Following the total humiliation and the seismic damage to the reputations of the dirty dozen, West Ham resume their top four challenge against one of the “ESL” protagonists

What a week this has been in the world of football! An attempt by a dozen of the richest clubs in the world to distract everyone from UEFA’s announcement of the reformation of the Champions League and the end of season run-ins spectacularly failed when a combination of factors led by fan power brought the concept to a halt just 48 hours after the surprise announcement last Sunday afternoon. Of course not solely fan power, but the announcement was universally condemned by the players, the managers, the media, the broadcasters, royalty, UEFA, FIFA, the whole of the rest of football, and even the Government led by Boris Johnson who were not slow to recognise a popular bandwagon worth jumping upon.

I say brought to a halt, but at the time of writing only nine of the dirty dozen have announced their non-participation with, I believe, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus still in with a chance of becoming the ESL champions, although the format of the competition between the three of them has yet to be confirmed! The Real Madrid supremo Perez appears (amazingly) to still be clinging on to his dream.

The concept of a competition that lacks promotion and relegation is very akin to the American sporting ideal, and it is no coincidence that the billionaire owners of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United in particular were so keen on the idea. What with Perez complaining about the length of a game of football needing shortening being added to the US influence then I wonder how long before we would have had matches consisting of four quarters, timeouts, and stoppages for advertising breaks in the middle of games? Perez suggested that 16-24 year olds are not interested in football. I wonder how much of that theory could be attributed to being priced out of watching games both live at the stadium and via subscription channels where Sky, BT Sport and Amazon all have a share of the games on offer. I’m sure that many of that age range would love to be in the stadiums following their teams but are priced out of doing so.

The combined wealth of the six rebel English club owners is estimated to be around 50 billion pounds. Yes, that is £50,000,000,000 – no wonder they needed a vehicle to extend their fortunes! Amazingly they didn’t even think to consult anyone else who might have an interest, with non-disclosure of the plans to anyone, except a select one or two within their clubs. The whole episode leaves a sour taste, and one whereby I cannot see how they can regain any trust, despite their grovelling apologies which began to emerge on Wednesday.

It gets you thinking about the ownership of clubs by these wealthy foreign investors who have no interest in the history of the game in this country or anything other than making money on the back of their ownership. They are now the most unpopular club owners in the country. Of course it would be a popular move if clubs were owned by wealthy British businessmen instead, thereby improving the popularity of those at the helm. Except West Ham and Newcastle for example are currently owned by wealthy British businessmen and they are generally disliked by their fans too!

When the news broke last Sunday, somebody was quick to construct a league table that disregarded all the games played by the “rebel six” this season. With our “flat-track bullying record” in this campaign it was no surprise to see West Ham at the top with a nine point lead and games in hand, with the revised title virtually won already. Perhaps a new trophy will be awarded this season which ignores the “six” and we will be the inaugural champions? We could add that to other potential competitions that we might win this season. For example, the Claret and Blue Cup decided by the closed shop of games played by those clubs whose primary colours are claret and blue, the London League contested solely by those teams based in the capital, and the “Set Piece Shield” awarded to teams scoring the most goals from set pieces (excluding penalty kicks). I’m sure you could think of others.

A place within the top four is within our grasp, and is still in our own hands with six games to go, provided we beat Chelsea. Defeat in this game would mean an uphill, but not insurmountable, battle to achieve a top four finish, but a draw would not be the worst result. There will still be five games to go for us after this one, and a lot of football to be played.

Shall we have a look at the final few games for the teams involved to see who is likely to make the top four? I’ll exclude Manchester City who are definitely there, and Manchester United who (barring a complete collapse) should be there. That leaves a permutation of two from (probably) six who have a realistic chance of finishing immediately behind the Manchester clubs.

Leicester (59 points, Goal Difference 21, 6 games to go) – Palace, Southampton, Newcastle, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham

Chelsea (55 points, Goal Difference 19, 6 games to go) – West Ham, Fulham, Manchester City, Arsenal, Leicester, Villa

West Ham (55 points, Goal Difference 11, 6 games to go) – Chelsea, Burnley, Everton, Brighton, West Brom, Southampton

Liverpool (53 points, Goal Difference 16, 6 games to go) – Newcastle, Manchester United, Southampton, West Brom, Burnley, Palace

Tottenham (53 points, Goal Difference 18, 5 games to go) – Sheffield United, Leeds, Wolves, Villa, Leicester

Everton (52 points, Goal Difference 4, 6 games to go) –Villa (twice!), West Ham, Sheffield United, Wolves, Manchester City

Of course in addition to the remaining league fixtures there are the added distractions for the teams themselves plus their opponents. Chelsea and Leicester will meet in the FA Cup Final, as well as in one of the remaining league games, Chelsea and Manchester City are still in the Champions League and face two semi-finals (and, of course, possibly a final), Tottenham face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final tomorrow, and both Arsenal and Manchester United are still in the Europa League at the semi-final stage. These distractions could significantly influence the results of teams still battling for a place in the top four as well as teams that they will face who may “rest” players and possibly weaken their sides as a result.

Leicester are in pole position to finish third with points in the bag and the best goal difference, but based on league positions, their final three fixtures are tough and will coincide with their FA Cup Final involvement. Any let up in their next three games could let in others. Based purely on league positions of opponents, both West Ham and Liverpool would appear to have easier run-ins plus a lack of distractions. But it is never that simple is it?

Failure to pick up anything in the North-East last weekend, plus the loss of Dawson for this game to add to the key injuries to Rice and Antonio, and possibly Cresswell and Masuaku makes our task that much harder, but we are still in the running. Other recent results have been mixed for our competitors, but many have not gone our way. This is therefore a real “six-pointer” and if either team picks up three points then the losers will still have a lot to do. But with so much football still to be played nothing can be taken for granted until the final kick of the season.

And in this season especially, the battle for places in the top four is perhaps the most exciting element as the Premier League is drawing to a close. It is often the relegation scrap that maintains the interest until the end, but, although the places in the bottom three are not yet decided, the current three clubs at the foot have been there for some time and are very firm favourites for the drop.

Of course if the “ESL” was in existence then the battle for a top four position would be irrelevant as the places in the following season’s competition would be guaranteed. Already we have yet another reason why the “ESL” was such a terrible idea! But UEFA have released their plans for a reform of the Champions League set for the 2024-25 season, and this has a number of controversial ideas too, such as the raising of the number of teams to 36, the revised format, and the issue of club co-efficients to allocate some places for teams in the competition. But that is still some way off, and infinitely better than the “ESL”!

What will happen this evening? With the game poised at 2-2 will Yarmolenko make a belated return to the team as a substitute and score a late goal to win the game from a quick counter attack? It would be good wouldn’t it? What are the chances?  

West Ham Bubbling Under While Blue Is The Colour Of Deceit, Greed And Duplicity

After the ESL furore, West Ham face off with disgraced Chelsea for the title of most super team in London

In the blink of an eye the world’s shortest coup came crashing down in a blaze of ridicule. The brave new world of the European Super League turned out to be an emperor with no clothes. Whoever imagined this as a popular reform that would be good for all football has some serious delusions. That the rest of the football world would be convinced by a plan dreamt up by a group looking to save themselves (at the expense of others) from a financial mess of their own making. It beggars belief. The unanswered question, though, is what will happen next?

Personally, I am less concerned about the severity of the sanctions served on the shameless six Premier League clubs than I am about the steps required to prevent something similar happening again. Having said that, any team breaking the League’s rules should not be allowed to escape scot-free. Perhaps whatever sanctions are arrived at, they should be doubled for Tottenham and Arsenal for the sheer temerity of considering themselves as elite clubs.

Competitive domestic football must remain the cornerstone of our game. Anything else is icing on the cake. But whatever competition is imagined, it must be based on sporting merit if integrity is to be retained. Independent oversight/ governance and fan participation in any decisions on structural changes should be mandatory if we are to the counter self-interest of self-appointed elites.

It was no surprise that this weekend’s visitors, Chelsea, together with Manchester City were the first to break ranks once they started to feel the heat. Both are the play-things of billionaire owners and, as such, have no need to make a grab for a greater share of the proceeds – just to feed their habit of paying nonsensical transfer fees and wages to players and agents. Their involvement may have been a surprise (fear of missing out), but it makes them no less culpable. Like any crime, this was a joint enterprise, many months in the making.

With all that has been going on, one might easily forget that there is a season still going on. Or that tomorrow will see what might be billed as the final Champion’s League qualification spot ‘play-off’. Two teams separated merely by goal difference.

It would have been nice going into the game with Chelsea a few points to the good. But the Hammers blew that chance with a self-inflicted horror show at St James’ Park last Saturday. A game where we not only lost soft goals and priceless points, but also the services of Craig Dawson, for a brace of reckless challenges. To have lost twice this season to a poor Newcastle side takes some understanding.

With Dawson’s suspension, the ongoing absence of Declan Rice and Michail Antonio and the probable unavailability of Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku, it leaves David Moyes painfully short of options. If Cresswell is out then Fabian Balbuena will deputise for Dawson in the back three with Ben Johnson slotting in again at left wing back – not his best or most natural position by a long way.

I know Masuaku is something of a marmite player with West Ham fans but I do think we miss him (or a player like him) as he provides an available out-ball and a link between defence and attack, particularly when playing three at the back and sacrificing a creative spot in midfield. Every little helps for a side far too prone to giving the ball away cheaply. There has been some talk in the media of Said Benrahma filling that role but I am doubtful that it will have got Moyes attention. Benrahma is looking more marginalised as the weeks go by. The less game time he gets, the more he tries too hard to impress during his short cameos.

In the madly optimistic nature of the football supporter, I had been hoping for a miracle recovery by Rice in time for this weekend. His presence was sorely missed in a compressed midfield at Newcastle. Mark Noble will always give his all, but when he is not slowing play down or dropping too deep, the game is passing him by.

For the visitors, it has been a season for two halves as the naivety of Fat Frank gave way to the pragmatism of new media darling, Thomas Tuchel. On paper, the Blues are among the most talented squads in the division, but as a team they lack a spark to truly impress, even if they have become very difficult to beat. Expect plenty of comings and goings in west London during the close season. Lampard did have initial success by fielding a number of Chelsea youngsters but apart from Mount, they have flattered to deceive. It would be no surprise to see the likes of Abraham and Hudson-Odoi end up as perpetual loanees, following Loftus-Cheek and Barkley. Apart from Kovacic the Blues have a full squad to chose from tomorrow.

It feels like it should be a make-or-break game for the Hammers Champion’s League aspirations even though plenty can still happen in the remaining games. Leicester’s win last night has given them breathing space and a firm hold on third place, now that their injury problems are largely behind them. In the circumstances I would be happy with a draw against Chelsea, but I am also conscious of the dangers of Moyes playing for a draw. West Ham need to be set-up to retain the ball far better and be prepared to show ambition wherever possible – an approach that has rarely been seen against the top teams.

There is no need to boss possession but equally there is no need to surrender it needlessly. The worry is how the team can collectively keep control of the game with so many key players missing. Maybe a first home scoreless draw of the season is on the cards? COYI!