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!

The Latest West Ham Bubble: How High Will It Fly?

A remarkable turnaround in performance and results sees the Hammers tipped for better days. But is it yet another false dawn waiting to be eclipsed by injuries and Boardroom interference?

Just five games into the new season and already it is the Year of the Comeback for West Ham. From weakest link to strongest link, the ugly duckling has blossomed into a beautiful swan. The shocking opening day defeat at home to Newcastle has been consigned to history following two excellent wins and a phoenix-like rise from the ashes in the last ten at the Tottenham stadium. Add in the rehabilitation of Manuel Lanzini with that stunning last gasp pearler on Sunday afternoon and the transformation is complete.

The emotional roller coaster ride is a huge part of football’s enjoyment for the committed fan – all doom and gloom one week, and on cloud nine the next. In the aftermath of last weekend, a mainstream and social media trend has been the suggestion that David Moyes is building something special at West Ham. It is tempting to jump on board the unexpected wave of optimism bandwagon (and long may it last) but I think many of us know that lack of cover in key positions is just waiting to trip us up. Like the circus performer spinning plates on poles, once one starts to wobble, the whole lot could come crashing down.

The manager, coaches and players deserve tremendous credit for what has been achieved in recent weeks – especially in the context of the toxic atmosphere that infests the club’s off-field activities. Who would bet against a fine run up to Christmas being derailed by further transfer treachery in January? As someone who was originally ambivalent on the appointment of Moyes he has earned my respect.

It has been some time since we have witnessed such a well-organized, disciplined and committed group of players, working so hard for each other. Is it sustainable? How will they react to the inevitable setbacks that will arise in the coming weeks? More importantly, how will they adapt to any long-term absences?

What has also been pleasing is the quality of the football being played. This isn’t an Allardyce (or Hodgson) style – football by attrition, hoping to nick a goal from a set piece, and then out up the barricades. We have seen a quick and incisive counter attacking team, which I, for one, have found highly entertaining. Only the most fervent anti-Moyes campaigner could refuse to acknowledge his contribution to performances over the last few weeks.

Despite the understandable euphoria at the Tottenham comeback we should not overlook the obvious in that opening 15 or 20 minutes. The compact shape, that had worked so well against Wolves and Leicester, had been left behind in the dressing room. The threat of Son’s pace and Kane’s deeper lying role should not have been a surprise, and it was disappointing that it took three goals to react to it. But it was testimony to the team’s new spirit that they kept plugging away to earn a memorable point. It was a remarkable match!

This is it! This is why, despite Sullivan this, Gold that and Brady the other, we keep coming back! Amazing!

The Guardian Minute By Minute Match Blog

The lessons learned from that first half experience will be vital if the Hammer’s are to compete with today’s opponents.  Although Manchester City go into the game in the lower half of the table, they are most people’s favourites to regain the Premier League title, particularly in light of the Van Dyke injury. Their strength is undoubtedly the no expense spared resources available to the manager. As ever, they have invested heavily in the squad but I do wonder if Guardiola has put too much faith in outright flair, at the expense of the blended efficiency that he inherited with players such as Kompany, Zabaleta, Fernandinho, Silva and De Bruyne.

De Bruyne and Fernandinho are two players who (hopefully) might be absent today, along with Jesus, Mendy, Laporte and Ake. As we have learned, it is dangerous to rub hands at the thought of a weakened opponent (remember the penultimate game at Upton Park against Swansea?) and City are better equipped than most to deal with injuries. I don’t see Guardiola rushing anyone not fully fit back for this game – with a packed league and European schedule coming up.

Could this be a window of opportunity for West Ham to put an end to their terrible recent run against the visitors?

Injuries permitting the Hammers should line up just as they did at Tottenham. I see no reason to fix what isn’t broken, and there is now an additional option from the bench in Said Benrhama. I have no expectation that Moyes will throw him straight into the fray, and it might be several weeks of substitute appearances before the manager considers the Algerian for a start. Following their cameo performances at Tottenham, Benrhama will face stiff competition from Andriy Yarmolenko and Lanzini for the position of first change. Yarmo is the most enigmatic character to me. He has a great touch, is an accomplished finisher and has the sweetest of left feet (he also looks to be one of the squad’s real characters) but how to fit him into a system that is built around pace and tireless work-rate?

To get anything from the game every West Ham player will need to be at the top of their game. We are looking far more secure defensively down our left-hand side now, with Aaron Cresswell, Arthur Masuaku and Pablo Fornals combining well to track runs and limit supply. If anything, despite the introduction of Vladimir Coufal and the hard work of Jarrod Bowen, we have looked more open on the right, as neither Angelo Ogbonna nor Fabian Balbuena is offering consistent additional cover. Perhaps Issa Diop’s extra pace would be an option in place of Balbuena, but it would be harsh to leave out the Paraguayan at this stage.  Cresswell, in particular, has been given a new lease of life as part of a back three. The new setup has given him the space and opportunity to deliver the telling crosses that has made him our assist supremo – back to the days where he had Payet creating space for him.

If West Ham are to taste success today, much will be down to the dependables: the pairing of Declan Rice and Thomas Soucek in the centre of midfield; the energy of Michail Antonio up front; and the safe hands of Lukasz Fabianski between the posts. Rice and Soucek must be alert from the very start to Aguero dropping deep and the runs of Sterling, just as they ultimately got to grips with Kane and Son last weekend.

 VAR has been up to its tricks again recently and continues its campaign of interference in the flow of the game. The flawed interpretation of clear and obvious errors is clearly and obviously wrong. How the seven match officials involved collectively managed to miss Pickfords assault on Van Dyke defies logic. And the Mane offside decision at end was to a degree of precision that is impossible to justify. It may be true that you are either offside or you are not, but can anyone guarantee with 100% certainty of where everyone was at the exact moment the ball was played? We are dealing in millimetres here. Maybe players will start to paint their extremities with the camouflage paint that motorists use to confuse traffic cameras.

Apparently, West Ham last scored three or more goals in four consecutive league games back in September 1928. Spookily, the run of games 92 years ago started with a 4-0 home win, was followed by a 3-0 away win and then a 3-3 away draw. The fourth of the sequence was a 4-1 home win. Looks like a pattern that is too good to ignore to me. With a West Ham 4-1 win at an attractive 125/1, it is where my two shillings will be going. Possibly with an extra shilling on a Hammer’s title win at 500/1.

Students of the Hammers won’t be surprised to hear that although that 4-1 in 1928 put them top of the league, they would eventually finish the season in the bottom six. Never mind Spursy – that’s West Hammy!

Can West Ham defy recent history and statistics to overcome City?

It seems a long time ago now, but the opening day of the 2020-2021 football season was just six weeks ago. And while last season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and described as the strangest season ever, this time around, with Covid-19 rising again, and no fans allowed into stadiums for the foreseeable future, the Premier League campaign has been absolutely bonkers! It has been full of strange results, and more goals than ever before. I’m not sure that any of us can predict what will happen next.

Who would have thought that, when we went down 2-0 at home to Newcastle in our opening game, and with an incredibly tough run of fixtures to follow, that we would be sitting in the top half of the table after just five games? The Geordies themselves are level on points with us, albeit with an inferior goal difference, whilst the other four teams we have faced currently sit in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th places in the table (we are 9th), so yes, we did have a tough set of games.

Who would have possibly thought, after that opening game, that when we faced Manchester City in the sixth game of this season that we would be above them in the league table? Yes, they do have a game in hand, but nonetheless, few would have put money on it. Yet we go into this fixture as massive underdogs, with odds of around 13/2 being quoted for a West Ham win, 4/1 on the draw, and 2/5 for a City win. Perhaps recent history between the two sides has something to do with that?

This is our ninth consecutive season in the Premier League since returning to the top flight in 2012. In the sixteen league matches against the Citizens (are they really called that by anyone?) we have won two, drawn two and lost twelve. Our record in cups is even worse, losing 9-0 over two legs in the League Cup in 2013-14, and 5-0 in the FA Cup in 2016-17. In recent history our record against City is probably worse than against virtually all other teams. We have lost in the last nine competitive fixtures against them with a cumulative score of 30-3 (the exact period when Guardiola has been in charge). Since moving to the London Stadium we have played them five times at home (4 league and 1 FA Cup), and the cumulative score is 22-1 against us. Who is the only West Ham player to have scored a goal against them at the London Stadium? Aaron Cresswell. I don’t think that any team has taken us apart quite as comprehensively as City have done in recent times.

Can you remember the last time we beat City? It was at their ground in 2015-16 when we beat them 2-1 with goals from Victor Moses and Diafra Sakho. Four of our current squad took part in that game – Cresswell, Lanzini, Noble and Antonio. The last time we took even a point off them was later that same season (the last time we faced them at Upton Park) when Enner Valencia scored the two goals in a 2-2 draw. The last time we beat them at home was in the 2014-15 season when we won 2-1 with goals from Morgan Amalfitano (remember him?) and Sakho.

The last time City failed to score against us was in a 0-0 draw in the first game we faced them following our return to the top flight in 2012. They have always scored at least once, and invariably a lot more, in the 18 games that have been played since then.

But there are other statistics in our favour as we head into this match. For example, the last time we played against City when we were above them in the table was back in 2009, and we won that game 1-0 with Jack Collison scoring the only goal of the game. In the calendar year of 2020 (which coincides with David Moyes in charge for the second time, we have scored 3 or more goals in 9 matches. Only Manchester City themselves can equal that record. Of course we have scored 3 or more in our last three games. The last time we managed to score 3 or more in four consecutive league games was 92 years ago!

And do you remember last week when we were looking at Moyes record against Mourinho, and the fact that he has never beaten him in 15 attempts? His managerial record against City contrasts to that, having beaten them 12 times. In fact they are one of the clubs against whom he has his most wins as a manager.

Recent history tells us we can’t win this game. Statistics say we can’t win this game. The bookmakers don’t believe we will win this game. But our confidence must be sky high following our run of fine performances, victories, goals scored, and that dramatic comeback against that team from North London last week. How good was that? It’s about time we beat City again, and perhaps we will in this season of strange results? I’ll go for 3-2.