“Let’s hope we’re safe from relegation before our final two games”

If we need something from our games against Leeds and Leicester then we should be worried

Lucas Paqueta (WHU) Declan Rice (WHU) Angelo Ogbonna (WHU) Michail Antonio (WHU) in a defensive wall at the West Ham United v Chelsea EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on February 11, 2023.

The end of what’s been a long, tumultuous season is upon us and, as I write, it’s likely, although not completely certain, that we will retain our Premier League status for next season, although you could argue this is more to do with the failings of others. Our last two matches, which I’m sincerely hoping won’t have massive repercussions for us in terms of whether we stay up or go down, are at home to Leeds and away to Leicester City.

It’s likely, given the points difference, that these matches will be significantly more important to those teams than it will be to us, but again, us being West Ham, let’s never say never. Leeds and Leicester have had similarly disappointing campaigns to us this season, although they’ve not even had the joy of a European campaign to distract them.

As it stands, they’re both deep in the mire, although personally I tip them to – probably – just survive, although it’ll be close, with Nottingham Forest and Everton in the mix too. Leeds are an interesting team. I can’t work out whether it’s brilliant to support them, or not.

You can’t say that you’re not entertained, that’s for sure – I mean, what other team would be walloped 5-1 at home by Crystal Palace, and promptly follow that up by going one better, losing 6-1 at home to Liverpool. There’s been signs of fight since then, and they score goals – it’s actually quite rare that they don’t score in a game – but at the other end, they seem to have huge difficulty in keeping them out.

For goodness sake, they concede an average of just about two a game. That’s truly bonkers. Javi Garcia came in to replace Jesse Marsch as manager in February, but they’ve hardly seen a dramatic improvement in results since then.

At the time of writing, their only wins since the change have come from matches against Southampton (1-0), Wolves and Nottingham Forest. The tonkings I mentioned have meant that you can find some restless natives in West Yorkshire.

By the time they play us, it’s unlikely they’ll have scored many more points, as they face a rampant Newcastle and Manchester City in two of their remaining fixtures ahead of our match. They will therefore be eyeing their match against us as a better chance of obtaining some points, and therefore will be a dangerous opponent.

I believe that by the time we play Leeds, we’ll most likely be safe but it is likely that there will be more riding on the match for them, which may also mean, depending on our exploits in Europe, that this will be a tough match. Whereas Leeds might have expected to be towards the bottom end of the table this season, Leicester would very definitely not.

Their fall from grace has been remarkable: title winners just a handful of seasons ago, they could very definitely go the way of Blackburn Rovers if they’re not careful. I was amazed when they binned off Brendan Rodgers, but absolutely staggered when it became apparent that they didn’t seem to have a plan for what to do next.

They’ve now appointed Dean Smith, and the early signs are a little more promising – Smith’s first match in charge was a 3-1 defeat against Manchester City, but there were signs of life in the team in the second half, and since results have seen a little uptick, at least in the first couple of matches. Leicester’s main problem is that, like Leeds, they can’t stop the goals going in against them – not as bad as the Yorkshire club, but they’re still conceding at a rate that is uncomfortably close to two per game.

That said, they’ve got enough about them to climb out and away from danger, but their primary advantage over others in and around them is that their fixture list up to our match could be considered more favourable – my expectation is that they are likely to be safe by the time we head to the East Midlands, and we will be too. So, what does all this mean for us? Well, as I say, I really hope and expect that there won’t be much riding on these two games.

If there is, it means that our form is likely to have dropped off a cliff, but if this were the case, in recent years we’ve performed well against both of these sides, and would back us to get the results we need.
I can only hope that this piece doesn’t age badly and that we’re not being condemned to the Championship on the last day of the season!

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