After just nine games of the season, it seems incredible to already be stating that certain matches are a must win. Indeed, after the games this weekend, there will still be 84 points available to each and every side in the league. However, it is getting to the point of no return for both Crystal Palace and West Ham, who play one-another this weekend.
The game itself is a good old-fashioned relegation six-pointer with both sides in desperate need of a win to boost their survival hopes, and Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson thinks: “West Ham will get a massive amount of belief from beating Tottenham and Crystal Palace, who lost a six-pointer to Newcastle, just got hammered 4-1 by Bristol City in the Carabao Cup. I know they didn’t put out a full team but you don’t lose by that many to a Championship side. You need to start building your confidence”.
“Any fan wants to see desire, a bit of heart, and West Ham showed that in the second half at Wembley. Fair play to them, I can’t imagine too many of the players wanted to come back onto the pitch 2-0 down at half-time but to rally and win the match is impressive”.
Merson backed a 1-1 draw between the sides, and we have taken a look at the struggles of the two London teams.
Crystal Palace’s struggles
A shock 2-1 win over Chelsea gave Palace a very short-lived high in the league as they have since been beaten 1-0 by Newcastle before Bristol City hammered them 4-1 in the Carabao Cup. While the cup will not be a big concern to manager Roy Hodgson, what will worry him is the fact that his side was unable to utilise the momentum from their win over the reigning champions.
Just one victory in nine games sees them already five points short of Stoke in 17th and safety. They have not been aided by their injuries, with both Christian Benteke and Connor Wickham currently on the sidelines, meaning their options up front are slim to say the least. Indeed, the only two goals they have scored this season came against Chelsea, with their torrid scoring run really hurting them this season.
However, Hodgson and the fans will be well aware that it only takes a single win to revitalise a side. A win over West Ham would see the confidence build as they would massively cut the gap between themselves and safety in the league. In fact, it would mean that Palace would be just three points short of the Hammers, dragging them further into relegation mire.
What must Crystal Palace do to win this game?
This has been the conundrum facing Roy Hodgson and his team for a number of weeks. Palace just look bereft of confidence, almost as though the players are made of glass and petrified that one mistake will see them shatter.
Perhaps Hodgson needs to instil a sense of fearlessness in his players. While this is far easier said than done, they cannot do any worse than they are already doing. Indeed, if the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Andros Townsend do decide to take a risk, it could culminate in them losing the ball, but it could also see them create chances.
Most importantly for Palace is that they get Wilfried Zaha on the ball as much as possible. His return from injury against Chelsea won them the game and he is a firecracker on the wing, with his pace, skill and intelligence making him a menace when he runs down the line, and even more dangerous when he cuts inside. Palace have missed him massively this season, and if he can get involved in the game against West Ham, then he could be the match winner.
West Ham’s struggles
Slaven Bilic has been forced to endure some atrocious performances from his team this season as they have slipped further from the top half of the table. The heavy investment in the squad that saw the likes of Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez brought in has failed to spark the side, with the Hammers taking just eight points from their opening nine games.
Their one ray of light remains in striker Andy Carroll, with his busy and physical performances causing opposition sides a lot of problems. However, Bilic cannot rely on the forward as he picks up injuries so often that it would be foolish to try and build a team around him.
Arnautovic has struggled to replicate the form he displayed at Stoke City, while Hernandez has been poor in front of goal. Even former-Manchester City teammates Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta have failed to add a solidity at the back for West Ham.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for Bilic and his side. Despite going 2-0 down to Tottenham in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday, West Ham rallied and won the game 3-2 thanks to Andre Ayew, who led from the front. That victory could be exactly what the side needs to turn their recent slump around.
However, their win did display why they are struggling so much. Both goals were simple moves from Tottenham that sliced West Ham open. Too often this season they have been outplayed and outmanoeuvred on the pitch, with the opposition manager clearly besting Bilic and his team.
What must West Ham do to win this game?
Simply put, they just have to be better across the pitch. Too often their defence cracks under the pressure and concedes an early or weak goal that puts the team on the backfoot. The likes of Jose Fonte and Winston Reid are good defenders, and they need to be playing far better if they are to avoid slipping into the Championship.
Further forward, West Ham have to create more. Carroll provides a hulking threat up front, but having no game plan other than to play a long ball to him is very predictable, and the opposition can stop it either by challenging Carroll or by cutting off the players he can knock the ball down to. Therefore, players like Ayew, who starred on Wednesday, must seek to get on the ball more and create chances for themselves and their teammates both out wide and in the centre of the pitch.
What is at stake for both sides?
Despite what many fans will say, a loss does not consign either team to their doom, but it would be massively damaging. Both are relegation rivals that will want to pile the misery on the other, and another loss will likely see the discontent amongst the fans grow further.
With regard to the men at the top, Hodgson is in the more stable position. Installed after Crystal Palace deemed Frank de Booer was not good enough, the former-England man is the last option the London side have, while they know another knee-jerk reaction will likely see them seal their fate.
For Bilic, it may just be a case of if he doesn’t win then he will be sacked. Their win over Tottenham will have helped his situation, but a loss to the Premier League’s bottom team will not be tolerated, as this is the perfect chance for them to build some momentum.