The Pep Stop Boys: Moyes Gets The Band Back Together To Take A Pop At City

Go West Ham! A Hammers performance that brings an end to Manchester City’s long winning streak would be always on my mind.

I was amused to read a number of West Ham supporters on social media urging David Moyes to abandoned his cautious tendencies and “have a go” at Manchester City in today’s early kick-off at the Etihad Stadium.  Now I’m not saying I know exactly what they mean by having a go but if it involves taking the game to the opposition then it would be a reckless recipe for disaster – potentially straying into Ralph Hasenhüttl territory.

There is a danger that we are getting ahead of ourselves here. Moyes understands the strengths and weaknesses of his squad and the Hammers current position in the Premier League reflects that pragmatism. It is based on hard work, organisation and energy – a solid defensive shape supported by rapid counter-attacking and strength at set pieces. It works fine for me and have found myself delighted with the application and team spirit that has been demonstrated this season.

In an ideal world I would love the team to be more expansive, but that’s not where we are. We need to evolve to dominate games against the lesser sides before believing we can do it against the elite. In a game of opinions I can accept that others will see it differently, but this is not a negatively minded West Ham side in my view. It is one playing to their current strengths and acknowledging their limitations.

Much of the case for the prosecution about Moyes cautious outlook goes back to the Liverpool game. Admittedly it was not the Hammers finest recent performance, but Liverpool managed to conjure up their title winning form that day – although, ironically, they have lost all four Premier League games since then. Two weeks after beating West Ham, I sat through their visit to Leicester. Watching the game and looking at the stats afterwards, the games were almost carbon copy of each other, apart from the final score. Liverpool bossed possession 68% – 32% on both occasions, took the lead through Salah midway through the second half and were comfortably controlling the games. West Ham and Leicester completed an identical number of passes and although The Foxes had three more attempts at goal, the Hammers won four more corners and recorded a better passing accuracy. It all unravelled, though, in the final ten minutes at Leicester; the hosts equalised from a free kick and Liverpool (particularly their goalkeeper) simply went to pieces. Such are the fine margins of football which separate Rodgers’ ‘tactical genius’ from Moyes’ ‘lack of ambition’.

Of course, stats can disguise and distract us from nature and nuances of games – none more so than the possession statistic, which is pointless if you don’t make good use of it. I think most Hammers would like to see the team retain the ball retention better and that it remains an area for improvement. Moyes said as much after last week’s win against Tottenham. As I see it, it is a combination of poor individual decision making and not committing enough people forward when possession is won.

Any win over the north London neighbours is warmly appreciated and one that cemented fourth place as well as opening up a nine-point gap over our rivals was particularly sweet. We started well (did we score too-soon?) but seemed to lose momentum with the injury to Tomas Soucek – super Tom demonstrating a level of courage rarely seen in the modern game.

At last, VAR did what it is supposed to be there for by spotting the clear and obvious howler of the linesman’s flag, even if it took an age to do so. Did they rewind back to the half time whistle in the search for an infringement?  So many goals have to be celebrated twice nowadays, and the impromptu band performance was a moment to savour. The final twenty minutes or so was squeaky bottom viewing and not good for the blood pressure. I’m sure there were many like me yelling at the TV as we kept giving the ball back to the visitors and asking them to try again. Resolute defending and good fortune eventually combined to save the day.

An Opta projected final league table in the week (apparently based on running thousands of simulations) showed West Ham finishing in 7th place on 61 points – we had fallen below Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham in their findings. To be honest, I would be a shade disappointed if we finish outside the top six now, despite starting the season hoping for anything better than 17th. I’ll admit to being one of those who were predicting nul points by the end of October. It is said we have a tough run-in, but in fact the remaining fixtures work out as six from the top ten and seven from the bottom ten. I remain hopeful.

Playing each of the top three in the next six games does constitute a tough run, however. And none come tougher than away to Manchester City, who after a sluggish start have become an irresistible force – will West Ham represent the immovable object? . Guardiola has hit upon a plan B that has reined in their former free scoring flamboyance, but tightened up the vulnerable defence significantly. He is an exceptional manager, but one with the luxury of the world’s most expensively assembled (by some distance) squad at his disposal. A squad that includes eleven players costing more than £40 million. Buy a pair of expensive duds at City and it is written off as an accounting error. Do so at West Ham and it stymies the club for years to come.

The only sensible approach today is to constrain and frustrate City, much as West Ham did at the London Stadium back in October, a game that might have been won had the clear and obvious penalty (for a foul on Michail Antonio) been awarded. City are a different proposition these days and it will be a tall order to maintain concentration and resist the relentless City probing throughout ninety minutes. Not going out all guns blazing isn’t the same as not trying to win. On the rare occasions that City have lost at home in the league in the past few seasons it has been the result of a smash and grab mugging. That is the Hammers task today.

On the balance of probabilities West Ham will lose this game nine times out of ten (if not more often) due to the inequality of resources. It is not a game that will define the rest of the season but a moral sapping heavy defeat from a gung-ho approach could do.

It would be a massive achievement to be the side that manages to put a stop to the Manchester City juggernaut. It is implausible to predict a victory but maybe, just maybe, the Hammers can plunder an unlikely draw. As Pep might say (if he were Portuguese) “Se a vida é” – That’s the Way Life Is.  COYI!

Can West Ham end City’s Winning Run?

I’ve been watching West Ham for more than 60 years and throughout that time I have often been able to witness some excellent attacking football. Not always of course, but at times we have had some great teams going forward, some brilliant goalscorers, and many skilful midfielders. During that time defending has never been our forte despite boasting some super defenders, with perhaps Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds being the pick. This season has been a revelation in that respect, and David Moyes plus his coaching staff must take great credit in producing a group of players that are highly organised and know their jobs when it comes to defending as a whole team.

The bargain recruits, Coufal and Dawson, have fitted in magnificently with Ogbonna and Cresswell, who are both having arguably their best season at the club. Diop and Balbuena have both come into the centre back positions when called upon, and Johnson is beginning to show what a fine player he may become. Fredericks doesn’t get a good press with many of our supporters, and whilst I can understand that in some ways, I believe he has plenty to offer as a squad player, with many underestimating how important he was when used as an auxiliary full back to help Coufal in taming Grealish. If he could add better touch to his undoubted pace he could yet offer a lot.

Moyes is building a team with power and pace, and it is unusual for us to be able to boast the best record in the top flight for goals scored from set pieces. It is even more unusual to see us at the top of the charts when it comes to defending set pieces, and great credit must go to the coaching staff for this too. That is why it was particularly surprising to concede a goal headed in directly from a corner scored by Moura of Tottenham last weekend, a player not noted for his aerial ability.

Nonetheless we defended well against the second half Tottenham onslaught, rode our luck a couple of times, and moved into fourth position, and a Champions League place, following our 2-1 win. I still have to pinch myself when I look at the league table, especially after we lost the first couple of games of the season. But with just 13 games to go we are in a strong position to finish higher in the table than any of us would have dreamt of just six months ago.

The next few games will probably hold the key to our eventual finishing position with a tough run of fixtures in March and April being followed by an easier (on paper) May. And it doesn’t come any tougher than this game against Manchester City, who are by far the best team in England at the moment, and likely to go a long way in the Champions League – they are currently 9/4 favourites to come out on top in that competition, with perhaps the only real threats coming from Bayern and PSG.

There seems little doubt that they will win the Premier League as they are now ten points clear in that, as well as being able to boast nineteen straight wins in all competitions. Can we stop them from making it twenty? Quite probably not as they play at a level beyond all other teams in the league at the present time. But it is probably as good a time to play them as any.  I’ll be looking for us to put up a strong performance. Our final finishing position will not depend on this result, but it will be a good test to see how far we have come as this season has progressed. Hopefully our defensive unit will show how difficult we are to beat, and perhaps we could come out of the game with a draw. Unlikely I know, but let’s hope we can snatch a point.

If you think we can you can get odds of about 5/1. An unlikely victory is priced at around 12/1. City are 1/4 which is not as short as they often are to win home games. I’ve done pretty well in recent times with my score predictions in West Ham games, with the 2-1 win last weekend another to add to my collection. For this game I’m going for a goalless draw. The odds on that happening are around 16/1. A win would be great but I can’t see that outcome.

City had won ten consecutive games against us before we held them 1-1 in the reverse fixture early in the season. So we do have form when it comes to disrupting their winning runs. Like Tottenham last week they had a European fixture in midweek before facing us, although with the depth and strength of their squad I can’t see this inconveniencing them too much. There have been a few 0-0 draws in league games between the two teams in history but all happened at Upton Park. It has never happened before in a league game where Manchester City are at home to us. But there’s always a first time isn’t there? What are the chances?  

Hammers Pledge City Support By Refusing To Compete In The Champion’s League

With a Premier League points deduction mooted for Manchester City, tonight’s storm affected fixture takes on the potential of a relegation six-pointer

The re-scheduled visit of West Ham to Manchester City, previously blown away by Storm Ciara, has now been overshadowed by the fall-out from Storm Mansour. With the Hammers unlikely to be pulling up any trees themselves at the Etihad (or should that be Mansour) stadium this evening, the footballing world has been wetting its collecting pants over the hosts impending ban from European competition.

It is possible that if the UEFA sanctions are sustained, then the Premier League will also be forced to act – with a points deduction that could effectively turn tonight’s encounter into a relegation six pointer.

The Abu Dhabi millions will, no doubt, ensure the story runs and runs through whichever legal avenues they choose to pursue it. City’s owners have, to date, demonstrated a staggering arrogance in their response to the allegations of misrepresenting the true source of sponsorship funds, originally leaked in the German press. Rather than share their apparent ‘irrefutable’ evidence that the charges are incorrect, their defence has appeared to be that supreme wealth puts them above the law – as it would do in their home country.

On the face of it (and from what we know from the leaks), it looks apparent that City broke the rules as they stand. That’s not to say that the rules are necessarily sensible. They do appear drafted to preserve the status quo rather than really addressing any concept of financial fair play – if that means at least creating the semblance of a level playing field. There are also very valid questions as to whether all serially big spending clubs were being judged equally.

Reaction to the ban has been interesting and, for me, has parallels to our own Tevezgate episode – where the majority of West Ham fans felt themselves to be victims while everyone else believed us to be as guilty as hell – breaking another of football’s difficult to understand rules. The outrage form City fans has likewise been seismic.

Year on year, football has become more of a media product and less concerned with the afternoon out for the matchday supporter. The proliferation of streaming services and the involvement of tech giants will only make matters worse over time. The packaging of the product is more important than what is inside the box. Media money is king and the role of those in attendance is mainly to create atmosphere for the cameras – arguably they should be paid as ‘extras’.

The Champion’s League sits at the top of the football money tree. Once the icing on the cake, it has become the cake itself and its participants turned into brands rather than clubs. It is only a matter of time, I think, before CL games are switched to weekends in order to better exploit the global TV audience – a UK evening kick-off is just too inconvenient for the armchair followers in Asia and North America. The Premier League will be forced to shuffle its scheduling to even more annoying times accordingly.

Perhaps we should applaud our own owners for refusing to compete in the Champion’s League – it seems they have the supporter’s interests at heart after all.

I’m joking by the way (about our owners). But it wouldn’t bother me if the ‘elite’ clubs broke away to form a European super league – if resigning from the Premier League was a pre-requisite. We could then return to the sanity of a competitive domestic league that had true financial fair play with fixed squad sizes and a monetary salary cap.  It could still be possible to qualify for a new knock-out European competition – maybe we could call it, the European Cup. Sadly, I don’t really expect any of that to happen.

As for the game itself, nothing has materially changed from when it was originally scheduled. The European ban will be a media talking point (a pleasant relief from VAR) but I don’t see it impacting performances on the pitch. For West Ham, this and the Liverpool game remain damage limitation exercises and coming away from the two games without a substantially worse goal difference may be counted as a success.

David Moyes plan will be one of containment but without any ideas what to do if/ when the defences are eventually breached. From his pre-match comments it sounded like he is reluctant to ‘unleash’ Jarrod Bowen for tonight’s fixture – possibly not wanting to risk him in a game that he believes we will lose anyway.

In theory, legs should be fresh after a two week break but prior experience doesn’t back up that view, where players have returned from breaks more rusty than revived. West Ham are typically slow starters after every break.

Nevertheless, we continue to live in hope and maybe a miracle can occur, despite the body of evidence that would indicate otherwise. If we are to survive, we should be looking to cobble together six points or so between now and the end of March. I don’t see any of them coming here.

Can West Ham spring a major surprise at the Etihad?

I’ve just been re-reading the article I wrote prior to the away game at Manchester City originally scheduled for the Sunday before last. Most of what I wrote still stands, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Climatically, not only have we endured Storm Ciara, the reason for the postponement of the original game, but this was followed a week later by Storm Denis wreaking havoc across much of the country with strong winds and heavy rain.

But in a football sense, perhaps the biggest storm has been the one that has descended upon the blue half of Manchester, where the club have been found guilty and been given quite a kicking by Uefa, who showed no love on Valentines Day by dishing out their stiffest sanctions ever, penalties imposed for breaches of Financial Fair Play and licensing rules. I guess they’ve been dancing in the streets of Madrid and Barcelona especially, where there is a belief that City have got just what they deserved, and many feel the same about Paris St Germain too. I doubt that it is just the Spanish either, and suspect there are wry smiles in Italy and Germany also.

City have had massive success domestically in the last couple of seasons and were generally felt to be the best team in the country, until Liverpool won the Champions League last season and have literally run away with the Premier League this time around, holding an almost unassailable lead. Many will feel that there are parallels with the game of Rugby Union, where the Premiership, which has now been in existence for 32 years, slightly longer than its football counterpart, is dominated by money. I wrote an article recently that demonstrated the link between revenue and success in football (West Ham were the exception!), and I believe that Rugby Union has similar ills. For me, money is ruining both games, with teams chasing success using win-at-all-costs strategies. In Rugby Union, Saracens, the leading, and most successful team in recent times, were found guilty of breaching salary cap regulations, and were given a points deduction so severe that it guaranteed relegation at the end of this season.

City’s punishment is massive too, although it is of a European not domestic nature. The fine of around £25 million will not harm them; perhaps the cruellest sanction from their viewpoint is the two year ban from European competition? What will this do to enable them to retain their renowned manager, and their leading players? And more than that will they be able to attract the top players going forward? I suspect not.

The big difference between the Saracens and Manchester City situations is very clear though. Whilst Saracens have accepted their punishment and are not contesting the fine and points deduction which means relegation, it would appear that this will not be true for City. From what I’ve read they have signalled their intent to make a legal challenge to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and of course have limitless funds to appeal and challenge the decision. Effectively I reckon they could tie up the decision for years to come with appeals and legal challenges.Of course it is not their first offence. They received a massive fine a few years ago for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, and haven’t there been issues around breach of transfer rules, and a ban on signing Academy players in recent times too?

I don’t know the rights and wrongs of all this, and really don’t understand the intricacies of the Financial Fair Play regulations. What I do know is that, for me, the financial imbalance in the revenues of the leading football clubs when compared to the rest, does nothing for the game of football, and leads to a predictability that makes Premier League football boring. What effect will the last week have on this fixture, City’s first game since the bombshell was dropped? Will it demoralise the players or lead to an increased resolve?

From a West Ham viewpoint the players have been taking their mid-winter break, and in fact we haven’t played a game now for two and a half weeks. The players resumed training last Saturday and should certainly feel fresh. New signings on the pitch and coaching staff have hopefully given the team a lift, although rumblings of discontent from the fans in respect of the owners continue to grow.

In normal circumstances, to play Manchester City away from home is as tough a fixture as you can get. They beat us 5-0 at the London Stadium on the season’s opening day, but whilst they haven’t been quite as formidable this season as last, they are still easily the second best team in the country. They have failed to score for two games in a row, so must be relishing the thought that West Ham are the next team up. I wonder how long it is since City failed to score for three games in a row?

Hopefully the majority of our squad are now fit, and when you add the signings of Soucek who made a promising debut, and Bowen who arrives with many praising his potential, I am confident that we can score move forward from here. My main worry is that we face the two toughest games in the calendar next, and hope that we don’t lose confidence, or too much ground, on the teams around us.

I read on social media that some of our fans hated Tottenham’s last minute winner against Villa. Whilst not being keen on our neighbours from North London, surely we need to look at the bigger picture and be pleased with the result, which adds to the problems of Villa, one of our main rivals in the relegation fight?

If you look at the games that we all have to play, then all teams around us have difficult fixtures in the run-in, although ours come sooner rather than later. We really need to stay in touch with the others over the course of the next few games, and then when we get to the final half dozen or so games, it will be in our own hands, with (on paper) some fixtures that are most definitely winnable.

Who will be in our line-up against City? Of course we’ll have Fabianski in goal. But will he choose the experienced but fading Zabaleta for a final hurrah against his old club, or the faster, but perhaps more error-prone Fredericks at right back? Balbuena’s wretched form surely ensures starts for Diop and Ogbonna, whilst Cresswell is most definitely a safer option at left back than Masuaku.

In midfield I assume he will have three “defensive-minded” players for this game, which I reckon will be Rice, Noble and Soucek. Surely he can’t be tempted to use Sanchez, can he? This leaves three more places to be filled for more attacking players and a choice from Haller, Antonio, Bowen, Fornals, Lanzini, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Masuaku, Snodgrass and Ajeti. Have I forgotten anyone? I don’t think that any of the youngsters like Silva or Ngakia will be considered for this game.

Of course we all have our own opinions, but I would expect to see Antonio, Bowen and Anderson as the three. That would surely be the fastest trio, adding more pace to the side? That would be my choice. I’m sure others (including the manager) may have differing opinions. For more midfield “energy” then perhaps Snodgrass could play instead of Noble, or if we intend to be even more defensive minded then he could play in addition, and only have two really “offensive” players. I hope not. We have a lot of good attacking players in the squad, and if used correctly, I’m sure we can score goals. The problem will be keeping them out!

This Might Hurt A Bit: Part One Of West Ham’s Damage Limitation Double Header

West Ham’s visits to the north-west are rarely fruitful. Coming away from today’s encounter against Manchester City with self-respect intact is possibly the best we can hope for

Several years ago, I had an abscess on the back of my leg. The doctor decided he needed  cut it out out but that due to its location behind the knee it would not be possible to administer a local anaesthetic. Just before scalpel cut into my skin he warned me: “this might hurt a bit.” He wasn’t wrong. To make matters worse, the wound had to kept open until all signs of the infection had gone. This involved opening up the flaps of skin and cleaning it out every few days. That too hurt a bit. In the end, though, it was a happy ending, and a complete recovery was made.

The story seemed a perfect metaphor for West Ham’s current predicament. Having slipped into the bottom three, they now face consecutive away games against the two best teams in the land. There is going to be pain – and things will get much worse before any hope of getting better. As to whether this story too will have a happy ending depends as much on others as it does on the Hammer’s own efforts. Will there be three worse sides in a season where 40 points is looking increasingly like the minimum requirement for safety.

My expectations for the next two games are set very low. West Ham are sure to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League all-time losses table (377 to Everton’s 375) Anything better than zero points but with the goal difference deteriorating by less than five goals would be a bonus. It is damage limitation pure and simple.

These two fixtures are separated by the Premier League’s first ever mid-season break; as if the season isn’t already interrupted enough by international breaks. For a team that is not in Europe, gets eliminated in the early rounds of the cup and runs less than all the others, West Ham really don’t need a rest. Best just to get it over with.

I always try to find some crumbs of optimism but reality invariably gets in the way. Any team suffering a relative dip in form, as City are right now, tend to find a visit from the Hammers the prefect antidote. Guardiola will have given up any hope of the title but he will want to finish as strongly as possible. His primary target will be the Champion’s League but with a week’s break there is no imperative to rest players for this one. At least they will be without Sterling today.

There has been a clamour among supporters for Declan Rice to switch into defence for this game, particularly in light of last weekend’s Keystone Cops defending. But following on from David Moyes comments that Rice is arguably the best holding midfield player in the league, I am not sure this will happen.  In fact, with City being a team that like to pass through the opposition and gradually wear them down I am not convinced this would be the best policy. If West Ham are to get anything out of the game (even if it is merely a sense of pride in having made a game of it) they need to be strong and compact throughout and break forward quickly. If City have a weakness it is to rapid counter attacks. A central midfield partnership of Rice and Tomas Soucek would be my choice for keeping a good shape and not conceding lots of unnecessary free-kicks just outside the penalty area.

It will be interesting to get a first look at Jarrod Bowen who I believe will partner Michail Antonio as the most advanced of the Hammers. I can see no reason why Sebastien Haller would merit a starting berth in a game like this. As mentioned last week I find Moyes stance with Pablo Fornals has been puzzling – just when he was finding form he has been relegated to the sidelines. I expect Robert Snodgrass will again be preferred to the Spaniard today.

Graham Scott from Oxfordshire is the matchday referee. Scott is one of the league’s leading red card issuers so far this season and was previously in charge of the Hammer’s 4-0 win against Bournemouth. Doing his very best to create some much needed talking points from the VAR eye in the sky will be Craig Pawson.

Top media pundits Lawro and Charlie Nicholas are united in predicting an emphatic Hammer’s defeat, at 3-0 and 4-0 respectively. If there is anything united among West Ham fans it is desire for new owners. We have regularly highlighted the obvious lack of direction or strategy at the club on this blog, and we are by no means alone in that regard. But now, several mainstream media journalists have jumped on the bandwagon to ridicule the two Daves. It is a sad state of affairs and the reaction by the board to the comments made on Sky Sports were a massive own goal. Still I don’t see any chance of the them selling up until after the 2023 repayment deadline in the stadium agreement. Equally, anyone hoping that relegation would spur them into selling is sadly misguided in my view. It would only prolong the agony.

As for today’s game I can’t help thinking that losing by only two goals would represent a good result. We can live in hope that the unexpected might happen, though – at least for the first twenty minutes or so.

After the debacle of the last twenty minutes against Brighton, Prexit is getting nearer. Can West Ham spring a major surprise at the Etihad?

If we supported any other team we would have been in shock after the last twenty minutes of the Brighton game last weekend. But as we are West Ham fans we’ve seen it all before, and many of us could see what was about to happen before it actually did. Nevertheless as we trudged back to Stratford Station after the game, being constantly stopped by those wretched stop-go boards which come into operation at random intervals that appear to have little logic to them, we were all scratching our heads and grumbling about what we’d just witnessed.

It was a crazy afternoon where all of the bottom six in the Premier League occupied places in the bottom three at one time or another between 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock. When we were in the lead in the game at one stage we had climbed up to 15th in the table (in-play). We led 2-0 at the interval, thanks to a near post goal from Diop, and a deflected shot from Snodgrass. Brighton emerged after the break on the front foot and caught us cold, and had soon reduced the deficit when Fabianski’s weak punch rebounded off Ogbonna into the net. Was Fabianski fouled? Would we be reprieved by VAR? Of course not.

It was looking a bit ominous as Brighton seemed to gain more confidence and increased possession and attacking threat. But no, we restored our two goal lead with yet another deflection to a Snodgrass shot to make the score 3-1. With a little over a quarter of an hour to go the manager decided to take off Antonio. He had been terrorising the Brighton defenders all afternoon, but as usual was beginning to tire, and to save him from injury he was allocated a place in the comfy seats and replaced by Masuaku.

Within a couple of minutes Masuaku attempted a clearance which looped into the West Ham penalty area on the rebound from a Brighton player, which began a chain reaction of laughable defending that reminded me of the Marx Brothers for comical effect. Diop and Ogbonna were the initial culprits as they hesitated. Fabianski realising the problem rushed from goal only to be beaten to the ball by Gross who nipped in first, and the ball rolled agonisingly slowly into the goal off the post, barely reaching the net. “You are kidding me” uttered the West Ham fan sitting beside me. But I kid you not. It really happened.

It was now game on as Brighton pressed forward searching for the equaliser. Just a couple of minutes had gone by when a cross was not intercepted and Murray (who always scores against us) seemingly controlled the ball with his arm before scoring. But despair turned to relief when we spotted that Michael Oliver had spotted the handball and disallowed the goal. But wait, VAR got involved, and it seemed several minutes elapsed before there was a decision. The referee had disallowed the goal but VAR overturned it. I thought they could only do that if there was a clear and obvious error. I could see the handball from 100 yards away, and then they showed it on the big screens. It certainly looked like handball on there too. Booing broke out all around, but the referee accepted the decision of VAR and the goal stood.

How many points has the handball issue cost us this season? And how many points have we dropped from winning positions too? The total has now increased to 19 ensuring we extend our lead in that league table; unfortunately not a table we would want to be at the top of. So by the end of the game, where we just about held on for the draw, we were sitting in the relegation zone, with some tough upcoming fixtures, beginning with Manchester City and Liverpool away games either side of the winter break. Oh dear. We are well in the mire now.

So we now have 13 games to go with six at home and seven away. On paper the away fixtures are generally much tougher than the home games, but if we are to avoid dropping into the Championship with the long term ramifications of that, we need to start winning some games of football. I have studied the remaining fixtures for all six teams that currently look in most danger of going down, and whilst there are various people in the media who are highlighting our difficult fixtures that are coming up, I have to say that all six teams have equally tough games to face between now and the end of the season.

The problem that we have is that the harder fixtures on paper generally come up first and then it gets relatively easier towards the end. Somehow we have to try not to fall too far behind which would then mean we are trying to catch up. In five of the last six games we face Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich, Watford and Aston Villa – on paper an easier run of matches than the ones coming up next. If we can still be in touch by the beginning of April we will have every opportunity of staying up. Perhaps there could even be a last day relegation decider when we face Aston Villa at the London Stadium?

Manchester City away is tough. They beat us on our own ground 5-0 in the first game of this season, almost exactly six months ago to the day, but whilst they haven’t been quite as formidable this season as last, they are still easily the second best team in the country. They have failed to score for two games in a row, so must be relishing the thought of their next visitors. I have no idea how long it is since they failed to score for three games in a row, but I’ll bet it hasn’t happened for some time. And they haven’t won a home Premier League game since they beat Everton 2-1 on New Years Day.

With the imminent return of Anderson, the signings of Soucek who made a promising debut, and Bowen who arrives with many praising his potential, and also hoping that Antonio will be fit, then I am confident that we can score goals. What worries me is that I am not sure how we can avoid conceding them. Declan Rice has been massively important to our midfield, but he grew up as a centre back, and I wonder if any thought has been given to playing him there as part of three at the back, perhaps for the games against City and Liverpool. There is not a lot to lose in those two games as we are not expected to pick up any points, and it may be worth trying something different.

I have had to write this column well in advance this week so have no idea regarding injuries and availability. But perhaps we could line up something like this:

Fabianski, Zabaleta, Diop, Rice, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Snodgrass, Soucek, Anderson, Bowen, Antonio

That would leave Fredericks (who seems reluctant to use his pace going forward, and is making too many errors), Noble (who looks in need of a rest, and pace could be more important than usual in the next 2 games), Lanzini (who is so out of form and short on confidence), Masuaku (who to me should only be used as a forward) and Haller (who looks unfit and short of confidence) out of the starting eleven at the moment, but all will be needed in the games to come.

Haller (when he plays) really needs to play with someone close to him, whether it is Antonio, or perhaps Bowen could be the one. It was good to read that Silva is now fully recovered as he really does look like one for the future, but it is unlikely that many youngsters will be given any opportunities this season.

As fans we all have our own ideas as to the players we like, the team we would pick, the formation we would adopt, and generally how we would manage the side. And they would all be different. I’ve read so many opinions on social media. But, we are now in the hands of David Moyes and his coaching staff. We are in the bottom three, and are generally third favourites to go down. Can we stay up? Yes we can. Will we stay up? It is likely to be touch and go, but I hope so. A miracle at the Etihad would be welcome.