Hammers to gatecrash that top-four party?
Manchester United’s victory over Manchester City has thrown the race for the Premier League’s final Champions League qualification place wide open, with West Ham United well in the hunt for a place in the top four.
It is not just the Manchester clubs and Slaven Bilić’s side that will be aiming to secure continental qualification, as Southampton and Stoke City will both be hoping to crash the party, while even Liverpool and Chelsea are not yet out of the running.
With most teams having seven or eight games left, here is how the race for fourth is shaping up.
Manchester City looked to have a top four place in the bag a few weeks ago, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side have only taken four points from their last six league matches.
Defeat to local rivals United was a bitter blow and it is now possible Pep Guardiola could be managing a Europa League side next season.
Some have pointed to the announcement of Guardiola as Pellegrini’s successor as a reason for City’s loss of form, but despite a League Cup victory over Liverpool on penalties they have been having problems ever since winning the first five matches of the season.
City have not won back-to-back league games since October and they have struggled badly for goals, especially away from home, despite the presence of star striker Sergio Agüero.
Pellegrini’s men currently occupy fourth place but on current form it is a matter of time until they slip out of the final Champions League qualification spot.
City have badly missed Kevin De Bruyne, with David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas all struggling to fill the creative void the Belgium international has left. Their situation has been made even worse by Sterling and goalkeeper Joe Hart picking up injuries in the Manchester derby.
West Ham United
A run of three wins in four Premier League games means West Ham are genuine contenders to nip in ahead of the pair of Manchester clubs and take fourth place in the Premier League.
Dimitri Payet, who is valued at $8,600 on DraftKings UK in Gameweek 32, has been a revelation in his first season in English football, with the French playmaker racking up eight goals and eight assists for a WhoScored rating of 7.71, making him by far West Ham’s highest rated player.
Payet even missed a chunk of the season through injury and it is easy to wonder if West Ham would be even higher in the Premier League had he been available for the whole campaign.
The return to fitness of Andy Carroll has also been a boost to Bilic’s side, with the former England international scoring in West Ham’s last game, a 2-2 draw with Chelsea that the Hammers were very unlucky not to win after a poor refereeing decision gave Guus Hiddink’s Blues a penalty.
Carroll’s availability could make the difference for West Ham as they lack a regular goalscorer. Payet is the club’s top scorer, while Michail Antonio has contributed six Premier League goals and Manuel Lanzini has managed five.
United have also won three of their last four Premier League games and they have a favourable fixture list, with Everton, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Aston Villa all visiting Old Trafford in the coming weeks.
Indeed, four of United’s next five games are at home, although their one upcoming away trip is a visit to Premier League title contenders Tottenham Hotspur.
Louis van Gaal’s side have been worryingly inconsistent, beating Arsenal and City recently, but losing at West Bromwich Albion. Wayne Rooney is also out injured, but young strikers Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have stepped up superbly to fill the void left by the captain.
Van Gaal can rely upon fantasy football favourites Chris Smalling and David de Gea, with United having kept 14 clean sheets so far this season.
City, West Ham and United are the clear front-runners to take fourth spot, but there are a few clubs in the chasing pack who could put themselves in the mix with a few consecutive wins.
Southampton have only got 47 points on the board with seven games left, but they are not out of contention. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster recently kept six successive clean sheets, while striker Graziano Pellè has hit form with three goals and two assists in his last two matches.
Stoke City recently won three games in a row but then stumbled before getting back on track with a battling 2-1 victory at Watford. Injuries to key players Ryan Shawcross and Xherdan Shaqiri could damage the slim top-four hopes of Mark Hughes’ side.
Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool looked in good shape at 2-0 up against Southampton in their last match, only for Pellè and Sadio Mané to inspire the Saints to a glorious comeback. Despite the fantastic form of Roberto Firmino and a game in hand on their rivals, a seven-point gap looks too big.
Finally, Chelsea are not completely out of the race despite their atrocious start to the season. The Blues are unbeaten under interim coach Hiddink, although they are drawing too many games.
But if they can turn those draws into wins and if Diego Costa continues to fire, they have a shot.
Dimitri Payet cannot be ignored at $8,600 on DraftKings UK (vs Crystal Palce, $50k Budget)