Can West Ham qualify for Europe?

With the recent 3-0 home victory over Hull City, our first league win since December 20th, talk on whether or not West Ham can still qualify for Europe has been re-ignited. We currently sit in 7th place on 36 points after just 22 games and are only four points off the Champions League. How long can the Hammers keep in the race for the European places?

There are 16 matches left. In the 16 corresponding fixtures last year (with Leicester, Burnley and QPR taking the place of Norwich, Fulham and Cardiff respectively), West Ham picked up 15 points. If the same happens this year, we'd finish on a total of 51 points.

In the last 10 seasons, that would not have been enough to ensure qualification to the UEFA Cup or Europa League. The least amount of points required to qualify for Europe through league positions in those ten seasons is 53, which was reached by Fulham in 2008-09 (with West Ham just two points behind in ninth place).

However it is worth noting this projection includes home defeats to Stoke City, Everton and Crystal Palace, teams that the Irons surely should be attempting to beat. As well as a home draw with Sunderland and a defeat at Leicester City, games which, on current form, the Irons would be expected to at least attempt if not achieve victory in, henceforth a target of 60 points wouldn’t be too unrealistic.

However, for a team to qualify for Europe through the league, the performance of teams around them is just as important as their own performances. Manchester City and Chelsea should, unless something seriously goes wrong, finish in the top two spaces, below that, it is still all to play for.

In third place on 42 points are Southampton, this year’s surprise package, who produced easily the best performance of any opposition team at the Boleyn Ground. Southampton have played some breathtaking football and produced some very good performances that have equated to a high position in the league.

However their players are not experienced at this end of the table and they did go on a four-match losing streak through November and December, with defeats against Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Burnley. A similar streak towards the end of the season could result in the Saints’ plummeting down the table.

West Ham travel to St. Mary’s on February 11th, a key fixture for both teams. Before the 3-1 defeat in August, West Ham hadn’t lost to Southampton since the two sides were both promoted in 2012, their last defeat at St. Mary’s coming in October 2011. West Ham have not won at Southampton since November 2000, and are yet to win at St. Mary’s since the Saints moved so this game will be very difficult.

With the Hammers struggling to keep clean sheets, the likes of Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic will undoubtedly cause problems - but if those two are kept quiet then the Irons will be in with a chance.

In fourth place on 40 points are Manchester United. They have performed poorly at times this season but have been capable of grinding out results such as the 2-0 win at Arsenal. With attacking talent in Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Juan Mata and Angel di Maria, they have players who only need one chance to score.

Their defence has looked shaky with the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Tyler Blackett coming in for fierce criticism but in between the sticks, David de Gea (still at Man Utd at time of writing) has looked unbeatable at times. In midfield, Carrick has been able to protect the back four very well and Marouane Fellaini has been back to top form.

But, as shown by Southampton, if you target their weak defence you can get a result against them. Man Utd recorded a fortuitous 2-1 win over the Irons at Old Trafford in September, and the team should be fired up for the clash on February 8th. If Sam Allardyce gets his tactics right, is able to nullify the attacking threat and use the pace of Downing and Valencia to exploit the defence, the Hammers could have a good chance of getting a result against Van Gaal’s side.

In fifth place, on 39 points are Arsenal. The Gunners have underperformed at stages this year and Arsene Wenger is once again under pressure. At times, Alexis Sanchez has carried his side. Whilst the North Londoners were perhaps extremely lucky to grab a 2-1 victory at the Boleyn, they have dropped points this year. Their defence still looks shaky,as shown in defeats to Stoke and Southampton and they still lack a world class defensive midfielder. Alex Song, anyone?

West Ham have not picked a point at the Emirates since January 2009 and April 2007 was our last victory at the stadium, but with the exception of a 2-0 victory at the Etihad, Arsenal have struggled against the team around them and are inconsistent away from home - so Champions League qualification is still far from certain.

In sixth place, with 37 points are Tottenham Hotspur, who won at the Boleyn Ground on the opening day of the season. Spurs have been helped by double training sessions that have resulted in them becoming fitter. They have won games with late goals on many occasions this year and have also benefited from improvements in form by many players - notably Harry Kane, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli.

This means Spurs have a little bit extra that has seen them pick up points they would otherwise have dropped under Villas-Boas and Sherwood. West Ham visit White Hart Lane at the end of February, hoping to achieve a third consecutive victory in North London, the match will be three days after their opponents play a Europa League tie in Florence against Fiorentina.

Tottenham have struggled in matches following European games this term losing 3-0 to Liverpool, 1-0 to West Brom, 2-1 to Newcastle and 2-1 to Stoke - all at home. This will hold the Hammers in good stead.

The only team below West Ham that stand a realistic chance of European qualification through the league are Liverpool, who sit in eight with 35 points. Liverpool’s performances this year have suggested their second place finish in 2013-2014 was an anomaly in a five year spell that has seen the Reds finish in the fringes of European places or outside these positions all together. It was a 3-1 defeat in East London that saw the Hammers start a memorable run of form that has kept them within a chance of European qualification.

The goals have dried up for the Reds with the loss of Luis Suarez. In the league, Andy Carroll has hit five goals in 12 games; Stewart Downing has also scored five in 21. Mario Ballotelli, Fabio Borini, Rickie Lambert and Daniel Sturridge have only scored four goals between them in a combined 32 games. Fantastic business, eh, Brendan?

In defence, Liverpool continue to look shaky with Dejan Lovren coming into criticism for his poor performances for his new club. Simon Mignolet has come in for fierce criticism and was even dropped for Brad Jones for a spell this year.

West Ham may not have won at Anfield since November 1964 but we did come close in 2012-13, a 0-0 draw that saw James Tomkins denied a stonewall penalty and Jack Collison hit the woodwork late on. Aston Villa managed a 1-0 victory there in September and struggling Everton, Hull City, Sunderland and Leicester City were all able to pick up a point, so there is reason to be optimistic.

It is worth noting - with the exception of the 2-1 defeat at Goodison Park, which again was perhaps unlucky (as Big Sam constantly reminds us) - West Ham have not lost to a team below them in the table. If this continues and West Ham can snatch wins and draws over times higher in the table, like they against Manchester City, a target of 60 points would not be too unrealistic.

With the exception of the defeats to Southampton and at league leaders Chelsea, the Hammers have deserved a draw or a win in every game this year, if Allardyce can keep his squad fit and playing well like they have been so far this season, then European football in the final season at the Boleyn Ground may be a realistic ambition rather than an overly optimistic pretension.

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