x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The Curse of Christmas hits the Hammers

There is statistical proof that West Ham are as good as relegated. It is called 'The Curse of Christmas'.

West Ham look unlikely to avoid the drop.
West Ham look unlikely to avoid the drop.

In some observers' minds, West Ham United were doomed before the season began - a terrible 2009/10 season, an unpopular manager with a poor reputation, a squad of misfits and overpaid, injury-prone big-name players and a huge debt.

Subsequent results backed up that opinion - two wins in 18 games, 31 goals conceded, leaving them three points from safety at the bottom of the table. Now there is statistical proof that the poor Hammers are as good as relegated. It is called "The Curse of Christmas".

That refers to a trend in the Premier League whereby the team that was bottom of the table at Christmas has been relegated.

There has been just one exception in 18 seasons - West Bromwich Albion's Great Escape in the 2004/05 season when they avoided the drop on the last day of the season.

That means that, based on history, West Ham have a 5.5 per cent chance of staying up this season. That is hardly a comforting statistic. Manager Avram Grant was supposedly told by owners David Gold and David Sullivan last week that he must win one of the club's next three games to save his job.

He started with a 1-1 draw at Blackburn. Now he has two more chances and Fulham (away) and Everton (home) await.

The Hammers have not won away from home since the first game of last season - at Wolverhampton Wanderers. That is 27 fruitless games on the road so the chances of a win at Fulham are relatively slim. Likewise, Everton, coming off a fine 2-1 victory away at Manchester City, are unlikely to be quaking in their boots at the prospect of a trip to Upton Park, where West Ham have scored only 11 times in nine games. If Grant's side do win, 1-0 is the most likely score.

Prospects are hardly bright for the two teams just above the Hammers, Wolves and Wigan Athletic.

Mick McCarthy's Wolves have lost more games (10) than any other team this season and are also yet to win away. Wigan, meanwhile, have the lowest scoring record with just 13 goals for in 17 games.

Any of these teams can still escape the drop with a run of good results - Newcastle in eighth place are just eight points above the relegation zone.

But West Ham shouldn't hold out much hope. History is against them.

Cahill has kept Everton’s head above water

Just as Everton’s season appears to be getting back on track, they are set to be shorn of their star performer.

Tim Cahill has delayed his departure to join up with the Australia squad for the Asian Cup in Qatar until the New Year, meaning he can take part in Everton’s busy Christmas programme.

But the midfielder will definitely miss two league games – including the Merseyside derby against Liverpool – and an FA Cup match.  If Australia progress out of group play in Qatar, Cahill will be absent for a third league game, the January 22 home match against West Ham.

And if the Aussies advance all the way to the January 29 final he would miss two more Everton games, another FA Cup match and an away game at Arsenal on February 1.

Australia play a friendly against the UAE at Al Ain on February 5. Whether Cahill will have joined the national side by then is not clear. Australia’s first match in the Asian Cup is on January 10.

Everton were predicted to have an outside chance of breaking into the top four this season but that hope appears to have disappeared after a poor start to the season, which saw them languishing in the bottom three early on.

However, Monday’s impressive 2-1 victory at title-contenders Manchester City looked to have signalled a change in fortunes for Everton. It was only their fourth win of the season and underlined the importance of Cahill to the team. The midfielder opened the scoring for Everton with a header. It was his ninth league goal of the season – that is almost half of the club’s 19 goals in total.

To put his contribution into context, Everton’s forwards have netted only three goals between them.

Cahill has scored at City in four of his seven Premier League seasons and the last three in a row. He has netted more headed goals than any  player in the league.

All of which shows how much of a hole he will leave when he travels to Qatar.

Premier League are top draw

Last Friday’s draw for the Champions League held mixed fortunes for the four Premier League teams. Manchester United and Chelsea will be pleased, Arsenal will be cursing their luck and Tottenham are just happy to be in the knockout stages for the first time. Some managers pay more attention to statistics than others. It is probably best that Arsene Wenger ignores them completely.

His team drew Barcelona, whom they have yet to beat in five meetings. Chelsea have played Copenhagen twice, winning one and drawing one. Marseille and Manchester United have faced off twice, with one win each. Spurs came out on top on a two-legged match with AC Milan in 1972. All of which points to a strong Premier League presence in the quarter-finals.

Champions league draw

Tie The stats say

Arsenal v Barca  Barca win

Man Utd v Marseille   Pen shootout

Chelsea v Copenhagen   Chelsea win

Spurs v Milan   Spurs win

Arsenal’s red mist

When the mistimed tackle by Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross broke the leg of Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey last season, Arsene Wenger led the calls for dangerous tackles to be stamped out, laying the blame at the league’s supposedly more physical teams such as Stoke and Blackburn.

Yet that was the only card Stoke have picked up in their last four games against Arsenal. By contrast, the Gunners have four red cards this season and are third in the disciplinary table.

Perhaps it is Arsenal who need to start reining in their tackles.