A glance at the top eight teams in the Premier League reveals the usual suspects… plus Southampton and West Ham! There’s no denying these two have had cracking seasons so far, but can the two outsiders keep up their challenge for European football next season or will they sooner or later fade away?
Out of the blocks
Last season Southampton also got off to an impressive start before finishing 8th, 23 points behind Arsenal in 4th. Then it all started to go wrong for the Saints as they lost their manager Mauricio Pochettino to Spurs and most of their top players.
A rather kind fixture list and goals from Graziano Pellè helped their impressive start to the season, though they did lose to Liverpool and Spurs. October saw their expected slump begin as they lost to both Manchester clubs and Arsenal. More worryingly they lost to Burnley and Sheffield United, too.
A gradual slip to mid-table looked likely, but we were all wrong to write Southampton off as a convincing 3-0 win over Everton re-launched their season. They didn’t just get back on the winning trail but proved they could challenge the top sides. Three games against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United produced an impressive seven points. The last six league games have produced 16 points and the fact that in a week they went to Manchester United, Ipswich and Newcastle and won all three away matches says a lot about this side.
Can they maintain their challenge for a Champions League place? A look at the fixture list indicates that they most certainly can. Home games against Swansea City, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Burnley, Hull, Spurs and Aston Villa should provide plenty of points. Of the sides around them, they only have to travel to Chelsea and then to Manchester City on the last day of the season.
New signing Eljero Elia could prove to be another diamond for the club, having already scored twice on his debut for the side. Sure Southampton need to avoid an injury crisis, but they have a good chance of making it into Europe if not the Champions League itself.
The surprise package
West Ham are probably more of a surprise team this season than Southampton. They made a few signings for the new campaign and the arrival of Diafra Sakho has been a big hit for the Hammers. If pushed though, most fans would have been pleased with a mid-table finish and a season without any worries of relegation.
Impressive form from Stewart Downing, who has switched to a more central role in a diamond formation, and the return of Andy Carroll have certainly helped West Ham this season. They currently sit in 7th place just four points behind the Champions League places. Can they continue their good run and challenge for a place in Europe? Sorry Hammers fans, but I don’t think there’s a chance of that happening. A top ten place does look likely though.
West Ham have beaten both Liverpool and Manchester City at home, but that was back in September and October. Other league games against Spurs, Southampton, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have produced not a single point and only two of those games (Manchester United and Chelsea) were away from home.
Since that win over Manchester City towards the end of October, West Ham have won five league games, against Newcastle, WBA, Swansea City, Leicester City and Hull City. December and January have seen the side struggle for points with just two from four games before a 3-0 win over Hull City last weekend.
The loss of Diafra Sakho while he’s on international duty with Senegal is another big blow. Now comes the crunch period of their season. Their next seven fixtures include games against Liverpool, Manchester United, Southampton, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal. That should see the end of any European challenge for the Hammers.