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Do or Die Time for West Ham

The race for the UEFA Cup is in full swing, with essentially six or seven teams fighting for two spots. Tottenham’s triumph in the Carling Cup Final guaranteed them a place in Europe next season, something they wouldn’t have achieved through their league position, but that took away the UEFA Cup berth usually handed to the league’s 7th place finisher. Depending on which teams advance to the FA Cup Final, it’s also possible that another UEFA Cup spot, the one generally given to the league’s 6th place finisher, would vanish.

Of course, multiple Premiership teams have already applied for next summer’s Intertoto Cup, which leads into the UEFA Cup qualifying rounds if the team selected progresses through. That would, for all intents and purposes, replace the UEFA Cup spot taken away by Spurs, and England could gain another spot in Europe’s second-tier club competition if it remains on top of the UEFA Fair Play standings through the end of April.

With all this said, today’s game between West Ham and Liverpool is big, especially for the Hammers. The East London-based club is currently in 10th place in the league table, eight points out of what would be a UEFA Cup spot if the season ended right now, but with today’s game in hand.

Current Standings (4th-10th):

4. Everton (53 points, 28 games played)
5. Liverpool (50 pts., 27 GP)
6. Aston Villa (48 pts., 28 GP)
7. Blackburn Rovers (45 pts., 28 GP)
8. Manchester City (45 pts., 28 GP)
9. Portsmouth (44 pts., 28 GP)
10. West Ham (40 pts., 27 GP)

West Ham has been consistently inconsistent up to this point in the season, having beaten Manchester United and Liverpool while also losing to Wigan and Newcastle. They seem to follow every good, even great, performance with a display that can be considered abject and dismal at best.

They can’t afford a showing more like the latter today. A loss and the Hammers will be hard-pressed to get back into the European fight; they’d be hanging on by a thread. To their advantage, they still have games against Villa, Blackburn, Everton, and Pompey, fellow UEFA Cup spot contenders, but they would likely need to win three of those games instead of possibly earning a point, or even worse, losing, in a couple of those games and then making hay against the rest of their schedule.

Right now, these teams are like a fast-moving train and West Ham has to find a way to get onboard or risk being left behind for good. Today’s game is at Anfield, where the Hammers have not won since September 1963, so there is no time like the present to fix that. A draw wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for West Ham; they’d still be on the train, but they’d be the ones being dragged along on the tracks.

For Liverpool, this is an important game as well. Three points behind Everton for the fourth and last Champions League spot, the Reds and captain Steven Gerrard have come to terms with the fact that 4th place is what they’re playing for. This is a team that will play their next three league games, including today’s match, and four of their next five, at Anfield, so the opportunity to make up ground is right in front of them.

It all starts today though, and Liverpool lost at Upton Park 1-0 on January 30. They’ll need to reverse that scoreline and get a win because they don’t want to make things more difficult down the stretch of the league season than they have to be, particularly because one would have to say that a deep Champions League run will be a focus given their disappointing Premiership campaign.

I’ve got Liverpool winning 2-0, with Gerrard and Torres both scoring for the home team. We’ll see what happens though; both teams should come out desperate for these three points and that should make for a good game to watch. West Ham seems to come out for the big matches, which today’s game certainly is, but you just never know which Hammers team you’re going to get on a given day.

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  3. Patrick

    March 6, 2008 at 8:28 am

    Fortune’s always hiding…

    and if you’ve followed this team for any length of time, you just accept that there will be patches like this last week.

    But one thing not mentioned is that this has been a reserve team. Aston off the bench? Boa Morte up front. A midfield that changes week to week. The only constant has been a very good back 5. ( until the 8 they let in in the last two matches). arrrrgh

    Europe will be in friendlies next preseason.

    The real question with West Ham is if Curbs is the right guy to move them up the table, or are we doomed to mid table for the next ten years with a cup run here and there.

    The other real unanswered question is now that the Egg man has gone, do we have the money to build the new stadium, and sign the players needed to break the top 4.

    I’d say the Icelandic biscuit man best bring it this summer, or he may find himself as popular as Brown. This season I’ve seen Hammer fans leaving early, less loud, and frankly bored. But that may be because that since 2002 we have been playing for something, survival, promotion FA Cup etc and what a trip its been since Harry left.

    2007-2008 is the lull, before the storm, whatever that might be.

  4. Chris O

    March 6, 2008 at 7:54 am

    Taking the point about Ramos turning things around for Spurs more so than the players, I’d say there’s a degree of believability in the rumours that Curbishley might be given the boot at the end of the season.

    Given Curbishley’s inability to get Charlton into Europe after heaven-knows-how-many seasons, I wonder if the West Ham board might get rid of him early before any staleness sets in.

  5. Dimi Berbatov

    March 6, 2008 at 1:47 am

    True. Without Ramos Spurs would be out of Europe next year.

    You are right that making signings alone will not help league position if they are not good signings. The overall point was that West Ham have drastically improved from their calamitous 06-07. If they have a similar improvement next year due to player development and acquisition they could easily move up four into the top seven.

    As for Spurs, they made some questionable summer signings which did not help their cause. Still they are in Europe again with the aid of January signings Hutton and goal-scoring Woodgate. So while I take your point, I think we can agree that signings can be a potential means of improvement.

  6. dragonki2012

    March 6, 2008 at 12:01 am

    You’re in Europe next year because of good management under Ramos.

    Not because of 16mil Darren Bent.

  7. Dimi Berbatov

    March 5, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Right because Spurs are already in the Uefa cup next year.

    Think before you write. It makes more sense that way.

  8. dragonki2012

    March 5, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Watch out!

    Buying doesn’t guarantee you a UEFA spot, just ask SPURS!

    Right, dimi berbatov?

  9. HamTheZenithMan

    March 5, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    West Ham and the UEFA cup in the same sentence? Got to be having a larf. Sorry for the negativity, not really know for it. But this article is absolutely pointless.

  10. Dimi Berbatov

    March 5, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Chris is right. I think West Ham have to look at this season as a success considering their league position last year and the play of the likes of Robert Green. With some good buys for next season they will be in a Uefa cup place.

  11. Chris O

    March 5, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    As a lifelong fan, I think I can say with some justification that West Ham won’t be going any higher than 10th place this season.

    Don’t get me wrong – I think we’re all grateful for that, given last season’s relegation battle… it’s just that we’ve been stuck in 10th spot for most of the season and have never overcome the perpetual four point gap between ourselves and (usually) Blackburn in 9th.

    West Ham have done well to pick up lots of draws along with their occasional wins, but it’s not the sort of form that cuts the mustard when you’re talking about UEFA Cup places. With Tottenham stuck in 11th place some four to six points behind The Hammers at any given time, I think West Ham are going nowhere for the foreseeable future.

    Hopefully in the close season Alan Curbishley can snap up a few more quality players which will kick-start some upward movement in the table for 2008/09.

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