We’re 15 games into a season which has been anything but usual. Newcastle are chasing the title, Liverpool are chasing a Europa League spot, and we’re now pausing for a lengthy human rights violation masquerading as a football tournament in the middle of the season.
As the Premier League comes to a close for the winter break – and for the record, it never gets less weird to write that – I’m taking a look at how West Ham and our friends and foes have fared in our season so far. On top of the world and on top of the league are Arsenal, who, aided by their collection of men named Gabriel have been rather convincing potential champions.
The Gunners have only lost one league game so far this year – but Manchester City and their AI-robot goalscorer remain hot on their tails. Arsenal have been organised, motivated and competent so far this season – almost the direct inverse of West Ham – but it has helped those at the top that some of the usual suspects, namely Chelsea and Liverpool, are not having the seasons they perhaps anticipated.
One to watch out for is Newcastle, who have worked their way into the top of the table and are very much still in the mix as title contenders. Eddie Howe and a number of great British pounds have worked wonders to reinvigorate the Magpies and get quality football in front of their fans again.
Outside of the top four, there’s not a huge points gap between Man Utd in 5th and Chelsea in 8th, leaving a lot of space for who may end up playing in Europe next year.
There’s also a plethora of English clubs still in European competition this year – Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs in the Champions League, Arsenal and Man Utd in the Europa League, and little old West Ham United in the UEFA Conference League, who happen to be the first team in UEFA history not to drop any points in the qualifying stage.
It’s been a delightful surprise of a season for a few clubs – starting with Newcastle as I’ve mentioned above. New ownership, new management, and a significant cash influx has brought good results back to the North East, and at this point, it would be surprising if the Magpies don’t find themselves playing in Europe next year.
Brighton have also been extremely promising, despite losing their long-term manager Graham Potter to Chelsea. The Seagulls currently sit in seventh place, just eight points off fourth – and at the time of writing, are sitting above Potter’s new club.
When it comes to disappointing surprises, there’s one team that really falls into this category more than any others – and it’s us. West Ham had such a promising transfer window, buying world-class internationals who arrived with promises of flair and fancy footwork.
Given our achievements of last year, these signings should have propelled us to greatness – or at the very least, a little bit of top 10 mediocrity, and instead we’re languishing down the table and looking completely unprepared and uninspired in front of goal.
Wolves will be similarly disappointed with their form – they finished 10th last season, but are currently bottom with only two wins and 10 points. It’s sad to say, but West Ham are well and truly relegation candidates this year, along with Everton, Nottingham Forest, Southampton and Wolves, with just four points separating the five contenders.
Although Forest signed roughly a million players in the summer, they’ve been poor in the league with one of their only three league wins coming against none other than West Ham. Leeds aren’t out of the woods yet either, having had inconsistent results, including two separate seven-goal-thrillers in recent weeks, and having lost the same number of games as Everton in 17th.
Much like the beloved hokey cokey there’s been a lot of ins and outs already this year – with Moyes himself potentially hovering on the precipice for the Irons. But it was a former Iron who was the first manager to be released from duties this year – Bournemouth’s Scott Parker.
It might not have been a bad decision for the Cherries, who still aren’t in danger of winning the league but have popped up to 14th, three points clear of the relegation zone. Next up was Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, who was replaced on the managerial merry-go-round by Brighton’s Graham Potter. Roberto de Zerbi replaced Potter at Brighton and has since taken them further up the table; not a bad start for a man with big sturdy shoes to fill.
In October, Wolves said ‘adeus’ to Bruno Lage and Aston Villa said ‘ta ra’ to Steven Gerrard, and fellow relegation contenders Southampton parted company with Ralph Hasenhuttl right before the winter break to give them time to come back stronger after Christmas. It remains to be seen who will be the next manager to be released from duties, but all of the relegation-threatened managers will certainly have a target on their backs.
The break is truly at an odd time for everyone, no matter where they sit in the table. Some teams are really getting into their stride – and sending their stars to play abroad in the heat without a break between the end of the season and the beginning of the international tournament might have an adverse affect on their seasons.
Others are stuck in an unfortunate position in the drop zone for a month without the ability to improve – something we haven’t experienced since the first COVID lockdown. We’re not likely to see drastic shifts once it kicks off – but there’s still a lot to play for at both ends of the table.
Hopefully a break is just what West Ham’s sluggish season needs to get back on track and back up the table to find the season we were all hoping for.