West Ham have nothing left to fight for this season.
The club are mathematically safe from relegation and are surely out of the running to finish seventh, a position currently occupied by the ever-more impressive Wolves.
The Hammers do, however, have a London derby to prepare for.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side take on Tottenham Hotspur this weekend in perhaps their last genuinely emotive encounter of the season. After their trip to face Spurs, the Irons round off the season with games against Southampton and Watford.
If you think that sounds tinpot, you’d be wrong. In fact, it’s anything but, and will surely be music to the ears of fans and management alike.
Manuel Pellegrini has said that he wants to imbue West Ham with a “big-club” mentality. Having managed at Manchester City, and won the Premier League with them, that makes complete sense. And the Irons’ performances against the top six this season have suggested that it is possible.
Wins over Arsenal and Manchester United at the London Stadium, plus a draw with Liverpool, have given fans encouraging signs. But Spurs is the big fish, the Moby Dick to the Irons’ Ahab.
There is no club they like to beat more but their record away to Spurs in recent years is shoddy at best. Back in 2013, the Irons turned up to White Hart Lane and won 3-0, then knocked them out of the League Cup and beat them at Upton Park. Cue “it’s happened again” chants. Since then, however, the Irons have won away at Spurs once – their 3-2 League Cup triumph in 2017. There have been 11 meetings home and away since, and the Hammers have won just three.
This game, then, is an acid test for Pellegrini and his men.
After all, big clubs tend to beat their local rivals – take Manchester City’s comprehensive beating of Manchester United on Wednesday, or Liverpool’s dominance over Everton, as evidence – and West Ham are at risk of allowing this to turn into a one-sided rivalry too.
There is the carrot of history, though. Spurs have yet to lose at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in any competition. They have beaten Crystal Palace, Huddersfield Town and Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League and also emerged victorious against Manchester City in the first leg of their crazy Champions League quarter-final tie. They have scored eight goals and are yet to concede.
West Ham, then, have the perfect opportunity to declare the honeymoon period well and truly over. Spurs may also have one eye on their Champions League semi-final first leg tie against Ajax, meaning rotation may become a necessity for Mauricio Pochettino.
If Pellegrini’s men can turn up and win, it will become the abiding memory of something of a disappointing season. The Irons spent a lot of money in the summer and have not really progressed, instead spending the majority of the season treading water, hoping for a spark of inspiration. This could be exactly that.
Beat Spurs and West Ham will not only enter the history books, but also rescue a largely mediocre season and potentially torpedo their rivals’ chances of a top-four finish in the process.
Schadenfreude is a potent weapon, after all.