistic really (although I remain hopeful) and we must do better than Wolves to retain seventh to qualify for Europe. The Molyneux outfit have been very poor recently losing four of their last five games. They trail us by three points but have four games to play as opposed to our three. We both face Norwich in the run-in but Wolves other three games are as difficult on paper as they could be, away at Chelsea and Liverpool and at home to Manchester City. I’d like to think that if we can beat Norwich this weekend then a six points differential will be one that Wolves cannot possibly make up even if we didn’t collect any further points. That assume last they lose this weekend. Our goal difference is six better than theirs so that would be worth another point too provided we don’t lose any games by too many!

Wolves travel to Stamford Bridge this weekend but the home side still have a lot to play for and won’t want to lose third spot. It goes without saying (given our quest for Europe) that I hope Chelsea win the game. Provided we don’t slip up against the Canaries and win the game then Wolves would need to get at least seven points from their final games which include fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester City. Of course anything can happen in football as Manchester City found out on Wednesday night, but we would need to slip up badly and Wolves would need to considerably outperform their recent form for us not to be playing European football next season.

The current league table – top 8 (games remaining in brackets):
Man City 83 (4)
Liverpool 82 (4)
Chelsea 66 (4)
Arsenal 63 (4)
Tottenham 61 (4)
Man Utd 58 (2)
West Ham 52 (3)
Wolves 49 (4)

The form table (last 5 games of the top 8 in the current league table):
Man City 13
Liverpool 13
Tottenham 10
Arsenal 9
Chelsea 7
Man Utd 7
West Ham 4
Wolves 3

The remaining fixtures give you the opportunity to work out what you think the final finishing positions will be:
Man City: H – Newcastle, Villa
Man City: A – West Ham, Wolves
Liverpool: H – Tottenham, Wolves
Liverpool: A – Southampton, Villa
Chelsea: H – Wolves, Watford, Leicester
Chelsea: A – Leeds
Arsenal: H – Leeds, Everton
Arsenal: A – Newcastle, Tottenham
Tottenham: H – Arsenal, Burnley
Tottenham: A – Liverpool, Norwich
Man Utd: H – no games
Man Utd: A – Brighton, Palace
West Ham: H – Man City
West Ham: A – Norwich, Brighton
Wolves: H – Norwich, Man City
Wolves: A – Chelsea, Liverpool

Norwich can play freely now that they are relegated, and sometimes teams in that position can be dangerous opponents. But surely we won’t let it slip now and will pick up the three points necessary to put us in a very strong position for a seventh place finish. Two consecutive seasons in Europe has only happened once before (1964/5 and 1965/6) and would be a tremendous achievement for our club, especially considering where we were when David Moyes arrived for the second time.

Here’s hoping for a good ending to the season starting with three points at Carrow Road. What are the chances?

It’s A Game Of Four Halves: But Is Today Gunner Prove A Distraction For West Ham?

Another pesky London derby gets in the way of Europa League business with the visit of Arsenal to the London Stadium. How will David Moyes balance his priorities?

In the end West Ham – Eintracht Frankfurt: The Sequel didn’t live up to the high standard set by the original. If Occam had a philosophical razor for football matches it might suggest the higher expectations are raised, the deeper the depression when they are not satisfied – at least, as far as West Ham are concerned. But it now opens up an even greater and more memorable achievement if the one-goal deficit can be overturned in the away leg next Thursday.

After all, the situation at what is effectively half-time in the tie, is exactly the same as it was 46 years ago. If Jarrod Bowen’s spectacular effort had levelled the score in the dying minutes, we would still need to win in Frankfurt to go through to the final. And even if the Hammers were taking a slender lead to Germany, there would still be the fears and anxieties of sitting back too much to hold on to the lead. Sure, it will be an uphill battle, but all is not lost. They are not unbeatable and neither of the previous rounds followed the same pattern in both legs.

There was widespread agreement that Thursday’s performance fell well short of what was needed. Only a few players came close to their usual standard. Stage fright, perhaps with the weight of expectation or occasion holding them back? Most definitely a lack of quality in the final third but isn’t that something we hear most weeks? What I didn’t see, though, was a lack of effort, as some suggested in comments I read online.

Conceding such an early goal certainly set the tone on proceedings. The defence were all over the place for that one, collectively dragged across to the right hand side and leaving a huge space in behind on the left. Despite the equaliser, West Ham were unable to build on it and impose themselves on the match. That was the disappointment and control of the midfield areas will need to improve in the return.

No doubt, the second coming of the Moyesiah has seen a MASSIVE improvement in the Hammer’s fortunes.  But we have to accept it is an improvement built around getting the absolute best out of a small and committed group of players. It would be great to have a Plan B when the going gets tough, but we simply don’t have the players to do that. We are very good at making the most of our strengths – breakaways or set pieces – but limited beyond that.

Time has yet to tell whether the improvement we have seen on the pitch can develop into genuine progress throughout the club. By which, I mean a platform that can be sustained beyond the current group of players. To achieve that requires better facilities, a productive academy and forward-looking player recruitment. The summer transfer window may provide pointers to whether an appetite exists to both upgrade and deepen the strength of the squad.  

With a fully fit squad, one of the greatest limitations is creativity in attacking midfield. Someone to pull the strings and offer a different dimension in unpicking tight defences. None of the options – Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma, or Manuel Lanzini – fit the bill. If Nikola Vlasic was meant to be the answer, we asked the wrong question.

The most sparkling period of football during the last memorable two years was when Jesse Lingard was doing just that last winter – although I no longer see him as the long term solution. Someone like Martin Odegaard from today’s visitors has the ideal attributes. He is the one individual who has provided the spark for Arsenal’s assault on the top four – as well as sparking their revival from three goals down in today’s corresponding fixture last year.

The Gunners are now firm favourites for the final top four place. It would be fantastic to put a spoke in their bid but maybe a Pyrrhic victory if it opened the door to Tottenham. Much will depend on the north London derby to be played on May 12.

The Hammers Premier League aspirations remain complicated. The Europa League is clearly the bigger prize but putting all the eggs in that basket would be costly if qualification from domestic league position is sacrificed as a result. Fortunately, Wolves have been eager to help out on that score. Yet, the possibility of finishing above Manchester United in sixth remains in our own hands, at least in theory.

The question then, is how will David Moyes set his priorities for today and Thursday? The team selection against Chelsea almost did enough to preserve the point it had started with, but Craig Dawson’s dismissal was a blow, both then and now. Will Kurt Zouma be fit enough to start or is that a risk too far for Thursday? Do Michail Antonio or Tomas Soucek need a rest? I suspect it will be a similar approach to the Chelsea game with a back three of Zouma, Ben Johnson and Aaron Cresswell, and further outings for Mark Noble and Andriy Yarmolenko.

Arsenal have some exciting young talent to call upon and their pace down the flanks has to be a concern for Moyes. They don’t have the deepest of squads and will miss the injured Tierney and Partey, while Xhaka is always one challenge away from a red card. They were quite fortunate to beat Manchester United last week and owed much of their victory to Fernandes stupidity with his spot kick.

It is difficult to like the Gunners under the management of Lego-haired supremo Mikel Arteta (or is it Duplo hair?) They are too taken with the dark arts of whinging, diving, and simulation to be admired. The tolerance of referees to cheating and simulation continues to cast a dark shadow on the game. The professional dive and the professional head injury are just as distasteful as the professional foul invented by Willie Young

As the game is another that is difficult to call, I dug out my Ouija board to get this week’s prediction. According to the spirit world, it’s West Ham to win 3-1 with goals from Vlasic, Yarmolenko and Masuaku. COYI!

A Bridge Too Far? Can West Ham Put European Excitement To One Side As They Travel Across Town To Chelsea?

With important Premier League points still to play for, the Hammers must rise above European distraction and injury misfortune in the east-meets-west London derby

When Friedrich Nietzsche coined the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, he obviously hadn’t contemplated playing three crucial season defining fixtures in the course of eight days with only one fit central defender. Proof that German philosophers are no better at football punditry than Jamie Redknapp, Garth Crooks, or Michael Owen.

While I’m still clutching at the flimsiest of straws that Kurt Zouma might be back and available for Thursday night, the injury situation leaves a massive hole to fill for today’s encounter at Stamford Bridge. It now seems the Hammers final league position will be somewhere between 6th and 8th – dependent on whether they can scramble ahead of an increasingly shambolic and disinterested Manchester United and/ or holding off the challenge of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The understandable distraction of the Europa League and the extent of the injury situation will have a huge bearing on where that ends and how history ultimately represents the 2021/ 22 season.

To achieve a repeat of last year’s points tally would require four wins and a draw from the remaining five fixtures. A tall order with games against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City to come in the season’s finale. Reaching 60 points may now be a more realistic target. The Hammer’s league campaign has been steady rather than breath-taking. With a European campaign to contend with, having become a known quantity and little transfer activity that is maybe no surprise. Points won have been the result of a much-quoted resilience rather than due to footballing magnificence. The season’s most exuberant and barnstorming performances have been saved for Europe – second leg ties against Sevilla and Lyon. The possible exceptions are the two home victories over Liverpool and today’s opponents, Chelsea.

As the league campaign nears its conclusion it is clear that Manchester City and Liverpool are ahead of the field by some distance. Chelsea will most probably hold on for third, despite their recent poor run, after which it is the unpleasant prospect of a team from north London taking the final Champions League position.

If West Ham were to triumph in the Europa League, there would be a fascinating scenario of three London clubs participating in the Champions League group stages. Yet if the Hammers should manage to qualify, they would end up earning less money than their more illustrious neighbours given that a significant proportion of broadcasting revenue is distributed according to ten-year UEFA coefficients. A consequence of the Super League by stealth project.

When a slice of Masuaku magic defeated Chelsea in December 2021, it prevented the Blues from leaping to the top of the Premier League table. They had been early season favourites before gradually and steadily falling well off the pace. In truth, they have an excellent, well-organised coach but with good rather than great players. I don’t see too many Chelsea players who would be coveted by the top two. Without doubt they have stronger squad depth than West Ham.

Any suggestions as to how David Moyes juggles with the defence today is complete guesswork. A variety of options have been discussed online, some more appealing than others but none that stand out as ideal. Personally I would always prefer the least disruptive change, which in this case would mean either promoting a central defender from the Under 23s or shifting Ben Johnson to the centre. Moyes came out as reluctant to drop an inexperienced Under 23 into such a high profile game, which maybe highlights the folly of rarely giving young players a taste of action from the bench.

Moving Declan Rice back and/ or playing three at the back are other possibilities. The Chelsea threat is one of speed and movement rather than aerial, a consideration that Moyes may have in mind. The difficulty for me is with Rice so pivotal to both defensive and attacking midfield operations, we would struggle to string anything together in his absence. It merely weakens two positions.

In even the toughest of games I can usually muster some degree of optimism that there is a chance of a point or three being stolen. It is proving difficult to find that hope today. The prior record ahead of midweek Europa League games, the distraction of semi-final glory, the injuries, and Chelsea’s desire to bounce back from successive defeats all accumulate into a major serving of bad feeling. But then I remember the David Martin game from 2019. I wonder if he’s any good at centre-half? COYI!  

West Ham United face a trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday. With just five league games to go can we still qualify for Europe based on our league position?

If the Premier League was the Olympic Final of the 1500 metres we’d now be approaching the final bend on the last lap with the end in sight. Manchester City and Liverpool are now so far ahead that the gold and silver medals are theirs for the taking, but who will actually win the race? The bronze medal is still not decided although Chelsea are in pole position, but Arsenal and Tottenham are closing and may just snatch it if the West Londoners falter in the home straight. Manchester United, West Ham and Wolves are now unlikely to feature in the race for a top five finish and look as though they will fight it out for sixth, seventh and eighth. However the positions from third downwards are not yet mathematically certain and there can still be a surprise or two before the end, especially as teams still involved have fixtures against one another in the remaining games.

Now that we know that the FA Cup final will be fought out by Chelsea and Liverpool, it seems that qualification for Europe next season will now extend down to seventh, so there is still a lot to play for in the final few games of the season. Having had a taste for European football this season we would be massively disappointed not to feature in it in the 2022-23 campaign.

Of course winning the Europa League would be great and ensure a passage into the Champions League. But we mustn’t give up in our quest to qualify via our finishing league position. If we finish sixth then that would mean the Europa League, or seventh would be the Europa Conference. Either would do if we don’t win the Europa League this season. The worst ending to such a superb season would be missing out on a European trophy this time and finishing eighth in the league. That would be a massive disappointment. We currently sit in seventh place in the Premier League table.

The current league table – top 8 (games remaining in brackets):
Man City 77 (6)
Liverpool 76 (6)
Chelsea 62 (7)
Tottenham 57 (6)
Arsenal 57 (6)
Man Utd 54 (5)
West Ham 52 (5 – all to played on Sundays)
Wolves 49 (6)

The form table (last 5 games of the top 8 in the current league table – but even this can be misleading with Arsenal’s win at Chelsea this week):
Liverpool 13
Tottenham 12
Man City 11
Chelsea 9
Wolves 9
Man Utd 7
West Ham 7
Arsenal 6

The remaining fixtures give you the opportunity to work out what you think the final finishing positions will be:
Man City: H – Watford, Newcastle, Villa
Man City: A – Leeds, West Ham, Wolves
Liverpool: H –Everton, Tottenham, Wolves
Liverpool: A – Newcastle, Southampton, Villa
Chelsea: H – West Ham, Wolves, Watford, Leicester
Chelsea: A – Everton, Man Utd, Leeds
Tottenham: H – Leicester, Arsenal, Burnley
Tottenham: A – Brentford, Liverpool, Norwich
Arsenal: H – Man Utd, Leeds, Everton
Arsenal: A – West Ham, Newcastle, Tottenham
Man Utd: H – Brentford, Chelsea
Man Utd: A – Arsenal, Brighton, Palace
West Ham: H – Arsenal, Man City
West Ham: A –Chelsea, Norwich, Brighton
Wolves: H – Brighton, Norwich, Man City
Wolves: A – Burnley, Chelsea, Liverpool

In this weekend’s round of matches for the chasing teams we face a difficult trip to Stamford Bridge, and Manchester United visit the Emirates. Wolves visit Burnley and Tottenham are away at Brentford. Whilst it would be great to challenge the top five, perhaps we should be pinning our hopes on achieving sixth, and for that we would probably want Arsenal to beat Manchester United and Burnley to defeat Wolves too.

Our team selection choices diminish as the weeks go by, especially in central defence, and I wonder what the manager has in mind for the trip to West London? Does he promote from the academy? Or perhaps Johnson or Cresswell could fill a central back role? Or even both? Rice is always a possibility to play there but personally he wouldn’t be my choice for that role, he is such an important player in the midfield. It’s such a shame that as the business end of the season approaches we might fall short but it was always something that was likely to happen with a limited squad.

The European adventure (whatever happens now) has been great this season, and it would be excellent if we can qualify once again. The spirit within the squad continues to be high. Can we do it? I think we can. What are the chances?

West Ham Set To Rise Again At Easter: Burnley Left Hot And Cross

Another chance for West Ham’s Europa League heroes to make a statement of intent and end the weekend 5th in the Premier League standings

Oh what a night, hypnotising, mesmerising me. It was everything I dreamed it’d be. As I remember, what a night!

The Europa League campaign has now served up two of the most memorable West Ham performances in living memory. And all within the space of four weeks. Victories against Sevilla and now Lyon are victories that will be talked about for years to come.

There can’t have been too many supporters who didn’t fear the worst after last Sunday’s defeat at Brentford. Not just that we lost but the manner of the defeat. It was the look of a jaded team. One where the spring had left the step and fatigue had taken over. The Hammers looked to have a mountain to climb as they headed to the foothills of the Massif Central.

The style and panache that was demonstrated in Lyon was as fabulous as it was unexpected. True there had been a shaky start, but once into their stride West Ham were imperious. It feels impolite to single out individual players from a team of heroes but Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio were each at the top of their games. Honourable mention also for Issa Diop and Ben Johnson who might have been exposed but in the hour (and a half) of need were more than up for the challenge.

Compared and contrasted to the Brentford performance, the difference was not of tiredness but of mindset. Will this be the story for the remainder of the season. The glamour, excitement and anticipation of Europa League glory forcing mundane Premier League matches to the back of the mind. Results yesterday have, for the second week running, left the door to the top six finish teasingly ajar. Can the opportunity be gratefully seized this time around, allowing the Hammers to spend the rest of Easter in 5th place?

To quote a well-worn cliché David Moyes must take each game as it comes. The record following midweek European games has not that impressive to date, his team having won only three and lost five of nine matches. Although two of those wins were against Tottenham and Liverpool.

In an ideal world today is the perfect time for the fresh legs of fringe players to give key individuals a well-earned breather. But I don’t see that happening this weekend. What happens in the Chelsea and Arsenal games that sandwich the Europa League semi-final ties will cause more of a selection dilemma.

There will be changes today but the starting eleven will closely resemble that which triumphed in Lyon. Lukasz Fabianski and Aaron Cresswell will likely return, and there may be a toss up between Vladimir Coufal and Ben Johnson at right back. Possibly Said Benrahma or Nikola Vlasic could receive the call in place of Manuel Lanzini, but that would be an outside bet. Predicted team: Fabianski, Johnson, Dawson, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Fornals, Antonio.

The pre-match debate has been dominated by the surprising news that Sean Dyche has been sacked as Burnley manager. In a move reminiscent of turkeys voting for Christmas, the Claret’s board have virtually guaranteed relegation for the club. Fat Frank couldn’t have believed his luck when the story broke. The timing is quite bizarre, unless there have been behind the scenes shenanigans that we are not aware of. I’ve never been a huge fan of Burnley’s agricultural style under the gravelly voiced one, but you have to admire the pragmatism that has kept Burnley in the topflight since 2016 on a shoestring budget.

With most of the backroom staff also getting their marching orders, temporary team management duties have fallen to Under-23s boss, Michael Jackson. So today, could be a Thriller, or else it could be Bad!

It is difficult to imagine that Burnley won’t be in a state of disarray for the game. It is a perfect time for the Hammers to hit them when they’re down – which they will be come the end of the season. A healthy 3-0 win and a chance to give a few youngsters a run from the bench. COYI!

A Nods As Good As A Wink: Aerial Power The Key For West Ham In The Lyon’s Den

West Ham’s dream of Europa League progress takes centre stage as they head for sudden death success against the Lyon winkers

Preparation for today’s Europa League Quarter Final second leg could hardly have gone any worse. Playing a full-strength side at Brentford on Sunday might have made sense at the time – in the hope of capitalising on slip-ups by Manchester United and Arsenal – but in retrospect giving key players the opportunity to rest would have been the sensible option. The Hammers wouldn’t have taken anything less from the game, and might have found themselves in a far better position to face Lyon.

The performance at Brentford was one of the poorest from a West Ham side for quite some time. We will discover later whether this was down to fatigue or was the result of player’s minds seduced by today’s showdown. There are fine margins at this level and concentration only has to slip a little to be exposed by an opponent as determined as Brentford.

The European adventure has provided a welcome added dimension to the season. Having had a taste, I’m sure most fans are eager for more next season. Qualification for the Europa League or Conference is still a possibility from league position but winning this competition would hit the jackpot of Champions League qualification. Easy to see why today’s game could serve as a distraction.

I was reasonably happy when West Ham were drawn against Lyon. After all, having just knocked out serial winners, Sevilla, what problems could a mid-ranking Ligue 1 side possibly pose? I did worry, though, whether the Hammers had peaked too soon in that Sevilla second leg. It felt like we were already in the final.

This tie sits finely poised after a referee assisted first leg stalemate at the London Stadium. Playing for half a game with ten men is never easy, so huge credit for a gutsy draw. But the implications of the farcical red card do not stop there. We must now play another whole game without the services of Aaron Cresswell. It’s not that Cresswell is a fantastic or irreplaceable player, it’s that he’s the only left back we have! A ludicrous state of affairs to find yourself in.

The other spanner in the works was the news that Kurt Zouma will miss the match, and potentially the rest of the season, with a twisted ankle. Wouldn’t Billy Bonds or Stuart Pearce just have had a squirt of Ralgex and carried on playing? Zouma is a commanding presence in the air but often looks awkward (almost clumsy) going in for tackles. I wonder whether he picks up more than his fair share of injuries because of that. No doubt he is one of our top players and his absence will be sorely missed.

I don’t see David Moyes making any radical changes to shape to compensate for the absences. It will be Issa Diop replacing Zouma in a straight swap, with Ben Johnson in as the least worst replacement for Cresswell. I consider Johnson to be the most accomplished of our full backs defensively but switching sides and playing on your weaker foot is not as easy as many suggest, particularly at the highest level. How well he adapts to the threat down the right may well be one of the pivotal battles of the night.  There has also been speculation about Declan Rice dropping into a back three, but that would be crazy unless the plan is to play under siege for ninety minutes. In any case, the squad does not have the wing backs to deliver the attacking width required from the role.

Could there be change in the forward midfield positions? Manuel Lanzini looked seriously out-of-sorts on Sunday and maybe Pablo Fornals replaces him in the centre, with Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma out wide. Or could there be a surprise return for Mark Noble to stiffen the midfield alongside Rice and Tomas Soucek? Maybe that is a second half change!

My predicted line-up is: Areola, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Johnson, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma, Antonio   

As with the first game I expect assorted dark arts and skulduggery from Lyon. The type of tactics that commentators euphemistically refer to as ‘using their experience, rather than calling it what it is, cheating. We must hope the Swiss referee is more attuned to such underhand behaviour and does not believe his role is to be part of the entertainment.

Lyon are reported to have picked up a number of injuries since the first leg, notably goalkeeper, Lopes and midfield creator, Paqueta. Goal threats remain from the winking Dembele, Toko Ekambi and Tete requiring new heights of excellence from the Dawson-Diop axis – a pairing that has failed to impress in the past.

Tonight’s winner will be set up for a cracker of a semi-final against either Barcelona or Eintracht Frankfurt. Although underdogs, West Ham can win this. On more than one occasion, the team have demonstrated the character, fight and determination needed to achieve it. It starts all-square with no requirement to win by more than one goal, as in the second leg with Sevilla. As someone famous once said, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.

We cannot change the players Moyes has available for selection. All we can do is accept whoever is picked, get fully behind the team, and spur them on to victory. I’m banking on the pace of power of Michail Antonio rattling the Lyon defence and our set pieces causing nightmares for the stand-in Lyon keeper. Dawson to nod in the winner! We still believe. COYI!

Hammers Have An Old Score To Settle With The Bees: Moyes Will Be Buzzing

Yesterday’s results leave the door open for West Ham to snatch successive top six finishes. Can they take advantage with a revenge win over recently rallying Brentford?

Cast your mind back two years to the same stage of the 2019/20 season, and you will remember that West Ham were languishing in 17th place in the Premier League. They had accumulated a meagre twenty-seven points from the thirty-one games played. With three of their relegation rivals each having a game in hand, the future looked bleak at the London Stadium.

It has been a phenomenal turnaround that the Hammers now find themselves in touching distance of a second consecutive top six finish and a Europa League semi-final. Even if those ambitions are eventually thwarted, it is a scenario that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of the most claret-and-blue spectacled optimist back in June 2020.

Huge praise must go the manager, coaches, and a fantastic group of players for this improvement, built around hard work, commitment, and organisation. It’s a great time to be a Hammer. But as supporters we are never fully satisfied. Our minds are always filled with the ‘what ifs’ and ‘might have beens’. While marvelling at the team’s stellar improvement, I am yet to be convinced that behind the scenes changes have made the progress required to create a legacy beyond the tenure of the manager and the current crop of players. The key to this is a planned and sensible recruitment strategy and a far more productive academy. The jury is still out on both of those – although I won’t let it spoil the enjoyment of the moment.

Harping on about the lack of transfer activity ends up sounding like a broken record. But the implications don’t go away. We are essentially the same side as last season plus Kurt Zouma. Games have been played without a recognised striker and now we must negotiate a Europa League quarter final without a recognised left-back. It’s just so very seat of the pants.

It is apparent this season that fourth spot is up for grabs for anyone able to demonstrate the correct level of consistency. Tottenham made a couple of astute signings in January and are now firmly in the driving seat. West Ham did nothing and have ended as plucky losers as far as that particular prize is concerned. While finishing fifth or sixth would be no mean feat, I can’t help feel it could have been better.

The other regret from the season are the needless points that have been dropped in sloppy circumstances. Losing twice to Manchester United when they both should have ended in draws, for example. And the below par performances that resulted in home defeats to bottom half sides – Southampton, Leeds, and today’s opponents, Brentford.  

The home fixture against Brentford in October was especially frustrating. There’s no doubt the visitor’s deserved their first half lead as a bright and intense opening caught the Hammer’s cold. Having taken the lead, though, the visitors fell back on the dark arts of time wasting and going to ground at every opportunity. Arguably a pragmatic approach for a side on a limited budget newly promoted to the Premier League. Once West Ham had equalised it felt there would be only one winner in the match, but there was to be a sting in the tail. A pointless free kick conceded in the depths of added time, uncharacteristic lapses in marking, a poor parry by Fabianski, and the ball was lashed home for a Brentford win. The Bees leapfrogging the Hammers in the process to move up to eighth.

Brentford have successfully kept their heads just above relegation trouble since then and can now look forward to a second season at the top level. A recent improved run of form was capped with a thrilling and emphatic 4-1 victory at Stamford Bridge last weekend. They will prove uncompromising opponents once again today.

If West Ham are to match last season’s points haul, they will require fourteen points from the final seven games. Four wins, two draws and a defeat would achieve that. Looking at the fixture list, today must feature near the top of the winnable games. As Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal are still to come, we cannot risk our one defeat at the Brentford Community Stadium.

With the second leg Europa League tie against Lyon coming up on Thursday, some have suggested there might be a spot of squad rotation today. I don’t see Moyes going for that myself and, in any case, he doesn’t have too many options anyway. Perhaps there will be recalls for Vladimir Coufal at right back and Manuel Lanzini in midfield. Lanzini is a player who can be hit or miss, but when he is deployed deeper it does allow Tomas Soucek more opportunity to get forward. It also takes some of the pressure off Declan Rice as the default instigator of almost every West Ham attack.

The defence must stay on high alert to counter the movement and physicality of Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo. Thankfully, Craig Dawson and Zouma have established a strong and solid partnership that has exceeded all expectations and should be equal to the task. Toney hasn’t quite lived up to his goalscoring reputation, and although he is the host’s leading scorer, five of his eight have been from the spot. I am delighted to see Christian Eriksen back playing football again. I wish him the best, even in defeat.

I expect it will be a tough, physical game. The hosts will start with intensity and on the front foot. Moyes will need to prepare his men for the initial onslaught – no slow start can be tolerated this afternoon. It will be an intriguing encounter which I predict West Ham will sneak 1-0. COYI!