West Ham United are something of an odd team.
A nightmare to play against for the big boys, the Hammers have a soft underbelly that is all too regularly exposed by those outside of the top-six.
This season alone, the Irons have beaten Manchester United and Arsenal at home, and have taken points off Liverpool and Chelsea. They have also lost to Cardiff City, Burnley and drawn with Huddersfield Town, who are already relegated.
There appears to be a very easy explanation for this but it will surely infuriate fans: West Ham only turn up when they are in a marquee match on television.
The Hammers have a number of players who love to show their worth to the millions of fans who tune in around the world, the likes of Mark Noble, Felipe Anderson and Marko Arnautovic especially. Declan Rice, too, has excelled in games against the Gunners, where he scored the winner, and Liverpool when he ran the midfield. He has won two caps for England as a result of his performances but he has been just as guilty as his team-mates of abdicating responsibility against those in the bottom half.
This is a long-running puzzle for Hammers managers to solve. Upton Park was always fabled as the archetypal ‘tricky place to go’, and the London Stadium is fast gaining that reputation too.
But the club’s ambitions, as they are now, do not tally with the performances. The club, like any, want to win and they want to qualify for Europe. They still have a chance of reaching the Europa League via a seventh-placed finish but they still have Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur left to play before the end of the season.
That, however, may not prove too much of a problem, as the stats bear out. West Ham drew 0-0 with the Blues at Stamford Bridge and beat United 3-1 at the London Stadium. Spurs, the outlier, beat the Irons 1-0 away from home earlier this season.
Across the top-six teams, only Manchester City have done the double over Pellegrini’s men. Wolves, in seventh, have done it too, but the Achilles heel of West Ham has been those outside the top-10.
Indeed, the club have lost six games against teams currently in 10th and below – Bournemouth, twice, Brighton & Hove Albion, Burnley, Cardiff and Everton. In those games, the Hammers have scored once and conceded 11.
These fluctuations in form are paralysing their hopes of success; the Hammers have also beaten Everton, 3-1, Cardiff and Burnley, but could not achieve the double. So far, they have only done the double over one team – Newcastle.
With six games of the season remaining, West Ham also face Leicester, Southampton and Watford. Pellegrini’s men have already beaten the Saints once but lost 2-0 in the reverse to the Hornets and drew 1-1 with the Foxes.
They will need to complete another double if they are to have any chance of overhaul Wolves; it is perhaps not too much of a leap to suggest they are more likely to take six points from Arsenal than Southampton.
From next season, if Pellegrini’s men are to achieve their aims, they simply have to ally their big-game nous to their consistency. Otherwise, they may well be doomed to mid-table obscurity again in 2019-20.