By 5 o’clock on Saturday West Ham will have reached the halfway point in our Premier League season, a couple of weeks later than in a typical campaign when this normally arrives between Christmas and the New Year. Has the break for the World Cup been beneficial following our poor run of results prior to the tournament? With just one point from three league games since then it would not appear to be the case. Although we did finally win a game last weekend with our 1-0 victory away at Brentford (reserves?) to progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup for a meeting with Derby County.
We will have played all the other teams in the Premier League apart from Newcastle, a game that was postponed following the death of the Queen. We will have played Wolves twice following our 2-0 home win earlier in the season. 19 games, 9 at home and 10 away. Whatever the outcome of this nineteenth game we will not have averaged a point a game which is a rough benchmark for retaining a place in the top flight for the following season. At the moment we have just a paltry 15 points from 18 games and sit outside the relegation zone on goal difference alone. By 5 o’clock on Saturday we could be in the bottom three if we don’t win the game and other results go against us. Everton in 18th face Southampton at the bottom. If we lose to Wolves and Everton win then we would be just one off the bottom in 19th. This demonstrates the importance of this game plus the one next week when Everton visit the London Stadium. Two losses in the next two matches would be almost unthinkable and would surely see a managerial change.
It’s a sad state of affairs for a team that has won eight consecutive games in the Europa Conference this season and finished sixth and seventh in the last two campaigns. Added to that the money spent in the summer (not very wisely it would seem) we would have expected to be in the top half of the table at the very least. But the truth is we would seem to have been found out and the manager appears to have a lack of tactical ideas to change things. The list of complaints against him from fans as outlined in my article prior to the league game at home to Brentford a couple of weeks ago is unchanged. They include:
- losing the dressing room,
- picking his favourites however poorly they seem to be playing,
- a lack of tactical ideas,
- no plan B or C,
- setting up to not lose or to hold on for a win if we do get in front,
- making strange substitutions,
- making substitutions too late,
- an inferiority complex especially regarding the top teams,
- giving too much respect to the top teams especially when we are away (he has a poor managerial record against some top clubs never having beaten them away after numerous efforts),
- turning good players into average ones,
- buying players not suited to the club, the Premier League or his playing style,
- opposition teams have now found us out and he has failed to adapt or recognise this
- failure to give academy players a chance
Even at this stage in the season the Premier League table has a fairly predictable look about it. The so-called big 6 have been gate-crashed by Newcastle with the missing club being Chelsea who are having a poor season by their standards, currently down in tenth. It’s hard to look beyond Arsenal or Manchester City winning the title.
At this point there are four distinct groups of clubs in the table with the top two clubs in the first group on 44 and 39 points respectively. The second group, between third to fifth place, Newcastle, Manchester United and Tottenham are the leading chasers separated by just two points (35 to 33). The third group go from Fulham in sixth down to Palace in twelfth with just nine points between then (31 to 22).
Unfortunately, we are members of the fourth group like Saturday’s opponents Wolves. At the moment it looks like there will be eight clubs who are involved in the fight to stay up with not much to separate them. With still just over half a season to go it could change but at the moment the bottom eight are:
Leicester 17, Leeds 17, Forest 17, Bournemouth 16, West Ham 15, Everton 15, Wolves 14, Southampton 12
But taking a look at the form table (I’ve chosen the last six games) then the number of points gained by these teams in those is:
Leeds 8, Forest 8, Leicester 6, Wolves 5, Bournemouth 3, Everton 2, West Ham 1, Southampton 0.
The current league form highlights the predicament we are in; one we surely didn’t think we would be in as the season began. Our form in the second half of last season was perhaps a pointer as to what was about to happen, but perhaps we were fooled by the summer spending spree which seemed to give us a boost. International footballers (current or recent) from Morocco, Italy, France, Germany, Ivory Coast and Brazil were added to the squad but for one reason or another (add injuries and bad luck to the list of complaints against the manager?), the domestic season has so far been a massive disappointment.
Our overall record against Wolves in history is a positive one, and the recent record too, as we have won four of the last five games. But we did lose four in a row before then. But previous games mean little really. Bookmakers can barely separate us with Wolves at 13/8 very marginal favourites over ourselves at 17/10 with the draw at 11/5. That surprises me based on recent form, and much as I’m hoping we can collect a very important three points, I can’t see it happening. Two of the lowest scoring teams in the Premier League with just 26 goals between them (Leicester, also involved near the bottom have scored 26 on their own) are hardly likely to play out a 4-4 draw and I don’t believe there will be many, if any, goals. Perhaps two at the most in the game. Who will score them? I’ve no idea, but I hope we do. I’ll go for a close game, a 1-1 draw. That might just be enough to keep us out of the bottom three for the moment. But it might not. What are the chances?