In an earlier edition of Blowing Bubbles Magazine, I predicted we would start slowly under Manuel Pellegrini, citing that it would take a while for us to master the new style of play the Chilean brings to the London Stadium. In truth, it has been a slow start to the season, with just 12 points picked up from our opening 13 fixtures – hardly the flying start the former Manchester City gaffer would’ve hoped for.
In his defence though, it has been a tricky start, we have played all of the current top eight, and will only look to the road trips at Huddersfield and Brighton as well as the truly woeful home defeats to Wolves and Bournemouth as disappointing days at the office. We are notoriously unpredictable. One week, absolute world beaters, the next, a pub side at best.
When the season started, it was hoped that the £100 million pounds spent and the introduction of a whole new coaching staff and a manager of the Chilean’s experience would bring new success to the London Stadium. While, in patches, there have been shoots of optimism, the reality is the old issues still remain.
Our inability to keep a clean sheet, despite every Hammer telling you this is the best defence we’ve had in years is a genuine worry, and the lack of goals despite seemingly creating umpteen chances a game is a real frustration. It may seem dramatic to say this but the hectic December period could well prove make or break for us.
We finally have a winnable run of fixtures, and if we really are going to prove we can be a force to be reckoned with under the new regime, we really must start to flex those muscles and pick up some much-needed points. It all started at St James’ Park on the opening day of December, a ground that hasn’t proved to be fruitful for the Claret and Blue boys over the years.
Indeed, I still have nightmares of when we made Leon Best turn into prime Messi in a 5-0 drubbing in 2011. Cardiff travel to the London Stadium the following Tuesday, and this is a match we simply must look to dominate and really show what they are capable of.
This is a game that has the potential to be very similar to Burnley at home, we will create a hatful of chances, but we simply must take them. A win and a rare clean sheet. Palace follows, in another game at the bowl. Crikey, two walks back to Stratford station in the dark in four days, oh the joy.
It is pace on the break that frightens me. Keep Zaha quiet though, and we have a chance. If only we had Manu Lanzini and we’d be guaranteed at least one goal. This one could go either way. A trip along the Thames comes next in what I believe involves a legendary party boat along the river before the game.
The Tinkerman has arrived at the cottage, and with any luck, the honeymoon period will have ended by the time we rock up to West London. It is a ground we have enjoyed some success in recent years and will be a game we will be targeting for three points on the road. Of course, no games are easy games, but I saw Fulham against Huddersfield on the box, and they look woeful, I would like to think we have too much for them.
Watford at home follows as the last home game before the Christmas festivities begin. I think after a mini unbeaten run we’ll come crashing back to reality with a bump against this strong looking Watford side.
They do seem to have the hex over us in recent times, and I fear we won’t be able to stop that rot, and we’ll trudge back to Stratford station with half an eye on the Christmas Sherry. Annoyingly, we miss out on the traditional Boxing Day fixture (thanks Sky!) as we face a trip to Southampton. Now, I know a lot of Saints fans, and they have reliably informed me they are truly useless under Hughes.
So expect three points Saints fans, you’re welcome. I jest of course (I hope!). All we can hope is the Saints board stick with Hughes at least until we have rolled out of town. Lastly, we end the year with a trip to Lancashire, as we tackle Burnley. It is a fixture that we will enter with hopes of ending the year on a high and possibly beginning the New Year with hopes of pushing for Europe.
This will not be as routine as the win at the London Stadium. Sean Dyche’s men are a different beast at Turf Moor. Expect a tricky game – but one we will come out of with some point(s). So, it’s a December month where we could go unbeaten, but I am strangely upbeat, maybe it is the internal optimist in me.
Disclaimer: I take part in a pre-season prediction league with the lads and am nearly always bottom of the pile come May, so expect our only win of the month to come against Watford.