Have you read Geoff’s article published yesterday? If you missed it look it up now. It tells you everything you need to know about West Ham’s current plight. The insipid display at Tottenham, the board dithering over a dithering manager who has presided over a team in freefall for more than a year now, unadventurous and inadequate tactics, lack of entertainment, a relegation dogfight that really shouldn’t be a situation for one of the world’s richest clubs, and a cautionary approach taken to another level last week.
Even our captain, Declan Rice took a veiled swipe at the tactics employed by our manager in the wake of last Sunday’s debacle. He was spot on when he was quoted as saying: “When you play with five at the back and the three like we set up today, maybe our strikers felt a bit isolated when we got the ball up to them – they didn’t really have enough around them, not enough support.”
He was only saying what a vast number of West Ham fans have been for some time now; the approach to games is wrong, and the fact that he sticks to a rigid formation when we don’t really have the right sort of players to make the most of lining up that way (for example wingbacks that are really just defenders and don’t really pose much of an attacking threat). It is no coincidence that we are seventh in the Premier League when it comes to defence and not conceding too many goals, but sixteenth when looking at goals scored (just 19 in our 23 games this season, a woeful figure).
If we are going to get out of the desperate situation we are in then we need to score more goals and win more matches. We need a more attacking formation, and not an isolated front man. Antonio was reasonably successful at this a year or so ago, but he has lost form, and he barely scores these days. The manager has even used others (Haller, Scamacca) in a similar role even though it is clear to most of us that they are not suited to playing in this way, their strengths lie elsewhere, but David Moyes (in his obstinacy?) fails to recognise this.
In previous articles I have been analysing the position and current form of the bottom teams. I will continue to concentrate on the bottom nine as Palace in twelfth place are only six points clear of the relegation zone. The points of the bottom nine (all with 15 games still to play) are:
Palace 26, Forest 25, Leicester 24, Wolves 23, Everton 21, Bournemouth 21, West Ham 20, Leeds 19, Southampton 18.
The points gained in the last 6 games shows today’s opponents Nottingham Forest ahead of the rest, but we have now slipped in this guide to current form:
Forest 11, Wolves 10, Leicester 7, Everton 6, West Ham 6, Southampton 6, Bournemouth 5, Palace 4, Leeds 2.
Ironically, the early season fixture won by Forest by a solitary goal could easily have gone the other way with a slightly different interpretation of rules (Benrahma’s disallowed goal) and a little more luck (twice hitting the crossbar) as well as a better taken penalty (Rice). If we had won that game then we would now be on 23 points and Forest on 22. But that’s football. Will that very first game come back to bite us at the end of the season?
And talking of interpretation of rules, that old chestnut (handball) has been a talking point in our last two games with Soucek (against Chelsea) and Kehrer (against Tottenham) both handling the ball in the process of falling and that was why penalties were not awarded against us. A new rule this season says that if a player is falling and the ball touches their hand / arm when it is between their body and the ground (but not extended to make the body bigger) then that is not handball.
Whether you like this new rule or others (designed to make the interpretation of handball simpler – ha ha), that is how the referees and VAR looked at these two examples although pundits on TV tended to disagree quite vehemently. As it happens it made no difference to the points in the Tottenham game, and we benefitted by one point (if the penalty had been successful) in the Chelsea match. But as far as Chelsea were concerned this was simply karma from the reverse fixture where we were robbed.
With the bottom five clubs achieving less than a point a game so far this season, averaging a point a game equalling fifteenth place in the table at present, and so many clubs potentially involved in the relegation struggle, then how many points from the final 15 games will be enough to ensure safety? I reckon that a final total of 37 or 38 might potentially be enough to confirm Premier League football next season. That would mean 17 or 18 from those games if my estimate turns out to be correct. Based on current averages then 35 could be enough. In the last five seasons the total needed to ensure safety was 36, 29, 35, 35, 34. In the ‘29’ season three teams were significantly detached which is not the case so far this time, so that one may not be representative of what is needed. Have a look at the remaining fixtures and see if you can tell where the requisite number of points will come from.
25/2 Home v Forest
4/3 Away v Brighton
12/3 Home v Villa
19/3 Away v Man City
2/4 Home v Southampton
5/4 Home v Newcastle
8/4 Away v Fulham
16/4 Home v Arsenal
22/4 Away v Bournemouth
26/4 Home v Liverpool
29/4 Away v Palace
6/5 Home v Man Utd
13/5 Away v Brentford
20/5 Home v Leeds 28/5 Away v Leicester
Five wins and two or three draws from those fifteen games might just be enough. If you think that should be easy bear in mind that we have only achieved five wins and five draws so far from 23 games, that is eight more played than those that are remaining. Of the eight home games, four are against teams in the bottom half (the next three and the last one). In the seven remaining fixtures away from home, three are against teams in the bottom half (three of the last four). Therefore, a fairly equal spread in terms of potential difficulty based on league positions.
I began this article referring to Geoff’s excellent summary of our current plight and the action perhaps needed (change the manager?) to stay up. He ended the piece with the sentence ‘It’s a sad, sad, situation.’ You know the Elton John song – Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word? Some of the lyrics from the song sum it up nicely:
It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more
And more absurd
Note to the board from an entirely different (Elvis) song – A little less conversation a little more action please!