March is a critical month for West Ham. Recent performances have been disappointing, the squad is thin, and results haven’t been what we have wanted.
And yet we still find ourselves in the thick of the European place hunt, and even a top four chase is still on, although this is definitely further away than it was a few months ago.
Much of the focus this month will be on our Europa League games against Seville – two of the biggest matches that we’ve seen in the club’s recent history – but let’s not forget the league.
We’ve got massive games coming up against Liverpool, Aston Villa and Tottenham – matches that we need results in to stay in that European chase.
And, for the first time really this season, I’m nervous. I think it’s because there’s so much resting on what happens in the next four weeks.
A season that is full of promise, with a European campaign, and a potential top four place could either be reinforced – with progress in the Europa League and decent results in the league – or destroyed, losing in the cups and slipping down the table.
It could also be easily argued that we are playing these sides at the wrong time.
Liverpool will definitely want revenge for their defeat at the London Stadium last year, and they’re in absolutely rampant form at the moment, managing to turn a Manchester City title procession into a genuine title race.
Aston Villa are a completely different beast to the one that we played earlier in the season, and as for Tottenham – well, they’re really Jekyll and Hyde but it’s not inconceivable that this will be an extremely tough game as well.
Pressure, pressure, pressure. That may well be what the boys are feeling too. What a chance to cement themselves in West Ham folklore – Europa League? Champions League football next season?
They’re never going to have a better chance – and with no guarantee of European football next season, that should focus the minds a little bit.
I think, though, that whilst the fixtures are tough, it is impossible that this run of middling-to-poor performances will continue forever.
I keep thinking that at some stage, everything is going to click, and the confidence will return.
I’m really heartened by the fact that we’ve actually had very few defeats lately: we are still difficult to beat, even if we’re not playing well.
I think things will come good, and I’m still not convinced that tiredness of the squad is a major factor in how we are playing. I think the form has dropped off but will return.
So, what of our rivals for European places? At the time of writing, Manchester United currently occupy fourth, followed by Arsenal, us, Wolves, who look a seriously good side at the moment, and Tottenham – and all of us are chasing the last Champions League spot.
So let’s have a look, get out my crystal ball and examine how I see it all panning out this month…
Manchester United: A really tough run of fixtures with Man City away, Spurs at home and Liverpool away – it’ll largely depend on which Man Utd turn up. I think they might spring a surprise in either the City or Liverpool game. Four pts
Arsenal: With Watford, Leicester, Liverpool and Villa coming up, at least three of these games look winnable and they could give Liverpool a run for their money, too. It probably helps that Leicester and Villa have little to play for. Watford might give them a game. Seven pts
West Ham: I think we are perfectly capable of results in the Villa and Spurs matches. I think Liverpool will beat us, but it will be closer than perhaps we think. Six pts
Wolves: I honestly think Wolves are this season’s dark horses. Unlucky to lose at Arsenal recently, they have it in them to win all of their upcoming matches against Palace, Watford, Everton and Leeds, though I don’t think they will. Nine pts
Tottenham: Very difficult to predict. How can you win against Manchester City then get beaten by Burnley? I think they will pick up points against Everton, Man United, Brighton and us, but who knows how many. Five pts
At the end of March, then, I predict that at the very minimum, we broadly speaking won’t have lost any ground to some teams and gained against others – and those who have games in hand will have used them.
Our current situation might look a lot more promising in just a few weeks. A season falling flat? Don’t write off that top four chase just yet.