What do wilful West Ham need to do to push for Europe?
It seems as though West Ham United fans (rank outsiders at 33/1 to see their team make the top four) have been waiting with baited breath for the other shoe to drop, and the Hammers to begin sliding back down the Premier League table.
However, despite picking up just two points from their past three matches, Sam Allardyce’s side are still within a hairs’ breadth of a Champions League spot.
The fifth-placed east Londoners now appear to be picking up the pace again, following a hard-fought victory over fellow upstarts Newcastle United.
A coveted top four spot still looks highly unlikely when you consider the financial might of their competitors, so the Irons are a better bet at 9/1 to pinch a Europa League place.
After combining an interesting mix of guile and grit, Allardyce finally has the fans on his side and has seen the combination of his signature hard-graft style and a new sense of adventure pay dividends.
West Ham are chock full of confidence, winning games they simply would not have last campaign, and now approach a set of plum fixtures against the likes of bottom-half sides West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland and Leicester City.
This should provide the Londoners with the chance to pull away from the pack, but four draws and as many losses across all competitions this term indicate Allardyce could still do with shuffling his deck.
Speaking recently Allardyce stated he thought there was “little or no money available because we did spend a lot last summer”, but as the Hammers have shown themselves, a little savvy spending can go a long way.
Just because there may not be the funds in the Upton Park coffers for a blockbuster January swoop, does not mean the Irons should sit back whilst others fill their stockings.
Allardyce’s pulling power, more recently illustrated by the former Bolton boss luring Barcelona anchorman Alex Song to Upton Park, is well regarded.
Wily Allardyce’s decision to place Stewart Downing at the tip of a midfield diamond has also earned rave reviews, and an England recall for the ex-Liverpool wideman.
However, Downing is already 30 and began to show signs of flagging last time out in what was a turgid and physical duel with Newcastle. If his legs are not able to endure an entire season, the Irons will miss his craft.
In hindsight, the decision to send youngsters Diego Poyet and Ravel Morrison out on loan may have been an oversight, as the east London outfit could have benefited from their exuberance.
Temporary moves could be an option, particularly for a poacher to step into sidelined Sakho’s shoes, or another attacking midfielder to help provide cutting edge and convert draws into wins.
A host of top sides have an abundance of out-of-favour fowards cooling their heels, including Chelsea wingman Mohamed Salah, or young-guns struggling for starts, such as Arsenal’s Joel Campbell or Manchester United man James Wilson.
With Sakho, Song and Cheikhou Kouyate all heading to the African Cup of Nations after Christmas, the Hammers’ depth will be severely tested, but a few tweaks to their already high-flying squad would ensure they don’t fall too far behind.