Whatever happens to West Ham United come the end of the season, Sam Allardyce’s biggest achievement will be making it through the summer months without being handed his P45. After a disappointing 2013/14 campaign in which the Hammers finished a more than modest 13th, amassing an impressive 20 league defeats, whilst all the while displaying a style of football that had Stoke City fans foaming at the mouth, the West Ham fans had understandably reached the tipping point. Twitter protests were staged against their manager, and chairman David Gold even took a move right out of the teenage girl’s guide to cattiness by posting and favouriting indirect tweets about the uncertain future of his employee in a week where bookmakers stopped taking bets on Big Sam’s impending departure. But fast forward a month or so, and Allardyce may have just bought himself another couple of months in the Upton Park hot seat. The results thus far have been mixed, but the performances have silenced even the loudest of critics. Having pushed Tottenham hard on the opening day, the Hammers have produced excellent and exciting displays against Crystal Palace, Hull, and now Liverpool, to find themselves sitting firmly in the top half of the table, a position that the fans would admit to be relatively happy with come the end of the season. With the additions of the talented Enner Valencia, and the consistently solid/infuriating Alex Song, West Ham now boast a relatively good squad filled with players capable of doing something out of the ordinary. And most surprisingly, the manager seems to be playing to their strengths. If he continues to adhere to this totally brand new and strangely exciting idea of ‘European’ football, he might finally get a shot at that job at the Bernabeu, let alone the Boleyn.
Admittedly, this section has predominantly been penned as an opportunity to use a Luis Suarez-related pun, but there is no escaping the fact that without their former £70m man, the Reds fear factor has disappeared like Count Dracula at sunrise. (Sorry). When Daniel Sturridge is fit and firing, combined with Raheem Sterling (more on him shortly) and Mario Balotelli, Liverpool have a real wealth of raw and unpredictably exciting attacking talents. But when Sturridge is injured, there just seems to be something missing. Sterling is incredibly talented (again, more on him shortly), but one 19-year-old cannot carry the load on his own. Balotelli, is also incredibly talented, but as he showed at Upton Park, his talents lie firmly below a bubbling well of personal insecurity and anger. So much so that you never know what you are going to get from the former Manchester City star until he steps onto the pitch. With Suarez, just having his name on the team sheet was as good as starting the game with one or two goals already on the scoreboard. His consistently brilliant footballing exploits (strictly talking about him with the ball at his feet), and his instant partnership with Sturridge were arguably what drove Liverpool so close to the title last season. Without him, a repeat of their second place finish seems as distant a memory as that night in Istanbul.
It becomes more clichéd as the weeks go by, but with every passing performance, it is becoming painfully clear that in Raheem Sterling, Liverpool and England have one hell of a player on their hands. Even in defeat, the 19-year-old stood out like a sore thumb as a cut above the rest of his rather lacklustre looking team-mates. His tender age appears to be but a number, as the QPR academy graduate continues to play like a fully grown adult man who has graced the top levels of European football for a decade. Having amassed an impressive 10 goals in his breakout season, despite having a rather lengthy enforced break to protect his slender frame from being snapped in half by big scary bald-headed centre-backs, Sterling looks set to surpass that by a country mile this time around. The young England international has already netted three goals in his four appearances in the league so far, and if he continues to plod along at his current rate, Sterling will end the season with an incredible tally of around seven thousand goals, there or there about. Whether he can continue the form he displayed in week one, right up until the campaign climax in May, this time without a month or so holiday in between, remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure, this kid/man will be an extremely fine player in the years to come.
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