Saturday 31st December 15.00 GMT
There’s an awful song that was released many years ago that made a revolutionary claim – life is a rollercoaster, you’ve just got to ride it. Now don’t try and take that all in at the one time lest your brain melt beneath the weight of its shuddering revelation. We dredge that memory up for the sole purpose of applying it to reigning league champions, Leicester City. Their year certainly has had the whiff of the metaphorical rollercoaster off it but, whereas in most cases, rollercoasters come to a safe and satisfactory end, for Leicester that outcome is looking increasingly unlikely.
Where did it all go wrong?
To say that their season to this point has been unsatisfactory would be an understatement of some magnitude. Following a faith-restoring 4-2 victory over Manchester City three weeks ago, a match in which the Leicester of last season was impressively evident, it’s been two losses and a draw from their last three. Worse even than those recent results is the knowledge that the scintillating performances of last season are still possible with the players they have but, for whatever reason, they are incapable or unwilling to produce this form on even a semi-regular basis.
Navigating some choppy waters
West Ham are another side who impressed last season only to flail helplessly this season. They endured a nightmare start to their season between injuries to key players, a shambolic and unpopular move to a shiny new athletics stadium, constantly shifting formations and lackluster performances leading to a string of awful results. Pressure was mounting on last years messiah-cum-manager, Slavin Bilic. He needed some good luck and the season of good cheer readily supplied it for him.
One man’s cliché is another man’s shotgun
Following a creditable 2-2 draw with Liverpool, the Hammers won three matches on the bounce against Burnley, Hull and Swansea, the latter pair being basically cannon fodder at this present moment. Still, as the tired old cliché goes, you can only beat what’s in front of you and the nine points that West Ham picked up from those games has them within touching distance of the top ten. It’s a funny old game…
On the up
The return of Andy Carroll to their line-up has given them a much-needed boost up top. He is a wonderfully effective offensive weapon for Dmitri Payet to pick out in the box and few are as lethal in the air. Their big summer signing, Andre Ayew, seems to have returned to match fitness and he can dovetail effectively between the aforementioned pair. Overall, things are looking a good deal better for West Ham than they are for Leicester at the moment.
On the down
Leicester’s woes aren’t only in the results and form but also off the pitch. Claudio Ranieri dropped last season’s player of the year, Riyad Mahrez, in their last match and Jamie Vardy is currently serving a suspension for a straight red card. N’Golo Kante has since moved to Chelsea and the monolithic defensive block of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan no longer dominate opposition forwards to the same extent as last season. This season has effectively been four-month hangover. Ouch.
The one sliver of light that Leicester have had has lain in their home form but the manner of their loss against Everton last time out may have drawn the curtains on that hope. West Ham, fresh off the back of nine points from nine, will fancy their chances here. The market makes Leicester favourites at slightly better than evens but this column, as is our wont, refuses to get on board with that line of thinking. You can get a draw at roughly 5/2 but we’re partial to a West Ham win at 14/5 from BetVictor.