Monday 24 October 2016

Slav-Watch: is Bilic an endangered species?

Slaven Bilic has endured a tough start to his second season in charge of West Ham. While last year everything he touched seemed to turn to gold, this year his side have struggled prompting all sorts of rumours that he might be heading for the exit door. Prior to the Palace game he was the Premiership manager that the bookies had down as favourite for the push, but two consecutive (narrow) victories and he looks in a safer place.

However, a look through the Hammers upcoming fixture list suggests that he is likely to come under considerable pressure again over the coming weeks. Between now and the second week of December we have seven games during which we face six of the current top seven!

First up come a rejuvenated Chelsea who will be looking to end the Hammers interest in the League cup. The bookies have West ham at 7/2 against to prevail, while Chelsea are 4/5 on to progress even though the Hammers are the hosts! Yesterday's 4-0 mauling of Man United demonstrates the threat Chelsea can pose to West Ham's reconstituted defence.

After that comes a series of challenging Premiership games - Everton (A), Stoke (H), Spurs (A), Man United (A), Arsenal (H), Liverpool (A). With 10 points from 9 games and currently sitting in a lowly 15th in the table, the Hammers could easily find themselves sliding back into the relegation zone unless they can pull some unexpected results out of the bag.

Everton away has been a disastrous fixture over the years until Superslav's troops pulled off a thrilling comeback to win 3-2 at Goodison last March. The bookies don't fancy a repeat as the Hammers are 4-1 against for the win, with a draw quoted at 5-2. In all honesty, you'd grab a draw right now!

On the face of it, Stoke at home holds the best promise for a win. After a dreadful start to the season, just like West Ham, Stoke are back to winning ways having won two on the bounce. However, with improved attacking options and Aaron Cresswell in the mix West Ham will be hoping to grab all three points.

Spurs away is always a crazy game. While Hammers fans have to concede that the current crop at No Heart Lane are their most talented in decades, without Harry Kane they can misfire up front. whatever happens, it'll be a high tempo London derby where anything is possible. Perfect stage for a piece of Payet perfection?

Then comes Man United away. Jose Mourinho's side are a variable feast right now but the Hammers have not won at Old Trafford since Tevez's 2007 delight. Last year's draw could so easily have been a win for West Ham as LVG's misfitring side were there for the taking, but the post (twice) and a referee who didn't see Schweinsteiger's blatant penalty-deserving foul on Winston Reid denied the Hammers what would have been a deserved victory. However, the new Zlatan and Pogba boosted Man united side will be a more severe test.

Then we receive Arsenal to the London Stadium. Joint top and freescoring (as Champions league opponents Ludogorets found out last week in a 6-0 thrashing) this year Wenger's troops hope to seize the Premiership for the first time since moving to the Emirates. However, as Middlesboro demonstrated on Saturday, it's still quite possible to frustrate the Gooners and who can forget last season's opener. Maybe this one is a game to reintroduce Reece Oxford into the fray - at the very least the threat will cause Mesut Ozil to have nightmares that he might be totally bossed again!

Finally, the run of horror fixtures comes to an end with a visit to Anfield. After last year's 50 year-ending win, the place will hold less fear for Slav's boys. However, Klopp looks to have reawoken the Red beast and Liverpool are the in form side in the Premiership just now.

A key consideration is what sort of points haul will be needed to keep the Davids happy with SuperSlav's leadership? After 15 games last year, we were placed in sixth with 23 points.It's hard to see 13 points amassing from our next six games to haul us back to those dizzy heights!

A cup exit twinned with a return to the relegation zone would likely pile the pressure on. However, two or three half decent results would almost certainly keep things ticking over and allow for key absentees to return. However, if we can get close then the January transfer window will also surely see plenty of action at the London Stadium as a host of loanees may depart to free up squad places for new recruits. With Burnley and Hull at home in the lead up to Christmas, we can still turn our season around.

If Slav can navigate the next seven games with success then you sense that he could be our manager for the next decade.


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