As a season full of surprises heads into the final straight, West Ham United are still defying bookmakers by staying in the race for European football next season.
The Hammers have flattered to deceive in previous seasons, but despite some pundits tipping them for midtable or even a relegation fight before the start of the season, David Moyes’ men are one more solid run of games away from their first European berth since 2016.
To guarantee European football next season, however, they will have to stave off the attentions of several established faces in the Premier League.
Liverpool were Champions League winners in 2019, while Chelsea made the semi-finals this campaign and sit around evens to see off Real Madrid over two legs in the latest Champions League odds.
How Tottenham respond to the sacking of Jose Mourinho may determine if they can drag themselves back into contention, too.
In light of the news of a possible breakaway European Super League being formed with some of the biggest teams in England, it’s noteworthy that West Ham and Leicester City, two teams missing from that closed-shop tournament, have both held their own in the race for the top four places in the Premier League this year.
The division has long had a reputation for underdog moments, not least Leicester’s title win in 2016, and a massive part of the league’s appeal historically has been the impression among fans that any team can beat another at any time.
Compared to Arsenal and Tottenham, two of the ‘big six’ who have been uncharacteristically inconsistent this campaign, West Ham have had the look of a steady unit the whole season.
Sitting around the top spots for most of the year, the Hammers’ form heated up further with the arrival of Jesse Lingard on loan from Manchester United.
The England international, who recently earned a recall to Gareth Southgate’s squad after a two-year absence, lit up Premier League defenses to the tune of nine goals and three assists in his first ten games wearing claret and blue.
Possibly the biggest beneficiary from a European spot for West Ham? Moyes himself. The Scot was famously handpicked by Sir Alex Ferguson to be his successor at Manchester United, but lasted only ten months after a string of bad results dropped the reigning league champions as low as seventh in the table.
But for Moyes, who also once took Everton to a top-four spot, this season has shown his managerial nous in building a West Ham side that operates his system effectively and remains hard to beat – in fact, bogey team Newcastle United are the only side outside the ‘big six’ to defeat West Ham in the league this season.
Should West Ham see off the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea to make it to Europe, it would be a victory for football fans everywhere who love the Premier League for its unpredictability.
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It may all come down to how they perform in a comparatively easy run-in that includes games with Burnley, Brighton, West Bromwich Albion and Southampton.