The Premier League returns this weekend but while the build-up has predominantly focused on the title race, top-four finish, and the fight for survival, there’s another battle going on in the No Man’s Land section of the table.
We are of course referring to those teams who appear to be safe for another season, but have no chance of securing a European place next season. Instead, only pride is on the line, although whoever secures 7th spot can lay claim to being ‘the best of the rest’.
One of these clubs is West Ham, 9th, who have only finished in the top-seven once since 2002. At the time of writing they are just two points behind Wolves in 7th, but a whopping 15 points adrift of the top-six, although they are a comfortable 14 points above the dreaded drop zone.
The Hammers, who spent over £100m in the summer, have had somewhat of a mixed season which was perfectly encapsulated in their last match against rock-bottom Huddersfield, during which Manuel Pellegrini’s men took an early lead only to then leak in three goals to a goal-shy side that had only scored 15 all season. However, to their credit, the hosts stormed back to claim the spoils after bagging three goals in the final 15 minutes.
The victory meant that West Ham had won three consecutive league games for the first time at the London Stadium, and are unbeaten in six matches at the venue dating back to before Christmas.
When West Ham welcome Everton - two points and two places below them - to the London Stadium on Saturday boss Pellegrini has the chance to lead the club to four straight top-flight home wins, something the club hasn’t achieved since the days of Glenn Roeder at Upton Park back in 2002 (April-May) when he led his troops to victories over Ipswich, Charlton, Sunderland, and Bolton.
Given their recent form on home soil West Ham will be confident of creating a five-point gap between themselves and Everton, whom they’ve beaten in each of the last two meetings. The last time the Irons beat the Toffees three times on the spin was between 1929 and 1931 (four times) under the tutorship of Syd King.
One good omen for the hosts is Pellegrini has never lost to Everton in the Premier League. West Ham won 3-1 at Goodison Park earlier this season, while the Chilean took 14 points from a possible 18 off the Merseyside club during his tenure at Man City.