West Ham are level on points with Newcastle – their opponents this Saturday – and only four points above the bottom three. There has been plenty to be positive about as a Hammer of late, yet the table does not make happy reading.
If results go against them, West Ham could be precariously positioned above the relegation zone by Monday. Manuel Pellegrini’s team are not exactly cut adrift, though they are already six points off the top half. They are closer to 20th then they are 10th.
This is not the group of teams the Hammers were meant to be in. Sure, it’s early and a couple of results can flip it all on its head, but this is a disappointing start. A favourable run of fixtures up to Christmas are an opportunity to turn this around – they do not face a top six side until they play Arsenal on 12th January.
Having drawn away to Huddersfield and been thrashed by Manchester City, Saturday’s clash with Newcastle is a big one. A win against the resurgent Magpies would set the tone for December. A defeat or poor performance would increase the pressure for the upcoming visits of Cardiff and Crystal Palace.
The Hammers might not be at relegation threat in the minds of many. Their performances and quality in the final third make that understandable, though they will be in as much trouble as anyone if December does not start as hoped. Their contest with Rafael Benitez’s side could be a turning point for Pellegrini’s men.
Newcastle have put together three straight one-goal victories. They have ridden their luck in each match, but this is kind of what we expect from them. Benitez was always going to find a way to pick up points. In contrast, West Ham have perhaps not quite got the results that their displays have warranted. Taking just one point from trips to Brighton and Huddersfield was a disappointment.
For all the fun of Marko Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson, West Ham lack guile at times. Arnautovic needs service and too often he has to live off scraps from Pedro Obiang, Declan Rice and Mark Noble. They had a tonne of possession against Brighton and Huddersfield and, while they created chances, they should have done more with the amount of the game they had.
Newcastle will follow a similar game plan to their fellow second season teams. Benitez’s side have been far from secure at the back in their last three, but they have been a threat when able to transition quickly. Salomon Rondon holds the ball up and links play well, while Matt Ritchie and Kenedy are capable of causing problems down the flanks.
This is going to be a test for West Ham. Winning on the break like they did against Everton and Manchester United is one thing, but they still have to prove they can beat teams who will sit deeper and let them have possession. If Pellegrini is to take the club to the top-half/top-eight promised land, these are matches West Ham need to make a habit of winning.
The coming weeks will give us a clear idea of what West Ham are this season. How they get on at St James’ Park might just pick their path for the rest of 2018.
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