16 min West Ham win a corner down the left and their shtarkers gather, Dawson first to the outswinging ball. But he can only head into the air, and Schmeichel gathers easily enough.
15 min Back to Mary Waltz’s email, I say this every time she sends one in, but on Europa League Thursday night, she recommended the Power Broker, Robert Caro’s magisterial biography of Robert Moses. If you’re interested in power and personality, seek it out.
14 min Leicester look the livelier side and when Vardy slides a ball into the box, Coufal makes a mess of it, but Praet slips at the crucial juncture and eventually Fabianski collects.
12 min “Chelsea could win the Champions League,” reckons Mary Waltz. “I wouldn’t bet on it but possible. Arsenal winning the Europa competition? Absolutely not.”
I actually think Arsenal are more likely to win the Europa than Chelsea the Champions League – they match-up well with Man United, who’re the best side left in that competition, whereas Chelsea will have to beat Real Madrid (probably) then Man City, PSG or Bayern Munich (probably).
10 min Eeesh! Noble’s poor pass sets Soucek a dilemma: does he scythe in on Tielemans to try and retrieve possession? Of course he does, landing a right sair yin on the metatarsal area. Much higher and he’s off, but a yellow is just about right, disbursed with customary flare by Lil Mikey Dean.
7 min Bit of possession for Leicester, knocking it about before a long one from Evans is won by Cresswell, climbing all over Iheancho, who’s first to the loose ball and lashes a rise wide of the near post. You can almost see his confidence seeping through the screen, which is great. He had the goalscorer’s knack at City – where’s Iheanacho, oh there, goal – but his all-round game has improved so much over the last year or so.
6 min Yup, Bowen and Lingard are split, with Fornals pushing on in between them. That might be hard to mark, but it might also be hard to get the ball held up.
6 min Cresswell humps one in and Soucek is lurking but Fofana gets it away.
4 min Lingard looks to be playing off the left and Bowen off the right, as split strikers I think. Meantime, Iheanacho picks up a loose ball and drags a form shot straight at Fabianski.
3 min Lingard and Ndidi wait under a high ball, the latter catching the former with a sharp elbow. There’s a brief pause, but Lingard is fine.
2 min West Ham win a free-kick down the right between box and touchline; this is dangerous, especially given how good they are set-pieces. But Bowen’s delivery picks out Evans and he heads clear.
1 min Away you go, as the late, greatRon Pickering was fond of saying.
The players take a knee and Jesse Lingard shows a black power fist. All black lives matter, people.
There’s going to be a minute’s silence for Prince Philip.
Good news for Leicester: Maddison and Perez should be back next week.
Mark Noble makes his 400th appearance for West Ham today. Here’s his finest moment.
Newcastle have won at Burnley – Fulham are in big, big trouble, six points behind them with a game in hand. I don’t see how they come back now, well though Scott E. Parker has done since that terrible start.
Looking at the teams again, my guess is that Leicester look to spread the play – both Ricardo and Castagne have loads to offer going forward – while West Ham look to keep things central. But in the absence of Barnes and Maddison, there’s a large creative burden on Tielemans, because Praet is still feeling his way back from injury and hasn’t convinced consistently. I think I’m talking myself into predicting a goalless draw.
No doubt I’ll regret saying this, but I’m really looking forward to this one. I’m not sure it’ll be much of a spectacle – West Ham aren’t big into that and don’t really have the players at the moment, while Leicester will be feart of committing too many men forward. But the stakes are so high as to compel us anyway.
“As a Liverpool fan, I suppose a draw would be the best result,” muses Mike MacKenzie, “or perhaps a Foxes win to dent West Ham’s hopes more? Decisions, decisions…”
Yes, I’d go with the latter if I were you – assume the battle is for fourth and that the top three are gone, though that might not be the case. I actually think that, though, that fourth won’t be enough if Arsenal win the Europa League or Chelsea win the Champions League and finish outside the top four in so doing as no club can have more than five teams in the competition. I’m not sure what happens if both of those those things happen.
Elsewhere, the glorious Allan Saint-Maximin has hauled Newcastle back from 1-0 down to Burnley, making a beauty and scoring a beauty. Can they Newcastle it up from here? Join Rob Smyth for the closing stages.
I enjoyed this from Pablo Fornals on West Ham’s official site: “I’m really good at ludo! This lockdown I used to play with my friends every day and every night! It’s a popular game in Spain, so we used to play a lot. I have a proper board and everything, so even when I am in Spain I used to play with my friends and we are punished when we lose and these things! It’s a game but it makes you ready to compete at everything!”
First of all, has ludo usurped tiddlywinks as the game one uses to prove one will do anything to win, second of all is it even possible to be good at ludo, and third of all, when it comes to the Irons, Ludo means only one thing.
Leicester, meanwhile, leave out Albrighton and Perez following their defeat to Man City, bringing in Praet and Ricardo. They’ve been using 3-5-2 a fair bit lately, partly, I imagine, because Iheanacho is playing too well to leave out and Vardy is too Vardy to leave out. But I reckon Brendan Rodgers is keen to match-up West Ham because when that happens, the team with the better players usually wins.
West Ham make one change from their impressive win at Wolves last time out, Bowen coming in for the injured Antonio. My guess is that Masuaku will play on the left of a back five, with Soucek and Noble in front of that; I’m not quite sure how Lingard, Fornals and Bowen will then be configured, but I imagine they’ll run around and such.
Football is a chaotic game, 22 shtarkers chasing a little ball about a field. So, much as the human psyche seeks to ascribe then package what happens to one definitive aspect, the reality tends to be hazier, all manner of different things – some of them operating without our knowledge, oh the effrontery – combining haphazardly to produce a particular outcome.
As such, the notion that Leicester choked in ceding a Champions League spot last season is tough to interrogate. It is true that they performed poorly in the run-in, but it is also true that they were ravaged by injury, and who can say how much they were affected by simple tiredness and poor form? In a sense, though, it doesn’t matter – the notion is out there and you can be sure they know of it, so the fight now is to ensure that something far from self-evident does not become something self-fulfilling.
This afternoon’s game should give us a decent clue – West Ham are also fighting for the Champions League, qualification for which could revolutionise their club and the careers of their players. They’ll have to achieve that without Declan Rice and Michail Anrtonio, but one of the most impressive of the many impressive aspects of their season is how well they’ve responded to adversity. This should be extremely intense.